Review written by Mike Fishman
The 2016 Big Apple Film Festival came and went in a flurry of activity and kudos once again to founder and director Jonathan Marc Lipp for an ever-growing and impressive fest. I’ve been attending since 2010 and it’s been remarkable to watch this small festival blossom and expand during its annual one-week run.
The evening of short films I attended was literally standing room only and I was lucky to get a cozy aisle seat in the back of the beloved Village East Cinemas, although the screening did not take place in their historic Yiddish theater auditorium, which if you haven’t been to, as soon as you’re done reading this go buy a ticket to whatever film they’re showing there, it will be worth it just to gaze at the ornate decorations before the lights dim. As my schedule this year allowed me to only catch one program, I settled on a Saturday afternoon of seven narrative films, hoping that most if not all would be entertaining and of high quality, and I was not disappointed in the least. Each film, running from 4 minutes to 26 minutes, was carefully crafted and lovingly made and the program, ranging from serious drama to light-hreated comedy, made for a thoughtful, enjoyable journey with the audience responding often as one, a sad sigh here, a loud laugh there.
First up was Cara Consilvio‘s CIT, about two female teenage counsellors-in-training at a summer camp, close friends, one of whom is tasked with keeping the news of the other’s father’s death until her mother can arrive to break the news herself. It’s a touching mini portrait of a friendship between two girls on the cusp of adulthood and tragedy. Consilvio brings out the best in the two young actresses and creates moments in which their friendship is allowed to breathe through shared laughs, quiet reflection, and uncertainty. This was followed by the even more serious Immunity, from director Alyn Darnay,set in 1942 Auschwitz where a young SS Officer faces his once beloved teacher, a Jew who now finds that her most prized pupil has become her tormentor. It’s a cat and mouse game between the two where the question is whether the young man is going to spare the middle-aged woman who has been separated from her family and who almost certainly have been gassed. Things lightened considerably with Kyle C. Mumford’s Jamie and Jonathan, a comedy about a suicidal writer (an all-too-familair theme most writers should recognize) who gets a second chance at being the father he never was to his young son he has no relationship with when he is tasked with driving the boy to a funeral. On paper, this may not sound like a comedy, or perhaps only a dark comedy, but Mumford keeps things light and airy with the father and son shared afternoon and car ride interrupted humorously (the boy wetting his pants when his father won’t stop to let him use the bathroom, the the two bonding over making pancakes) until very close to the end when it’s revealed that the funeral is for the boy’s mother. That this doesn’t descend into mawkishness is testament to Mumford’s direction and writing.
Next up, my personal favorite of the program, Tom Cassese’s Concurrence, whose logline reads: In the final moments before an apocalyptic catastrophe, six people come to terms with their impending doom. That the film runs only four minutes and succeeds beautifully in presenting a doomsday situation through the last actions of just six individuals with virtually no dialogue is proof that brilliant filmmaking can be realized with an extremely brief running time and extremely small budget if the heart, soul, writing and talent are in place. This was followed by Humberto Guzman’s Based on True Events, about a writer whose obsession with her story alienates her from her husband, and that gave the audience an unexpected twist. Speaking of twists, the next film, Christonikos Tsalikis’s I Am Here is defined by its twist, centering on a young man who begins texting with a woman who lived in the house he just moved into and who may or may not be a ghost. The program ended on a decidedly comedic tone with Cinder Chou’s The Man With the Western Hat, an amusing romp about a woman in Brooklyn who has strange encounters with a mysterious handsome stranger/cowboy. It made for a bright tone to end the evening of short films that, in their own unique ways, ran the gamut of serious introspection to light-hearted comedy.