Some of the best things come in small packages. Well, sometimes. And the short film is one such priceless art form. Usually made on very tight budgets, these films often exhibit the most creative ways to tell a story. They push boundaries in a way that a feature film may not so openly embrace, allowing the filmmaker to use original and thought-provoking tactics to keep the viewer gripped. So if you want a peek into the cinema of tomorrow and the filmmakers who could be making a splash, then short films can be your window to the future. They are also, however, often overlooked by most media coverage of festivals and rarely given theatrical space. The recent New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) brought many commendable shorts to audiences, proving that such nuggets of cinema deserve to be shown in more public forums. We shine a light on selected films from this year's recently concluded NYIFF, hoping that more short films such as these get the exposure they are due:
Just That Sort of A Day (Dir. Abhay Kumar)
Premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival and screened at the Indian Film Festival of LA (IFFLA) and Tribeca Film Festival, Kumar's film was also the winner of the NYIFF Best Short Film Award. It's a difficult specimen of cinema to pin down or categorize, and that is what makes the film so fascinating. Five disconnected characters - all nameless - tumble through a day, each with his or her own concerns and obstacles they are trying to overcome. The rapid shifting between the five characters does get confusing at times but the overall message isn't lost. The film is a contemplation on different attitudes of being, a visual essay of sorts on psychological states. Yet, despite its heavy premise, the film is instantly relatable, due to strong writing and skillful directing. Kumar uses a patchwork of different types of media to tell his poignant story. To say more would be giving away the film's uniqueness. The film is a gem and Kumar a filmmaker to watch out for.
Watch the trailer here.
Words (Dir. Anup Bhandari)
This lyrical film by Bhandari tells the story of encounters between Owen, a deaf mute man, and Juliet, a woman he randomly meets in New York's Central Park. Bhandari makes stunning use of the crisp white snow carpeting the park, which becomes symbolic for the space between words and silence that the two protagonists try to bridge. Over the course of a few days, Juliet develops unique ways to communicate with Owen and their friendship edges towards romance. While Bhandari makes full use of the setting and spirited performances by his actors, the constant background music becomes distracting after a while. On top of that, many of the scenes with the two characters signing to one another could have done without subtitles. The signing is basic enough to be figured out and no subtitles would have added to understanding the obstacle of language between the two protagonists. Nonetheless, it's a film sensitively made and worth the watch.
Watch the trailer here.
Fatakra (Dir. Soham Mehta)
Three years after leaving India to seek a better life in America, Naveen nervously welcomes his wife and son to his life in the land of opportunity. Set in a motel room and parking lot, this delicately handled film tells the story of a man who is trying to win back his estranged family. In the film's short runtime, Mehta weaves two almost parallel relationships into the story - Naveen trying to mend his marriage with his wife in the motel room and then trying to earn the trust of his son who hides in the car in the parking lot. Of the two, the scenes between the father and son are especially well directed and acted. Naveen's growing vulnerability and desperation to do whatever it takes to win back his family becomes very endearing, with the climax being one of the most innovative and touching examples of direction seen in such films. The impressive visuals of his wife doing bharatnatyam in the middle of a highway add the icing to this powerful film.
Check out the trailer and website for the film here.
Raju (Dir. Shiva Shankar Bajpai)
Set in East Harlem amidst a thriving immigrant community, Bajpai's short is an admirable film for tackling the issue of undocumented immigrants in New York City. The main character - Raju - is an undocumented immigrant who is working at a debt relief agency. He deals mostly with Hispanic families and in one such meeting he begins to fall for one of his clients. The film is thus a story of immigrants in New York City and how different communities intersect. However, Bajpai doesn't quite dig deeper into the issue of undocumented immigrants, which is a potent topic that is rarely explored in films, short or feature. His portrayal of how the different immigrant communities interact is intriguing, seesawing between camaraderie and fierce competition. But making his undocumented status a bigger issue would have made this film even more effective. It's also a topic ripe for development into a feature length film.
Autumn Meanderings (Dir. Archana Vallabhaneni)
We've seen many films and TV shows about sibling relationships but Vallabhaneni, in her film, lets the subtleties tell the story of three siblings who go on a camping trip for the first time without their parents. Floyd, Mason and Emory are like any other siblings spread across the teens, battling their own angst, bickering with one another. But their interactions during their camping trip, what they learn about each other through the struggle to be a semblance of a family, makes this film a real slice of life. More back story on the parents - or lack of - would have added to the substance of the film, providing a more wholesome understanding of the way the three siblings behave. Based on her own childhood, Vallabhaneni's film excels in its visuals, casting and overall restraint in the scenes. Nothing is over the top and you find yourself identifying with parts of each character. Overall, a mature and affectionate "family drama" told effectively in its short runtime.
Stay tuned for more spotlights on short films from us in the future.