From April 27 to May 6, 2020, I watched 25 Narrative and Documentary Shorts. Sadly, SXSW 2020 did not get to happen in-person this year in Austin, Texas, due to COVID. However, I am incredibly happy that Amazon picked up 39 films from the festival and was able to stream them for free to the general public. I proudly present Part Two of my exclusive SXSW packaged reviews. Below are the 9 Documentary Shorts I watched back in May. Enjoy!
Documentary Shorts (Alphabetically) :
1. Affurmative Action (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Travis Wood
Affurmative Action is a brilliant 4-minute Short that explores the "meet the team" pages of video and advertising companies — asking the question why are there so many dogs, but no Black people? Let me expound: Director Travis Woods studies the lack of representation in the workplace by searching through companies "meet the team" pages on their websites. Here, we see a variety of different video and advertising companies who share a diverse representation of company dogs — yet, there are zero Black people on their teams. It's a stark contrast of companies taking an expansive effort to even give some of their dogs' website bios, while failing to hire qualified African-Americans in the workforce. Woods uses a montage of shots and humorous music to shed light on the lack of representation for the African-American community. In the end, Woods asks the simple question: "How far have we come?"
2. Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Christine Turner; Producer: Erin Wright; Starring: Betye Saar
Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business is a sweet and empowering Short about the life of legendary artist Betye Saar. At 94-years-old, there's no slowing down Betye and her mission to create beautiful works of art. Feasting on our eyes, this Documentary Short showcases Betye's phenomenal skill in the world of contemporary art. Betye is a visual storyteller, crafted through her accomplished printmaking. During the 1970s, Betye was a part of the Black Arts Movement — this movement engaged in the myths and stereotypes about race and femininity. As a Black woman, Betye has spent her career challenging negative and, at times, racist ideas about how African-Americans are perceived in America. Betye's pieces of art are captivating, fully alive, and always tell a story. Art can help persuade and form new ideas for our culture and our country. Betye has been advocating for change since the dreaded days of Nixon. Long live Betye Saar.
3. Broken Orchestra (United States, Canada)
Director: Charlie Tyrell; Screenwriter: Josef Beeby; Producer: Julie Baldassi
Broken Orchestra is an immersive Short shedding light on music-education programs struggling to survive in public education. During this 11-minute single-shot Short, director Charlie Tyrell swiftly moves the camera throughout the halls of a Philadelphia public-school — moving the camera up to old televisions on stands. Here, we see multiple interviews of people inside Philadelphia's public-school system talking about losing almost all the funding for its music-education programs in 2007. After the funding loss, hundreds of school instruments needed to be repaired and were left for dead. The community members moved into action, helping bring back those broken instruments and putting them into the hands of students. It's a moving Short, that gave educators, volunteers, and musicians a chance to speak on screen about the issue. In 2017, a music and art project, Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, began raising awareness for students in need of an instrument. Broken Orchestra is a driving force from its first to final frame — musical notes and all.
4. Call Center Blues (United States)
Director: Geeta Gandbhir; Producer: Jessica Devaney
Call Center Blues is an urgent picture focusing on the loss of home, hope, and the American Dream. During its 24-minute runtime, we meet four people who have been deported from the United States to Tijuana, Mexico. Their lives are shattered, as they are forced to leave everything behind that they know and love in America. It's a heartbreaking cinematic tale about migration and displacement. Each of our characters tell a different story about how they ended up on the other side of the border. Their journey to this new unfamiliar life leads them to make a choice to work at a call center to earn a living. This new country can be frightening at times, yet it can also be a beacon of hope. In the Trump era, we've seen countless families be torn apart and deported — in Call Center Blues — we are confronted with those harsh realities. Director Geeta Gandbhir takes the viewers down a road full of vivid and humane stories. There have been many instances where people talk about deportation as numbers or statistics on paper — Call Center Blues humanizes these real and complex situations, putting a face in front of that stat. It makes you witness the firsthand experience of families from our Latinx community torn apart by the destruction of deportation.
5. Hiplet: Because We Can (United States)
Director/Producer: Addison Wright; Starring: Yetunde Washington, Alana Larry, Alexandria Franklin, Camryn Taylor, Nia Parker, Jayda Perry, Skye Watts, Jacksyn Sallay, Homer Hans Bryant
Hiplet: Because We Can blends classical pointe technique with hip-hop and urban dance styles — it's an appreciation of Black culture and pride. This Documentary Short brings the Hiplet ballerinas to the center stage, representing an image of inspiration for Black women everywhere. Director Addison Wright's Short showcases the importance of community dance and why representation matters for Black and Brown communities. Hiplet: Because We Can is a hidden gem full of life, pride, and glamour in one's identity. This Short will strike a chord inside you, revealing the importance of one's voice. We see each of these women's amazing gifts unleashed in the Grand Ballroom on the South Side of Chicago. Dazzling and spectacular, Hiplet: Because We Can is a triumph in helping push the culture forward — making progress one step at a time.
6. Lions in the Corner (United States)
Director: Paul Hairston; Producer: Jake Ewald; Starring: Scarface AKA Chris Wilmore
Lions in the Corner is a gut-punching Short, focusing on rebirth and redemption in one's self. This Short takes place in the rural mountains of Virginia, where we meet Chris Wilmore, AKA Scarface — who started a fight club in his backyard called Streetbeefs. Wilmore received his nickname because of a house fire that left him, as a child, with burn scars on his face. Scarface is also a former convict and felon. After witnessing the constant deaths of his friends to shootings and stabbings, Wilmore decided to create an organization to help combat the gun and knife violence sweeping over his community. This fight club is a more controlled environment, giving the community a healing and powerful response. Here, we see people settling their differences inside the ring without having to worry about someone taking it too far. Wilmore's advocation for change is not only reflected within himself but in the people around him. In the end, Lions in the Corner is a fascinating tale of rebirth and redemption.
7. Modern Whore (Canada)
Director/Screenwriter: Nicole Bazuin; Producer: Lisa Baylin; Starring: Andrea Werhun, Michael Cuddy, John Marcucci, Chester Brown, Patrick Orr, Mark LaPointe
Modern Whore is probably one of the most bizarre and well-filmed Shorts from SXSW's 2020 collection. Smart, Sophisticated, and colorfully exuberant — Modern Whore takes on the sexist, male-dominated world, as told by a performer and sex worker herself, Andrea Werhun. Andrea led a secret life of a University student by day and an escort by night. Andrea's alias name was "Mary Ann." Not long after Andrea began escorting, she discovered an outrageous site full of online reviews of Mary Ann's sexual performance written by self-proclaimed “hobbyists.” Horrified, these online reviews were nothing of what Andrea remembered — fabricated, these reviewers were more interested in boasting about their macho egos, then actually rating their true experience. Modern Whore is a combination of these hobbyist's fantasy perspectives, poking fun at them and then squashing their very existence. We see Andrea telling the reviewer's story and performing what they describe — turning the tables, Andrea reveals what actually happened during each of these encounters. It's a hilarious combination fused with neon lights and female empowerment. Director Nicole Bazuin helms the Short's radiant core, spearheading an impressive cinematic experience. Bazuin and Andrea also collaborated and wrote Modern Whore: A Memoir, which is an acclaimed sex work memoir art book. Shining onto Andrea's neon glow, we witness at firsthand her encounters in this male-dominated world — the good, bad, and the ugly.
8. No Crying at the Dinner Table (Canada)
Director: Carol Nguyen; Producers: Carol Nguyen, Aziz Zoromba; Starring: Thao Nguyen-Duong, Ngoc Nguyen, Michelle Nguyen, Carol Nguyen
No Crying at the Dinner Table was the most emotionally resonate Shorts I watched during SXSW 2020. During No Crying at the Dinner Table, we watch Director Carol Nguyen interview members of her family, crafting a portrait of love and grief. Nguyen's interview takes place at her parent's kitchen table, where her father, mother, and sister talk about past experiences of grief and trauma. Within this 15-minute Short, we explore the common stigma in Asian families against expressing emotional vulnerabilities. Nguyen conducts separate interviews with each member of her family, and then plays it back for them all gathered around the dinner table. Here, we see each of them at their most vulnerable talking about troubles in their past — spiritually and emotionally connected, the family can now cry in comfort with one another. Through this experience, they can fully embrace their vulnerabilities and heal their wounds. No Crying at the Dinner Table is a heavy film to bare, but after watching this cathartic experience, one is left with rich rewards.
9. Quilt Fever (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Olivia Loomis Merrion
If you didn't know that quilt making had a cult following, then you're in for a treat with Quilt Fever. Once a year, 30,000 quilters gather in Paducah, Kentucky for its annual quilt competition. "Quilt Week" AKA “the Academy Awards of quilting” doubles the population of this little Kentucky town. A feast for your eyes, Quilt Fever showcases quilts of all different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. This annual event features quilt celebrities and even a nonstop local TV channel, called "The Quilt Channel." This event gives passionate quilters a chance to showcase their talents and craft to the world. Quilt Fever is directed by Olivia Loomis Merrion, who's sweet narrative with slap a smile on your face from the beginning until the end. Quilt Fever weaves exciting storylines and backgrounds from quilters all over the country. This Short was one of the most charming little patchworks to premiere during SXSW 2020, so sit back and enjoy the craft.
For Your Consideration:
In Their Own League
Mashley at the Movies
Mike, Mike, and Oscar
Next Best Picture
The Movie Oracle
Untitled Cinema Gals Project