The DC Independent Film Festival kicked off last week, so Andrew and I decided to catch a couple sessions today. We caught two shorts fests: “Politics, Conflict, and Controversy” and “Cinematic Love & Death”.
I suppose I should have been prepared, during the first session (politics, conflict and controversy), for films with a message. I wasn’t. I’ve been a writer for a long time (not paid, not published, but a writer, none-the-less), and I know that a good story comes from, well, a good story. It needs strong characters with real problems and conflicts. If there’s a “message” to the story, it will come through the problems and conflicts that the characters encounter. There’s no need to hit the reader over the head with the message. Most of these filmmakers have not learned this lesson yet. Nearly all of them had a message and felt that they needed to shout their message at us stupid viewers.
Having said that, there were a couple noteworthy pieces during the first session:
- Convictions: Prisoners of Conscience was a documentary about protestors at Fort Benning Georgia who are regularly arrested and face federal prison time for their peaceful protests.
In some ways I felt that the actually content of the protest was missing — I got a general idea of what they were protesting (the School of the Americas), but there wasn’t enough “evidence” to make me support the protestors. On the other hand, the documentary was really about the protestors, not the subject of their protests, at least that’s what I gathered. In that sense, it was well-done with an underlying arch that brought the film from beginning to end and told the story of the protestors without shoving anything down our throats.
- Daughters of Abraham was a documentary about two girls in Iraq — one a suicide bomber, the other her victim, both looking so similar that they could have been sisters.
This one was also more powerful than the “fiction” shorts that had a message to convey. Here, there was a message of sorts, but the filmmaker did not take sides. Rather we got to see both girls’ parents talking about their girls. We get the sense that the parents of the bomber, while sad that they lost their daughter, were supportive (not necessarily proud) of their daughter and her convictions. On the other side, we see the grieving parents and classmates of the victim.
This one was not as well crafted as Convictions: Prisoners of Conscience, because at times it seemed that some material was just thrown between scenes of the parents without a real plan for connecting events.
The second session was much more enjoyable than the first, though two of the pieces were almost indecipherable. Particularly enjoyable:
- Handshake — an animated short about two people who get entangled due to a simple handshake.
- Samuel de Mango — Samuel grew up eating only mangoes. His mother grew mangoes. He hated mangoes. When he finds that he’s interested in the married woman next door, he decides that his only escape is suicide. Unfortunately, all those mangoes in his system make suicide difficult.
All in all, a fun afternoon. We’ll probably be back for another session or two next weekend.