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  • Brandon MacMurray

Tribeca Film Festival Review Roundup

The in-person portion of 22nd Tribeca Film Festival has officially wrapped up and awards given out. We at ShortStick attended the shorts portion of Tribeca at Home and are here to bring you our thoughts on the 3 big qualifying winners plus one more world premiere that will be qualified through theatrical release.






Starling



The winner of Tribeca’s Best Animated Short Film award, Mitra Shahidi’s Starling tells the story of little girl who shoots down from the heavens to spend her birthday with her family. The film opens on a quiet scene of two parents, who we soon realize from the empty chair that sits across from them at the table, and a framed photo of a little girl, have lost their daughter. As they light the candle on her birthday cake, though, a star in the sky becomes brighter and brighter, falling to earth and seeming to come alive and make her way toward the grieving couple.

Shahidi worked as a story artist on Pixar’s Luca, and that studio’s brand of anthropomorphized cuteness (the face and movement of the almost-human star are uncanny) and especially the sentimental family emotions that can be seen throughout Starling. Shahidi delivers a story that is sweet without becoming saccharine, as scenes of the quietly grieving parents are intercut with tableaux of the starling causing light chaos throughout the town as she attempts to get home for her birthday party. The wordless chase-paced scenes keep up the momentum of the nine-minute short and propel the viewers towards the tearjerking finale just as the starling herself propels to her parents.

The light touch of the film’s animation and music choices, as well as the sad-to-happy ending that Shahidi delivers keep the story from becoming as maudlin as it could be in the hands of other filmmakers and make Starling deserving of its Tribeca accolades. Winning at Tribeca qualifies Starling for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short, and the quality of the film along with Shahidi’s Pixar bona fides could find Starling a place on the shortlist.


Review by Joshua Hunt

Dead Cat



French-Canadian directors Danick Audet and Annie-Claude Caron deliver an outrageous horror-comedy in Chat Mort (Dead Cat) that is sure to gross out viewers as much as it makes them laugh. The 12-minute short tells the story of beleaguered parents Catherine and Louis (played by Léane Labrèche-Dor and Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who find their daughter Sophie (Lilas-Rose Cantin) trying to resuscitate their titular (and very obviously) dead cat, Nugget. Despite a grotesque cut to the title card that might lead viewers to expect a more graphic horror film, Dead Cat plays as a surprisingly hilarious examination of the stages of grief.

Our first clue that the film might be heading in a different direction than we might be expecting is when we see Catherine and Louis stash the corpse of Nugget in the freezer full of other pets (“move the hamsters out of the way!”) and bags marked Nugget #1, Nugget #2. Rather than tell Sophie the truth about her beloved cat—and against the advice of their therapist—the parents tell her that her pet is just fine, actually, and we get an uproarious montage of the little girl playing with the newly-taxidermied Nugget.

Despite the ridiculous premise, Dead Cat is a fascinating dissection of the stages of grief that we all go through on the loss of a loved one—even if Catherine and Louis are stuck in the “denial” phase. The reveal at the end of the film of what Sophie has known all along brings one of the biggest laughs in a short film this year and make Dead Cat the more-than-worthy recipient of Tribeca’s Best Narrative Short award, a win which also qualifies the film for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Although horror films tend to have an uphill battle with the Academy at large, the more adventurous short films branch occasionally allow horror-themed short films (ie: You’re Dead Hélène in 2021) to make the shortlist.


Review by Joshua Hunt




Black Girls Play: The Story of Hand Games




Produced by ESPN Films, “Black Girls Play” is a documentary short directed by Joe Brewster and Michéle Stephenson. This documentary short tells the story of hand games, a historical black-created play that is transmitted to each generation of girls and is hugely influential to mainstream music, such as R&B, Soul, Jazz, and mainly Hip-Hop, being interpolated by artists like Nas and Nelly.


Mainly using the mix of archival material and interviews, the doc concentrates its narrative on listening to ethnomusicologists and women inspired by these games when they were young; and continue to use them as a guide in their musical careers, being in the jazz or gospel fields. It also focuses on how much it is based on the imitation and sharing of movements, generating a collective experience where everyone in the group has opportunities to be a leader and coordinate handshakes.


The short thrives on using its interviews to guide the viewer, while the ethnomusicologist is highly didactic; the personal stories give a lot of depth on how that play is influential in the cultural and musical formation of black American girls. Understanding the impact of that interaction while growing up gives a different perspective on how street and community play impacts children and how it still has a lot of value for Gen Z, who use Tik Tok as a platform to share their own created songs and dances.


“Black Girls Play” has won the Tribeca Film Festival 2023 Documentary Short Award, and it has a lot of potential to create a public debate in the next steps of its festivals and awards’ trajectory, helped by the ESPN Films label on getting attention for screenings and future events. But much more than being a studio piece, it is an authentic study about a marginalized aspect of black-American culture which has a lot of cultural value and importance in today’s society.


Review by Pedro Lima




Ayenda - Documentary Short (Oscar Qualified through Theatrical Run)




After the departure of the U.S. Army from Afghanistan in 2021, the Afhgan society suffered a severe cultural shift, since from that moment forward, the Taliban were in power. One of these changes was in women’s rights and simple activities such as playing football weren’t allowed anymore. Fearing retaliation from the Taliban, the Football Federation asked for help to evacuate their U-18 women’s team. The details of this operation are the narrative line for “Ayenda”, a documentary short directed by Marie Margolius, produced by MSNBC and Time Studios, which had its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival 2023.


In its 39 minute length, the short details how a former Afghanistan women’s team captain who possessed dual citizenship (Afhgan/Canadian) helped to create a plan alongside North American agents, who logistically helped them get out of the country. Although it pays a lot of attention to giving the viewer the whole scope of the operation, sometimes it can feel a little lengthy when the narrative bounces from interviews about the logistics of the escape and how the girls are dealing with their new life in Portugal. The constant use of flashforwards makes the tension a bit less impactful once there is context of their life after the escape.


However, it resonates by utilizing the universal language of sports, how sports can save lives, and how everyone should have the right to play them. When it focuses on this aspect, it makes the short impactful, but there is not enough of this in its narrative. Also, using WhatsApp audio to contextualize their planning of the mission is an effective way of showing how the plan was made.


Being produced by MSNBC/Time Studios, having a planned release on Peacock, and the relevant theme could propel “Ayenda” into a big spotlight for future festivals and in the awards season.


Review by Pedro Lima

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ShortStick

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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