Thursday, September 29, 2016

HHFF 2016 Block E Recap: Shorts

A year ago, on the weekend prior to my birthday, my wife and I attended our first film festival, the Harrisburg-Hershey Film Festival. Though, like any sequel, this year's birthday plans were going to be bigger and feature not only a trip to the groovy Midtown Cinema for the festival, but also an intimate appearance by Coolio, Tone Loc, and Vanilla Ice (among others). Unfortunately, thirty four sixth graders intervened as my birthday just so happened to fall on the dreaded back to school night, sadly devastating our plans to see the 90's hip-hop show mere blocks from our house. Fifty percent of my thirty-seventh birthday plans? Devastated. This was certainly no Gangsta's Paradise.

Luckily though, no children, not even my own, could impede our attendance to the film festival, as Block E was slated for Saturday afternoon at three o'clock. With the kids dropped at my mom's house and the twenty-five minute drive north to Harrisburg complete, we we're officially go for launch. Now, all Movie God had to deliver was 120 minutes of compelling, low-budget cinema.

About that...

Film # 1: The Croquet Calamity 
Written and Directed by Dia Griffiths
Runtime: 8 minutes

Quite the, um...threesome this turns out to be.
When this short film started playing, I thought it was a commercial or a trailer...or something. Instantly we see two dudes fighting, one fine gentlemen going toe-to-toe with, of all things, a pirate, and they're swashbuckling all over the forrest. Wait, what? Soon, the fight's over, I realize where I am (and most of what's going on) and the scene shifts to a dainty tea party being fret over by two lovely ladies (one being familiar face Bex Etters, star of the feature we saw last year at HHFF). These women are fussing about the temperature of the 'tea', the quality of the butter sandwiches, and well, just about everything. Gentleman Guy shows up, and things don't get much better. Their croquet game is full of petty arguments, rule changes, and yes, that damn pirate.

For something that looks and plays like the second segment on a Victorian Era porn compilation (something I know nothing about, ahem), The Croquet Calamity is shockingly clever. In fact, when the film ended, I instantly wanted to watch it again. A clever idea, charmingly executed, I very much enjoyed Griffiths' short. My wife said it was too poorly acted, but clearly that was all part of the plan. At least, I thought so. Watch the trailer and decide for yourself.

Written and Directed by Sue Lange
Runtime: 10 minutes

The main character in A Perfect You is trying to live a, you guessed it, perfect life. Her house is simple and meticulous, her keys all labeled and color-coded, even her meals prepared and stored by the day of the week they are to be eaten. She even listens to music by a set pattern, likely for optimal enjoyment. Her cherished self-help book carefully guides all of this.

One morning, all her best laid plains go straight down the shitter. Initially, she notices a gray hair. Then she can't find her keys. And without keys to start her car, she has to take the bus...which she misses. Soon after, she finds herself forced to share an Uber with an angry woman seemingly having an even worse day/life than she is. And, actually, her bad day is just getting started...

Outside of the final scene (and one line about sitting in the middle), I didn't really care for A Perfect Day all that much...until director Sue Lange briefly spoke to us in the audience after the screening. Her insight, combined with her wild gesticulations (and super rad outfit), articulated the film's theme in a far more engaging manner. Nobody's perfect it's true, and any ideas to the contrary? They'll probably end up out the window any way.

Directed by Scott Orris 
Written by Scott Orris, Jonathan Barry and Kyle Kull
Runtime: 17 minutes

We were told prior to the screening of the baseball documentary There Were Giants that some of the featured players were in attendance, and it instantly elevated the entire experience. Detailing an amazing (but little-known) piece of local history, Orris' film was easily the highlight of the afternoon.

After setting the scene of an America divided by segregation with pictures many of us are familiar with, There Were Giants settles in and gives us a glimpse of the life and lineups of the long gone Negro Leagues of baseball. Historians and ex-players alike, tell borderline mythological tales of some of the greatest teams ever assembled. If you're a baseball fan, it's totally fascinating stuff. But then something amazing happens, where the film transcends sports documentary status: desegregation

I'm not talking about Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, no, I'm talking about the first white players to play in the Negro Leagues. And not only is the story mind-blowing on paper, but the filmmakers managed to track down some of the players and the firsthand recollections are nothing short of incredible. I honestly was moved hearing the story of black players, in the middle of one of the most racially charged eras in American history, standing up for their white teammates because it was the right thing to do. Somewhere, Disney needs to get a hold of this story and make one of these crowd-pleasing bastardizations asap. If only I was joking...

Check out the trailer here.

Film #4: Thornbird
Written and Directed by Jonathan Stutzman
Runtime: 9 minutes

Thornbird is about a girl. And like most women, under that beautiful exterior, our main character seems to be constantly engaged in a silent war against something deep within her mind. Something she's not really allowing to fully surface...emotionally. 

But also like most women, despite really wanting to, I didn't understand it at all. And the one bit I was fairly confident about? Got that wrong, too. But the good news, is that writer/director Stutzman's goal was to create something experimental and open for interpretation, so I think I'm gonna eek by on a technicality.

Speaking of, while the fairy-tale story utterly bewildered me, Thornbird is impossibly sound from a technical standpoint. While the other short films felt, at times, amateurish (intentionally, or not), Stutzman's is aurally fascinating and visually breathtaking. Unfortunately, I really needed that oxygen, as my brain had no idea what to do for eight of the nine minutes Thornbird ran. Either way, Stutzman seemed like a good dude, and I am certainly rooting for him in whatever his next project may be. (Hopefully I understand that one)

Check out this film's Facebook page here.

While I'd like to personally thank all the filmmakers for showing their films that day and answering the bizarre questions from the audience (that guy in the back row was a bit of odd duck, no?), the real star of the show, in my eyes, was ol' Mrs. Two Dollar Cinema. Even if quirky short films aren't exactly her thing, spending (the Saturday after) my birthday with her is definitely mine.

Even if it didn't exactly end up as the Fantastic Voyage I was hoping for.


  1. That's awesome that you got to view these. They sound like interesting shorts.

    1. Thanks! There was a feature to close out the block, but I can't muster up the strength to review that one...yet.

      The shorts are always fun...but this batch (outside of the baseball doc) all got infinitely better upon the cast and crew explaining themselves. Still a good time though!