The Phoenix Film Festival is still underway, but before too much time passes, here are some of the films I’ve seen over the past weekend. My schedule was jam-packed with short films from all over the world as well as two programs of Arizona made indies. The short films presented this year look very promising, as they revealed a definite move away from the business card/ resume filmmaking that had been plaguing festival selections for quite some time. Not a complete overhaul by any means, but at least a marked improvement, as the filmmakers are wrapping their images around tighter narratives and working harder towards the essential aspects of visual storytelling and not just relying on technically awesome visuals. Let’s get started with the Live Action Shorts Program A.

Shy Guys – Directed by: Fredric Lehne
Two men take up residence at their prospective urinals, both unable to commence the stream due to personal hangups dating back to childhood. Ever so witty bathroom banter has them bonding over their dilemma. Terrific use of flush-focus, cake-cam and piss-perspective. Final Take – Flush twice, it’s a long way to Hollywood.

A Beautiful Day – Directed by: Phedon Papamichael
Retired diabetic accountant Gene Thompson (James Brolin) decides to cash in all his chips. He gives his gardener a hefty tip and buys a dozen donuts. We get to listen with excruciating clarity for a while as Gene chomps, slurps and smacks a glazed donut in his car. He meets a barfly (Frances Fisher) at the local watering hole, gives her a donut, and they go to his place to get it on Hollywood-style (yup). Seeing photos of his daughter, she compliments him on her looks and he replies that she was pretty. Gene gives her a hefty tip, empties his bank account and goes after a guy who turned his daughter into a one-armed zombie. Well shot, sophist indie short reminds us for the umpteenth time that all men are abusers, all women are victims and firearms solve everything. Final Take – Filled with jelly.  

Swim – Directed by: Mari Walker
A family afternoon poolside is a toil for young Nick, teased by his parents for not swimming with the rest of the family. But late at night, when everyone is asleep, Nick steals his mother’s swimsuit and dives into the pool. In blue liquid freedom, lithe Nicky emerges from the water, illuminated in the fading summer moonlight. Lissome and poignant LGBT film that never really makes a demand for acceptance, but merely portrays in subtle pastels the anguish and elusive repletion the young trans girl endures in her journey to freedom. Final Take – Translucent. 

The Retriever – Directed by: Nicholas Thurkettle
With a shovel over his shoulder, a determined man walks through the woods and yammers incessantly into his cell phone. With the help of ‘Karis’ the friendly info app, his rapid intake of trivia is constantly interrupted by angry calls admonishing him to make his retrieval. Simple one actor/one location short laden with nasty human coprolalia tempered with auto correcting robotic reprimands. Final Take – Fetching.

Mine – Directed by: Nick Dixon
After a bloody wolf attack, a shepherd gathers his sheep in the lonely, cavernous landscape of the Gaza Strip. He steps on a landmine and immediately realizes his predicament. For days he stands in the same spot as he desperately struggles to free himself from this deadly situation. As his flock draws near, he realizes extraction will require extreme sacrifice. Superbly shot and acted short film that maximizes its unique location (Goblin Valley State Park!) to create a terrifyingly tense atmosphere of danger, helplessness and doom. Serious props to actor Andrew Diaz for his one-man tour de force. Final Take – Peace of mine.

Miriam’s Balloons – Directed by: Dan Czerwonka
Atropos is a young girl who freely drifts in and out of people’s lives, relieving them of their earthly existence by snipping the helium filled souls attached to their writs. A young man confined to a wheelchair tries vainly to end his agony via overdose, yet can only remain tethered until the benevolent face of Atropos appears, with gold scissors in hand, to free him of his suffering. Atropos befriends young sickly Miriam who cherishes their companionship. With reverenced resignation, Miriam surrenders the last thread of her life to her new friend and Atropos must confront her purpose among the filipendulous souls she encounters, and her feelings of loss for her friend. Sorrowfully heart-tugging short film that is jam packed with symbolism and mythological references. A dark and wonderful story that is never smarmy and always hypnotically serious. Gotta give the serious props to child actress Gracie Miller for her portrayal as Atropos, presenting an eerie soul snatcher that is never sinister, but merely entrusted with the fading twilight of earthbound existence. Final Take – Uplifting.     

The Babysitter Murders – Directed by: Ryan Spindel
Sure enough, it’s a dark and stormy night and the babysitter is all alone in a creepy darkened mansion. She goes to the kitchen to prepare her favorite snack but keeps getting interrupted from her din din by power outages, radio announcements about a killer on the loose, and a kung- fu fighting psychopath in the kitchen. Director Ryan Spindel has a flawless knack for capturing the era he portrays, this time the 1980’s and anthology horror films. ‘Murders’ is a fun and freaky delightful pastiche of 80’s horror with a groovy rock and roll soundtrack that continues the trademark dreary sets and creeping menace presented in his previous short horror film ‘The Root Of The Problem.’ Final Take – Snack attack.