Marfa Film Festival Shorts Review

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Film festivals have the opportunity to maintain the status quo of film (read: white, male, straight), or to challenge their audience and showcase overlooked talent. Serendipitously, I stumbled into Marfa, the painfully stylish West Texas art oasis on the eve of the Marfa Film Festival. A relatively new festival, MFF was founded in 2007 by Robin Lambaria and Cory Van Dyke. Intentionally undoing many of the pretensions that make other festivals feel stuffy and competitive, Marfa Film Festival strives to be a place that, “... celebrates innovation and excellence in filmmaking through meticulous curation and fostering a relaxed social space where up-and-coming filmmakers and adventurous cinephiles mix with film veterans and living legends in a captivatingly scenic, culturally rich environment.” I can personally attest that they have achieved such an atmosphere, as each encounter I had was warm and lovely, and everyone was brought together by mutual respect and a love of cinema. According to the festival’s website, “This year the Marfa Film Festival is dedicated to honoring women. While the festival will show films from all genders, MFF is dedicated to creating programming and experiences that further the empowerment of females in creative industries. In light of the current movement, we bring attention to women in film. We honor and celebrate their accomplishments.” While there was still plenty of typical film fest fare, including some in which women were more accessory than subject, one block of shorts undid any cinematic crimes I was privy to. These shorts were almost exclusively written and directed by women, and all were starring women in complex roles often informed by the writer’s own experience. The creativity and craftsmanship from these shorts was palpable and inspiring, and I couldn’t help but review some of my favorite shorts of the 2018 Marfa Film Festival.

 

Sexxy Dancer by Jessica Makinson

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When a woman makes a film, there is often pressure felt to create something overtly political and serious. To atone for years of women not being taken seriously as filmmakers, women must sacrifice their unique ideas that may seem frivolous in order to gain respect and funding. When men make surreal comedies, their work is lauded, when women make surreal comedies, their work is considered fluffy. It takes a lot of bravery to create any art with an abounding sense of joy, and Jessica Makinson’s short Sexxy Dancer is overflowing with joy. When I saw the premier of Sexxy Dancer at the 2018 Marfa Film Festival, I cackled so loudly that my friends were slightly embarrassed. It is that funny. Sexxy Dancer was written and directed by Makinson, an actor and comic who I’m thrilled is delving into creating her own works in her singular comedic voice. Sexxy Dancer opens with two women, Gloria (Heidi Sulzman) and Nancy (Carrie Clifford), discussing the hardships of aging parents. Expertly shot, the viewer feels that these women are having an intimate heart-to-heart in Nancy’s living room, until Nancy offers Gloria to “take Sexxy Dancer (played by Stephen James) for the week”, and a lithe, sensual man is revealed to be erotically dancing in nothing but yellow lycra pants. From here, the film takes a delightfully strange turn and Gloria lives in tandem with Sexxy Dancer for a week.  While Gloria jogs, eats at a restaurant, works in her office, showers, goes on a bad date, and shows her father a retirement home, Sexxy Dancer lives up to his name by incessantly gyrating at each location. Gloria instantly bonds with Sexxy Dancer, and he seems to have a positive impact on her life, making the most banal tasks amusing. In only five minutes, this film managed to have a profound impact on me. I was left pondering what Sexxy Dancer could represent in one’s life, but it occured to me that maybe I was reading too much into things. This film reminded me that rather than thinking about art for art’s sake, art can also be for fun’s sake, and that we must fully embrace those rare cinematic opportunities that leave us with a huge grin and the giggles. Makinson has managed to tell a story that not only looks beautiful and leaves the viewer feeling great, but is also fiercely bizarre and entertaining. If you get the chance to see Sexxy Dancer, do not miss it. I can also only dream about a feature Sexxy Dancer, or whatever Makinson has in store for us.

Psychic by Dana Sorman

It’s another form of bravery to craft something powerful and vulnerable out of one’s past trauma. In Psychic, a darkly drole descent into family, artistic and personal struggle, and $10 palm readings, writer and director Dana Sorman manages to do precisely that. An actor for most of her career, Sorman wrote Psychic to reflect upon her own experience with Los Angeles mediums and how she was able to heal herself. The film is visually gorgeous, shot with meticulous lighting and framing. Throughout the film, Sorman uses stock footage sourced from YouTube videos, infomercials, and shows like Long Island Medium, as interludes between scenes, which adds another dimension to the visuals of the film and reflects upon the theme of inherited trauma.. Sorman’s acting chops are immediately apparent as she appears on screen as Benji Stein, a down-on-her-luck stand-up comic and actor moonlighting as a receptionist. Fed up with a seemingly endless series of disappointments, Benji visits Ava (Sadieh Rifai), a psychic medium, who informs Benji that she is destined for success and happiness, unless she allows the dark energy around her to hold her back. Ava believes the crux of Benji’s unhappiness is her relationship with her father; this reading hitting close to home, Benji agrees to allow Ava to rid her of the negativity, but for a price. Psychic manages to be intense and emotional without ever venturing into melodrama, which is quite an accomplishment for a short-form film. This film is obviously extremely personal to Sorman, who carries the film in every sense and has created a character who is immediately sympathetic, in spite of being at times cantankerous and generally a hot mess. Once you see Psychic, you are left with an overwhelming feeling of tenderness and curiosity for Benji’s fate. Lucky for us, Sorman divulged that we might be seeing more from Psychic in the future!

Fill Your Heart with French Fries by Tamar Glezerman

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If Sexxy Dancer is a surreal comedy, and Psychic is a dark comedy, I would call Tamar Glezerman’s Fill Your Heart with French Fries a tragic comedy. The film revolves around a young woman, Emma (Lindsay Burdge), who is dumped by her girlfriend at a fast food restaurant, and can’t bring herself to leave the establishment. Not completely unlike a slightly twee modernization of Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, there is much confusion and a tinge of fear in the other patrons as to why Emma is immovable. Fill Your Heart with French Fries is for me, a film about mental health, how a sudden tragedy in our lives can make the most stable of us unstable in a matter of seconds. If I put my Freudian cap on, I would go as far to say that the fast food restaurant is less a physical space and more a mindset representing the lethargy accompanying depression. As Emma wallows in her sorrow, she is visited by a friend, employees of the restaurant, and a police officer, all the while being mercilessly documented on social media as “#dumpedgirl”. As someone who has struggled with depression myself, I know that it occasionally even with the help of  friends, family, colleagues, and professional help, I feel stuck in a depressed state, and I appreciate that Glezerman created such an authentic portrayal of someone, a queer woman no less, coping with her own depressive episode. As for the technical aspects of the film, it is clear that this is not Glezerman’s first proverbial rodeo. Every actor in the film, regardless of screen time, gives a nuanced performance, despite some playing somewhat archetypal characters. Standout performances were given by Auri Jackson as Samantha, a kindhearted shop employee who empathizes with Emma more than anyone else, and Tom O’Keefe as Officer Williams, as a police officer sent to forcibly remove Emma from the restaurant, but ends up encouraging her to mend her broken heart in her own time. The film is a melancholic, but mostly sweet foray into heartbreak, depression, and how a space, be it physical or emotional, can hold us captive. This film is available to watch on the Omeleto Youtube account, linked above article.

NATALIE FÄLT