Extreme Shorts – a review of Future Shorts 2012 Spring

This is a guest column reviewing our 2012 Spring programme by Alexander Flenniken. He is a filmmaker living in Taipei, a founder of “Cracked Aperture,” a video production house, and is currently in preproduction for a feature film titled “Fall Tiger,” slated to begin filming in September.

Film still from The Bear

The Bear by Nash Edgerton

The thing about short films is that they’re extreme. The Spring 2012 selection of Future Shorts, which I saw in Taipei this week, was generally a good example of this, featuring stories about terrible accidents, love, and probably the most sexually explicit claymation ever made. But the thing is, although these films are shocking and sometimes quite moving, it’s subtlety and realism that are ultimately the most memorable.

What I call the “short film car rule,” held true here–whenever characters are driving a car in a short film, the car inevitably crashes–but it was bicycling that was the most dangerous, with two impressively violent bike accidents across the eight films. The first film, “Bear,” featured a sequence of mistakes and misunderstandings leading to the surreal death of one of the main characters, keeling over in a gigantic bear suit. I found both that film and “The Arm,” this second film with a bike accident, to be so manipulative that the manipulation became evident. I react strongly against violence like this, which punishes the audience for liking the characters or engaging with the story.

My favorite film, ultimately, was the second, “Quadrangle,” a documentary about the strange linking between the parents of two families in the late sixties, as the fathers switched houses as soon as the children fell asleep, and returned home before they woke up. There’s something fascinating about hearing these parents, now with grey hair and wrinkles, telling the story of how they took the first steps of this double affair as they were stuck on a sandbar during a boat trip. One of the funniest moments in the festival was a mother describing in detail her sexual relationship with her friends’ husband, only to stop to bat angrily at a passing fly. Ultimately, things fell apart, but one of the fathers told of how he remembered that time as being a happy one, and contented one.

The organizers, who are friends of mine, asked me to write a blog post to share my perspective on these films as a filmmaker. I’m not sure if my perspective is any clearer or my taste is any more sophisticated, but I am drawn to a thought I’ve found interesting as I dig deeper and deeper into film. Cinematographers are said to have shifting tastes in color and shadow, and as they become more and more experienced, their visceral interest in saturated colors, complementary colors, low key lighting, fast cuts and dramatic moves is replaced by a more refined interest in complex colors, subtle graduations across a face, and compositions and moves that feel like reality. Maybe we have two species of short films here, a style for the masses, a popcorn style, exemplified in “Bear”, and a fine wine style, exemplified in “Quadrangle.”

In any case, I’m looking forward to Summer’s selection!