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  • Brandon MacMurray

Tribeca Review Roundup Part 1

Tribeca Film Festival is here and we have had an exciting week taking in all the shorts from their outstanding lineup. Over the next few days we will be posting reviews of some of our favourites along with shoutouts to many more. Here is Part 1 of our collection of reviews!

Motorcycle Mary, dir. Haley Watson

“Drinks Gas. Spits Nails.”

This is the phrase inscribed on Mary McGee’s Hall of Fame ring. In the first few seconds of this ESPN 30 for 30 documentary short produced by Ben Proudfoot’s Breakwater Studios, you meet Mary, captivating and charming. As she rolls out her impressive list of accomplishments you soon find out she’s also got the grit and determination that make that inscription ring true. 

Mary is both humble and confident as she notes how truly lucky she is to be able to race cars and motorcycles, sharing moments of her skill and her refusal to give in to intimidation. 

“This guy tried to pass me on turn 9. There’s no passing me on turn 9.” 

Mary’s character remains unflinching as she fights through the adversity of loss and sexism. It’s clear her goal is not to hang with the men, but be better than them. 

Mary is the type of person I would love to sit with for hours, simply listening to her talk and learning from her. In this short alone, she offers lessons. The importance of always saying yes to new opportunities, the positive perspective that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you’re a participant just by living life. 

Director Haley Watson does an excellent job of pacing this short. She expertly intertwines archival footage and interviews with Mary with a great score to help give a well rounded view of Mary’s life. As the score speeds up and crescendos, we are fed with fast-paced high velocity race scenes and an excited Mary sharing about all of her accomplishments and races. In her more solemn and tragic stories, the score is brought back down. This is also all a testament to an incredible editing job done by Cody Wilson.

Mary is an excellent story-teller as she tells about her family life and how her brother Jim was pivotal in bringing her into racing. According to Mary, Jim always taught her to remain calm and take a deep breath. Mary internalizes this lesson physically throughout her interviews by taking deep inhales and exhales in moments where fear or nervousness start to build. Haley cleverly adds this breathing device to the pacing of her short to keep you hanging on Mary’s every word. 

Overall this short is an exciting portrait of a racer who is not only the first woman to race motorcycles in the United States AND the first person ever to ride the Baja 500 solo, but a woman with gas-guzzling, nail-spitting determination - and a spirit you can’t help but love.

Review by: Brandon MacMurray

The HongFu Hotel, dir. Tian Xu

A Buddhist myth says that souls must return to their place of origin for reincarnation. For Chinese followers of Buddha, if they die in the West, they must wait to be guided home by a Bodhisattva (person who is on the path towards bodhi or Buddhahood). Tian Xu’s eerie and emotional new short film The HongFu Hotel opens on an elderly man sat in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in front of Pure Land of Bhaisajyaguru, a painting created during China's Yuan dynasty and originally housed in Guangsheng Lower Monastery. The enormous painting is of Yaoshi Fo the Buddha of Medicine and many of his Bodhisattvas. As the elderly man prepares for the end of his life, he counts the Bodhisattvas, consoling himself that when his time comes, one of the Bodhisattvas from the mural will be his guide home.

The man is the owner of The HongFu Hotel, also nearing the end of its life. Business has declined over the years, and the city is preparing to pave a new road right through the neighborhood. The hotel is closed, shut up and dark, going to be demolished tomorrow. Even though the man and his family have never lived anywhere else, they feel far from home in New York’s Chinatown, and as a last order or business the hotel owner has his son come to let the hotel’s last three guests know that they need to leave. Otherwise, the guests will be left to wander, just as the man needs to get home before he is stranded. Exactly who these mysterious guests are is best left as a surprise, but the reveals of these three lonely visitors is as hauntingly moving as anything in film this year.

An ominously abandoned hotel may bring to mind Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, but The HongFu Hotel is more spooky than scary, more interested in nostalgia and melancholy than terror; it has more in common with the Eastern folklore horror films like Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan. Xu makes sparing use of some digital effects in creating his haunted hotel, but many of the most evocative images are created in-camera with subtle practical effects and lighting. Cinematographer Sixiong Xie makes incredible use of the gloomy deserted corridors and baroque disintegration of the once-elaborate hotel rooms, even if the ghosts in these rooms never try to frighten. They don’t want to haunt you, but they will.

Ironically, the mural of the Bodhisattvas themselves were also removed from their home in the East; brought to the MET by the Sackler family in the 1950s. “What do you want to be reincarnated to?,” the son asks his father as they wait to return home. “I’ll figure it out when I get there.” The HongFu Hotel is a story of being an immigrant in a place that is far from one’s origins and the desire—and simultaneous inability—to go back “home.” After haunting us, and the hotel, for 20 minutes, Xu ends The HongFu Hotel with a devastating final image, that will surely haunt in this life, and the next.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Pastrana, dirs. Melissa Brogni & Gabriel Motta

Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conceptualized a theory in 1970 called Flow State, a branch of positive psychology. It is a state in which an action blends into consciousness, delivering a sense of pleasure and challenge for who is performing. It is a theory used as the theoretical basis for the 2020 Academy Awards-Winner Soul. In Pete Docter’s film, Joe would float when he played the piano. The flow makes the individual feel light, and time does not respond to the normal senses, demanding extreme concentration. 

The flow theory can explain why many people perform activities targeted as dangerous, such as bungee jumping or motorbiking. In Pastrana, it is downhill skateboarding. As rational beings, we always try to make sense of actions, and many would question why someone would skateboard downhill at high speed, but the feeling of time deforming and overcoming a tough challenge makes up for it. Is it worth risking your life to do it? In the case of Allyson Pastrana, yes. 

As the film by Melissa Brogni & Gabriel Motta unfolds, we realize he is no longer present. We only see him in stories and footage. The homage portrays him as if he were still there. It is a subject that serves as a spiritual guide. Pastrana is almost an angel to that community of skaters. They think about him when they are going downhill. The film is told from the perspective of Melissa, as she was close to him. In this sense, the film is a personal essay that borrows citations from friends and family. As she writes beautiful lines about his absence, the archival footage serves as a visual guide to travel back to that period. 

Pastrana passed away doing what he loved the most. Even though his time on Earth was short, he left a mark on various people. Years after his death, the filmmakers opted to narrate the story of a person who made the ultimate sacrifice for their passion. Now, he has become an incredible athlete marked in history. Pastrana won the Brasilia Film Festival last year, and it is part of the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival shorts program.

Review by: Pedro Lima

Lost Bois, dir. Devyn Galindo

Lost Bois follows three young trans bois in New York City, in a snapshot of their lives as we get a glimpse into the questions big and small that circle in their minds. The footage itself is shot in the style of a 90s camcorder, and then edited into a grainy collage of seemingly unrelated yet cohesive shots of the group just hanging out together. Throughout we hear a similar collection of overlapping audio clips with everything from voice overs of life stories and conversations to the backdrop noise of the city or drum solos.

Admittedly this sounds a bit messy and chaotic, and to some extent it is, but at the same time this myriad of media perfectly mirrors the emotions often felt throughout the formative years of one's youth. Ranging from the very tangible experiences of emotions of dating, cheating, drugs, music and so on to the more abstract with feelings of loneliness, longing, love, sadness and joy - this film is more of a stream of consciousness that is felt and experienced rather than seen at face value. Akin to something like a music video or a spoken word performance it is and simultaneously is not at all about what is said but rather how it makes you as a viewer feel.

Watching this film I get filled with nostalgia and melancholy for a time that has passed, a time in my life that I know was often difficult yet something I look back on fondly. They perfectly portray the feeling of spring break, a warm summer day with nothing on the agenda and everything swirling around in your head, amongst your friends who are in the same situation. It is like a time capsule of an emotional state so many of us experience and as such it is tumultuous and beautiful.

Review by: Robin Hellgren



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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