2012 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival—My Top Picks (Shorts) + 19 capsule reviews Earlier, I posted my Top Picks from the 46 new feature-length movies I saw at the 2012 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. Now it's time to rate the shorts.

First, some statistics. I attended an all-time record 13 shorts programs along with several standalone pictures that played with features, for a grand total of 61 titles. I went to two screenings of the "Dating 101" program (consisting of five titles). Subtracting that extra showing, the number of new shorts equals 56. They included 49 narratives (32 US and 17 foreign) and seven documentaries (six US and one foreign).
Many countries were represented on my schedule. 38 of my 56 shorts were American while 18 were from outside the US. These included four from the UK, two from Australia and Russia, and one each from Afghanistan, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Spain, and Switzerland.

Nine were at least partially subtitled, including one US production shot in Puerto Rico (The Love Paradox). There were two films produced by foreign countries (not including Australia, Canada, and the UK) that were in English -- narratives One More Day in Hong Kong (Hong Kong) and The Man with the Golden Brain (France). One foreign film was silent -- The Bench (Switzerland).

At 22 days, this was the longest festival in my seven years on the road, and the 56 new short films I saw is a record I'll probably never surpass. With so many titles on the menu, instead of one big list, I'll be posting my Top Picks in three categories: US Narrative Shorts (32 eligible), Foreign Narrative Shorts (17 eligible), and Documentary Shorts (seven eligible).

I've narrowed the list down to my Top Picks using a 1-4 rating scale. One film deserved only 1 star (1 = avoid at all costs), a dishonor I rarely bestow on any movie. I gave 2 stars (2 = not recommended) to seven films. I tend to be quite generous to filmmakers so 29 films, more than half of the total, were good enough to merit a 3 (I recommend it), albeit many with qualifications, i.e., genre flicks that would mainly be appreciated by horror fans. That leaves the cream of the crop. There were 19 with a rating of 4 stars -- ones I'd not only recommend but also would see again. So those 19 make up my Top Picks.

They're divided proportionally by category, i.e., a list of "Top Picks" that includes five out of 10 films would be a bit invalid and waters down the quality of the whole. I generally try to limit my lists to approximately one third of the available title pool. Just because you don't see a title listed below doesn't mean I didn't love it -- just that a "Best of" list that includes over half the films I saw isn't really valid. So they break down this way: US Narrative Shorts = 11 of 32, Foreign Narrative Shorts = six of 17, Documentary Shorts = two of seven.

Here are my lists of Top Picks for short films from the 2012 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. Countries of origin are listed in parentheses. Titles will link to full-length reviews when available. Q&A photos will be added as well. Several of my choices were honored with awards on the festival's closing night. They are listed below the capsule reviews.

US NARRATIVE SHORTS -- (in alphabetical order)

ADDicted -- The culture of legal drug addiction is just one of many relevant issues addressed in the short film ADDicted, writer/director/producer/star Dan Jenski's incredibly poignant and compelling directorial debut. What's even more amazing is that this is not a documentary -- it's a narrative, and it's based on Jenski's own experiences, to boot. Not only is the catch-all diagnosis (often incorrect) of attention deficit disorder (ADD) so prevalent among young people that meds like Ritalin and Adderall are ubiquitous in students' backpacks, but these drugs are also easy conduits to recreational (ab)use, making every ADD-diagnosed kid into a potential dealer. This adolescent-irresistable combination of drug dependency along with a steady source of income puts many kids at risk for a wide variety of problems, including finding themselves in a situation where they run out of the medication, for whatever reason, and are left to their own devices to proceed in school without the drugs they so depend on for "normal" functioning (or so they believe). Such is the dilemma faced by Jenski's character, Alex, in the narrative. Production values are quite high, with cinematographer Harry Frith and editor Jacob Strunk crafting a tight, authentic portrait of a man in crisis. Some cleverly effective flashbacks show young Alex's foray into the world of psychopharmaceuticals. The visuals are striking, and Marianthe Bezzerides' original score is used to punctuate these transitions with different themes accompanying the time periods.

The pharmaceutical industry exists for a number of reasons, thus it's considered a savior to many and destructive force to others. That these companies have come under fire over the years is not new nor surprising to most. Yet there appears to be little interest on the part of the public to rectify the "abuses," or perceived immorality, of the industry's modus operandi. Specifically, I refer to this need (desire) for doctors and pharmaceutical companies to diagnose illnesses which will require prescriptions for expensive chemicals and the subsequent dependence on these drugs by their patients. This is particularly insidious in the mental health field, where conditions such as attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder are routinely diagnosed, requiring a lifetime of expensive maintenance medications. The trend over the past several decades has been to skew these treatments towards younger people, especially children, as it guarantees a longer lifespan for these drug addictions. No matter that many of these meds are not approved for use in this age group. Doctors have no obligation to prescribe specifically for the approved illnesses -- they can go "off label" and offer kids cure-all tablets that may or may not be effective as there have been no scientific studies to support their use among children. But they do it anyway. Jenski's short is just a preview of a forthcoming full-length feature. It couldn't come at a better time. It's already long overdue. I'll keep you in the loop on the progress of this project. In the meantime, see ADDicted if you can. This is one film that deserves the label "important." See my pictures of the Q&A.

Appearances -- Like the title, this delightfully macabre production from director/cinematographer Phil Leirness isn't what it seems. Stop me if you've heard this one. A vampire walks into a bar... No, really. Neil Ruthven (Simon Sorrells) is in full Dracula regalia as he approaches the girl of his dreams (Christina Grance as the enigmatic Jennifer). What starts as a joke quickly morphs into a sly drama, before turning dark and creepy with twists that can only come from a talented team of writers -- in this case, Marcus Wolf, Edward Bishop, and Pericles Newnes. Wolf and Bishop also served as producers with Bishop in the editing suite. An appropriately shape-shifting score by Adrian Bond perfectly punctuates the mysterious narrative. Just right at 23 minutes, Appearances is a campfire story come to life with a surprisingly literate script and equally impressive production values that belie its low budget. Exquisite. See my pictures of the Q&A.

The Diners Club -- Welcome to another edition of "When Good Dates Go Bad." The curtain rises on an elegant restaurant. GQ Rob (Jared Ward) and the equally stunning Beth (Narmar Hanna) are blissfully breezing through what appears to have been a satisfying evening of gourmet food and fine wine. Then the check arrives. A curious pas de deux emerges as the couple engage in some very awkward shuffling over how the bill will be paid. Intruding waiter Chris (Nathan Moore) only seems to make matters worse. The discomfort level rises to a crescendo and this first date is about to become the last for Rob and Beth. Or is it? Ward, Hanna, and Moore deliver the crisp, darkly comedic dialogue with the authenticity of a live performance.

Production values are high, as well, as the filmmakers have assembled an exceptionally talented technical team. Veteran cinematographer Matthias Schubert has shot over 50 features and short films. Composer Darius Holbert scored Hobo with a Shotgun, one of my Top 4 Picks from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Their experience shows in the eight minutes they have to present the narrative. Director/producer Ricky Lloyd George has crafted the perfect setup for a female revenge movie. Ms. Hanna, who also wrote the superbly literate script and produced the film, acknowledged here that The Diners Club is, indeed, a potential feature with the short film acting as a presentation. Many full-length motion pictures have been produced in this manner and this one looks like a great candidate. See my pictures of the Q&A and Awards Ceremony.

The Ducks -- This one hits close to home for this journalist, whose house sits on a canal populated by the same mysterious creatures featured in this cute laughfest. Unlike your typical waterfowl, these mottled redheaded ducks are unafraid of humans and practically wait for you to pick them up and bring them home for dinner. Writer/star Jason Martin is stalked and quacked at until he and his neighbors begin to question his sanity. Director Rick Santese saw the comedy potential in these enigmatic birds and has crafted a humorous six-minute short that is supremely entertaining.

Far -- The long-awaited and buzzed-about short film from Dance of the Dead producer Brian Crewe, who directed, edited, and produced this refreshingly original piece from writer and star Marion Kerr. Woman pursues man. Asks him on date. Date goes from quirky to odd to surreal to repulsive, with no apparent reason why. But we soon find out the truth about this seemingly innocent waif whose identity is as mysterious as the curious contents of her handbag. Kerr's sparkling performance as the enigmatic Hannah is flawless. As her suitor David, Andre Hall is equally authentic. Both exude the innocence of youth and wonder of discovery.

If filmmaking is a family affair, this team has some terrific pedigrees. Cinematographer George Feucht also shot Dance of the Dead as well as Father vs. Son, two previous collaborations with Crewe and director Joe Ballarini. Composer Darren Fung scored Father vs. Son along with close to 40 other productions, including Summerhood, one of my Top Picks of 2008. The crew clearly has the ability to complete each other's cinematic sentences. Far is one of the best candidates for a full-length movie I've seen among this season's short films. Crewe is one of the country's top television editors with a couple dozen features and shorts under his belt as producer, editor, actor, and director, but it's time for his feature directorial debut. Twilight Zone fans will rejoice, as I did, and leave wanting more.See my pictures of the Q&A and Awards Ceremony.

The Love Paradox -- This sweet delight tackles my favorite subject, time travel. Writer/director/editor Ian Allen Lim's The Love Paradox is a 13-minute production from Puerto Rico that has Hollywood production values and a thoughtful narrative about a man who sends a radio signal into the future, then waits for the response. It's a love story in a sci-fi context that Rod Serling perfected. He's smiling.

The Miners -- Toddy Burton's quirky The Miners was fresh, original, and touching. Dual stories of a father obsessed with trapped miners and his 13-year-old daughter finding first love. Sweet and tender, this is certainly another candidate for a feature. Julia Perry exudes innocence of youth. It's rare for me to want to see a short again. This one is a winner.

La Pageant Diva -- This mindblowing experience boasts some of the most complex production elements of any short I've ever seen. Elika Crespo shines as diva Valeria Consuelo Montenegro Martinez de la Paz, a self-professed beauty queen creator who transforms ugly ducklings into swans. Giovanni Profera (also co-writer) plays Valentino, her flamboyantly over-the-top assistant. With an unusually large cast, number of locations, set and costume changes, and shot list, co-writer/director/producer Franco Parrente has created a mini comic feature that's unrelenting in its hilarity.

La Petite Mort -- If this isn't the biggest budget short film ever produced it sure comes close. Director Alex Prader's best decision was the choice of Academy Award nominee Matthew Libatique as Director of Photography. The man is an icon among cinematographers (and film geeks like me), having shot 40 motion pictures including The Fountain, The Number 23, Iron Man, Black Swan, Cowboys & Aliens, and Ruby Sparks, along with Darren Aronofsky's Noah, now in production. Producer Jeff Vespa is one of the world's most successful still photographers -- you've seen much of his celebrity pictures in commercial publications and at photo agencies like WireImage. There are several, "How did they do that?" shots in this one. Amazingly beautiful.

Planet X Part II: The Frozen Moon -- Troy Bernier and Eric Swain are the multi-hyphenate filmmakers behind this carefully crafted production. The premise is deceptively simple: a research crew is trapped on a distant moon when war breaks out. There's plenty of action in this rapid-fire sci-fi adventure. It helps that both men are scientists themselves. Disclaimers: I, like Bernier, have a degree in Geology. Swain's favorite movies, as indicated in the Q&A, closely match mine -- especially 1960's The Time Machine, the first movie I truly fell in love with, which helped spawn my love of the science fiction genre. They had me at "Planet." FLIFF Theater Manager Kevin Bosch scored a coup in landing both the documentary Journey to Planet X as well as this short film whose production is documented in the feature. Florida filmmakers Swain and Bernier's ultra-low budget picture demonstrates what can be done with a little bit of money and a lot of heart. It's cheesy as heck but more entertaining than some of the lavish big budget productions presented at the festival. The film should both challenge as well as inspire young people (heck, any age) to pick up a camera, round up some friends, and make a movie. That's how it begins. See my pictures of the Q&A.

Submerged -- Leslie Langee's nine-minute Submerged was another winning feature proposal. A teenage girl attends a party where her crush is a guest, hoping she'll catch his eye...but secretly wishing he didn't, since memories of a childhood tragedy might doom any possible relationship. She reluctantly moves, tentatively, to make contact...when "the incident" sparks a confession. It's got a cliffhanger ending that begs for a full-length flick. Star-crossed lovers Angela Powers and Paul Pluymen are frighteningly brilliant. Another rare instance of a short film I'd watch again and again, and still want more.

FOREIGN NARRATIVE SHORTS -- (in alphabetical order)

Aya (Israel) -- In Aya, a young Israeli woman waiting for someone to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport meets, instead, a visiting Scandinavian headed to a piano competition. In a classic case of mistaken identity, she ends up posing as his driver into Jerusalem. At 39:50 this short just makes it under the wire for a feature-length production but is so satisfying there was no sense that the movie was anywhere near that long. Filmmakers Oded Binnum and Mihal Brezis have crafted a cleverly scripted, original narrative with big budget production values and authentic performances from Sarah Adler and Ulrich Thomsen. A masterfully executed crowd pleaser.

Cargols! (Spain) -- I really enjoyed this cute little comic horror film (English title: Snails!) from Spain. Writer/director Geoffry Cowper won the Best Director Award at Festival Internacional Ópera Prima earlier this year and it's easy to see why. Three friends are partying in a park when, suddenly, Joey (Marc Ayala) sees his first girlfriend, Eva (Mireia Figueras). Joey decides to go talk to her, and when he finally tells her that he's still in love with her, both the typical stupid boyfriend as well as a King-Kong-sized snail appear. Ayala and Figueras are adorable and this very Americaphilic production is just begging for a feature treatment. The original score by Dani Trujillo is pitch perfect, along with Ruy Rodríguez's action-filled cinematography and tension-inducing editing from Santi Molina Nieto.

The Cart (Russia) -- The Cart picks up where Rubber left off. In that French genre comedy of 2010, tires come to life and roll on their own, claiming victims along the way. In this 26-minute Russian picture, the animated object is the titular cart. Writer Andrey Migachev's narrative focuses not so much on the machine, though, as the effect it has on the people it passes. How individuals react to this seemingly incredulous sight is a study in social psychology. What makes director Natasha Novik's film especially memorable is its stellar production values. An excellent ensemble cast dominated by the Best Four-Wheeled Conveyance award-winning performance of The Cart. It steals every scene it's in. Absolutely fascinating to watch with an Odessa steps homage that's worth the price of admission.

El Invento (Colombia) -- This is a sweet and poignant Colombian production from quadruple threat writer/director/producer/cinematographer Giovanni Granada. It's 1976 in Bogotá, Colombia. There are no video games, no computers, no internet. Danny (Pablo Valencia) and Andres (Diego Concha) are best friends whose days are spent amidst chemistry sets and electronic contraptions. But Danny is experiencing the first pangs of puppy love over Monica (Gabriela Ancona), who doesn't seem to notice him. The boys' genius inspires them to invent a device that might win her heart. Granada is new to cinema but not to cinematography, with over a decade of experience as a commercial director with over a thousand spots to his credit. El Invento is the Bogotá native's theatrical debut. Based on his own experiences, this delightful film features stellar production values on a Hollywood level combined with magnificent storytelling. Granada's photographic sensibilities are apparent in the visually stunning milieu he creates, from the warm lighting of interior sets filled with the trappings of childhood, to the lively landscape of the colorful neighborhood that is the little world within which these kids find life's happy moments. Bravo to editor Carlos Aparicio as well, who worked lockstep with Granada to ensure his vision stayed true to the story.

More than anything, though, the captivating performances from young Pablo Valencia, Diego Concha, and Gabriela Ancona make this 21-minute film a joy. Age 12 is that truly magical period between youth and adulthood that only happens for a brief moment in time. Younger, most children are not able to experience both the joys of being a kid as well as the wonders of the opposite sex. Older, the innocence of youth is increasingly tinged by the cynicism and responsibilities that come with being a teenager. Life was never like this before and it will never be the same after, and Granada has perfectly captured that moment in time. We were all once 12-years-old and no short film I've seen so beautifully understands this world as well as El Invento. See my pictures of the Red Carpet.

Del otro lado (Dominican Republic) -- A 14-minute young love story from the Dominican Republic with high production values, Del otro lado is a well-made character study of a teenage boy and girl being split apart as families board boats taking them to "the other side" (America) where life is golden and struggles are few. He sells fried dough for a living. She's staying with her grandmother until she's no longer a child. That time has come. A cliffhanger ending and an easy launch pad for a feature from director Yanillis Perez.

The Glowing Hours (UK) -- Easily the most visually breathtaking short of the festival. This 22-minute winner from the UK's Paul Young follows a young girl being shipped off to a foster home after the death of her mother, their last hours together told in flashbacks. Temporarily in a kids' group home, the memories of her mother's last words help her survive. A must-see.

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS -- (in alphabetical order)

Children of Kabul (Afghanistan) -- A 25-minute documentary that follows four children as they go about their work days in this war-ravaged city. Work, yes, not school, due to the deaths or injuries suffered by their fathers in the decades-old conflict in Afghanistan. This effectively eliminates an entire generation from obtaining the education needed to rebuild and advance the country. As charming and endearing as they are, these are kids who should be waking up to go to class, not washing cars of rich restaurant patrons or picking garbage from dumps for a few recycling dollars. The sadness in their eyes is heartbreaking. A triumph for co-producer/co-director/editor Jon Bougher and co-producer/co-director/cinematographer Jawad Wahabzada.

Good Karma $1 (US) -- South Florida doc from co-directors/producers Jason Berger and Amy Laslett about an ad man who buys cardboard signs from homeless people and tries to create his own. Madness ensues. Perfectly told at 14 minutes. Worth a look.


NOTE: Far won the award for Best American Short Film (in a 3-way tie) and Aya took home the trophy for Best Foreign Short Film. La Pageant Diva won Best Florida Short. The Diners Club picked up a Spirit of Independents Award.


Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com

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  • Author: Larry Richman
  • Posted: November 17, 2012
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