I've always loved the short-film format. I'm impressed and awed by a filmmaker's ability to tell a complete, self-contained, and satisfying story in a condensed period of time. Feature-length films have the benefit of taking their time, enveloping you in the story they're setting out to tell. Short films, by necessity, must hook you instantly. The shortened length often frees filmmakers to experiment with storytelling forms, and the best ones feel almost dangerous — unpredictable and seemingly unconstrained by the rules more traditional films need to play by.
Happily for film lovers of all types, Rochester happens to be home to the Rochester International Film Festival, the world's longest-running festival of short films. Now in its 55th year, the final crop of movies this year is incredibly strong, with 32 films from all around the world presented in four different programs over three days. Below find brief takes on a smattering of this year's films. For the complete schedule of movies and more information visit rochesterfilmfest.org.
Thursday, April 25
The festival kicks off with "The Future," Venetia Taylor's darkly comic tale about a newly engaged couple's unexpected glimpse into their future together. In "I Spy With My Little Eye," what's supposed to be a quiet, romantic weekend getaway to the country for Laura and Hans, turns into something a bit more dangerous after an argument raises suspicions about the real purpose behind their excursion. The delightfully odd stop-motion film "Idle Worship" allows animator Theo P. Stefanski to channel legendary visual-effects creator Ray Harryhausen, to wonderful effect. "Do Cybernauts Dream of Digital Love?" is an adorable romantic comedy from France, about a man and a woman who connect via an online role-playing game that's a cross between Second Life and World of Warcraft. Sparks fly in the virtual realm, but the would-be couple finds that things are a bit more complicated IRL.
Friday, April 26
Cut down from their feature-length travelogue, local filmmakers Woodlief and Merrillan Thomas' "French Bread and Cheese" has the feel of one of those educational documentary segments from an old episode of "Sesame Street." And I absolutely mean that as a compliment. The beautifully shot music video for Portland, Oregon band Alialujah Choir's song, "A House, a Home," tells its own story about how love can bloom in the most unexpected of places. The unusual technique of digitally applying the eyes of real actors to stop-motion puppets adds a haunting quality to an already darkly striking story in Johan Oettinger's "Seven Minutes in the Warsaw Ghetto." Slickly directed by Yecid Benavides, "Desconexión" offers up a kinetic tale of cause and effect detailing the consequences of one man's lost cell phone.
Saturday, April 27 (4 p.m.)
You can practically breathe the salty ocean air in "The Bard," a somber, moving tale of an aged fisherman who lost everything to the sea. "The Last Marble" might err slightly toward the sappy side, but it is a sweet exploration of the true meaning of happiness, seen through the eyes of a homeless child of the streets. "Something Different: A Working Gristmill" is a fascinating documentary about one of the last water-powered mills still in operation. "Georgena Terry" celebrates the work of the woman who designed the first bike frame made specifically for female cyclists. A marvel of economical storytelling, Iranian film "Thank God" fits a novel's worth of story into three wordless minutes.
Saturday, April 27 (8 p.m.)
The polished supernatural drama "To the Other Side" depicts a student's obsession with solving the mysterious disappearance of a writer and her lover. Penfield natives Jason and Jonathan Drago present a tale of suspicion and infidelity in the Tarantino-esque thriller, "H.E.D." An elderly woman rediscovers her passion for life when she's randomly selected for the chance to win 300,000 Euros in the Spanish comedy, "Free Kick." "The Op Shop" is a hilarious Australian comedy about a mysterious object that's been dropped off at a thrift shop, and the elderly workers' valiant attempts to identify it. In the atmospheric thriller "The Unpardonable Night," a young boy is left home alone while his parents go out for the night, and accidentally stumbles upon a shocking family secret.