by Robin Ruinsky
Film buffs know the names Sundance, Tribeca, and Cannes. They know the New York Film Festival. But if you don’t know about the Long Island International Film Expo, you’re missing too many great films. This year, LIIFE celebrated its fifteenth season of showcasing independent films and giving a home to many filmmakers whose work is worthy of finding an audience.
Screening over one hundred short films, features, and documentaries from July 12 to July 19, there was no shortage of choices in the three to four film blocks scheduled every day during the Expo. The Expo is held every July in Bellmore, Long Island, New York, in the last privately owned stand-alone movie theater. Henry and Anne Stampfel have made the Bellmore a home for quality movies, many that would be impossible to find outside of Manhattan. The Bellmore is a cherished haven from the now-ubiquitous multiplex.
Independent films are often made by people who need to have a huge amount of dedication and perseverance to get their work funded and viewed. This is why an event like the Expo is important to so many filmmakers who dream not only of making their films but finding an audience to appreciate them. The Expo screens films from all over the world including Poland, Australia, England, and the United States. Directors, producers, actors, and writers work with budgets that give tight a new meaning. Some succeeded more than others, though all were clearly labors of devotion to the art of film. Here’s a short list of some of the films I found particularly noteworthy:
The feature Dimensions: A Line, A Loop A Tangle of Threads from first time director Sloane U’Ren was very-well received. The film is beautifully written, acted, and directed. U’Ren’s worked as an art director on some big films, most notably Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The screenplay and the music were written by Anthony Neely (Neely and U’Ren are a husband and wife team).
A time travel tale, Dimensions achieves a sense of reality rooted in a story of an unbreakable bond between two children, Victoria and Stephen. The time setting of the film, 1921–1936, is an era of quiet after WWI and before the storm of WWII. It was a smart move to set the film in a time before cell phones, computers, television, and the noise that we experience everyday in modern life. Two young cousins, Stephen and Conrad are close friends with their neighbor, Victoria. The three are inseparable until a tragedy tears them apart and sends Stephen on his quest to find his way back to Victoria. The power of friendship and love and an unusual method of time travel drive the plot forward towards a twist at the end.
Among the short films, Lifted, another story dealing with a bond between children, stood out. Zachery Goldberg’s story about a lonely young girl, a boy who can fly, and the kinship between the two had the feel of a feature even though it clocked in at sixteen minutes. I wanted to see more and know more, and that’s a big accomplishment. The credit goes to the quiet screenplay and the two remarkable child actors, Beatrice Miller and Brandon Buescher.
Another short that played like a feature was Nobody’s Child, adapted from a short story by David Groff. Two close friends, a straight woman with a son and a gay man, face the crisis of her terminal illness. It’s the kind of story that could descend into melodrama but instead is quirky and funny, and even if the conclusion is predictable, the journey to get there isn’t. It was directed by Dennis Nolette, one of many firsttime directors at LIIFE with a great skills as a storyteller.
Waiting for the Turning of the Earth, starring veteran Australian actor Barry Otto (Strictly Ballroom, The Great Gatsby) centers on a man spending the last hours of his life in his bed, on a beach, trying to avoid his family’s grief and instead watch the sunset one last time. Except, as he explains it, the sun isn’t setting, it’s the Earth that’s turning. A powerful film directed and written by David Giles, who wrote Paradise Road.
Hath No Man, written and directed by Linus Koh, packs an extraordinary amount of drama in a fifteen minute film. The story of two Australian soldiers on Crete in WWII, Koh does a masterful job as director, writer, and cinematographer. Opening in the present, a veteran remembers a pivotal moment of his life, a life saved by the bravery and sacrifice of a fellow soldier.
The 22 minute Queen is a showcase for actor Ryan Eggold. A drag queen’s life is turned upside down when attempting to adopt a child. Being a nightclub star isn’t enough for Nikki Holiday, who is dealing with a broken relationship and an empty nursery. Directed and written by Adam Rose, this was another short that felt as complete as a feature.
Mile 27 is another film carried by child actors. When their parents’ car runs out of gas, a brother and sister come face to face with an unexpected dilemma. They discover a man locked in a shed at a deserted gas station. Menlay Fernandez wrote and directed the quirky film, which leaves the conclusion in the hands of the viewer.
Flavio Alves, the director of The Secret Friend, based his film on a short story by João Silvério Trevisan. A lonely widow finds solace and friendship with a caller who never says a word. It’s a funny film with a very good performance by Viola Harris, an actress whose career stretches back to the 1950’s.
It was really enjoyable to see so many short films especially in a theater setting; like really fine short stories, film shorts have to pack a lot into very little time and at their best have the detail, story arc, and emotional impact of feature-length work.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Long Island International Film Expo, please visit their website.