Many filmmakers are forced to make short movies because of budget, but this constraint has its blessings. Like good short fiction, a short film can pack vivid characters, emotions, and plot into a fraction of the length most of us are accustomed to. Each frame, each line, and each gesture becomes all the more significant in a film that has to make its point in a few minutes. For the audience, it also means that if you don't like a film, you won't have to endure it for long; it'll be over soon enough. Wouldn't that have been a nice option in some of the movie-going experiences you've had in recent months?
In its fourth year, Bumbershoot's 1 Reel Film Festival, curated by Anne Rosellini and Cory Wynne, will screen nearly 100 shorts from around the world. Judging from the 26 works I was able to see beforehand, the varied lineup includes more than a few stunners.
Most impressive is the "Panorama of International Animation," to be shown in four parts throughout the festival. It's obvious that many of the filmmakers included in this showcase are visual artists first and foremost; their works are rich in color, design, and movement and are able to convey stories with minimal dialogue. Not to be missed is LA filmmaker Mark Osborne's More, about a beleaguered factory worker in an Orwellian society, shown as part of Animation Program No. 4 (Sunday at 4, Monday at 7). Osborne combines expressive, fluid claymation with psychedelic animation in a story that injust six minutes is able to do what too many filmmakers can't do in two hours: make you care. The title is fitting; I liked More so much I saw it three times. Another top-notch work is Russian filmmaker Konstantin Bronzit's Au Bout Du Monde, a hilarious physical comedy about an old couple who lives with their cow in a house that teeters like a seesaw at the top of a mountain peak. This one's in Animation Program No. 1 (Friday at 3, Saturday at noon) and Program No. 3 (Saturday at 2, Monday at 6). Darwin's Evolutionary Stakes from Australia, part of Animation Program No. 2 (Friday at 4, Sunday at 2), comically condenses the history of the universe into under four minutes, narrated by a fast-talking sportscaster. A classic odd couple story becomes irresistible in Britain's Humdrum (Program No. 2), in which the two opposing personalities are merely two goofy shadow puppets. The film provides what is perhaps the funniest line in the showcase, as the grumpy shadow yells at his cheery but dopey companion, "There are blind people with no fingers who are better at shadow puppets than you!" Painters will appreciate the following two works: Belgian artist Raoul Servais' dreamy Nocturnal Butterflies (Program No. 3), which makes several references to surrealist Paul Delvaux, and Britain's The Queen's
Monastery (Program No. 1), by Emma Calder, whose Modigliani-like watercolor figures move with the fluidity and grace of ballerinas.
I wasn't as consistently impressed with the short live-action films I previewed, but of the ones I did see, the best was the 22-minute Fishbelly White, directed by New York University student Michael Burke. Part of the NYU Showcase No. 1 (Saturday at 4), it beautifully tells about a rural boy coming to terms with his burgeoning homosexuality, capped with an ending that's as sly as it is shocking. For pure strangeness, watch Rolf Gibb's The Last Guy to Let You Down (Monday at 2), a 12-minute documentary about a 40-something New York funeral director who wryly confides in us about his unusual profession and his dating life (or lack thereof). Herd, by LA filmmaker Mike Mitchell (Sunday at 7), is a comical piece about a lonely fry cook who's visited by an alien. Unlike the scary aliens we've seen in scores of movies and TV shows, this one has the goofy physique and personality of a Jim Henson Muppet. But don't be fooled, because it's out to destroy the world! The short makes several references to E.T., The X-Files, and Mars Attacks, as well as that strange '60s celebrity, Sammy Davis Jr.
Outdoors and live music
Dennis Nyback, film collector, cultural pack rat, and former proprietor at the Pike Street Cinema, returns to Seattle to display some of his favorite finds in three nights of vintage shorts and rare clips, shown outdoors. cartoons from hell: The devil in animation (Friday at 9) showcases 10 shorts from 1929 to 1950 featuring representations of Satan and hell that, according to Nyback, "have long been suppressed by the religious right, who considers them blasphemous. They don't think it's a laughing matter." The following evening, take a trip through harlem in the 1930s (Saturday at 9) and see Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, and other performers as well as rare newsreel footage of Harlem city streets and landmarks. Nyback warns that some films "will include stereotypical images usually edited out by revisionist historians trying to clean up the past."
Sunday night is Vaudeville Deluxe (9pm), shorts from the late 1920s and early 1930s with the likes of Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, and Burns and Allen, plus a few historical oddities. The INcredible man with a duck, an absurd specialty act, gives new meaning to the old vaudeville truism "You gotta get a gimmick." These films have been culled from everywhere: Seattle flea markets, Paris pawn shops, attics, and dumpsters. Who knows what'll turn up on the next reel? Perhaps not even Nyback, who's still unpacking his collection from a New York move.
Fritz Lang's silent period is usually remembered for his Teutonic epics Destiny, Die Nibelungen, and Metropolis, heavy, stately works with a measured pace to match. Only rarely do we get to see his legacy of sprightly, adrenaline-driven spy stories, crime melodramas, and exotic adventures. His 1928 spies (Saturday at 8) packs enough intrigue, double-dealing, secret identities, and criminal conspiracies for an entire serial into one whizzing feature set in the underworld of pre-Nazi Germany, strikingly brought to life in bold expressionist images. Seattle's Black Cat Orchestra will accompany the film with the world premiere of their new score, described as "mostly original, with a few period standards," by Black Cat cellist and cofounder Lori Goldston. A Seattle mainstay since 1992, this year the seven-piece band (it fluctuates from show to show) features an arrangement for accordion, saxophone, horn, cello, bass, drums, and guitar. —SEAN AXMAKER