The narrative shorts category is one of the more entertaining programs at the Great Plains Film Festival. Nearly all the movies try for comedy, and most succeed. If one doesn’t work, in a matter of minutes you’re on to the next movie for something better.
Most of these shorts are student films. They serve two purposes: to allow students to practice their filmmaking technique, and to see if they can tell a good story. There isn’t an single movie that best achieves both of these goals. Most excel at some aspect, but not others.
Winners and Also-Rans
This year’s festival winner isBlueberry, shot in black and white and in widescreen. The movie follows a woman from a bar, to a blueberry patch, to a roadhouse kitchen, through a lonely field, and back to a bar. Brett Bell seem to have his technique down: the cinematography is careful and deliberate, and there is even a scene requiring special effects. The plot is linear and each scene flows from the last, but there doesn’t seem to be a story behind the movie, so I probably wouldn’t have voted forBlueberry.
The best story in this category is probablyfelt, by Neal Obermeyer, in which a puppet makes an amazing discovery about his co-workers and neighbors: they’re all puppets! Ruben, our protagonist, undergoes an existential crisis when a marionette encourages him to find the truth about himself. But whilefeltmay have the best story, it’s still not the best movie.
The funniest short may have beenOuter Office, by Kathleen Carr. It’s a little portrait of a ditzy secretary who answers phones for a pulp-novel private eye. She can’t quite grasp the concept of an intercom or a telephone, and when it comes to chandler-esque metaphors, she’s about as sharp as a spoon. But funny doesn’t necessarily translate to good filmmaking, and in fact,Outer Officecould have used better sets, editing, and pacing.
My choice for Best Narrative Short would probably go toA Song for Honest Abe. It’s not as technically proficient asBlueberry, or as coherently told asfelt, or as funny asOuter Office, but it works as a well-rounded piece of entertainment. It’s a mockumentary by Charles Miller about a pop star whose latest album sets the works of Abraham Lincoln to music. There is some over-the-top silliness, but the songs are usually played straight so the humor can speak for itself. The fact that the songs are passably good (produced by Leslie Spring and performed by Hope Levy) left me wanting to see a longer version of the film with more music and interviews.