Saturday, June 20, 2015

AFI Docs 2015 - Shorts

I finally went to a shorts program! I always mean to but inevitably never do because I'm drawn to features that conflict with it. At Full Frame, though, I had heard such wonderful things about Giovanni and the Water Ballet that I finally made it a priority. I attended the water-themed shorts program.

The first film was Waterlillies, which is about older Irish women learning how to swim for the first time. It was very endearing, the women are very funny, and you are happy for them that they are doing this sort of empowering thing for themselves. The underwater, slow-motion photography was beautiful. That said, as I find with many shorts, it was too long. I think it could've been just as delightful at less than 10 minutes, as opposed to the 16 minutes that it was.

The second film was Object, which I hated. It is very abstract, yet the subject matter isn't all that abstract. The essential goal of the film is to put you in the position of a rescue diver in a frozen lake in Poland. While I did get a sense of the anxiety and danger, I did not know they were rescue divers. Especially based on the title, I thought perhaps they were some kind of underwater archeologists. But apparently, in Poland, rescuers refer to bodies of missing persons that they are looking for as "objects." When you do finally see a body, it's so brief that I wasn't totally clear that I was seeing a body. It's in one brief shot in which it's just a silhouette in murky waters and then it's in another shot in the reflection of the diver's mask. I honestly thought maybe it was a statue at first, since I thought they were looking for objects, and then even when I was pretty sure it was a body, I was unclear as to why he came up without it (apparently they're not allowed to actually remove them from the water...?). It was also way too long. A more traditional documentary about rescue divers, in which you really get a sense of the trials and tribulations, including probably the emotional toll of finding dead bodies, would be really interesting. But I was just bored and confused by this film and it felt like it was being experimental and slow for the sake of it and because it's trendy right now.

Giovanni and the Water Ballet was the third film and it was every bit as delightful as I hoped it would be. It's about a young dutch boy who wants to be on a synchronized swimming team. In order to do so, he must pass an exam and from there, his ultimate dream is to be the first boy to perform in the national synchronized swimming championships. The film ventures outside of the pool quite a bit, and also examines his relationship with his very supportive "girlfriend" (it's very innocent - they haven't even kissed). While the swimming was certainly impressive and entertaining, these scenes with his girlfriend were, for me, the most delightful parts of the film, as the two are hilarious and adorable.

The last film was Women in Sink, which was an interesting piece about Jewish-Arab relations in Haifa in Israel, as told through conversations with women as their hair was being washed by the filmmaker in a salon. The filmmaker started out with an agenda to show that Arabs are mistreated but instead got a dose of hope, as most women seemed to say that, at least in Haifa, it wasn't so bad. The filmmaker did a great job of getting these women to open up on camera. The only thing I didn't love was that it really was just a static shot from above of the women's faces while their hair is being washed and their chatting. In between, there these lovely, brief moments of shots of the salon, and I wish they had shown more of the salon life rather than having it be so talking-head-heavy, especially since it clocked in at 36 minutes. That's a lot of talking heads, and while the subject matter is certainly interesting and made it feel less long than it was, it would've been nice to have a little more visual substance.

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