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by Kim Adelman
March 24, 2010 3:07 AM
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ND/NF Shorts: Longer Is Better

A scene from Amy Grappell's "Quadrangle." Image courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Short films should be short, especially when they play in front of features, right? The 2010 edition of New Directors/New Films breaks that cardinal rule by programming eleven shorts, the majority of which clock in at 20 minutes and over. This rule breaking pays off in spades as every single one of the ND/NF shorts has undeniable cinematic weight.

Here, in alphabetical order, is a preview of the eleven short films selected to play the 39th annual edition of New Directors/New Films, which runs from March 24 through April 4, 2010 in New York City.

"The Bizarre Friends of Ricardinho" Directed by Augusto Canani (Brazil, 2009, 20 min.)

This is a quirky tale of a nervous young man working at a high-pressure advertising agency in Brazil. Ricardinho (played by Ricardo Lilja) amuses his stressed-out co-workers with outlandish stories of his bizarre family, friends, and pets. Director Augusto Canani has a sure hand, conveying the mundane office world and the fantastical stories with great panache. This short is world premiering at ND/NF.

"Break a Leg" Directed by Jesse Shamata (Canada, 2009, 7 min.)

The shortest film of the festival, this piece nevertheless feels just as solid and complete as the festival's longest short (the 30-minute "Felicita"). Lead actor Chuck Shamata holds the audience's attention as he delivers a monologue in close up for the majority of the film. Director Jesse Shamata deserves kudos for manipulating the audience so shrewdly from the start, and then rewarding us with an unexpected payoff.

"Catafalque" Directed by Christoph Rainer (Austria, 2010, 13 min.)

A story of two brothers hiding in the basement as their abusive father rages above them, this short should be seen in the darkened theater auditorium, where the viewer can't escape the uncomfortable experience director Christoph Rainer achieves via extremely precise use of light, sound, and shot framing. A tough film to watch, but oh so effective...

"Felicita" Directed by Salome Aleksi (Georgia, 2009, 30 min.)

A funeral story with a unique twist - the widow is away working in Italy, so she mourns her late husband via a cell phone placed on the deceased's chest. Director Salome Aleksi composes each shot with an eye for subtle humor.

"Logorama" Directed by Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy, and Ludovic Houplain (France, 2009, 17 min.)

This animated short caused a lot of people to lose their Oscar bets when it snatched the Academy Award away from the odds-favorite (the latest Wallace & Gromit). Seventeen minutes fly by as we follow Ronald McDonald's crime spree in a universe populated by corporate logos. The filmmaking trio of Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy, and Ludovic Houplain, collectively known as H5, clearly had a lot of fun executing this cartoon's every twist and turn, and their enthusiasm is infectious.

"Looking at Animals" Directed by Marc Turtletaub (USA, 2009, 25 min.)

Established producer Marc Turtletaub ("Away We Go," "Sunshine Cleaning," "Little Miss Sunshine") steps behind the camera for the first time to write and direct this twenty-five minute short starring Will Patton and shot by John Bailey. With the hook of suburban voyeurism, this story takes its time to unfold but ultimately arrives at a highly satisfying conclusion.

"Quadrangle" Directed by Amy Grappell (USA, 2010, 20 min.)

This documentary is anchored by current day testimony by the filmmaker's parents, who relate the story of how they got involved with another couple and ended up swapping partners. Their stories are effectively told in split screen and punctuated with family photographs. Director Amy Grappell does a wonderful job of letting the tale play out without imposing any prejudices or judgments.

"Rob and Valentyna in Scotland" Directed by Eric Lynne (USA/UK, 2009, 23 min.)

Director Eric Lynne co-wrote this short, which garnered an honorable mention from the jury when it played Sundance in January, with the film's male lead, Rob Chester Smith. This tale of two recently introduced cousins who venture to the Isle of Skye has a delicious sense of place. Smith and his female costar Kimi Reichenberg are terrific, especially in the rocky relationship scenes.

"Snow Hides the Shade of Fig Trees" Directed by Samer Najari (Canada, 2009, 21 min.)

While it's difficult at times to keep track of who is who in this subtitled piece about a ragtag collection of immigrants who hang fliers on doors during the very cold Canadian winter, the interaction between the men is fascinating. But it's the unexpected moments both big and small that make this film captivating. Samer Najari's short has already been embraced by the festival circuit, having also played the Toronto International Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand, and Tampere, among others.

"Slate" Directed by Carmen Vidal (USA/Spain, 2010, 15 min.)

While films about filmmaking have been overdone, filmmaker Carmen Vidal undertakes a fresh approach with this story about a night editor obsessed with the assistant camerawoman who slates each take. Anyone who spends too much time in an editing room can empathize with Vidal's hero.

"Suha" Directed by Robby Reis (Canada, 2009, 8 min.)

The second shortest film of the festival, this poetic short about a graffiti tagger succeeds on the charm of its heroine's narration. Director Robby Reis makes the wise decision not to overstay his welcome, showing us just what we need to know to appreciate his star and her world.

The New Directors/New Films festival runs from March 24 through April 4, 2010. More information available at www.newdirectors.org.

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