‘Indy Shorts’ Reviews

By James Lindorf

Today is the final day of the Indy Shorts International Film Festival presented by Heartland Film. Thousands of filmmakers submitted their work for a shot at being part of the Indy Shorts 30th anniversary. Hundreds of them have been selected to entertain audiences locally and worldwide during this year’s hybrid event. Suppose you feel overwhelmed by the amount of time remaining and the number of choices. In that case, you can head to the Heartland Film Facebook page and see the winners of several awards that have already been handed out.

This weekend is also the start of the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. To help you narrow your choices down, even more, I am going to award my bronze, silver, and gold medals to various programming blocks. There are several exciting and unique films worth checking out left in these categories, but I believe these stand about the rest.

Animals

Other than children, there is nothing that pulls at an audience’s heartstrings like animals. The cuteness is often off the charts bringing out our protective side and flooding our eyes with tears when events take a tragic turn. Here are my medal winners for the Animals Program.

Bronze Medal: Little Berlin: English, German/France, Germany, UK/14 Minutes
Synopsis: When Germany was divided in 1946, the sleepy farming village of Mödlareuth was torn in two. The Soviets descended on the eastern half, and the Americans took over the west. A 12-foot wall was built through the middle, and the village soon picked up the nickname ‘Little Berlin.’ The international media had a field day, but the tragedy unfolding in the local herd went unreported. While Peter, the only bull in the village, was stranded in the west, his cows were eating Soviet grass on the other side of the wall. A bovine tragedy waiting to be told based on a true story and narrated by Christoph Waltz.

“Little Berlin” is a beautifully filmed and comedic approach to the real-life story of how the Berlin wall made life worse for everyone on levels you may have never considered.

Silver Medal: I’m a Pebble: France/No Dialogue/7 Minutes
Synopsis: It’s spring, and the animal families are waking up, including that of Bubble the otter. The otters swim, share a meal, and Bubble and Mousse admire the wonders that are wriggling through the water around them. Everything is not what it seems in the idyllic forest. As the seasons change and the rain turns to snow, Bubble will have a heartbreaking decision to make.

“I’m a Pebble” is beautifully animated and elicited stronger emotions from me than any other film I have seen at Indy Shorts this year. It is incredible to see how much can be conveyed with nothing more than a few squeaks and well-animated eyes.

Gold Medal: Pant Hoot: English/USA/21 Minutes
Synopsis: One man risks everything to care for a group of mistreated animals rescued by Jane Goodall’s Chimp Eden Sanctuary in South Africa. Stany Nyandwi, a survivor of the Burundi genocide, overcomes insurmountable odds to become one of the only humans to master the complicated ‘pant hoot’ chimp language. Recognizing that it’s not just a chimpanzee/human struggle, he’s taken it upon himself to reconnect with our closest relatives on this planet. Love knows no man-made boundaries in this universal story about understanding.”

“Pant Hoot” was directed by Richard Reens and tells the story of Stany Nyandwi. He is an associate of Jane Goodall, a Burundi genocide survivor, and the closest thing we have to a chimpanzee whisperer. Nyandwi cares for a group of mistreated animals that were rescued by Chimp Eden Sanctuary in South Africa. The world’s population of chimpanzees in the wild is dwindling, and Goodall and Stany are doing everything they can to raise awareness.

Sci-Fi

Science Fiction is a speculative genre that imagines how life would be at a different point in time or if a new bit of technology was introduced. Authors and filmmakers do this to shine a light on our current society. An easy example is comparing modern-day apartheid to the events of “District 9.” Here are my medal-worthy films that examined the now by looking at tomorrow.

Bronze: Fempire: English/USA/16 Minutes
Synopsis: In the near future, when women rule the world, a politician visits a “Grooming School” to snag a trophy husband, but her boring date takes a turn when her Stepford-y match stops pretending to be something he’s not.

“Fempire” has excellent costume design, and let’s say, interesting hair and makeup design. There haven’t been significant leaps in technology; the biggest change in the world is that after World War 3, women have taken over every political office and household. No mention is made to how they could achieve complete subjugation of men, but it is absolute. “Fempire” gets a bit absurd at times, but sometimes you have to exaggerate to get people to notice the truth.

Silver:Triangle: Hungarian/United Kingdom, Hungary/20 Minutes
Synopsis: Triangle, the graduation film of Peter Engelmann from the Arts University Bournemouth, is a sci-fi pseudo-docu drama exploring the dark realms of the human mind. The story follows three strangers who – based on a 1997 psychological experiment on the bonds of friendship – are about to become friends for life, separated only by 36 questions.

“Triangle” is a straightforward movie on its surface. There is one room and five actors, three of which are taking part in the experiment. The goal is to see if 45 minutes and a series of questions is enough to make someone genuinely care about a former stranger. While the setup is simple, the complex questions unveil many truths that are not often spoken aloud as the subjects discuss their futures and reflect on their pasts.

Gold: The Following Year: English/Spain/22 Minutes
Synopsis: On his anniversary, a widowed farmer receives the clone of the woman he lost years ago under tragic circumstances. The clone will provide the chance he never had to say farewell. However, as the clone learns more about their past together, she soon finds clues that make her doubt the farmer ́s story. What happened between them? How far is he willing to go to find closure?”

Cloning is possible, and in less than a year, the clone can be the exact age of the donor was when the sample was collected. More impressively, after just 72 hours, they have all the knowledge and memories of the person we lost. “The Following Year” asks the questions, what would you do for love, and how far would you go for revenge. More than any other movie that I saw at Indy Shorts this year, this is the one I want to see made into a feature-length movie. All of the elements are there for a terrific cat and mouse thriller with just the two actors isolated away from anyone giving the audience no idea who to believe.

Horror 1: Splatter

Horror movies are more rigidly placed into subgenres than any other. Films can be classified as gothic horror, paranormal, body horror, splatter, slasher, and many more. Occasionally creators blur the genre edges. But because people have strong feelings about the type of horror they do and do not like too much, mixing can end up costing you more moviegoers than it gains you. Comedy is a natural partner to horror. It is hard to go from scare to scare while constantly ratcheting up the tension without wearing out your audience. Providing humor, or other sense of safety keeps audiences invested and primed for bigger screams. Here are the films I voted most likely to send you running for the hills or at least hiding behind your fingers.

Bronze: The Everlasting Club: English/UK/9 Minutes
Synopsis: At an elite college, Sarah invites a diverse group of female students to restart a powerful men’s club from centuries ago. Inspired to change the world, everyone signs up, only to discover the original members are joining them for dinner.

“The Everlasting Club” is an excellent complement to “Fempire.” In some ways, it could be viewed as a prequel where women are just now planning on taking over the halls of power previously dominated by men. When Sarah gathers the elite of the elite for a “That 70’s Show”-style get-together, nothing appears to be able to stop these women from achieving their goals. But everything isn’t always what it seems, and sometimes things are too good to be true.

Silver: The Familiars: English/Australia/16 Minutes
Synopsis: In the wake of her Grandmother’s death, teenager Alison’s volatile mother intends to find a family heirloom. When Alison discovers the mysterious treasure, and as her mother’s behavior escalates, Alison must decide whether to live in fear or protect herself and destroy her family.

Familiars are most commonly associated with vampires, but historically, they are also spirits or items that aid witches with their magic. If you change magic to money, “The Familiars” has the potential to be a dark comedy or intense greed-driven family drama. Blending gothic and supernatural horror, along with its attractive but muted color palette easily keeps your attention.

Gold: Axe to the Face: English/USA/17 Minutes
Synopsis: Anna and Dylan meet on a dating app, and the two begin a budding relationship. As their chemistry progresses, we begin to see there is more to this seemingly chance encounter than we were initially led to believe. One thing’s for sure; someone is getting an axe to the face.

Everyone has a secret in “Axe to the Face,” and it is that intrigue and the brutal conclusion that vaults it to the top of the podium of the first horror program.

Horror 2: Strange and Unusual

Bronze: Tio: Spanish/Mexico/13 Minutes
Synopsis: Martin is a cocky teenager who, on his first day of work in the mines, will meet old Andres, an elderly miner who will explain to him the importance of ancestral rituals and the respect he must keep for the TíO, the demon god who guards the mines and to whom he must also bring an offering to be able to work in peace. Martin’s insolence and disbelief in front of the Tío will provoke the anger of the guardian of the mines with severe consequences.

“Tio” is a dark claymation style film that may share themes with something Tim Burton would create but with a completely different style. Instead of black and greys, it is full of rich brown tones. The design is a little rough. The main character could be 10 or 65, and the characters move more like marionettes which may not appeal to some viewers. But the way it explores a lesser-known folklore character is very interesting. However, more than most, “Tio” suffers from the short run time because so much is left unexplained and relies on an atmosphere that doesn’t pull you in.

Silver: Aria: English/United Kingdom/13 Minutes
Synopsis: Jenny and Tom are excited to install a new Aria “smart security system” in their home. Tom becomes increasingly paranoid about what may be lurking outside their front door at night and eventually confronts it.

“Aria” gets points for being relatable due to the increasing prevalence of automated home equipment. Everyone that owns one knows how helpful and frustrating it can be and how alluring it can be checking your cameras to make sure your home is safe. “Aria” plays on these experiences and fears and gives the most genuine fright of either horror program.

Gold: Stuffed: English/United Kingdom/19 Minutes
Synopsis: Stuffed is a short musical about a taxidermist who dreams of stuffing a human and the man she meets online, so afraid of aging he volunteers to be her specimen. An unexpected romantic spark between them complicates their plans.

“Stuffed” is weird, unique, beautiful, and impressive, from the costume and set design to the skills of the only two actors. Horror musicals may be few and far between, but “Stuffed” stands above them all, and that is why it is at the top of my podium. It also wins best in show for horror films by easily dominating “Axe to the Face.”

Comedy

There may be no other genre that is as difficult to nail as comedy. Playing on our emotions and fears is one thing but hitting us in our funny bones is another. Horror movies can exist with simple tricks like tossing a cat through a window, and dramas can wreck us with a few well-placed tears. Here are the films most likely to make your cheeks hurt.

Bronze: Miss Fortunate: English/UK/15 Minutes
Synopsis: Scarlet’s mum has died, leaving her with two cats, a huge tax bill, and a crush on a boy she can’t talk to. A comedy-drama about grief, in which a young woman loses her mother and finds herself.

“Miss Fortunate” excels with its honest humor centered around grief and lust. Scarlet is heartbroken by her mom’s death and trying to come to terms with the best way to honor her. When not overcome with grief, she is looking for something or someone to fill that void.

Silver: Close Ties to Home Country: English, Hindi/USA/15 Minutes
Synopsis: Akanksha, a young immigrant (“originally from India but grew up in Saudi Arabia”), is dog-sitting Timothee, the baby Frenchie of Instagram influencers India and Harry, while they’re on a trip to India. Akanksha’s sister is scheduled to visit her soon—they haven’t seen each other in nine years. While she waits, Akanksha bonds with Timothee, has her friend Sophia over to engage in judgy hijinks and muses over why she stays away from her home country.

When people think of the “American Dream,” they imagine individuals or families coming here for a better opportunity and how their life will improve. Akanksha asks you to think about everything immigrants have left behind and the difficulty of coming to a different country all alone. Akanksha provides the drama with most of the humor coming from the adorable Timothee. If it was placed in another category, I believe Close Ties could have walked away with the gold, but it lacks the humor sufficient to win this group.

Gold: Navel Gazers: English/USA/15 Minutes
Synopsis: “The story follows Polly Price, a curved spine girl, who dreams of one day seeing a sunset. However, her eyes can no longer handle the sun, and the government-issued screen contraption attached to her body prevents her from seeing it. She desires more in life than filters, targeted ads, and her lackluster love interest Robby. After discovering an old chiropractic book, her wish becomes a reality at a horrible cost.

In the vein of “Idiocracy,” “Navel Gazers” imagines what our world would look like if we surrendered ourselves to society to the most worthless parts of the internet. The world is suffering from a terrible case of tech neck and unable to enjoy the world around them unless they are really into ground coverings. Credit has to be given to the cast for walking around hunched over for extended periods, and acting from that uncomfortable position would be no easy task. “Navel Gazers” has some laughs and may make you fear for our future, so it earns my gold medal.

Indy Shorts is an excellent in-person and virtual event. I can’t wait to see if one of my gold medalists or official festival award winners gets nominated for the next Academy Awards.

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