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SXSW Shorts

The online SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection delivered many diverse and exceptional shorts that explored the universal themes of sex and death.

I think the horror genre could be filleted into two main themes: sex and death. That leaves a lot of room for other thematic elements, of course. But when you look at the bare rotting bones, it all boils down to these two overarching themes. And I loved seeing these films explored in a variety of compelling shorts, made available as part of the PRIME VIDEO SXSW 202 FILM FESTIVAL COLLECTION.

When the 2020 SXSW Film Festival was cancelled, it dealt many independent filmmakers a severe blow and seemingly doomed their creations. But Amazon Prime attempted to provide much needed support by partnering with the fest for an online festival showcase. From April 27 to May 6, a diverse selection of SXSW programming was available to watch for free on Amazon Prime in the United States.

Sadly, not enough people tuned in to check out this bold and original programming, and I think there was a missed opportunity with regards to promoting the fest and making the content more accessible. These films are worthy of attention, and I hope they find the audience they deserve.

Featured in the collection were short films, feature films, and documentaries. I decided to view some of the offerings that were outside of my comfort zone (non-horror shorts), but the films I watched still had their cutlery stuck deep inside the themes of sex and death — just presented in a non-horror, but still macabre, cinematic language.

Dirty (United States)

Dirty

Director/Screenwriter: Matthew Puccini; Producers: Cecilia Delgado, Jeremy Truong, Matthew Puccini

This one focuses on an intimate afternoon encounter between two young men. One of them is clearly more comfortable than the other, and he is very kind and patient with his lover.  Something happens during intercourse that is an obvious concern for gay men, but it is never talked about. I was worried this one was going to go somewhere negative, but the conclusion, just like the rest of the short, was realistic, understated, and sweet. This one definitely has frissons of sexual fear.

3/5

Father of the Bride (United Kingdom)

Father of the Bride

Director/Screenwriter: Rhys Marc Jones; Producer: Alex Polunin

This short was yet another encounter with sexual fear and discomfort, however this time it felt much more negative and creepy. At a wedding reception already brimming with mild tension and barely-hidden scowls, the best man is sexually harassed by the father of the bride in the bathroom. He feels violated to say the least, and tries to keep it together while he toasts the newlyweds. But eventually he has a meltdown and a barely-contained violent reaction to the events of the evening.

This one was a really rough watch. The father of the bride was a drunken, disgusting human being on every level. The film beautifully expressed feelings of social claustrophobia and the best man’s mixed yet enraged emotions and how he dealt with them. He is afraid of his own anger, afraid of embarrassing himself and his family, and more than anything I think he is afraid such a horrible person is now part of the family.

3/5

Single (United States)

Single

Director/Screenwriter: Ashley Eakin; Producer: Connie Jo Sechrist

This one was my favorite of the films I watched — a clever and relatable character study. A girl with one arm is fixed up on a blind date by her friend, with a guy with one hand. The friend’s logic being they must be compatible because they have missing limbs. The girl is furious about this, and the actress portrays her with a fierce and confident sensibility. She never ends up “hooking up” with the guy. Instead, they bond all night sitting on the roof of a tall building, sharing a bottle of whiskey.

I LOVE the fact that he wasn’t able to woo her, even though he politely but enthusiastically tried. The film is a lighthearted and poignant portrayal of what it’s like to be different and the ridiculous way society treats you. And there is an excellent surprise ending.

5/5

Dieorama (United States)

Director: Kevin Staake; Producer: Ryen Bartlett

This is a short documentary about Abigail Goldman, an investigator for the public defender’s office in Washington State, and the hobby she enjoys that helps her deal with the horror and tragedy she often encounters while on the job. Abigail creates miniature dioramas of gruesome crime scenes: stabbings, mutilations, eviscerations, decapitations, and countless other “tions”.  Some may be reminded of the film Hereditary, but these miniature dioramas are even smaller, perhaps by as much as 80%.

The art community is quite fond of her work, and she is often featured in high-profile galleries and shows. She also likes to take her work outside and display it in strange places. It gives people something bizarre and morbid to look at. This film gives us a microscopic look at how one person deals with the daily death she encounters.

3/5

Lions in the Corner (United States)

Director: Paul Hairston; Producer: Jake Ewald

Another one of my absolute favorites, this short documentary tells the story of Scarface, a Virginia ex-con who organizes a neighborhood fight club called Streetbeefs in order to curb the gun and knife violence going on in his area. Some of the bouts are for sport or competition, but most of them are organized to settle scores and grudges. It’s like an offering of peace, brotherhood, and respect where participants agree to settle scores once-and-for-all through controlled combat.

Scarface is extremely proud of the bonding and positive energy Streetbeefs creates. Enemies end up being friends. It gave me all the feels. And it was fascinating seeing how violence was  used as a way to ultimately create peace, while avoiding unnecessary death and tragedy.

5/5

Vert (United Kingdom)

Director/Screenwriter: Kate Cox; Producers: Nick Rowell, Sophie Reynolds, Gabriele Lo Giudice

This one was phenomenal. Vert is a virtual reality device that allows the wearer to be their true self. For their anniversary, a couple decides to celebrate by each wearing the device while making love. I won’t give away what happens next, but it turns out to be a raw and bittersweet situation. This film takes sexual fear and discomfort to a level I have never before witnessed.  Kate Cox is a rocket-powered science fiction storyteller, and I’m enthusiastically looking forward to seeing what she does next.

4/5

I wish this festival would have reached a wider audience. People need to see things like this — bold, confrontational, unprecedented, courageous, and no-punches-pulled filmmaking. I appreciate Amazon’s effort to make these films available, if even for a short time, and I feel privileged to have seen films that I never would have seen otherwise. 

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