Nitehawk Shorts Film Festival, Part 2: Panel On Shorts Filmmaking, Midnite Program & More
In addition to the Opening Night selection the Nitehawk Festival offers two supplementary matinee programs. The first opens with Jon Bunning’s 15-minute documentary, The Tables (2017), featuring a pair of Bryant Park pingpong tables and capturing one of the most delightful exhibitions of New York City’s spirit. Bunning addresses themes of gentrification, classism, and the importance these tables serve for its community. Applying quick, snappy editing and returning to the tables for four straight years, he cycles through a combination of the countless regulars that return to the tables every night, and gives us glimpses into the lives of the players.
Ashley Connor (Person to Person, 2017) — one of the most accomplished cinematographers in the current wave of independent cinema — steps into the director’s chair alongside filmmaker Joseph Stankus for The Backseat (2016), as the closing film of the festival. The filmmaking team has united over the last year to direct a pair of complimenting shorts that feature their actual families. Their other short, The Layover (2017)—a look at how Connor’s two flight-attendant uncles spend their time together between their habitually conflicting flights—premiered in the New York Film Festival. With a similar hybrid approach, The Backseat instead features Stankus’ octogenarian grandparents as they drive their daughter to work one morning. The film creates intimacy through a fictitious narrative that the directors have shaped into situations reminiscent of their own experiences, yet it avoids fixating on the genealogical connection.
The Midnite program takes a decidedly more genre-specific approach. Sam Zimmerman — a curator at Shudder — co-programs this portion of the festival alongside Coleman. Tackling everything from the horrors that overwhelm one’s day-to-day job in The Music Lesson by Adam R. Brown & Kyle I. Kelley (2017), to an exploration of repressed desire aroused elsewhere by the likes of Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (2016) and Brian Fuller’s Hannibal (2013) in Vore by Lauren Erwin (2017), it becomes increasingly evident that there’s a lot of wiggle room around its central thesis. On the more fright-filled side of the spectrum, one can find a comparatively Cronenberg-inspired venture into body horror (Undress Me, Amelia Moses) to a moody Australian atmosphere piece, Creswick (2016), by Natalie Erika James, that closes out the program.
Robin Comisar’s TIFF-sensation, Great Choice (2017) is without a doubt the highlight of this year’s Midnite selections. Comisar takes as its basis a 94 Red Lobster television spot , which, when viewed outside the context of the short, now comes across as a dated advertisement. An almost unrecognizable Carie Coon (Gone Girl) stars as a woman that gets stuck in an infinite loop of the same Red Lobster commercial. The film succeeds in recreating the original ad down to a T, from the haunting mechanical smiles to its emulated VHS distortion. As each new loop deviates further away from the prototype, Coon’s hysteria exacerbates and the Red-Lobster waiter’s behavior grows more sadistic. Even though it moderately dissolves into a quasi-Adult Swim “infomercial,” Comisar’s sheer commitment to such a ludicrous concept is immensely gratifying.
In conjunction with the short film programs, the festival is also home to a number of concomitant events, ranging from workshops with B&H to the Filmmakers’ Gathering hosted downstairs in their Lo-Res Bar. One of the several complementary functions that Nitehawk will be hosting throughout the festival is a panel discussion entitled ,”Why Shorts?” on November 9th. The panel that includes actor Kentucker Audley, filmmaker Eleanor Wilson, Vimeo curator Ina Pira, and producer Mridu Chandra, will discuss the state of independent shorts filmmaking.
Perhaps the most fun event in this edition of the festival is The Eyeslicer Roadshow. Artists Dan Schoenbrun and Vanessa McDonnell — the duo behind last year’s SXSW breakthrough collective : unconscious (2016) — conjured up an esoteric television series. In its September Kickstarter campaign, The Eyeslicer declared itself “the weirdest TV show you’ve ever seen.” With individualized fragrances dispersed throughout the roadshow edition, its incomparable “Smell-O-Vision” presentation makes for a wholly different adventure, combining short films from approximately fifty New York filmmakers.