Through the filmmaker’s lens
The Milwaukee Short Film Festival is this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4 and 5, at the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Lubar Auditorium, screening over 30 films in two days. In preparation, TCD asked two local filmmakers to each review a submission from out of town. We asked them to look at these shorts with an independent filmmaker’s eye and tell our readers what they saw.
Review by Matthew Konkel
When we first see Robert, he’s in his underwear, sleeping and shaking along to the rhythm of a pulled caravan. This follows images of an empty beer bottle, smashed cigarettes and a black skull. This juxtaposition of imagery is one of the deftly executed things about Happy Clapper in its 24 minutes of run time. With these opening images we know what kind of movie to expect. Rough. Extreme. Violent. Characters coming to a bad end. There is violence and irreverent behavior in the short, but Happy Clapper is primarily a story of conversion. Specifically, this conversion is someone attempting to convert another from a life of sin to that of a Christian.
Robert is a young man; good looking and intelligent. He’s also immoral and involved in some nefarious activities. While stopped in the caravan and left alone by his compatriots, Robert receives an unexpected visitor. Cath is a born again Christian who has come to Robert eager to inject him with her influence and beliefs. Robert resists and circumvents her attempts in the most creative and wicked of ways. His actions spawn events that are both helpful and damaging, and by the final fade out, a conversion takes place for both parties, but not in any way we expect. It’s the original story twists in Happy Clapper that set it apart from other shorts of its genre.
Tom Marshall’s direction is clean and calculated. (Marshall’s film bigboy_74 won best film at the 2008 Milwaukee Short Film Festival.) Like any good piece of art, the creator’s hand is invisible. The choices of camera angle tell the story efficiently and hold the viewer’s attention. The framing and composition draws the audience in to elicit the appropriate empathy or loathing for the characters. The cinematography and lighting is beautifully crafted without drawing attention to itself or being pretty for pretty’s sake.
Short films can be a tricky endeavor to pull off right. It’s a mistake to execute them as merely compact versions of features with clean, neat beginnings and endings. They are their own beasts to tame. In shorts, some things are much better left unsaid. The challenge comes in deciding exactly how much to tell an audience, in what way, and still leave them satisfied when the credits roll. Happy Clapper accomplishes this charge well, and for that reason ranks in the upper tier of cinema shorts. I recommend it for its finely executed cinematography, original story content, and the actors’ prowess.
Besides writing for TCD, Matthew Konkel’s eclectic pursuits include poetry, screenwriting, teaching, acting and filmmaking. He is a multi award-winning film producer with Last House Productions. Visit www.lasthouseproductions.com for more information on their latest project NEPTUNE.
Do Not Disturb
Review by Kara Mulrooney
Jie and Xaio are abroad selling a “Bio-Mask” with great effort and enthusiasm, though only mild success. Xaio, played with a sweet adolescent buffoonishness by Jay Oliver Yip, seems less invested in their success than in the affections of his beautiful — if overly serious — partner Jie, richly played by Michelle Yim.
Through the film, we feel Xaio’s boredom and isolation, which suddenly transforms into lust for his co-worker Jie. This seemingly spontaneous affection out of need, or affection due to proximity, reminded me of or middle school or camp: differences and imperfections seem to dissipate as loneliness, and horniness, grow.
When the pair finally lands a sale, they go out drinking to celebrate, and the characteristically serious Jie cuts loose, a bit too much. We know she has some sort of relationship situation going into the evening. However, at the end of the night when Xaio carefully places her on the bed, she sloppily grabs for him.
For me the film was distinctly, though sweetly, boyish. As a character, Xaio is very simple and rather sexually driven. Though at the end of the drunken day, he’s a stand-up feller. Although the male protagonist is youngish, the storytelling is not. Do Not Disturb is comprised of interesting and elegant shots of oppressively boring settings. The snapshots of the hotel and board rooms which contain Xaio and Jie are nicely composed, and well used throughout the film.
Personally I was most touched by the tension between the bashfully simple Xaio and the strikingly more complex Jie. Xaio is a tepid salesman and an inactive sexual admirer, where Jie is a driven saleswoman, a committed romantic partner, and a lively and sensual woman. Though I think Xaio’s character was comically exaggerated in his boyishness, “Do Not Disturb” is a warm and funny portrait of a man and a woman stuck together in an intensely close work setting.
Do Not Disturb screens at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival. For more information, and to purchase tickets visit festival.milwaukeeindependentfilmsociety.org. For TCD’s interview with Ross Bigley, of the Milwaukee Short Film Festival, click here.