Whether the work hails from Paris, Los Angeles, or below the streets of Rochester, the assortment of short films that make up the 48th Rochester International Film Festival (some call it Movies on a Shoestring) seems unusually strong. This year saw 110 entries from 10 countries, with 32 films making the final cut. And since I previewed more of them this year than in years past, I've got to get right down to miniature movie matters.
Thursday, May 4
The festival opens with Motherless Child: Remnants of the Subway, a somber elegy by Rochester's Fredrick Armstrong and James P. Harte that takes viewers on a trip through the once-bustling train tunnels that now lay abandoned under our collective feet. Happy Birthday, Yemima, from Jerusalem, is the whimsical tale of how a young woman who grew up believing she was the continuation of her late grandmother finds love with a plumber who sees past the old-lady exterior.
Based on the verse by John Keats, La Belle Dame Sans Merci employs Masterpiece Theatre-worthy visuals to recount the legend of a beautiful temptress who lures knights to their doom. When the Moon Is Full tracks the bittersweet flirtation between an Ecuadorian immigrant named Javier and the possibly unavailable Olivia, though the troubadour spinning the closing yarn seems to have drawn a healthy amount of inspiration from Pablo Neruda's heartbreaking poem "Tonight I Can Write..." even if the end credits don't reflect this. I'm just saying.
Friday, May 5
Mute, the impressive filmmaking debut of Melissa Joan Hart (best known as Sabrina, the Teenage Witch), sustains the suspense as a bridesmaid plots payback against her duplicitous sister and faithless brother-in-law. Cries from Ramah, which takes its title from a verse in the Bible, poignantly explores the differences (or the complete lack thereof) between a Jewish mother and a Palestinian mother who both lost their sons during the same attack.
The Legend of Black Tom combines rhyming verse with inventive animation to pay homage to Tom Molineaux, a freed slave whose desire to win the bare-knuckle boxing championship gets thwarted by 19th-century English society. And Convivium is a fascinating French ensemble piece about a group of friends whose innocuous dinner-party dynamic is shattered by an alluring interloper who divides and conquers.
Saturday, May 6 (4 p.m.)
Jake Gyllenhaal narrates The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, a charming animated piece that salutes both the daredevil who strung a tightrope 1,340 feet above the earth at the WorldTradeCenter as well as the towers themselves, still visible "as if imprinted on the sky." The hero in the sad saga of Wentworth is a man who must decide whether to forego his vivid fantasy life and take a chance on a real woman with issues of her own.
In the lighthearted RPS Rochelle learns life lessons from her grandpa through the game Rock, Paper, Scissors, which is apparently "the father of all martial arts." The adorable Confessions of a Late Bloomer is a love letter to all of the scrawny runts who yearn for respect and a kiss from a pretty girl, though not necessarily in that order.
Saturday, May 6 (8 p.m.)
A couple inherits a swanky townhouse in Rochester native Bryan Norton's Penny Dreadful, a scary tale of the supernatural in which we discover that not all apparitions are dead yet. With the long coats, gunplay, and futuristic feel, SYN takes its visual cues from The Matrix to relate a none-too-subtle parable that finds the Zealots waging war against the titular group of clones.
Surly Squirrel is a clever cartoon that juxtaposes an unfolding bank heist against similar goings-on in the adjacent park involving some enterprising rodents, a pizza slice, and a flock of gallant pigeons. And anyone looking for a way to incorporate their passion into their everyday life will appreciate Viola Fondente, veritable candy porn about an Italian woman whose love for all things confectionery inspires her to follow her dream, which allows for some very sweet revenge.
Remember, life is too short. Happily, this does not hold true for films.
The 48th Rochester International Film Festival screens at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 4; Friday, May 5; and Saturday, May 6; at the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre, with a 4 p.m. matinee on Saturday, May 6, at the Little Theatre. Admission is free, though donations are most welcome. For a complete lineup of films, visit www.rochesterfilmfest.org.