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CIFF: Shorts 1, Illinoi[s]emakers

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 12, 2009 4:20PM

This is part of Chicagoist's continuing coverage of the 45th Chicago International Film Festival.

The shorts programs at CIFF are typically underappreciated. That's a shame. It's a bit like dining at a Chinese restaurant and skipping the egg rolls and crab rangoon. And we really like crab rangoon. In this selection of shorts made entirely by Illinois filmmakers, there's an awful lot to like.

Non-Love-Song, directed by Erik Gernand
The opener, Alex Hans Hansen's Public Speaking, is a look at a nervous teenager
who's about to give a speech before his class. Although it doesn't have much to say, it says it quickly, functioning as a sort of palette cleanser. Next up is An Evening with Emery Long, from director Brad DeMarea. The plot is simple: a schlubby carpet salesman prepares dinner for the gorgeous office secretary. A character-based comedy with a string of amusing gags, including a kitschy soundtrack, it's a very funny retro piece which ends with a scene shot at the Gold Star. Another solid comedy in the program: Good People, directed by Alex LeMay. It's a slightly twee but very entertaining piece about a kooky young woman who finds a suicide note on the street and sets out to find the note's author. The movie's punchline is killer, and there's also a wonderful supporting performance by Wendy Robie from TV's Twin Peaks.

On the dramatic side of things we have the intriguing if underdeveloped documentary Team Taliban, directed by Benjamin Kegan, about a young man of Middle Eastern descent who plays a villainous wrestler in the ring. It brings up some interesting issues about xenophobia and role playing that cry out for a longer treatment. Wet by Brad Bischoff is a beautiful piece of wordless filmmaking which centers on a young man who is always soaked, as if he's stuck with his own personal raincloud. It boasts some clever effects and very evocative use of Chicago locations, all set to a lovely cello & piano score. There's also an enigmatic mood piece from Zev Frank, Cycle. Highly reminiscent of Guy Maddin, it takes place in an alternative society where the main sources of power are electricity-generating bicycles. It's shot in striking monochrome and unfolds at a dreamlike pace.

The best short in the program in also in black & white, Non-Love-Song by Erik Gernand. Best friends Josh and Alex hang out one last time before Alex goes off to college. But Josh obviously feels more than just friendship for Alex. It's a well-acted, movingly eloquent film that says more about friendship and longing in its eight minutes than most feature-length stories. The look on Josh's face when he slips his mixtape into Alex's backpack is priceless. For once we get flesh and blood characters who aren't just symbols.

This is a solid compilation of shorts and definitely worth catching.

Shorts 1: Illinoi[s]emakers
screens October 17 and 20.