Short Rounds: Bringing a Bit of Fantastic Fest from Austin to You

Short Rounds: Bringing a Bit of Fantastic Fest from Austin to You

Sep 28, 2011

Fantastic Fest, as far as I can tell, is the most awesome of film festivals. I’ve been jealously following all of the coverage of the madness in Austin all week, and it’s become kind of apparent that to be anywhere other than the Alamo Drafthouse right now is just not worth talking about. The shorts program alone looks incredible, with titles like The Legend of the Mighty Soap, The Horribly Slow Murder with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon, and Infernal Nuns. It’s enough to make life outside of Austin seem almost oppressively dull.

Thankfully, we have the world’s greatest form of consolation at our fingertips: the internet. Most of these shorts aren’t available on the web, of course, given their current life on the festival circuit. Yet a handful of them are, such as the quirky hitman comedy featured in last month’s chilly shorts round-up, Tune for Two. I’ve got five more wickedly funny and impressively bizarre shorts from this year’s festival crop below, ranging from avant-garde chicken animation to gleefully Award-winning gore. So sit back and have your own little Fantastic Fest at home. I’ll even throw in some bonus favorites from years past.

Family Unit, by Airwave Ranger and Blackmagic Rollercoaster

It seems appropriate to start with one of the most impressively strange shorts on this list, though of course they’re all a little bizarre. We see a father and son setting up a picnic in the park, fixing their hair and getting ready for what presumably will be a charming evening. Then dad rolls in the mother, a robot-like contraption with one of those creepy white masks for a face. In addition to filling out the perfect “family unit,” she also serves as a lighter and produces milk from a metal spout. Just under three minutes, this wacky film has a delightful ending and my favorite peacock reaction shot of all time.


Brutal Relax, by David Muñoz, Rafa Dengrá and Adrián Cardona

This awesome flick won a Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Special Effects and General Badassery, which is exactly what it deserves. Mr. Olivares (a hilarious J.M. Angorilla) and his magnificent handlebar moustache need a vacation, so he goes to the beach for some medically-ordered relaxation. With his giant headphones pumping a soft tropical beat, he finds his tranquility in a mud puddle on a crowded beach. Then, of course, sea zombies attack. Limbs are flying everywhere, blood both red and green drenches the beach and everything from the special effects to the sound design bring on the best kind of sick-minded joy. General Badassery, indeed.


Colourbleed, by Peter Szewczyk

This line-up of shorts, alongside its consistent awesomeness, is also full of fantastic music. Family Unit and Brutal Relax each have perfectly selected soundtracks, and Colourbleed is no different. In many ways a trance, this Polish/British co-production is a psychedelic silent film with an impressive punk sensibility. Playing around with themes of bureaucratic society and artistic expression, it’s impossible to look away even as our protagonist starts bleeding rich color from her fingertips into a bleak, gray world. Throbbing with purpose and Nic Nell’s trippy original score, however mysterious, Colourbleed seems to be further proof that Fantastic Fest is the place to be for artistic and experimental short filmmaking.


The Holy Chicken of Life and Music, by NOMINT

Operatic, grandiose, and around two and a half minutes long, this whimsical chicken flick may hold the imposing title of Most Bizarre Film at Fantastic Fest. Wedged between a giant egg processing plant and an opera house, presumably the “Life” and “Music” of the title, a giant two-headed bird stands authoritatively over a strange mountain valley. The chicken sings while its massive eggs are painted Easter style, Puccini’s Nessun Dorma juxtaposed with industrial precision. I don’t entirely understand it, but I can’t stop watching it. It’s a triumph of the peculiar.


Dead on Time, by Andreas Lambropoulos and Kostas Skiftas

Don’t let the fairly standard opening of this one fool you: Dead on Time has a marvelous trick up its sleeve. Playing around with narrative and time, this marvelous Greek short takes the standard hostage scenario and turns it completely inside out. It fakes us out time and again, yet the acting is so good that instead of feeling manipulated we experience the twists and turns precisely alongside the quick-witted protagonist. This is short filmmaking at its very best: a single great idea, experimentally conceived, perfectly executed, and cut off at exactly the right moment.


Fantastic Fest’s marvelous line-up of short films is nothing new, however. This year’s bunch is only the most recent example of excellent programming. Past FF shorts have blown audiences away as well, winning awards and occasionally being turned into features. 2009’s Excision, for example, impressed so much that actors as oddly diverse as John Waters and Marlee Matlin have turned out to participate in the full-length film, opening next year. Rodrigo Blaas of Pixar showed a short of his that same year, the eerily charming Alma. This column would therefore not be complete without a brief look back at some of the great films of years past.

Here are some of my favorites:


Excision - Short Film from Excision on Vimeo.


Terminus, by Trevor Cawood

Montreal is the perfect city for any film set in the ‘70s, with its boldly colored Metro stations and unique architecture. This quietly unusual film follows around a businessman who has inadvertently offended a large concrete monster. Yet the chase is a bit deadpan, this floating collection of heavy cylinders more intriguing than menacing, and easily outrun. As this distressed gentleman gets increasingly aggravated we see other citizens of followed by various enormous objects, pieces of public space coming to life. Sculptures and structural supports roll around, setting the mood in this impressively executed dream.


They’re Made Out of Meat, by Stephen O’Regan

Based on a Terry Bisson short story, this hilarious and offbeat film is a great example of simple execution and perfect timing. In the grand tradition of The Twilight Zone, two aliens sit in a diner discussing their exploration of Earth. No frills necessary, They’re Made Out of Meat combines clever dialogue with just the right amount of cinematic humor. Houses of cards, shots of a greasy burger cooking in the kitchen, and one ridiculous costume choice keep the humor understated. With the right attitude and technique this sort of comedy seems effortless.


Teclópolis, by Javier Mrad and Javier Salazar

This is, hands down, one of the best short stop-motion animations I have seen. Almost impossibly creative, directors Mrad and Salazar create an entire city out of old computer parts, populated by a seemingly endless supply of busy mice. The initial prehistoric wrenches wandering through a forest of old National Geographic magazines are inspired and the beautifully executed blanket ocean is magical. Without any unnecessary complications, Teclópolis is a story of civilization vs. nature articulated with grand dignity. The object choices are pitch perfect and the entire experience is entrancing. Evocative of the bold visual choices of early cinema, Metropolis in particular, it’s a fitting conclusion to any list of Fantastic Fest’s consistently remarkable shorts programming.

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