This year there were well over 50 shorts screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. That’s quite a lot. Spread across nine programs, they’re a diverse bunch both in form and quality. They come from all over the world, too, though there’s a significant emphasis on home-grown New York City filmmakers. This variety makes any attempt at synthesis a little daunting, so instead of drawing any sort of overarching thematic conclusions I’ll just go ahead and tell you which ones are the best.
Here are 12 of them, in alphabetical order.
Acetate Diary, by Russell Sheaffer
Many of the shorts in this year’s experimental program bemoan the so-called “death of cinema” that has resulted from the declining production of film stock. Russell Sheaffer took film and used it, instead, to try saying something much more open and dynamic. Acetate Diary is a 16mm film used as a diary. While often not explicitly legible as such, its dashed colors and quickly passing figures evoke thoughts and emotions on their own terms.
(Full disclosure: I attended New York University with Russell Sheaffer and producer Pulkit Datta but this has no bearing on the film’s inclusion in this list.)
All Vows, by Bill Morrison
Bill Morrison’s archival films are like seances, spiritual trips into the historical, perhaps mythological early days of cinema. All Vows combines decaying footage of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls with clips of two silent narrative features, comparatively ancient in the short history of film. The result is a collapsing of time itself, as we sit haunted by these old motion pictures that seem to haunt each other as well.
The Body, by Paul Davis
Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) stars in this twisted British comedy of murder and Halloween. The basic premise is that the holiday is the perfect night for a killer to go nuts and get away with it. That bloody corpse in the bag that he’s dragging along behind him? Nothing but a really elaborate costume. He even takes it to a party, enjoying the attention. The wry script is right on point and Allen knows just how to sell it.
Contrapelo, by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
It’s a classic anecdote, that of the barber tasked with shaving a powerful and wicked man on his way to kill countless innocents. Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer has taken it from the old days of European generals and brought it to contemporary Mexico, where a barber is suddenly tossed into contact with the head of a dangerous cartel. This simple enough dilemma becomes a captivating film through the excellent performance of Art Bonilla and a crucial sense of ambiguity in the film’s tone.
Incident Urbain, by John Lalor
Samuel Beckett, the spirit of the French New Wave and towering architecture hover above this film, a humble representation of impending doom. As two aging friends, potentially members of a secret society, walk around Paris discussing life, cinema and urbanity. Everything seems behind them, and yet somehow still present in their weighty and vague conversation. The final few seconds come as a shock but not exactly a surprise, a sonic boom of echoing radicalism.
The Kiosk, by Anete Melece
The Kiosk is a beautiful, strange little cartoon about finding yourself stuck. Olga runs a newspaper kiosk in the heart of a major European city, a business that is quite literally her entire life. She is physically confined to the box, permanently attached to its thin walls and newspaper racks. Her inevitable flight is therefore all the more exciting, a charming journey brought to life by Anete Melece’s wonderfully elastic sense of space.
The Next Part, by Erin Sanger
So many of the images of veterans in our society are idealized, heroic portraits that in spite of their good intentions create more of a distance between American soldiers and the civilians they have sworn to protect. Erin Sanger’s film is the rare film that emphasizes the human strength of a wounded veteran over the superhuman feats of combat. There is even some warm humor to be found in this story of a double amputee and his wife’s struggle to readjust, along with the great potential for joy.
One Year Lease, by Brian Bolster
Brian Bolster and Thomas Harrington had a crazy landlady. She would leave voicemails late at night and early in the morning, about everything from garbage bags to the well-being of their cat. And so they saved these hilarious messages, added them to footage of their life in the apartment and edited it all into one of the best documentaries at the festival.
Optical Sound, by Elke Groen and Christian Neubacher
With Optical Sound, Austrian filmmakers Elke Groen and Christian Neubacher take a cryptic soundtrack and give it an even more mysterious life through a series of enigmatic and colorful images. Sharing a strange spiritual connection with the throbbing animations of Norman McLaren and others, this is one of the most viscerally interesting experiences of the festival.
The Pink Helmet Posse, by Benjamin Mullinkosson and Kristelle Laroche
Bella, Sierra and Rella are a trio of 6-year-old girls with an overwhelming passion for skateboarding. All in pink, they are determined to take on the world and some day conquer the X Games. In the meantime, however, they’re the subject of this delightful documentary. Benjamin Mullinkosson and Kristelle Laroche find just the right tone, highlighting the admirable dreams of these girls alongside the cute frustrations of 6-year-old life.
Scratch, by Philip Kelly
They make good short films in Ireland. Scratch is an absurd, fast-paced comedy set in a small town gas station. Everyone knows each other here, which makes it a bit awkward when someone tries to rob the joint. It’s somewhere between Clerks and the dark comedies of Martin McDonagh.
Sker, by Eyþor Jovinsson
Iceland is a gorgeous and, apparently, very dangerous place if you don’t pay any attention. Sker is the story of a hapless adventurer who decides to head out onto a skerry in the middle of a fjord, a dangerous place to dawdle given the incoming tide. Soon the gorgeous images give way to impending doom, concluding with just the right dose of that morbid Icelandic sense of humor.