Fantastic Fest 2020 delivers a flawless block of diverse and unforgettable short films — seven deeply satisfying gems ranging from hilarious to horrifying.
When it comes to film festivals, it’s the features that tend to get the most buzz and generate the highest levels of audience excitement. But I implore you, if you ever find yourself at a great genre fest, do not skip the short blocks. In the time it takes to watch one film, you can dive into numerous narratives and enjoy a fast-paced thrill ride like no over, all while discovering the best up-and-coming genre talent.
A well curated short block is a work of art. Striking just the right balance of disparate styles, tones, and unique stories is no simple feat. And no one does it better than the talented team at Fantastic Fest. Their short program curators never fail to disappoint, and their 2020 virtual selection is no exception. I had the enormous pleasure of tuning in for Fantastic Shorts on Friday, September 25th, which celebrated some of the year’s most fantastic short film offerings, spanning a myriad of genres and sensibilities.
A truly exceptional offering featuring seven very different films — ranging from joyfully whimsical to devastatingly beautiful — there wasn’t a disappointment in the bunch.
Dir. Bridget Moloney, 11 minutes, USA
Blocks is an existential comedy about the mother of two young children who begins to spontaneously vomit plastic toy blocks. Refreshingly funny and entertaining, it’s a story about navigating the emotionally complex waters of life and parenthood that employs layers of metaphor and creativity.
It begins with a young woman trying to clean a titanic mess, and you can immediately feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. Suddenly, her stomach is upset, and she rushes to the bathroom where she ends up vomiting a large amount of Lego-style building blocks. Obviously, she’s shocked and troubled by this strange malady, but she is scared to tell anyone about it. As she continues to try to live her life, joining in on play dates and romantic evenings with her husband, the upchucking of blocks continues.
Blocks culminates in a wonderfully sweet, very funny, and joy-inducing finale that emphasizes the importance of making the best out of a bad situation.
In the stress-inducing, anxiety-fueled days of 2020, this short from a mother of two who holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology is a welcome treat that will remind you of your power to create the reality you want.
I LOVE YOUR GUTS
Dir. David Janove, 17 minutes, USA
Two girls working in the graveyard shift at a fast food restaurant fend off a belligerent drunk guy while also confronting their own friendship. Making its Texas Premiere, I Love Your Guts is an uproarious, fast-paced, endlessly charming testament to the strength of friendship and the power of healing through laughter.
I absolutely loved I Love Your Guts! It begins with two young women, Kristina (Allie McCarthy) and Jacqui (Daniella Kay), goofing around to pass the time during their late-night drive-thru shift at Woody’s. We then learn that Kristina is harboring a secret crush on her BFF Jacqui. In fact, the goofier, cruder, and more ridiculous Jacqui is, the harder Kristina swoons. However, their friendship is tested when Jacqui admits she’s looking for another job and Kristina’s attempt at finally kindling a romance goes up in flames.
But awkward tension and heartbreak is only the start of their very bad night, and things quickly go from bad to worse when a drunk customer (Scott Shilstone) shows up demanding service and refusing to take no for an answer.
With very little time for character development, we immediately buy into and care about the bond between these two women. The characters feel real and lived in, and we yearn for more time with them. McCarthy and Kay are extraordinary and absolutely light up the screen. With an expertly crafted, infinitely quotable script by David Janove and a pitch perfect ending, I Love Your Guts is a hilariously charming and wickedly fun short that really needs to be a feature… immediately!
SOLUTION FOR SADNESS
DIR. MARC MARTÍNEZ JORDÁN, TUIXÉN BENET COSCULLUELA, 14 MINUTES, SPAIN)
In this World Premiere short out of Spain, a mysterious package offers a woman a reprieve from her melancholy, only its results are more permanent than she realizes. It’s a remarkable short that manages to be both wonderfully surreal and absurd, as well as incredibly poignant.
A woman begins by talking to the camera, showing off all her belongings. However, there is one thing she owns you can’t see: her sadness. She cries all the time. She doesn’t know why she is so sad, and nothing she does seems to alleviate her misery. Then, one day while sunning out on her lawn, a mysterious bag is tossed into her yard. It’s labeled “Solution for Sadness”. She reaches into the bag and pulls out a gorilla mask, which she promptly puts on.
Hours go by, and the mask doesn’t seem to be working. Still deeply depressed, she tries to remove the mask only to discover it won’t budge. To add to the serious Twilight Zone vibes, not only is the mask fused to her face, but no one around her seems to notice she’s even wearing it. In fact, people seem happier than ever to be around her. And just when she thinks can’t get any weirder, a strange man shows up to explain what’s really going in. This leads to a clever reveal and an absolutely perfect payoff.
Shot in LA during quarantine, Solution for Sadness is an intelligent and thought provoking look at mental health — an entertaining metaphor for the masks we wear when we’re trying to fit in with society and hide who we really are. Writer/director Marc Martinez Jordán is responsible for the well-reviewed short out of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Your Last Day on Earth. His first three shorts, which also include Timothy and Horseface, have been selected for more than 500 selections in festivals around the world, winning more than 200 awards.
If ever there was a promising and visionary filmmaker to keep your eye on, it’s Jordán.
JACK AND JO DON’T WANT TO DIE
Dir. Kantu Lentz, 19 minutes, USA
In a retro-futuristic reality, it’s the year 2001, and Jack (Justin Kirk) is laboring away at a suspension facility. It’s a place where people can choose to temporarily halt their lives, becoming literally frozen in time until they can be reanimated at a later date. Heartbroken and dejected, Jack is eager to move from employee to customer.
But his life takes a turn when he’s given the task of reanimating Jo (Olivia Edward), a young girl with terminal cancer. She was hoping to be reanimated when a cure had been discovered for her cancer. But her mother died tragically in a car accident, leaving no one left to pay her storage fees. Thus, Jack is faced with the terrible task of bringing her back to face certain death.
As the two get to know each other, Jo learns Jack plans to throw his life away because of a broken heart, and she cuts to the heart of his pain by telling him how much she’d give just for a chance at a broken heart. While Jack argues that no one wants to live with pain, Jo beautifully articulates the value of pain as something that reminds us that we’re still alive, the value of heartbreak as a reminder that we have the capacity to love and be loved.
Written and directed by Peruvian filmmaker Kantú Lentz, and featuring stunning cinematography from Sam A. Davis, Jack and Jo Don’t Want to Die is nothing short of a masterpiece. Stunningly beautiful and deeply affecting, it takes you on an emotional roller coaster. The virtual audience went absolutely crazy in the online chat room for this one, and it was my standout favorite from a lineup of truly outstanding shorts.
FORBIDDEN TO SEE US SCREAM IN TEHRAN
Dir. Farbod Ardebili, 19 minutes, USA
Inspired by true events, the frontwoman for an Iranian death metal band risks everything as she plots to call the cops on her own underground concert in the hopes that the raid will help her secure her asylum in another country. Beginning with a glorious single take shot, we follow Shima (Mohadeseh Kharaman), a young woman living in Tehran, as she makes her way to a secret rendezvous: rehearsal for her metal band Bride of Death. Just playing metal music alone is forbidden in Tehran, but a woman leading the band makes it infinitely worse in the eyes of the law.
Shima expresses sadness that she is not allowed to follow her dreams, and her bandmate Farzad (Babak Kamangir) comes up with an idea. They will host an underground metal concert, in the hopes that they will be arrested, gaining public notoriety and the ability to seek asylum in a more forward-thinking country. At first Shima rejects the idea which would put innocent lives at risk. But she is persuaded by the idea of providing a better life for her deaf, younger sister Sherin (Sarina Amiri).
The music is spectacular, and you will immediately wish for a soundtrack release on Spotify. Further, the evocative ending delivers a serious emotional punch that really stays with you.
Writer/director Farbod Ardebili stated Forbidden to See us Scream in Tehran was directly inspired by his experience in Iran as a blacklisted Filmmaker and the founder of an Underground Metal band. Unfortunately, he was not allowed to travel back to his home country to shoot the film, so he had to direct the movie through WhatsApp. Seeing how effective and well made the film is, knowing how it was made just makes it that much more impressive.
Dir. KD Davila, 18 minutes, USA
In this short, making its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest 2020, a young man’s life is suddenly and inexplicably derailed, as he finds himself at the mercy of automated “justice.”
A young Hispanic man, Mateo (Erick Lopez), is stopped on the street by a drone police officer pointing a laser gun at him and demanding he cuff himself. He is escorted to a processing center where an automated system tells him to place all his belongings in something resembling an airport bin. He is then told to proceed to Cellblock C-14, where is greeted by a video offering to sell him a very expensive upgraded prison suite and VIP experience.
He asks for a lawyer, and he is fed onscreen advertisements for a variety of attorneys he can’t afford. He then asks for a public defender and is greeted by an animated character that tells him there is an 89.5% chance he will be found guilty, with a sentence of 45-47 years in prison likely. He’s strongly encouraged to plead guilty and try to get a reduced sentence. The problem is, he doesn’t even know what he is being charged with.
What happens next will chill you to the bone.
One of the most soul-crushingly real horror offerings I’ve seen in some time, Please Hold is unsettlingly timely and relevant — exploring a multitude of issues, including the proliferation of technology, the ways this tech threatens to make humans obsolete, the privatization of prisons, the failures of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, and the ways in which people of color are disproportionately affected by these failures.
If that sounds like a lot to tackle in less than 20 minutes, it absolutely is. And yet filmmaker KD Davila handles it all masterfully, delivering one of the most powerful and effective shorts of the fest — and one of the best shorts I’ve seen in some time.
(YOU’LL MAKE IT IN) FLORIDA
Dir. Phil Chernyak, 20 minutes, USA
When a magazine ad comes to life, a depressed English teacher — and her dog — embark on a wild ride through the wonders of the Sunshine State.
In the wake of an emotional whirlwind, Fantastic Fest ended its shorts block in the best way possible, leaving audiences on a high with this sweet, offbeat film about a teacher named Pam (Emily Cass McDonnell) who’s desperately in need of an escape from her unfulfilling, humdrum life as a teacher in a dirty, pollution-filled town. She gets her wish when a campy salesman/tour guide (Danny Burstein) shows up to sell her on the magic of Florida.
In an adventure that feels a bit like Wizard of Oz blended with Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Pam and her dog buckle up for a magical, virtual reality ride to a Utopian future full of happy people, pristine beaches, disco clubs, and show tunes. To describe anything more would do a disservice to the experience of watching this wonderfully weird film, not to mention the fact that most of what transpires is utterly indescribable. And this is a rare film when the credits are as much fun as the film itself.
Seek You’ll Make it in Florida out as soon as you can, but don’t blame us when the film’s outstanding musical number gets stuck in your head like an irrepressibly infectious earworm.