With 314 short films from 43 countries screening at the 2010 Palm Springs International ShortFest, identifying the must-sees is a herculean task. Fortunately, indieWIRE was granted a preview of a dozen high profile shorts ranging from Oscar-winner Cynthia Wade's latest doc to James Franco's most recent directorial effort. If you're looking to discover international directorial talent on the rise, get yourself down to the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, CA from June 22 - 28 to check out the following twelve standout shorts.
"Born Sweet" - This 28-minute documentary about a plucky Cambodian boy who theorizes that people are either born sweet and sickly or salty and strong is directed by Cynthia Wade of "Freeheld" fame. It's no surprise that Wade's latest effort has already picked up a ton of accolades, including honorable mention at Sundance, the Grand Jury Prize at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, and Best Short doc at Aspen Shortsfest and the Ashland and Atlanta fests. Wade was inspired to make "Born Sweet" after hearing an NPR story about villages in Cambodia whose inhabitances are living with arsenic poisoning as a result of tainted well water.
"The Clerk's Tale" - Student filmmaker James Franco continues to impress with his latest, a 14-minute slice-of-life focusing on a middle-aged man who works in a mall-based suit store. Franco adapted this story from a poem by Spencer Reece, and the resulting film (which premiered at Cannes) could be considered a visual poem. It's the type of piece that would only work as a short, and it works extremely well. Based on "The Clerk's Tale" and his previous shorts "Herbert White" and "The Feast of Stephen" (also playing at Palm Springs), James Franco the filmmaker might have a more impressive career than James Franco the actor.
"Curious Thing" - Alain Hain directed this 9-minute short about straight/gay friendship, which combines an oral documentary approach with storytelling scripted by Jason Mills. The short, which mesmerizes with its dream-like vibe, has been written up in the New York Times and has won awards at the Atlanta Film Festival, Palm Beach International Film Festival, the Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and most recently at NewFest.
"Dog Heart" - The first of two very strong narrative shorts from Mexico, this 10-minute pulpy crime story by Ishmael Nava Alejos is very much out of the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez school. It blazes across the screen with such confidence that no one should be surprised when Hollywood comes a-knockin' on Alejos's door.
"Flat Love" - When it seems like every feature is now being released in 3-D, Spanish writer/director Andres Sanz has come up with a witty rebuke. His Manhattan art word-set 15-minute short is all about the allure of two-dimensions. A stylish and surreal love story results, aided and abetted by Isabella Rossellini's contribution as the film's narrator.
"The Foal" - Set in rural Australia, Josh Tanner's 10-minute portrait of a child in mourning isn't maudlin at all. Credit goes to writer/producer Jade van der Lei's very specific script and Turner's excellent direction of his tiny lead actress.
"Glenn Owen Dodds" - Another winner from Australia, Frazer Bailey's 16-minute comedy about finding a higher power in the most unexpected place already won over American short film fans, taking home the audience award at Aspen. It also seduced the French, earning the International Prix Canal+ award at Clermont-Ferrand. Most recently, it rocked the house at the Sydney Film Festival. Clearly "G.O.D." is irresistible.
"The Gold Mine" - Jacques Bonnavent writes and directs the second short from Mexico, a black comedy about the perils of middle-age internet dating. A delight from start to finish, this 10-minute short is sure to be an audience pleaser at Palm Springs. With a strong eye and an undeniable funny bone, Bonnavent is a filmmaker with a bright future ahead.
"Little Red Hoodie" - As the title implies, this is a contemporary update of the classic fairytale. In Joern Utkilen's audacious 15-minute adaptation, the heroine is a slutty-attired pre-teen living in a remote Scottish village. Although the actors' accents are thick, it's worth the effort to follow the ten-year-old heroine as she encounters the big bad wolf in the form of a loutish teenage boy. Spoiler alert: 21st century girls are way more savvy than the Brothers Grimm could ever have imagined.
"A Lost and Found Box of Human Sensation" - Martin Wallner and Stefan Leuchtenberg collaborate on this 15-minute German animation about a son dealing with his father's death from cancer. Although that logline sounds pretty straightforward, the storytelling and animation is anything but. The soulful and highly dramatic voices bringing the viewer along on this journey are achingly familiar; the end credits reveal them to be Ian McKellen and Joseph Fiennes.
"Please Say Something" - Written directed and produced by David O'Reilly, this animated cat and mouse saga won the Golden Bear for best short at the 2009 Berlinale. The 10-minute running time flies by as we follow two leads, each of whom "speak" in meows and squeaks (English subtitles provided), For those of you who can't make it to Palm Springs, this German short can be seen in its entirety online at http://vimeo.com/3388129.
"War" - A traditional narrative film, this 16-minute family-friendly short set in 1946 could easily be mistaken for a classic Italian feature film. Director Paolo Sassanelli and his actors, cinematographer, costumer, and set decorator hit all the right notes to transport us back in time as kids and adults get caught up in childish games interrupted by the arrival of American soldiers on patrol.
The 16th Annual Palm Springs International ShortFest runs June 22-28, 2010.