Tribeca Film Festival Short Reviews: ‘Pragma,’ ‘Touchline,’ ‘Girls Night In,’ ‘Fraud,’ ‘Point And Kill’ And ‘Chicken’

Greetings again from the darkness. I watched a block of short films that played at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Below is a recap.

PRAGMA
“Love is a science, not an art.” At least that’s the premise of this 20-minute short film from director Ellie Haydon (her fourth short) and writer-actor Lucy Heath. In this age of dating apps and focus on efficiencies, what if an algorithm could select your perfect partner? Think of all the time and effort and frustration that would be saved.

Willow (played by the film’s writer, Lucy Heath) participates in a project where the Program Director (Amanda Hale) claims each person’s perfect match is in the room, having been selected by the algorithm that allows one to “stand in love”, rather than “fall in love”. During the introductory greeting, Willow makes eye contact from across the room with Jack (Phil Dunster, “Ted Lasso”). They exchange knowing smiles when the first pairings are announced and they are locked in an observation room and told to gaze into each other’s eyes.

In the next round, they are paired up with others. Willow finds Tom (Sid Sagar) much less “perfect” than Jack, and begins to wonder if the algorithm is right for her. This little film leaves us much to discuss in regards to matters of the heart (emotions) versus matters of the mind (rationality). The film describes this as Eros (the fiery love that burns out) versus Pragma (forever love). There is also a creepy Big Brother element as cameras and video screens are present throughout the facility. Perhaps this generation has grown accustomed to all movement being recorded, but the rest of us find this a bit intrusive.

This was my favorite film in this block of Tribeca short films, and the on-screen presence of Ms. Heath, Ms. Hale, and Mr. Dunster deserve credit for bringing believability, charm, and even some humor to the film. It still seems unlikely that most are ready to turn over their love lives and future to a computer algorithm, but it also makes us wonder if this might also save us from some bad choices.

TOUCHLINE
Writer-director Mohammed Saffouri delivers a film based on a true story from Palestine in 1948 during the Israeli Occupation. Ahmed (Basil Aksar) is a local boy from Haifa. He loves soccer and has his sights set on making the Palestine national team. His latest match tips the scales in his favor, and Ahmed is thrilled.

On his way home after the match, Ahmed notices friends and neighbors hastily leaving the village. His parents frantically tell him to pack quickly as war has broken out and their lives are in danger. Ahmed’s happiest day has turned into a true nightmare. His dreams are shattered.

Ahmed soon learns that his dream may be gone, but his spirit lives on … as does his family. He finds himself and his love of soccer bringing joy back for those who have been displaced. Kindness goes a long way. Filmmaker Saffouri based this 15-minute gem on his grandfather’s story.

GIRLS NIGHT IN
The Bechdel Test for movies is used to determine if two or more women converse with each other about something other than a man. Director Alison Roberto and writer Landon LaRue take that premise and create a satirical look at the most extreme scenario – two women chatting when a masked intruder enters the frame.

Becca (Jess Adams) and Delaney (Skylar Benton) are besties hanging out enjoying wine, pizza, and each other’s company. Their evening takes a turn when they realize a masked man has broken into the house and is threatening them. What happens next is a comical twist on the horror genre, as well as a hilariously extreme display of what too often happens between female characters in movies. In only a 10-minute short film, Roberto and LaRue expertly make their point

FRAUD – 13 min
Although it certainly wasn’t always the case, ‘identity’ is now a topic that is openly discussed and considered. Director Zen Pace and screenwriter Dana Aliya Levinson use identity as the theme for their 13-minute short film.

Levinson also stars as Shira, a trans rock singer whose side gig is stealing credit card details, making online purchases, and then re-selling those items for a profit. One night at a club, Shira ad Andre (Babak Tafti) hook-up … a decision that will eventually rock Shira’s world. What happens when the fraud victim crosses paths with the perpetrator? Well, this one takes a different turn that expect, as the two explore the connection between identity crisis and identity theft. The rooftop scene of “wishes” hits home thanks to the actors. This is the rare short film that might flourish as a feature length film where the characters’ motivations could be further developed.

POINT AND KILL
It’s quite rare for a music video to be submitted and accepted into the shorts program of a film festival, but Tribeca has gone this route for 2022, and one of the entries is this video from hip-hop star Little Simz. It runs less than 5 minutes, and the refrain goes, “You can’t stop me. Point and Kill.”

The video is directed by Ebeneza Blanch and is noted for its visuals exploring Nigerian history.

CHICKEN
The statistics at the end of the film emphasize what an extreme societal problem we have. Writer-director Josh Leong concludes his film with “84% of those in juvenile delinquent centers will be reincarcerated within five years.” You likely know this as teen recidivism.

His 13-minute short film features two first time actors, Jordan C Biggs and Biorkys Acosta. A 16-year-old boy is locked up with others and the center uses live chicks to teach them how to care for others … skills that hopefully will transfer to their kids, once released. Leong allows us in to one of the boy’s dreams, and we witness the environment of domestic violence in which he was raised – a legacy that too many carry forward.

The story was crafted from Leong’s own experiences while volunteering at New York City detention centers, and his film was the most poignant in this block of shorts.

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