Short films are rarely consumed by the general public these days, but last night at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, a full house reaffirmed the unique ability of short films to pack a punch in a succinct running time. The third annual Nitehawk Shorts Festival’s opening night boasted an eclectic mix of nine short films, each under 20 minutes, that demonstrate how short filmmaking is a medium unto itself and is truly its own beast.
From "The Wolfpack" brothers’ family effort "Mirror Heart" to Reinaldo Marcus Green’s festival sensation "Stop," the short films proved capable of telling great stories that embrace their economical length instead of being hindered by it. Several of the filmmakers spoke after the screening to share the inspiration for their stories and discuss their experience making their shorts.
Beginning with "Mirror Heart," a beautifully contained and dreamlike film directed by Mukunda Angulo with the help of his entire family, the night’s program ran the gamut of narrative, documentary and experimental film, including Stephen Elliott’s post-apocalyptic comedy "What We Talk About When We Talk About Zombies," Kelly Adams’ documentary "One Man’s Trash," about NYC Department of Sanitation’s Nelson Molina’s collection of found objects, and Azu Davidson’s sharply eccentric "Let’s Have a Seizure."
One of the night’s standouts, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s "Stop" is a timely, tension-filled drama that shows the power of film to incite dialogue about pressing issues such as racial profiling. The uncomfortable and intimate film follows Xavier, an African American teenager, who is the victim of a stop-and-frisk search on his walk home from his baseball practice in Brooklyn. Green spoke to the importance of presenting the film to audiences even if it prompts a divisive response. "It’s resonating with people and I think,more importantly, it’s starting dialogue. Everybody has a different opinion about how they feel about it and I think that’s a good thing," said Green. When asked whether he is concerned that viewers might think his film validates Stop-and-Frisk, Green clarified, "It’s not about the drugs, it’s about the stop for me."
In "The Stick," Perry Strong, John Orphan and Greg Wayne concoct a story about two bumbling burglars who unwisely decide to try to rob their own drug dealers with an unloaded gun they steal from a house. Strong spoke about injecting the darker crime aspects of the film with his own sense of humor, saying "We were like, ‘Alright, we’re going to this crime drama thing.’ My buddy who’s a DP, he’s like super crime, and I do stand-up, so I was like, ‘I gotta be funny.’ They had written this whole thing where I die at the end and I was like, ‘The black guy doesn’t die in this one. That’s some bullshit.’ They were gonna cut my hand off and I was like, ‘No, I smoke at the end and I chill.’" [laughs]
Despite a vast difference in subject matter between their films, Jay Buim, the director of "Born to Love You," and Donna Di Novelli, the writer of "Stag," both revealed how the most personal elements of their movies were also some of the most effective. An ode to dreams and New Jersey, "Born to Love You" is a mockumentary of sorts about a hapless, hilarious hockey player who has dreams of making the NHL. Buim explained, "We shot for a couple of days in New Jersey at my house. All those places were places I went to growing up, that was the barbershop I went to growing up, that was my favorite sub shop, they were all very personal locations."
Di Novelli recounted how the glorious stag films seen in her powerfully nostalgic film "Stag" were actually taken from her late father’s collection, saying, "About 10 years ago, before my father died, he gave me his precious collection of stag films. I told Kevin [the director] the story and we were talking about making a film together and he said, ‘Well, that’s the film.’ So then I had to come up with an equivalent narrative for that, so it’s personal but not autobiographical. But those are my father’s stag films. And there’s a lot more, too."
The sole short not made within the last two years was one not to miss. Henry English’s "You See What I’m Trying to Say" first premiered at the 1967 New York Film Festival before, as English put it, "it just ran its course." "You See What I’m Trying to Say" is a stunning portrait of the late free jazz musician Marion Brown. The film uses Brown’s blistering music to translate its kaleidoscopic visuals of the artist in 1960s New York. English explained how his film was resurrected after 45 years of not being seen in theaters, saying, "In about 2010, there were two scholars who were doing research on Marion Brown and they somehow tracked me down and they wanted to see the movie. That’s how it got put on Vimeo."
The Nitehawk Shorts Festival continues through November 15 with "Midnite" and "Matinee" screenings throughout the weekend. For general information and tickets, head here.