Film Reviews

Miami Short Film Festival at Colony Theatre November 14-19

The Miami Short Film Festival (MsFF) is returning to Miami Beach, marking the tenth anniversary of the miniflick fest. Organizers combed through 800 submissions to select 70 films that reflect the most international scope and highest quality of the pool.

Abbreviated movies seem like the perfect entertainment for South Beach's sun-bleached, ADD-addled brains — at least in theory. But will this event showcase films so innovative and cerebral that even our withered attention spans can't handle them?

The only way to find out was to prescreen six of the festival's best films.

The Birds Upstairs (directed by Christopher Jarvis, USA, 2011): At eight and a half minutes, this animated film packs enough weird imagery to keep even the most degraded nerve centers following along. Married couple Edward and Henrietta are birds — birds with delicate avian skulls for heads but human-like bodies. They want to have a baby but are battling infertility. For the ADD-positive viewer, that tidbit is good news. It means there's gonna be some cartoon bird sex. The story is told with Royal Tenenbaums-esque narration. And the animation mingles beautiful scenes that look like classical paintings, real video of microscopic biological happenings, and digital cutting and pasting, reminiscent of the work of Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam.

Fjord (directed by Skule Eriksen, Norway, 2011): This documentary is absolutely gorgeous, with every frame showcasing another phenomenal view of a mountainous lake region in western Norway. Misty, mossy landmasses perch above dark, reflective pools; an avalanche erupts on a snow-spattered mountain; a few brightly colored houses stick out against the serene landscape; and a rusty Volkswagen Bug appears to sink slowly into the drying grass around it. The pictures are awe-inspiring, and the sounds don't necessarily sync, giving you the sense you're missing something just outside the frame. The filmmaker must have had infinite patience to capture some of these rare shots. And as a viewer, you'll need patience as well. The action is not so much a film as a slowly moving slide show. Delicious to watch, but make sure you pop your Ritalin, as prescribed.

Lunchtime (directed by Satoshi Fujii, Japan, 2011): If the camera play in this fun short doesn't grab you (there are lots of jump cuts, soft focus, and speed experiments in the mix) and the story line doesn't give you enough to go on (there's sex!), we have an idea for making it through this arty, witty little movie in which a blocked writer finds her saucy muse in an otherwise unremarkable lunch joint: Play the subtitle correction game! Every time you see a phrase like this one — "Secondly, I can make a more tasty coffee than you" — be the first to shout out a grammatically correct version and you win a point.

Busy (directed by Felix von Seefranz, Germany, 2011): The quick pace of this short is perfect for the SoBe mindset. Frau Schmitt is an old broad trying to move so fast she forgets about the cobwebbed cavern where her heart should be. She scoffs at sentimental biddies (who are her age) and tethers herself to various technological gizmos at the expense of human contact. The coolest part of the film is the middle, where we see the layers of the grandmother's self-important world flake off like skin from a dehydrated onion. Sadly, the end takes that onion and shoves it clumsily into a big, fat bowl of cheese, so to speak. It might be better to let your attention drift before then.

The Maiden and the Princess (directed by Ali Scher, USA, 2011): We didn't realize the festival had a category for public service announcements. What's that? There is no such category? We should have been paying better attention, but it's difficult when a film such as this one shoves a moral lesson so unapologetically in our face. Granted, it's a worthy message: tolerance for all lifestyles, of course! And the film is very visually appealing, with its alternating between the real world, the fairy-tale world, and the sterile, futuristic world of the silver-faced fairy-tale council (you'll have to see it to understand). But the treatment is way too heavy-handed for an adult audience.

"Under My Skin" (directed by Nicolai Aass, Norway, 2011): This three-and-a-half-minute, black-and-white music video featuring Oslo band Bull is hard to look away from, even when you want to. It stars a manly-looking mobster type, introduced wearing a crisp black suit. Soon the unlikely stripper rips off his clothes, exposing a lumpy white belly that protrudes over his underwear waistband as he slides somewhat angrily against a metal pole. Between the jarring rock music and the seemingly disturbed yet liberated dancing gentleman, you're likely to get sucked in.

The verdict: Most of the shorts we saw contain enough brain candy to engage folks with even the most stunted attention spans. The beauty of MsFF is that if you don't like one flick, a new one is bound to come around in a minute or two.

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Camille Lamb Guzman is a journalist who writes on wellness, travel, and culture. She is also finishing a book of creative nonfiction.