Rider and the Storm

As usual, Tribeca presented quite the diverse batch of shorts this year. There are plenty of new voices from New York City, a whole slew of international filmmakers, and a wide variety of documentary and experimental films.

In the mix is some outrageous humor, heartrending human stories and a few uncompromising works of cinematic vision. Yet out of this wide selection, a handful inevitably rose right to the top. Here are the best ten short films from this year’s edition of the Tribeca Film Festival – in alphabetical order.

Alberi, by Michelangelo Frammartino

Fans of Michelangelo Frammartino’s 2010 critical hit Le Quattro Volte might know what to expect from his new short, which played on a loop at MoMA’s PS1 in Queens in association with Tribeca.

His style is one of breathtaking humility, searching for the grand beauty in the simple lives of Italian farmers. Alberi, which is Italian for “trees,” looks at a centuries-old procession in Basilicata in which a group of men go into the forest to make costumes out of leaves and branches. They then march slowly into town, a journey that Frammartino films with an almost playful sensibility.

Dead World Order, by Dana Levy

Stuffed turtles and alligators, old portraits and fading wallpaper fill the Maison de l’Armateur in Le Havre, an aging relic of France’s colonial days. Dana Levy’s short follows the historic house’s curator as she checks on the assemblage of strange and intriguing objects. The house itself is an uncanny column, with a central atrium that winds all the way up to the top of the building. Levy keeps cutting back to this Vertigo­-esque vista, which fits quite nicely with the Bernard Hermann-inspired score. History is a haunting.

Eating Lunch, by Sanna Lenken

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At a clinic in Sweden for teenagers with eating disorders, a group of patients meets to have lunch under the supervision of nurses. Yet today there is a new admission to the clinic, a girl who is still bound up in her anxieties over fattening foods. The heavy meal of Swedish meatballs, gravy, mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam is too much for her, and her disruptions begin to affect the rest of the group.

Eating Lunch is a tonally perfect execution of a uniquely wise script, in no small part due to the on-point performances of the entire teenage cast.

Fear of Flying, by Conor Finnegan

This is the story of a bird who cannot bring himself to fly. The poor thing gets in and out of his birdhouse with a ladder to the ground; he’s just that terrified of taking the leap. Yet when all of his friends, including a friendly lady bird, fly south for the winter, will he finally try to follow them?

That’s the simple conceit of this excellent Irish animation, with a joyful spirit and attention to detail very close to that of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Fool’s Day, by Cody Blue Snider

Murder! A group of 4th graders accidentally kill their teacher. I won’t tell you how, but it’s hilarious. The whole short is hilarious, twenty minutes of outrageous comedy as these kids try to cover up their crime before their D.A.R.E. officer shows up. Cody Blue Snider has done an excellent job getting these kids to give their comic best, which with such a big group is not at all easy.

It’s morbid, very smart, and doesn’t have a moment of slack.

The Rider and the Storm, by David Darg and Bryn Mooser

If there were a theme to the documentaries at this year’s festival, it would be Character. Many of them are profiles of artists, writers and filmmakers with large personalities and an already significant legacy. Rider and the Storm is an equally stunning ode to the character of a regular guy, a surfer and ironworker from Breezy Point, Queens. Yet as these stories often show, Timmy Brennan is actually much more than a “regular guy,” who rises to the occasion when his mother’s house is destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. With beautiful images of Brennan out on his board and a real sense of commitment to the community of Breezy Point, this is one of the best docs of the festival.

RPG OKC, by Emily Carmichael

One great, witty idea can go a long way. Emily Carmichael’s short is an animated look at online dating among video game characters, an especially complicated pursuit if you’re not actually a humanoid character. Will the wild cat and the palace guard find love, even as war comes to the land? It’s cleverly designed and exceptionally funny.

Two Islands, by Jan Ijas

At once eerie and soothing, Jan Ijas’s ethereal look at two island locations of New York City is eye-opening even for a local audience. The first is Hart Island, the site of the city’s potter’s field where four days a week unclaimed and unidentified bodies are sent for burial. The second is the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, the largest in the history of mankind. These two repositories of the things we’ve left behind, when placed in such an artfully constructed visual conversation, open up a fascinating dialog around death and waste in our society.

We Will Live Again, by Josh Koury and Myles Kane

Cryonics is nuts, and the Cryonics Institute is at the forefront of this nuttiness. Josh Koury and Myles Kane interviewed the two men who work at the Institute, safe-guarding the almost 100 corpses that remain frozen in the building’s vaults and occasionally bringing in a new “patient.” Robert Ettinger, the founder of the movement, lives in the area as well, waiting to someday be put under ice. We Will Live Again is a glimpse into a little world we don’t often see, and which we often forget is more than just a joke about Walt Disney.

When the Song Dies, by Jamie Chambers

Finally, an elegy. While the Americans in We Will Live Again seek to cheat death, the older Scots of When the Song Dies have no illusions about its inevitability. Jamie Chambers’ film is an emotional portrait of a vanishing culture, the songs and sounds of an older Scotland that has little in common with the modern world. Gorgeous images of the Machars Peninsular seem to represent a mythical past fading into the landscape, while aging witnesses tell of their youth and sing the songs of their ancestors. It’s tender and poignant, a poetic farewell.


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