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A small group of moviegoers gathered on Oscars night at the Guild Theatre to watch a screening of short films that stray far from the glitz and glam of the red carpet but packs a sharp punch to the cranium.
The collection of socially conscious shorts was shown as part of the 11th annual Media That Matters Film Festival, hosted by Arts Engine, a New York-based non-profit dedicated to supporting independent media.
“Essentially, these types of films can make people think and can sometimes lead some people to act in a variety of ways,” said festival organizer Robert McKeown, co-founder of Movies on a Big Screen. “I think Arts Engine sums up the festival perfectly. What all the films have in common is that they spark debate and action in 12 minutes or less.”
Below is a recap, in no particular order, of some of the standouts of the night.
“Amen” (Yusef Haron): Two men of two very different religions sit down together in a diner. No, this is not the start to a bad joke. But the short did get quite a few laughs from the audience with its lighthearted take on what happens when two religions collide (or begin an all-out prayer war in a diner booth). The ending culminates into a peaceful union of the two disparate sides, however not before a surprise, and entertainingly teasing, third diner joins their table.
“Talking About It” (Issac Haney-Owens): Filmed in a jumpy, found-footage style, young filmmaker Haney-Owens turns the camera on himself and his life living with Asperger’s syndrome. In his quick, staccato narration, he takes the viewer on a day-in-the-life-type journey. In five minutes, viewers are thrown from one camera angle to the next while he shows off his room, interviews his mom and ends with a sweeping array of photos that show off his acute eye for the beauty in a quiet scene.
“Sick Wid It” (Ryan Malloy and Briar March): The music and energy of the young Bay Area men and women who populate this film are contagious. A viewer can’t help but cheer on the main subject, Antoine, who dances not just creatively but with zeal that imparts joy and strength. While the camera and directors do not ignore the rough neighborhoods and challenges that many of these young adults face, when the dancing starts, the backgrounds seem to fade. Watching Antoine move and dance to the beat of brushing his teeth is pure happiness.
“Burning Barriers” (Tribeca Film Institute): “Women firemen” is the oxymoron often thrown at the subjects of this short documentary, who are both women and professional firefighters. The sexism of assuming them to be “volunteer firefighters” or introduced as “volunteer women firemen” comes not only from within the firehouse walls but from civilians who should not notice (or, in all probability, care) if the firefighter who rescues them is a man or woman in the first place.
“Everybody’s Nuts” (Fabian Euresti): Drawling narration paired with dry desert scenes of Kern County gives this short a slow pace, building on a story of one family’s struggles using contaminated water near an oil field. As the story unfolds, the viewer is pulled in and expects anger to seep into the narration, but the slow drawl continues. When the final scene ends and the reason for the family’s inability to move is revealed, the title of the short is spoken, leaving the viewer to feel as if they too have drunk from the same, crazy water.