NIGHTSTREAM: Trying On Some Shorts

While the big premieres might’ve been the draw for Nightstream this year, to say nothing of the amazing special events, there were scads and scads of short films to dig into – over 200, as a matter of fact. I sadly didn’t have the time to check out all of them, but did spend a solid afternoon digging into two of the blocks — and had some of the most enjoyable experiences of the entire festival.

First up was the Animation Domination block, presented by Popcorn Frights Film Festival. The block featured 13 animated shorts from a variety of directors from across the globe. While the majority were humorous gems, there were a couple that legitimately disconcerted me. One of them was the first short I caught, French film 100,000 Acres of Pine, directed by Jennifer Alice Wright. The animation was an intriguing mix of 2D and 3D animation, with watercolor and pen-and-ink textures laid across the computer animation, resulting in one of the most striking visual presentations on display.

While much of the computer-animated pieces leaned into Dreamworks or Pixar territory – especially another French film, A Date with Mr. Mappleton, (from directors Gabriel Akpo-Allavo, Constance Auge, Julia Brasileiro Lopes Garcia, Lucas Narjoux, and Meghane Renaud) – or Adult Swim-like jagged edges like Mark Reynolds’ Whence Come Brussels Sprouts — 100,000 Acres of Pine had a look all its own. The tale of a park ranger attempting to discover what happened to her brother and fellow park ranger was relentlessly terrifying, blending aspects of Evil Dead and cosmic creeping horror into something that stuck with me long after I watched it.

My favorite of the humorous animated shorts was director Dylan Chase’s A Night in Camp Heebie Jeebie which, while computer animated, managed to look distinctive with its blocky characters and great camera work. It played like a real horror comedy, despite its brief runtime, and was delightfully funny, with a great twist on the usual “scary story” narrative. It’s the sort of thing you could show as a double feature with the original Frankenweenie short as a family-friendly introduction to horror for fledgling spoopy kids. Honestly, I could go for a series of shorts featuring the Girl Scouts at camp, telling stories and getting into weird troubles.

My second block of shorts was Brooklyn Horror Film Festival‘s Slayed: LGBTQ Horror Shorts, co-presented by Newfest. While the majority of the animated shorts were less than five minutes apiece, in Slayed, the directors went longer, crafting narratives which could readily be expanded into feature length or, at the very least, find their way into an anthology without much extra work. While many of the pieces were extraordinarily dark, the underlying theme was one of love or power. Sarah Wisner and Sean Temple’s Thorns does this excellently in a remarkably short time – although there were a couple shorts which managed to work in some humor, such as Brydie O’Connor’s Going Steady, which is a sun-lit tale of fantasy and murder about a life hoped for in ’50s Kansas, or David Janove’s I Love Your Guts.

The latter of those two gets really dark in the middle of the story of two friends working the overnight shift at a burger joint, but the beginning and end are hilarious. It’s like a terror sandwich with goofiness as the bread. I’m sorry – that’s a really terribly metaphor for what’s a really delightful short film, but I am awful at trying to describe things sometimes. Anyhow, it’s fun. Track it down.

Brandon Fayette and Philippe Sung’s At the Edge of Night, with a heavy metal backdrop featuring music from Obiturary and Napalm Death, is a heartbreaking story with a redemptive arc that left me utterly choked up. While a little rough around the edges in terms of shots and execution, the acting and storyline are superb, and it really aims for the fences on all counts.

However, it’s Aidan Brezonick’s Jeff Drives You that might be the most full-formed short I’ve seen in a long while. A tale of personal connection and the possibilities of technology, Brezonick’s film takes place almost exclusively within the confines of a vehicle that lends even more meaning to the term “smart car” than you though possible, but at no point does it ever feel confined or claustrophobic. If anything, it enhances the intimacy inherent in this tale.

There’s a part near the end that could’ve brought about guffaws and eyerolls, but within the context of Jeff Drives You, it feels like a really touching scene. It’s a testament to the talent of everyone involved that it comes off as well as it does. Honestly, even though it definitely leans more toward sci-fi than horror, the end result of the short is that the director — who’s mostly done music videos up until this point, gets to really reach out and do more things like this in the future.

With everything on offer as part of Nightstream this past weekend, and given the joy and fun I had watching the two shorts blocks I took in, I really wish I had more time to watch everything out there. I encourage those who can to at least search out the films I’ve recommended. They’re just a smattering of the great work on offer. While scheduled programming and events closed out Sunday, the majority of the films and events are still available to view on-demand on the Eventive platform through October 14, and tickets and badges are still on sale.

Nick Spacek
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