One of the great things about the Heartland Film Festival is that it gives us a chance to experience short films that will never see major release. This year, Heartland has been accepted as a qualifying festival in the Short Films category for the Academy Awards–which means that one of the shorts showing here this week could walk away with an Oscar. Which doesn’t have anything to do with why My Beautiful Wife and I went to see the Festival Awards Shorts 1 program last night. But if you need added incentive to get yourself out to the program, it’s as good a reason as any.
The program begins with Head Over Heels, a nifty bit of stop-action animation that won the festival’s Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Award and the festival’s Vision Award for Best Short Film. Director Timothy Reckart’s story is simple, familiar, and wordless: an older couple, Walter and Madge, is living in the same house, but on different planes. Walter lives on the floor; Madge lives on the ceiling. The familiarity that breeds resentment has overwhelmed the old passion to which they both cling. In an effort to break the stalemate, Walter attempts a gesture that literally turns their lives upside down. The resolution, as Reckart admitted in a brief post-program Q&A session, could be seen as “not very feminist.” But that’s just proof that someone with an agenda can politicize anything. If you’re looking for anything deeper than a sweet little meditation about the accommodations we make for love, you’re at the wrong film. Head Over Heels is slight and a little obvious in its message. But the execution is inventive and beautiful. Four stars.
Speaking of inventive and beautiful: Kipp Normand is a local treasure, and Kipp Normand, the 11-minute portrait by director Jonathan Frey, does a nice job of showing off the intelligence and wit and meaning behind Normand’s art. Normand creates collages of found objects that most people see as garbage; in fact, in the film, he calls himself a “trash artist.” We discover the source of Normand’s love of ancient and decaying things, and Frey does a great job of showing the artist in his element. Or, more precisely, in his elements; whether in his home, in his studio at the Harrison Center for the Arts, or out poking around abandoned buildings, Normand is surrounded by fragments of the past that he pieces together to make meaningful art out of ephemera. It is, as Normand suggests, a sort of metaphor for redemption. As for the film: it’s a loving portrait that leaves the viewer wanting more–especially more, clearer shots of the art itself. Three stars.
The program’s most ponderous segment is its third, Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such A Beautiful Day. Using a sketchy stick-figure animation as its base, It’s Such A Beautiful Day tells the story of Bill, who awakens in a hospital bed and finds that he can’t remember much about his life. Everyone looks the same to him, except for his old girlfriend, and he can’t remember her name. Bill seems to be suffering from dementia, although his condition is never specified. At the end, Hertzfeldt makes an ambitious decision: either by choice or by circumstance, Bill embraces his mortality, and It’s Such A Beautiful Day seems to become a film about everything–at which point, unfortunately, it ceases to be about something. The film is apparently the third and final chapter in the director’s Everything Will Be OK trilogy. Perhaps I’d have felt differently if I’d seen the other two. Two stars.
Inocente is the best reason to see the Festival Awards Shorts 1 program. It’s a 40-minute documentary about a 15-year-old girl in San Diego who’s blossoming as an artist and her struggles with homelessness, and it’s as affecting and moving as you might imagine. The film provides real insight into the plight of homeless kids; Inocente tells us that “homeless” doesn’t mean that you wake up on the street every day, but that you live in a shifting world of shelters, squats, and other temporary quarters that make it difficult to get firm footing anywhere in the world. Inocente lives with her mother, who speaks almost no English, and her two little brothers. She can only imagine a room of her own, and the thought brings her to tears. She also blames herself for her family’s homelessness, and it’s a story that may bring you to tears. But Inocente’s art is an inspiration. Yes, there are monsters in her world, but she embraces them, defanging them with vivid blues and pinks and oranges and yellows. Directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine have created a gorgeous film that should make you think twice about how you feel about undocumented aliens in America. Four stars.
Festival Awards Shorts 1 is showing four more times this week: today at 4:30 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14; Tuesday at 2 p.m. at AMCE Showplace Trader’s Point 12; Friday at 11:30 a.m. at Castleton; and Saturday at 11 a.m. at Trader’s Point. It’s one of the best excuses to get out to the movies this week–and a big reason why Heartland is such a treasure.