JWR Articles: Film/DVD - PSIFF Short Fest 2018 - United States - 1 (Directors: Danny Madden, Darius Clark Monroe, Ryan Booth, Eric Pascal Johnston, Connor Dooley) - June 30, 2018

PSIFF Short Fest 2018 - United States - 1

4.5 4.5

Reviewed at the 2018 edition of the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival.
Mostly gems here, with one notable exception

A quartet of films surging with courageousness (both on and off the field) only to lose steam with a satire that fails of tickle the funny bone.


Danny Madden, USA
9 minutes, Four and one half stars

When life is art

In barely nine minutes, Shirley Chen delivers a master class in action (speech, visage, body language, gesture) that most others in her field (young or older) can only hope to achieve.

The story within the play (a trek to high school; once there, participating in an acting class workshop) is bound together with a large dose of ugly behaviour (sexual predators and bullies everywhere) with the notion that only onstage can we tell anything that needs to be told.

The writing (Danny and Will Madden) is superb.


Black 14
Darius Clark Monroe, USA
15 minutes, Four and one half stars

Somebody has to go first

In the present-day-era of football players taking a knee during the national anthem, it is more than instructive to see Monroe’s well-balanced chronicle of 14 Wyoming State football players who have the audacity to think that freedom of speech was a right—on and off the gridiron.

The absolute ignorance of coach Eaton, the Governor of Wyoming and the public at large (homecoming veterans or coeds on campus) is as embarrassing in 1969 as it, regrettably, shows little chance of being purged today. Everyone paid the price: the courageous young men stood on the sidelines, their racist coach never worked again as such after 1970, while the public at large merely shrugged their shoulders and moved on to something else.

Almost lost in the battle was the grit of the San Jose team who, playing the all-white Wyoming squad, were readily beaten but wore black armbands throughout the match. There is certainly more than one way to “take a knee” for justice.


The Heights
Ryan Booth, USA
22 minutes, Four and one half stars

Invitation to the label dance

Director-writer (along with Bradley Jackson) Booth has crafted a finely nuanced tale of two artists on the cusp of success and fame faced with a “now or never moment.”

They happen to be singer-songwriters but could be from any artistic discipline.

The duo has had modest success up until now, struggling to survive but knowing their work is honest and insincere. Others have also noticed including The Label: a coming out to the big time event has been arranged with a sold-out house and an imported backup band just for the occasion, necessitating a rewrite of the arrangements which, literally strips Jessie (Betsy Phillips is coolly credible) of her guitar (all the better to “connect” with the audience and perhaps their libidos?). “It’s a train that you want to get on…” being a deft metaphor for the soul-selling rationale.

At the sound check, Jessie explodes with rage, realizing that what they had would never be the same again; Ben (a marvellous metamorphosis from David Ramirez) tries to calm his musical partner down. All goes well until the front men for The Label, led by Geoff (Zachary Knighton most appropriately sleazy and two-faced), give everyone a taste of what price must be paid for apparent success.

The finale is a knockout where roles are reversed: one keeps his integrity, courting ostracization while the other straps on her guitar, holds her nose and launches a career.

Anyone who has ever had to choose between what is true and was is convenient—no matter what the outcome—will savour a viewing of this thoughtful short that is long on insight


Observatory Blues
Eric Pascal Johnston, Connor Dooley, USA
20 minutes, One and one half stars

A prosthetic failure of the lowest order

Superb humour and satire is always difficult to achieve, but at this year’s Short Fest the yuks cupboard is just about bare. JWR

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