Metro Weekly

Local Shorts

Reel Affirmations 2006

Review by Randy Shulman

Rating: starstarstarstar (4 out of 5)
[Critic’s Pick!]

Monday, 10/16/2006, 5:00 PM
Shorts presentation, $0 at Lincoln Theatre

GENERALLY A MIXED bag — and frequently a messy one at that — this year’s crop of movies made by local filmmakers is the strongest it’s ever been. The hour kicks off weakly, however, with The Hill of Happiness ( ), a laggy, draggy story of two brothers in Catholic boarding school who learn their dad is gay. The acting seems largely improvised and unfocused. ”I go to an all-boy Catholic high school that teaches me he’s going to hell for being gay,” cries one brother to the other. Clearly the school has also taught him how to be a master of the obvious.

Director Zachary Lee orchestrates some fine camera compositions — a shot of a priest walking down a corridor, turning on lightswitches, is stunning — but has an undeveloped sense of pacing. For instance, did we really need the extended scene of the family ordering at a restaurant, then get their food, only to — here’s a dramatic twist for you — chow down? It’s the kind of scene that cutting room floors were made for.

The first-person documentary Relative Freedom ( ) has no production values per se, but damn if it doesn’t pack a punch. Joe Kuehne’s turns a three-day, 1,500 mile road trip — during which he visits with members of his ”strict and very religious” family to find out if they think he’s going to hell for being gay — into a nine-minute emotional locomotive.

”You’re gay and I overeat — and God’s working with me on my issue right now,” says his mom, in a harrowing fit of rationalization. Kuehne’s youngest sister won’t even come near her brother — we only hear her sobbing off-camera. Luckily it’s not all sturm and drang: Joe’s older brother, Scott, has a relaxed attitude toward homosexuals. ”Whatever they do in their house is fine,” he says. ”But the parades have gotta go.”

Robert Blumenthal’s The Lost Item ( ) finds a woman with a predicament — a lost condom you-know-where. So she calls her best gay friend, Carter Barron, played by D.C.’s master of comedic ham, Rick Hammerly, to pluck it out. Needless to say, he doesn’t succeed. Nor does her ex-boyfriend or a lesbian with a pair of chopstick or — gasp! — her own mother. An uproarious 15 minutes, made all the funnier for Hammerly’s dead-on, campy zingers.

Which brings us to Brian the Gnome Slayer 3 ( ). After two previously failed attempts, Brian Tosko Bello and Filip Vanevski finally get it right. Their satire of all things Buffy congeals into a short that is truly, madly, deeply funny. Yeah, it’s still rough around the edges and the effects are more shoddy than slick, but it all adds to the homegrown charm.

Having learned from past mistakes, Bello’s developed his timing, and has created a few sight gags that are downright gut-busting, such as the moment when The Gnome Slayer and his partner do a Wonder Twins ”Activate” routine, changing into a hawk and a… well, I’m not going to spoil the laugh-out-loud surprise. Let’s just say Brian’s finally found his creative mojo. — RS

Local Shorts

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