It’s kind of amazing short films aren’t more popular. The barriers that stand in the way of feature-lengths — namely, cash, the crazy expensive cameras that cash buys, and the distribution costs that turn any leftover cash into debt mountains — are all but removed. So why, with the YouTube way we live now, aren’t shorts more dominant?
Maybe it’s the same reason why poetry has yet to see a Twitter bump — the practice of making quick work of images and words to convey a message isn’t just economical, it’s damn hard. That difficulty gets magnified on its way to the audience; all but the most straightforward of short films demand introspection that outweighs the fast act of, you know, actually watching the thing. There has to be meaning behind a 10-minute film. Otherwise, why watch?
Take the collection of nine LGBT films selected for the DC Shorts Film Festival, which closes this weekend. Within the group, there’s a sardonically delightful spoof on religion (Purgatory Inc.), a quirky story about love and fortune cookies (My Good Fortune), a good old-fashioned fairy tale (Brookton Hollow), and a frighteningly stoic take on a bigoted Islamic patriarch (The Binding of Ishmael). While some, obviously, are more lighthearted than others, that’s a lot of topic to consider.
Boris Kievsky’s Purgatory Inc. coyly slides its weight through an admittedly wry premise — a paper-pushing clerk in a dark void processes new entrants to Purgatory, as an unseen corporate overseer watches. When Christopher (Patrick Cavanaugh) appears after what looks like an unfortunate rafting accident, the clerk employs some crafty filing tricks to get him into Episcopalian Heaven rather than Christian Hell. There’s no homophobia in Purgatory, but plenty of ways to game the system. It’s a witty approach to a touchy subject that manages to tickle religion without lecturing — unlike God’s Pub, a more ambitious short also being screened at the festival that loses itself in vindication.
In My Good Fortune, a New York tough guy (writer-director David Marshall Silverman) treks down to Georgia to convince a gay fortune-cookie writer (Randy Havens) to go back to work. The characters lean a tad toward stereotypes and the premise seems awfully ridiculous, but something within it clicks — My Good Fortune has a take on love and relationships that’s pitch-perfect for the genre. It sticks with you, even when there’s nothing left to see.
Then there’s Brookton Hollow, a rhyming-coupleted story about a lonely boy (Christopher Hills) and his only friend, a cow who transforms into a person every night. Writer-director Joshua Smith nails the fairy-tale tone, providing just enough detail to create attachment and empathy for the boy’s plight. He knows he’s different, but he can’t confide in his stoic father. The cow-boy is his freedom, his opportunity to be himself — and when threatened, he’s willing to risk everything to keep that freedom.
But, Taofik Kolade’s The Binding of Ishmael serves as a reminder that risk can be deadly. The Singapore short opens in a car, following Azim as his father lectures him about the Quran and the need to obey its teachings. His absolute faith is alarming, more so when Azim unwittingly aids in the killing of his gay brother. While Kolade’s message is obvious and beautifully executed, its depth is what carries through after the credits.
“He killed me first,” the father says to Azim as The Binding of Ishmael ends. That moment — the weight, sadness, and shock of it all — is a reminder of what short film can accomplish. An instance that lingers for hours, a purpose beyond entertaining image and sound, an honest feeling that you can’t ignore. It’s what short film is all about.