Gone are the days when short films seemed to be arcane academic exercises you wished you had the requisite university degree to understand – or even worse, the kind of one-joke chucklers I used to yawn through at Tropfest.
These days short films are getting closer to what Raymond Carver did for the short story. The finalists I saw have all been distilled down to tight, proficient narratives that truly are the lean tigers of cinema. Punchy, vivid and with nary a frame out of place, the 2013 Dendy shorts this year provide a cornucopia of excellence.
Directed by Isabel Peppard and narrated by Rachel Griffiths, Butterflies is a stop-motion parable about the loss of inspiration at the coalface. Dark and macabre, with a unique animated style, this short puts up a good case for sticking to your guns, creatively speaking. (And it looks like they did.)
A Cautionary Tail is a whimsical story, confidently directed by Simon Rippingale, about a girl born with – you guessed it – a tail. With celebrity narration throughout (Cate Blanchett, David Wenham and Barry Otto, no less) it’s a brilliantly executed animated short that seems surprisingly similar in theme to Butterflies. A Cautionary Tail easily stands on its own with a distinctly different visual style and really sparkles with postmodern wit and verve. Caution: rhyming verse throughout.
Heaven, directed by Maziar Lahooti, is about a drug dealer (Wayne Davis), who is being stalked by an old man (Don Reid). Tight dialogue strips layer after layer from the men, in an ever-surprising trajectory to a shocking finale. I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by a short film. It’s my pick of the bunch. I went from “uh-oh, student film” to “whoa!” in under ten minutes. Well-crafted, with understated performances, Heaven had me thinking: when will there be a politician who has the guts to stand tall on this issue?
In I Have Your Heart, directed by Jim Batt, a young ‘tearaway’ makes love to a handsome cat of indeterminable gender. Is it the same cat? You be the judge. The ambiguous narrative gives way to the unique and fresh visual design painstakingly comprised of cardboard cut outs, urged along with a plucky song reminiscent of Regina Spektor. It is a sweet confection of a film with blazingly original animation – that handkerchief made me sweat just watching it fly. We don’t get to choose who we love no matter how many surgical procedures are involved. Ain’t it the truth?
Summing up our reconciliation problems in one hit, Ngurrumbang dredges up a part of Australian history we’d all rather forget. Directed by Alex Ryan, an Irish girl (Amanda Woodhams) risks the wrath of her father (Cameron Stewart) by going to the aid of an Australian boy (Jesse Guivarra). It is a lilting, sparsely written film that manages to take full advantage of the most meaningful moments in film: the silent ones. Were colonial Australians really that beautiful though? Really? (It’s Deadwood 90210, people.)
In the twisted tradition of Jim Thompson, Ravage, directed by Jaime Lewis, explores the themes of transgression, exploitation and sexual politics in a genteel privileged school. One step too far down the road and our heroine finds herself in a classic noir dilemma. Ashley Ricardo delivers a surprisingly daring and vulnerable performance, while the hero (Joshua Longhurst) remains satisfyingly inscrutable. As Mr Thompson was fond of reminding us, things can always get worse. (I bet this one will cause a few dinner party eruptions.)
In Record, directed by David Lyons, a father (Damon Herriman) searches for a way to heal after the loss of his wife. Their blind daughter (Darrien Skylar) has made recordings of past conversations that provide the key to releasing them both from grief. The American accents are a tad jarring at first, here amidst all these other films with distinctly Aussie accents. It was filmed entirely in Oregon, you’ll discover in the credits. Why? ‘Tis a mystery, but don’t let it stop you enjoying it.
Take note, filmmakers: you don’t need to be watching a feature film to have your pants up around your neck in fear. The Last Time I Saw Richard, unerringly directed by Nicholas Verso, is superbly edited with sound design and cinematography to match. It is a lush, deeply textured narrative set in a mental institution. The two leads (Toby Wallace and Cody Fern) dance around one another in games of basketball, Connect-4, and razor blades. One might be disturbed, but what the other guy has is far, far worse. Utterly chilling.
All God’s Creatures and Perception are also Dendy Finalists. I haven’t seen them but if the others are anything to go by, these will also be a treat.
Why stick with just one story when you can have five in one sitting? I’ve seen too many features that should never have gone past 15 minutes… at the Dendy Awards Finalists you will find most, if not all, of your buttons pressed in one sitting.
Dendy Awards Finalists can be viewed at Event Cinemas, George Street, in two sessions on Saturday June 15 at 4pm and Sunday June 16 at 11am. All 10 finalists screen in each session.