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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 3.Aug.21

9th Sundance Film Festival London shorts...
Held at Picturehouse Central, 29.Jul-1.Aug.21

Reviews by Rich Cline

BJ's Mobile Gift Shop dir-scr Jason Park
with Johnnyboy Tellem, Soonshim Shin, Gwangwee Jung, Yuchi Chiu, Rami Abushhab, Christopher Cardenas, Andrew Cawley, Adrian Albarran Ortega
21/US 16m

BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop  

BJ's Mobile Gift Shop With a snappy tone, this loosely comical short is set out as an amusing portrait of a young Korean-American guy who is happy to find himself firmly outside his expected place in society. Without resorting to any jokes, writer-director Park keeps the audience entertained by a sometimes absurd tale that is grounded in much deeper themes. And the character at the centre is almost ridiculously charming.

In Chicago, BJ (Tellem) roams the city carrying a huge red suitcase, ready to meet the needs of anyone in need of pretty much anything. He has a surprisingly comprehensive supply of items in his case, from clean clothes to homemade kimchi, solving people's problems for cash. Then he runs into an old friend (Amos) and his colleagues, and they struggle to understand why he wouldn't want a "real" job.

The film is sharply shot and edited as a series of witty encounters, framed with scenes from BJ's interview for an office job, and followed by his return home to the grandparents (Shin and Jung) who raised him. Alongside wonderfully offhanded performances, the humour is dry, verging on the satirical, as it becomes clear that BJ is an opportunist who has found a lucrative niche as a nice guy who comes to the rescue. And because there's more to him than that, the final scenes have a lovely emotional kick.

1.Aug.21 slf

prendergast dir-scr Kelly Fyffe-Marshall
with Komi Olaf, Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast
20/US 4m

Black Bodies  

Black Bodies An abstract, stylised plea for justice, this artful short is contained in an abandoned building with only two actors who barely interact. It plays out like a searing performance art piece, or perhaps a music video featuring a beat poem rather than a song. The resulting clip is powerful and intense, but perhaps a bit too dense to make its point. And it never feels particularly original.

Inside this empty warehouse, a man (Olaf) delivers an impassioned spoken rap about oppression and police violence. He's surrounded by outlines of bodies on the floor. And a woman (Prendergast) wanders among them, looking for a loved one. When she finds him, her anguish is overpowering. And the man's righteous anger boils over as he mourns "the futures left behind".

There's a James Baldwin literacy to filmmaker Fyffe-Marshall's writing, expressing big feelings in visceral terms. This is an anguished cry about the legacy of slavery, the fact that Black populations are still serving "false masters", trapped in "shackles of misery". And the refrain "hands up, don't shoot" is haunting. On the other hand, all of this feels overstated, without nuance. There's a legitimate reason to lament the fact that there's "no justice, no peace", but a glimpse of hope or emotive tenacity would have made this more powerfully compelling.

1.Aug.21 slf

Kkum dir-scr Kangmin Kim voices Kangmin Kim, Joung-Soon Park 20/US 9m


Kkum Strikingly animated using styrofoam models shot in shimmering black and white, this unusually involving short taps into the deep connection between a mother and son. Writer-director Kim narrates the story in an intimate voiceover that's beautifully written to both convey his personal experience and help the audience identify with him. So it's remarkably moving too.

The central idea is that, for Kim, his mother's dreams have always played a huge role in his life and his connection with her. He divides her dreams into four categories: fire (that he'll pass an exam), insect (that he has a health issue), pumpkin (that his wife will get pregnant) and corpse (that there's danger somewhere nearby). And for Kim, his mother's premonitions are more important than his deeply held Christianity.

In tracing these four examples, Kim reveals his connection to his mother at pivotal moments in his life. Meanwhile, the visuals are bracingly original, cleverly animating details from vast cityscapes to tiny beads of sweat, or an elaborate set-piece like a plane crash. It's a simple and eye-catching approach, and even more engaging is the way it explores the idea that he is the product of his mother's dreams and prayers.

1.Aug.21 slf

be dir-scr Melody C Roscher
with Nabiyah Be, Curtiss Cook, J Smith-Cameron, Emily Davis, Matt Micou, Mary McMillan, Joel King, Anderson Pusey
21/US 10m

White Wedding  

White Wedding Initially comical, this short drama is set at a lively wedding reception in a huge old house somewhere in the American South. The crowded scenes bristle with energy, even when the mood becomes more serious as the story unfolds. Writer-director Roscher uses big characters and an understated narrative to terrific effect, so even the rather extreme tonal shift carries a subtly moving punch.

This festive wedding celebration is already a bit tense, but happy biracial bride Bella (Be) has no idea that Bower (Cook), the father she never knew, is in the band that was hired to play at the reception. So when her mother (Cameron) and sister (Davis) discover this fact, they quickly enact a messy plan to shield Bella from this information. Then Bower decides to do something about this. And Bella plays her hand.

The film has a quick, lively pace that echoes the jubilant atmosphere of a marriage party, complete with family issues gurgling everywhere. Roscher shoots scenes in close-up, which allows the fine actors to reveal their underlying nerves even as they play with the comically brittle dialog. It's a bit tricky to go along with them as the farce twists into something very serious, but the emotions in the final scene are nicely written with an unusual complexity that's performed to perfection by Be and Cook.

1.Aug.21 slf

gibson dir-scr Julia Baylis, Sam Guest
with Deanna Gibson, Sam Stillman, Vilma Ortiz Donovan, Julian Klepper, Kylah Collins
21/US 13m

Wiggle Room  

Wiggle Room There's an edgy sense of energy to this short film, propelling the audience right into a rather wildly spiralling confrontation. It's strikingly written and directed by Baylis and Guest, with a hugely engaging central performance from Gibson as a frustrated young woman whose important day takes a series of unexpected turns. The plot is a bit gimmicky, but it's also amusingly satisfying.

At a chaotic insurance company office, Daisy (Gibson) patiently waits in her wheelchair to see the agent Rudy (Stillman). When she finally gets to his office, she carefully presents the documents showing that, if she doesn't receive her insurance settlement, her wheelchair ramp is going to be repossessed. Even though it's already been a year, Rudy finds a random reason to delay her case even further. Then an interruption from another angry customer sends this meeting in a very different direction.

The dismissive attitude and general chaos of this insurance company is horrifyingly familiar, captured with feature-quality filmmaking with its edgy camerawork and notably strong actors in even the smaller side roles. With his pet rabbit, Rudy is a superbly shaggy slimeball, while Gibson beautifully plays Daisy's sense of powerlessness against people who callously refused to do what they're supposed to do. The acting and direction also make us feel the bustling crowd of equally desperate people around her. So what the film says has real urgency.

1.Aug.21 slf

chao dir-scr Natalie A Chao
21/US 15m

To Know Her  

To Know Her Sweet but a bit bleak, this ethereal short takes a trip through family history using home video footage and intensely personal feelings. Filmmaker Chao is remarkably open-handed with her approach, challenging the audience to look beyond the words and images to the relationships and connections. The result is a poetic exploration of memory and legacy.

Chao is also playing with the way the camera sees things, noting that she is deliberately omitting subtitles on a Chinese-language conversation for personal reasons. In a square ratio, the screen is a swirl of 30-year-old video featuring Chao's mother and father, and herself as a little girl. Her voiceover questions who her mother was, referencing the fact that she committed suicide when Chao was young. So making this film is an act of remembrance as well as forgiveness.

This is an intimate, thoughtful exploration of this mother-daughter bond, as Chao wonders about her mother's youth and has an extended audio conversation with her father to get some answers. And as she wonders what she would possibly say to her mother now, the moving fact is that this film is exactly that: a heartfelt expression of connection and questioning.

1.Aug.21 slf

merhart and atlan dir-scr Serhat Karaaslan
with Deniz Altan, Lorin Merhart, Erdem Senocak, Ercan Kesal, Cem Baza, Banu Fotocan, Emrah Ozdemir
20/Turkey 23m

The Criminals  
Les Criminels   4/5

The Criminals Shot like a feature film, this French-produced Turkish drama takes place over one night, highlighting the issues in a society in which religious morality has become the law of the land. It's a gripping little story, cleverly underscored with a sense of mystery and suspense. And writer-director Karaaslan pulls the audience into a tricky situation with compelling characters and skilful filmmaking.

Escaping from their university dorms, Nazli and Emre (Altan and Merhart) are looking for a place where they can have some privacy. When they try to check into a hotel, they're told that this is illegal without a marriage certificate. So they hatch a plan to approach another hotel separately, taking two rooms. But when Nazli sneaks in to join Emre, they're caught by a smug security guard (Senocak). And the situation escalates from there.

The film nicely establishes the warm dynamic between these young people, beautifully played by Altan and Merhard as kids who genuinely care for each other but are unable to express their feelings. They continually tell hoteliers that they're getting married, but these rules are unbreakable. Then when they finally get alone, their anticipation has an innocent lustiness to it that makes the interruption feel downright nasty. The film also has a terrific sense of locations and background characters, and where it goes is both witty and emotionally complex.

1.Aug.21 slf

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall