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 one of two packaged reviews. Up first, the 16 Narrative Shorts I watched.
Narrative Shorts (Alphabetically) :
1. A Period Piece (France, U.S.)
Director/Screenwriter: Shuchi Talati; Producer: Esra Saydam; Co-Producer: Claire Chassagne; Starring: Sonal Aggarwal, Nardeep Khurmi
A Period Piece studies the messiness of intimacy between two people. In its 12-minute runtime, we meet Geetha (Sonal Aggarwal) an order loving Indian-American woman, who's incredibly independent. One afternoon, Geetha finally decides to have sex with Vehd (Nardeep Khurmi). Unfortunately, things turn quickly, causing a fight to erupt between Geetha and Vehd. Geetha is on her period and Vehd, in his ignorance, doesn't know how to tactfully talk to Geetha about this, while they're trying to have sex. Writer-director Shuchi Talati carefully studies the literal messiness of human interactions and communications when it comes to sex. This Short is an honest and raw look at a woman's menstrual cycle. A Period Piece is uncomfortable and wonderfully acted by our two leads. Through Geetha and Vehd's struggle, A Period Piece allows us to examine one's own personal experiences.
2. Basic (United States)
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Chelsea Devantez; Co-Producer: Kevin Walsh; Starring: Nelson Franklin, Georgia Mischak, Chelsea Devantez
Basic is one of the shortest Narrative Short's from SXSW's titles, coming in at a fast 3-minutes. Basic is wild and funny, exploring the insecurities in all of us. The film's description of Basic "is a very, very, very short film about a dumb lil’ ho doing lil’ ho things." I don't feel like I need to expound much more off of that brilliant description, other than it analyzes social media stalking, insecurities, and past exes.
3. Blocks (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Bridget Moloney; Producers: Kate Chamuris, Kristin Slaysman, Valerie Steinberg; Starring: Claire Coffee, Mark Webber, Phoebe Sinclair, George Sinclair, Ruha Taslimi
Blocks is an 11-minute existential comedy about the mother (Claire Coffee) of two young children who begins to spontaneously vomit tiny-colorful toy blocks. Blocks is a bizarre little Short that deals with the struggles of motherhood. The blocks that Coffee continues to vomit throughout the Short symbolizes and represents her fears, anxiety, and struggles of being a mother. Blocks is witty and full of gag-out moments, as our overwhelmed mother finally realizes that she needs to set aside some time for herself and her mental health. It's a building moment.
4. Broken Bird (United States)
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Rachel Harrison Gordon; Starring: Indigo Hubbard-Salk, Chad L. Coleman, Jari Jones, Mel House, Bill Aiken, Vivian Miller, Cantor Erica Lippitz
Broken Bird is a brilliant little film that follows the life of a biracial girl in the New Jersey suburb. Our heroine, Birdie (Indigo Hubbard-Salk), is raised by her mom in a Jewish household and has been preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. Birdie spends a rare visitation day with her father — they share a meal and discuss overcoming her doubts in life. Through this new interaction with her father, Birdie decides to invite him to her Bat Mitzvah. Through Broken Bird, Birdie confronts what independence means as she transitions into adulthood. Broken Bird is a superb film directed and written by Bridget Moloney, as we travel with our heroine through the weariness of life. Bold, compassionate, and fully alive, Broken Bird reaches for the sky.
5. Daddio (United States)
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Casey Wilson; Co-Writer: Laura Kindred; Co-Producers: Ursula Camack, Laura Kindred, Adam Silver; Starring: Michael McKean, Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael, Adam Pally, Blair Beeken, Johnny Meeks
Daddio is a fantastic little Short that explores the real-life traumas of losing a loved one. Through tears, laughter, and fears, Daddio talks and asks the uncomfortable questions about life and how to move on. Actor and director, Casey Wilson (SNL and Happy Endings), examines her own personal experience with losing her mother, wrapping the script around the heartaches of death and the relationship with her father (played by Michael McKean, Better Call Saul's Chuck McGill). Daddio grapples with a father and daughter's grieving process — Paul (McKean) is a little manic, he gets a perm and even begs his neighbors to let him use their hot tub. While Abby (Wilson) is in a slump, she sleeps in her closet and has no motivation to do anything after her mother's death. She even uses a shopping cart as a laundry basket. One weekend, Paul decides to visit Abby, leading them to both confront their inner fears and learning how to move on in life. Daddio is charming, humane, and strikes a resonate chord inside you. Wilson and McKean are both superb and their chemistry together shines bright. In the simplest of terms, Daddio is a comedy about death.
6. Dirty (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Matthew Puccini; Producers: Cecilia Delgado, Jeremy Truong, Matthew Puccini; Starring: Morgan Sullivan, Manny Dunn
Dirty is a personal and honest journey of two queer teenagers experiencing intimacy for the first time. Writer-director Matthew Puccini paints a raw and tender portrait of what it's like being young and gay in this expounding world of ours. In the beginning of our Short, Marco (Morgan Sullivan) decides to cut class to spend the afternoon with his boyfriend, Graham (Manny Dunn). Both are new at having a relationship and both are new when it comes to navigating sex. And like many first times, things do not go as planned. What we are left is an intimate detail of the humane connection traveling through the messiness of a first experience.
7. Face To Face Time (United States)
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Izzy Shill; Starring: Izzy Shill, Sean Patrick McGowan
Face to Face Time is a hilarious Short that satires people trying to be intimate via technology. A ridiculous sex-inducing comedy that shows the awkwardness of combining sex and FaceTime. Claire (Izzy Shill) decides to take a bold step in initiating a FaceTime call with Danny (Sean Patrick McGowan). During the call, Claire soon realizes Danny's flaccid enthusiasm for her. Danny is egotistical and full of himself, leading to a disastrous outcome. Face to Face Time is short, funny, and to the point. Izzy Shill's first time Short will keep audiences everywhere amused.
8. Figurant (Czechia, France)
Director/Screenwriter: Jan Vejnar; Producers: Origine Films / Silk Films; Starring: Denis Lavant, Michal Kern, Jiří Kocman, Filip Chlud, Andrej Polák, Marek Pospíchal, Petr Vršek, Petr Jeništa, Viktorie Čermáková, Eva Vrbková
Figurant is one of the oddest Shorts from the SXSW lineup. The Short begins with a few men gathering in front of an old hall in the suburb of a city. One of the men (Denis Lavant) hasn’t the slightest idea about the upcoming day work. He has to obey all orders of the environment without understanding the meaning of this system — if he doesn't, he would fall behind. He has to change his civilian clothes for an old military uniform and has a prosthetic scar placed on his forehead. He's confused from all of this but doesn't stop to ask why. Figurant is a dizzying experience full of suspense and eeriness. Once our character receives an assault rifle, his scar begins to bleed. But, there's no time to think and he has to keep moving forward. In the end, our character comes face-to-face with a haunting confrontation, shaking his trust in this mysterious institution. The end result leaves him numb and no amount of compensation will ever be enough for what he experienced. Figurant is an intriguing Short that will haunt your soul after the final frame.
9. Reminiscences of the Green Revolution (Philippines, U.S.)
Director/Screenwriter: Dean Colin Marcial; Producer: Armi Rae Cacanindin; Starring: Annicka Dolonius, Sid Lucero, Madeleine Humphries, Alex Medina, Abner Delina Jr.
Reminiscences of the Green Revolution was my favorite Narrative Short that I watched during Amazon's SXSW binge. Reminiscences of the Green Revolution tells a ghost story about love and Eco-terrorism in the Philippines. It's a haunting piece of filmmaking that will keep you glued to your screen. The group calls themselves The Green Gorillas. These young environmental activists are compassionate for what they believe in but are struggling with a changing world. The group of activists are a mixture of The Breakfast Club and Che Guevara. The camera is always moving, keeping us focused on the message and what's next to accomplish. We are introduced to Adrienne (Annicka Dolonius), a half-white political organizer with abroad working ambitions, who's at odds with her boyfriend Jess (Sid Lucero), a daydreamer of mind-bombs. Next, there's Eddie (Alex Medina), the class clown, who's having an affair with the star med student Emilia (Madeliene Humpheries) behind her boyfriend’s back. Finally, there's Martin (Abner Delina Jr.), the youngest of the group, narrating the film. Martin is also dead when the Short begins, so its as if his ghost is remembering the last day of his life, spilling everything out to the audience. Reminiscences of the Green Revolution is a fascinating Short that studies activism and social unrest within a country. This cast of young Filipino actors are, quite simply, magnificent. Writer-director Dean Colin Marcial captures a vibrant drama layered with portraits of idealism, jealousy, and power dynamics — while all of the story structure is coming from our dead narrator, Martin. Reminiscences of the Green Revolution is a wild ride that will engulf you with story and drama.
10. Runon (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Daniel Newell Kaufman; Producer: Lizzie Shaprio; Starring: Erin Markey, Luke Visagie, Mike Alonzo, Yolanda Adal, Larissa Giddens, Larry Albert, Gus Hermoza, Barry Alston, Eileen Paulino, Anthony Aroya
Runon is a mesmerizing Short that's shown through the perspective of a child. Luke (Luke Visagie) and his mom (Erin Markey) have two garbage bags full of clothes, and two tickets out of town on the midnight Greyhound. Luke is nonverbal throughout the entire runtime, yet his facial expressions speak volumes. Luke's mom runs her emotions on impulse — one minute she's joking with her son and the next she's screaming at him. The whole is experience is dizzying and will keep viewers in a daze. Runon is shot entirely in one shot — giving off a claustrophobic feel at a broken down station. Luke is trying to put together the pieces on why and where he and his mom are going. After Luke finds a gun inside his mom's purse, things start to spiral out of control.
11. Single (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Ashley Eakin; Producer: Connie Jo Sechrist; Starring: Delaney Feener, Jordan Wiseley, Malia A. Dawkins, Rosemary Stevens, Jessica Jade Andres, Kaycee Campbell, Steve Olson, Lawrence Novikoff
Single is a wonderful Short that unveils the story of a woman who just wants to live life 'normally' and not be judge. Writer-director Ashley Eakin (assistant to director Jon M. Chu's feature, Crazy Rich Asians) based the story off her own life experiences. Eakin has a physical disability — a rare bone condition, Olliers disease and Maffucci Syndrome. Eakin has become a major representation advocate for people with physical differences and disabilities in media. In her newest film, Single, Eakin continues to prove why representation matters. Single follows the story of a woman (Delaney Feener), born with one arm, who goes on a blind date with a man (Jordan Wiseley), who has one hand. Kim (Feener) is upset that she's been set up with someone who also has a disability. Jake (Wiseley) wants to continue the date with Kim and see where the night takes them. Single is a raw and honest portrait of human interaction and what makes us unique. Single sheds light on struggles, judgments, and acceptance — accompanied by beautiful cinematography. It was one of the best Short films presented at SXSW and it also received the Special Jury Recognition for Narrative Short. Eakin's film is a profound look at what it's like to be human.
12. Soft (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Daniel Antebi; Producers: Casey Bader, Reid Hannaford, Nicole Quintero Ochoa; Starring: Josh Lerner, Benicio Franqui, Alex Kramer
Soft is a nauseous Short that grapples with the horrors of an abusive martial arts coach, while also examining a queer 16-year-old's perspective. Half of the Short takes place in the dark and all we hear are conversations from our main cast. It's an intriguing way to start a movie — a mystery until we are finally shown the light and understand what exactly is going on. Once the lights start to come into place, we realize we are in the martial arts studio bathroom with Sam (16), his younger brother Leo (13), Sam’s secret crush Rafa (15), and their martial arts coach Novik (27). While the boys smoke weed, the film unravels that Sam has been sexually abused by coach Novik in the past. These abuses are unknown to Leo and Rafa. Once, Sam and Rafa leave the bathroom they're confronted with each other's feelings, leaving Sam to untangle himself from his ties to coach Novik. The cinematography of reds, yellows, and oranges will sweep through your bones, giving off a numbing experience. Soft is a profound little film that will strike you to your core.
13. Still Wylde (Canada, U.S.)
Director/Screenwriter: Ingrid Haas; Producers: Devin Lawrence, Katie White; Starring: Ingrid Haas, Barry Rothbart, Sabrina Jalees
Still Wylde is all the more surreal now that I am finally typing this review for it. Gertie (Ingrid Haas) and her sometimes boyfriend, Sam (Barry Rothbart), are faced with a major life decision after they find out that Gertie is pregnant. This comes as a shock to them, but Gertie decides that she wants to keep the baby and Sam says he'll stay by her side. Gertie and Sam begin preparing for their new little one to arrive — buying baby supplies and talking about names. Sadly, when they go into their first doctor's appointment for the ultrasound, they find out that their baby has no heartbeat. Gertie and Sam are devastated by this news and all they can do now is wait for Gertie to have the natural miscarriage. The reason this Short is now so surreal to me is that earlier this month my wife, Glynis, and I had a miscarriage. Even now, when I am typing this review I am broken-hearted by the loss of our child.
I remember watching this Short the morning of our first ultrasound — I did not know what this Short was about, so I was incredibly anxious after I watched the film until our appointment that afternoon. Yet, to my joy, our baby was healthy and his heart was beating strong at seven weeks. Time went by and everything seemed normal to Glynis and me. Our next appointment was scheduled for June 5 — the 12-week mark. Sadly, this was the appointment where we found out our baby no longer had a heartbeat. The doctor's told us that Glynis had what was called a 'missed miscarriage' just like Gertie. And now, as I type this review, emotions have begun to swell up inside me. Miscarriage is real and it happens to so many women and their partners. It is something that needs to be talked about because the pain cuts deep and branches out to friends and family. Haas' film is profound and subtitle, that's also perfectly acted by our main leads (Haas and Rothbart). Still Wylde is a gut-wrenching Short that grapples with the hard realities of miscarriage — something that I wasn't expecting my wife and I to go through, yet here we are.
14. Vert (United Kingdom)
Director/Screenwriter: Kate Cox; Producers: Nick Rowell, Sophie Reynolds, Gabriele Lo Giudice; Starring: Nikki Amuka-Bird, Nick Frost, Olivia Vinall
Vert is an astonishing Short that deals with acceptance, self-identification, and reawakening. Vert gives a voice to the Trans community, speaking up for what it means to truly be yourself. Our story unfolds with Emelia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Jeff (Nick Frost), an open-minded couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. In celebration, Emelia and Jeff decide to venture into the virtual world of “Vert” together. Within this VR world, you are given a character that uncovers your 'ideal self.' Emelia discovers a deeply hidden secret about her husband’s identity through a pair of VR glasses, buried inside of him since before the two met. Vert is a beautiful film about the power of unconditional love and what it means to be your true authentic self. In the VR world, we are introduced to Jem (played by Olivia Vinall). Jem is who Jeff truly identifies as, deep down. On top of the superb acting, we are greeted with gorgeous cinematography and a luscious score. Writer-director Kate Cox talks about her reasoning and understanding behind the lighting and sound: “I always imagined the VR world being lit differently. Aaron Reid and Gaffer Lee Parfait gave me the luxury of choice and what we found just felt right. I learned that those colours are called ‘bisexual lighting’ after the shoot. The sound design separates the two worlds really well also.” Vert exemplifies the Trans community and why their voice matters. In the end, Trans women are women and Trans men are men. Period.
15. The Voice in Your Head (United States)
Director/Screenwriter: Graham Parkes; Producer: Brendan Garrett; Starring: Lewis Pullman, Mat Wright, Trian Longsmith
The Voices in Your Head is a hilarious Short about an office worker (Lewis Pullman) who has withdrawn himself to spending every waking hour tortured by the negative voice inside his head (played by Mat Wright), until one concerned co-worker decides to take action. Dan (Pullman) goes through his daily motions bombarded by a narcissistic voice (Wright) until he finally realizes that the voice is actually a real person. Shocking and funny, Dan is dumbfounded that the voice isn't in his head after all. It's a surreal comedy that messes with one's mind, leaving the viewers and Dan confused about why someone would want to spend every waking moment taunting someone else. The Voices in Your Head gets under your skin and stays there.
16. Waffle (United States)
Director: Carlyn Hudson; Screenwriters/Producers: Katie Marovitch, Kerry Barker; Co-Producers: Pamela Robison, Bridgett Greenberg; Starring: Katie Marovitch, Kerry Barker, Raphael Chestang
Waffle is a social satire on technology and friendship, with a dash of horror. Kerry (Kerry Barker) is having a 'sleepover' with the socially awkward, mysteriously orphaned Katie (Katie Marovitch). In society, friendship is growing ever more isolating. Katie buys Kerry's time for her to be her pretend friend for hours on end. However, Kerry learns the hard way that Katie always gets what she wants, even with waffles. Waffle is a social satire that dissects what friendship means in the era of social media. Hilarious and horrifying, Waffle is a dish best served hot.
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