Salute These Shorts

Window washers risk their lives in Nadav Kurtz’s “Paraíso.” Courtesy of Static Studios.

Window washers risk their lives in Nadav Kurtz’s “Paraíso.” Courtesy of Static Studios.

One of the great unexpected pleasures of the first-ever Chicago Critics Film Festival was its rich and varied assortment of short subjects curated by critic Collin Souter. Though I missed the first shorts program, I was thankfully able to catch the second compilation. I was only intending to stay for the first few pictures, and ended up staying for the entire show. It reminded me of how a brilliant five-to-fifteen-minute film can have just as much (and, in some cases, even more) impact than a full-length feature.

I was already familiar with a few of the shorts, such as Mike Wytrykus’s exuberantly entertaining animated gem, “Play Date,” and A.J. Sheeran and Sam Shapson’s galvanizing fantasy, “The Treehouse,” both of which were honored at this year’s CFCA Emerging Filmmaker Finalist screening (they placed first and second, respectively). I had also heard the buzz on Giancarlo Iannotta’s sexy comedy, “One Nightstand,” and was finally able to see it at the festival. It boasts two endearing performances by Marian Brock and Justin Nijm as two strangers who awake to find themselves handcuffed to a bed. Though the premise sounds like a cross between “Saw” and “The Hangover,” Iannotta defies expectations by exploring the budding chemistry between these bewildered would-be (might be?) lovers who discover that they may in fact be in the right place at the right time.

And then there were the shorts that I knew absolutely nothing about prior to seeing them, and that quickly made me feel grateful for my ignorance. Thus, I will highlight four other must-see titles while going out of my way to avoid spoiling their secrets. The first one is a tough one to spoil since it can only truly be experienced on the big screen. Nadav Kurtz’s haunting documentary short, “Paraíso,” follows three Mexican immigrants through their daily routine of washing windows on some of Chicago’s most dizzying skyscrapers. It’s humbling to observe how these men risk their lives simply to give the wealthy inhabitants of each building a clearer view. The altitude causes the workers to reflect on the meaning of life, and this is where Kurtz’s film transcends its subject matter to become a spiritual meditation on existence itself. Check out the trailer below…

I didn’t become an official cat lover until I recently moved in with my current roommates and befriended their two lovable feline companions. I’ve grown accustomed to the sound of their meows, yet there are times when their voices become hilariously distorted, as if they’ve just ingested a wildly powerful drug. Every time I hear this noise, I peer into their room, and low and behold, they are indeed experiencing the singular ecstasy of catnip. That’s why I laughed myself silly at Jason Willis’s “Catnip: Egress to Oblivion?,” an uproarious parody of vintage drugs PSAs preaching about the dangers of addiction. It was great to see the film, in all of its meticulously detailed scratches and splices, projected on a big screen, but it can also be experienced in its entirety on YouTube…

Also currently available online is Andrew Zuchero’s spectacularly well-crafted, darkly funny short, “The Apocalypse,” which was one of the films selected to precede a feature presentation at the CCFF festival. Not only did it manage to upstage the feature, but it proved to be a topic of endless impassioned post-film discussion. Taken as both a visceral splatter comedy and a cautionary metaphor for our increasingly vapid culture, Zuchero’s film is a flat-out triumph. The peerless cast includes “Freaks and Geeks” alum Martin Starr and indie sensation Kate Lyn Sheil, whose radiant, Streepian features are dealt a rather shattering blow. It’s one of the most technically impressive short subjects I’ve ever seen, and it’s well worth a look. Just don’t think too hard.

And then there’s “Dotty,” a sublime slice of life marking the directorial debut of New Zealanders Mick Andrews and Brett O’Gorman, which surely ranks as one of the best films—short or otherwise—that I’ve seen all year. It’s a small masterpiece of acting, writing and editing, as the simple tale gradually unfolds into one of the most moving cinematic vignettes in recent memory. In the classic tradition of dry British humor, a middle aged assistant (Alison Bruce) at an old folks home assists an elderly occupant (Joyce Irving) with the formidable task of delivering a text message. The look of alarm on Irving’s face as Bruce guides her through each step is worth the price of admission alone. Since the film is currently unavailable online, it’s worth seeking out at any festival programming shorts (it recently played at SXSW). Below is a brief interview with co-director Andrews, who says that he plans on making another short before heading into features. He’s someone to keep an eye on.

To watch the trailer for “One Nightstand,” visit its Vimeo page. You can also follow “Play Date” and “The Treehouse” on Facebook.

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