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  • Brandon MacMurray

Palm Springs International Shortfest Review Roundup Part 1

We are thrilled to have the chance to cover Palm Springs International Shortfest this week. Keep an eye out as we post reviews of our favourite shorts we see throughout the week, starting with these four gems!

Stud Country, dirs. Lina Abascal, Alexandra Kern

The camera focuses in on an older man using a magnifying glass to view film photos. He points the lens at a photograph of himself as a young man, wearing a longhorn belt and a red shirt. His name is Anthony. He starts reminiscing; he is one of the few people to remember the historic L.A. dance bar Oil Can Harry's, a gay dance bar where people would go to when it was still considered a crime for two men to dance together. Harry's was a landmark for the culture because it allowed gay men to discreetly enjoy line dancing, but also for being the first of its kind to go public. Anthony was a dance instructor at Harry's for three decades, and when it closed down, he and many others from the community felt homeless. 

However, the new generation of LGBTQ+ line dancing organized itself into a new venue, "Stud Country." They hosted dances for the newly homeless gay dance community and welcomed new fans in. Alexandra Kern & Lina Abascal's short captures the quintessential qualities of Stud Country's dancers. It tackles genre, culture, vanguardism, and gentrification. Looming over the joy of the dances is the fact that Bahia Club, the venue of Stud Country, has a future closing date because of the competition in the Los Angeles real estate market. A building this large is considered too valuable to serve as a dancing hall. 

The dancers of Stud Country reveal the significance of having a place to dance, both today and historically. Zach explains how he rejected country music while growing up in the South because his bullies loved it. The directors show how Old Can Harry's was vital to the community during the AIDS epidemic. Today, Stud Country is vital to maintain that legacy and host a young community that is brave enough to embrace who they are. In stressing the importance of safe spaces to the gay community, the directors are thoughtful with their approach, value their subjects, and are impactful.

Stud Country succeeds educating about a whole community in a very short time. It shows the importance of the pioneers and defends the cultural value of line dancing. Stud Country reminds us that we should defend and protect spaces for the gay community to express themselves, fully.

Review by: Pedro Lima

The Car That Came Back from the Sea, dir. Jadwiga Kowalska 

From the late 1970s, communist Poland had been in a deep economic recession. This domestic crisis led to essential goods being heavily rationed, which acted as a stimulus to establishing the first anti-communist trade union in the Communist Bloc, known as Solidarność. Following countless strikes and demonstrations by employees of chief industrial regions, Poland was heading towards bankruptcy. The government drastically restricted everyday life by introducing martial law and a military junta in an attempt to counter political opposition, in particular Solidarność.

Despite this heavy context, director Jadwiga Kowalska makes her film The Car That Came Back from the Sea a light and funny road trip comedy, refusing to let the memories of the era be negative (“most of this truly happened; just different,” the credits joke). The Car That Came Back from the Sea introduces us to Leszek, himself a member of Solidarność, and the other residents of Świdnica, “A small grey dump in communist Poland.” Like most young people in Poland at the time, Leszek just wanted to get away, the only problem was that there was almost no way to travel out of Świdnica—there’s only one car in town but its owner is so protective that he doesn’t even drive it. Eventually, Leszek is able to his own car…even though it has no wheels.

This sets off the incredibly charming plot of The Car That Came Back from the Sea. Leszek gathers his friends, all pack into the one small car, and they drive to the coast of the Baltic Sea. Kowalska’s simple but effective black-on-white rotoscope animations capture the vigour and effervescence of the youths on their roadtrip, experiencing freedom for the first time. The gang use their food stamps to get Vodka because there is no food left on the supermarket shelves, go to a Russian military base to trade vodka for gas, and all sleep in one bed to save money. Ingenious touches capture the humour and quick-wittedness of Leszek and his friends, like the subtitles changing on-screen halfway through a sentence depending on who the boys are talking to.

Arriving at the Polish coast of the Baltic Sea, Leszek realizes he wants to leave Poland before martial law shuts the borders and they are isolated in Poland. Several hundred thousand people had left Poland by this point, and Leszek dreams of joining them—we see his dreams of western Europe in a thought bubble above his head, a bright slash of vibrant colour shows the promise of freedom and a better life, where the Poland is only portrayed in dull black and white. Even though both his car and his country are breaking down, Leszak and his friends find a youthful joy; they live in the moment and enjoy small pleasures. In a world where this type of oppression is still unfortunately very present, The Car That Came Back from the Sea shows the strength of resistance, and the power of living with optimism not despair.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Such a Lovely Day, dir. Simon Woods

Such a lovely day starts off in a setting familiar to many of us. Seen through the perspective of the young boy Sam (played by Tommy Finnegan) we see him and his parents Nettie and Ben (played by Jenny Rainsford and Edward Bluemel respectively) drive through the English countryside in the summertime. With the backdrop of discussions and arguments in the front seat, the quiet and reserved Sam drops in and out of focus as the journey goes on.

The three of them arrive at a gathering of friends and family to celebrate Nettie’s birthday. They are met with open arms in the gorgeous summer house where food is being prepared, furniture is moved around and games are played in the chaotic and friendly scene of many big family events.

Underneath it all we sense a different story play out. Private discussions, sideways looks and small comments all help build the uneasy feeling that everything is not right. Mirroring the young mind of Sam, we as viewers are continuously fed glimpses that paints a much different, darker picture of the relationships and actions at play.

Masterfully building tension throughout, writer director Simon Woods gives us a thrilling yet calm drama with a fantastic ensemble. Playing with the theme of complex adult issues seen through the eyes of a child, every piece of the fairly large cast feels vital to not only the character they play but also what they add to the overall setting.

Equally impressive here is the talent involved behind the camera. Everything from scenery and costumes to sound work and framing feels true to the vision and adds depth to the experience (shout out to Production designer Paix Robinson). I want to especially highlight (no pun intended) the lighting work done throughout the film. While maintaining realistic lighting for the setting, the tone always matches the mood and pacing brilliantly. Using shadows as a secondary framing device brings forth a tense feeling that is hard to shake.

Starting the awards circuit last year this film has already made waves and picked up a few nominations and awards along the way. I urge you to not only check I out, but also follow the people involved who are sure to deliver great things in the years to come.

Review by: Robin Hellgren

After Dark, dir. Iain Forbes

If you’re a regular reader of ShortStick, the name “Iain Forbes” will sound familiar. You may be remembering the director as last years’ silver medal winner in live action for his short film, Revisited, which we reviewed here:

Iain now brings the world premiere of his new short After Dark to Palm Springs. The short starts off with a man, Kristian, helping a friend. When the friend pushes Kristian to stays afterwards for a drink, he insists that he has to get going home and starts a walk along the wintery streets of Norway. This is where Kristian runs into a girl named Mia. What starts off as an innocent question of “Do you know the way to the train station?” soon spirals into something more complex as Mia’s story evolves and she starts asking more of Kristian. 

Between Revisited and After Dark, Iain Forbes has shown his ability to really make you sit with and relate to the protagonist. Watching his shorts, it’s easy to put myself in the shoes of the main characters and feel their confusion, wondering what I would do if faced with the same circumstances. Filmed over one weekend in the streets of Oslo, underneath the streetlights and a glowing 7-11, actress Billie Barker constantly keeps you on your toes with her distressed performance. Opposite her, Simen Bostad does a perfect job in his reactionary performing that allows you to imagine what he must be thinking at any given moment as he navigates the situation. 

Coincidentally enough, both of Iain’s two previous shorts involve transient characters who come and go. In Iain’s previous short Revisited, the viewer is left with a sense of closure at the end, whereas in After Dark you leave feeling the very opposite. The viewer is left having to make peace with the unknown, wondering how things ended and if everything is okay. This goes to show the Iain’s wide range in directing and story-telling and despite this short taking place in the dark, he has a very bright future. 

Review by: Brandon MacMurray

1 Comment

Jun 27

Iain Forbes is indeed someone too look out for in the future! A great talent with actual vision and a proper voice among a sea of pretenders.



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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