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The 2005 Chicago Really' Short Film Festival

By Erik Childress
Posted 05/11/05 17:34:17

The big studio choices at the movies this past week were yet another boring Ridley Scott historical epic or a chance to see Paris Hilton phallically impaled by Madame Tussaud’s most demented fan. Or, if you lived in Chicago, you could have attended the now annual “Really” Short Film Festival. Now in its second year, founder Rick Ramirez would be the first to tell you he started it purely out of selfish reasons as a chance for others to see his own projects. But it’s the tireless unselfishness that led Rick to invite other filmmakers to submit their films and show them off for a chance to play on PBS’ ImageUnion and evaluated by a member of the local critic’s association. The honor was all mine last year and I doubly honored to take part in it again. Like all festivals still in its infancy, it has its share of kinks to work out. But if all roads lead to greater destinations, this fest is starting to pour the cement.

Held at Chicago’s famous Abbey Pub (3420 W. Grace), the festivities began at 9 PM as Rick introduced myself, the lovely ladies from ImageUnion and that ChicagoFilm.com will also be joining in with their own awards presentation at the end of the night. 2004’s fest screened 18 short films, all less than 15 minutes in length. The 2005 edition managed to find room for 26, only 10 of which exceeding a five-minute running time. The playlist for the evening would not be without its intermissions, but even those breaks from the films were packed with other forms of entertainment.

The local TRS-80, an electro group synched up to the images projected behind them played a half-hour set. For those who like their melodies dark and with lyrics, you had Project .44 who, unfortunately could not find their special guest vocalist, Sinderella from Thrill Kill Kult. My favorite of the alternative entertainment for the evening was the sketch comedy from Molly Hale and Brian Irzyk, also known as The Patel Leads. Irzyk had a few films screened at the fest in ’04, but this time he was performing live with Molly, both gifted in the Second City tradition of improv. Their two skits involving parents having less-than-fortunate conversations with their daughter and a third putting Joan of Arc in the role of stand-up comedian pumped up the crowd during the first break. But it was their bizarre closing musical number about one man’s steam cleaner that wiped out oppression in the world that was an absolute riot.

The evening was meticulously planned down to each half-hour of films and live performances, but still managed to run past schedule nearly an extra hour. At times it felt like one of the more extended editions of the Academy Awards telecast; the connection to musical numbers breaking up the show is too easy to ignore. Not everyone in the nicely packed (but not overpacked) crowd made it past two in the morning (possibly stifoning the chances for many films to win the evening’s Audience Award), but those who did make it have to admit that plus five hours of entertainment with good food and good drink is more than worth the $9 they paid for admittance. Like I said, 26 films you may not see anywhere else or “one please for the Paris Hilton film.”

So now let’s take another look at those films before we get to the announcement of the award winners.

THE 2005 CHICAGO “REALLY” SHORT FILM FESTIVAL SELECTIONS

ALGREN’S LAST NIGHT
(5 minutes)
Directed by: Carmine Cervi
Written by: Warren Leming
Produced by: Carmine Cervi & Warren Leming
http://www.bulletprooffilm.com (http://www.coldchicagocompany.org)

In the late 70s, Nelson Algren left Chicago and never returned. And in the next five minutes we’ll have gotten the point. With Dave Maddox on sax, the film is presented in the hard-boiled style of a lone narrator allowing his brain to drip on the injustices of the world. Namely Chicago. I’ve seen a lot of love letters on film to this city. Even the ones about gangsters and corruption (“the town that industrialized murder”) have a certain glamorous appeal. But never one that reduced our famous art museum to having “pictures bought with the blood of the working man.” “I don’t know a culture harder on its artists than this town,” says our guide. And having dealt with certain publicists in this town, I know it all too well. Algren’s Last Night is a solid calling card for their dialogue and it would be great to see a modern noir take on the City of Big Shoulders. Just another reason I never want to live downtown. (3.5/5)

CARLA COPE
(5 minutes, 30 seconds)
Starring: Sheila Mccormack, Emon Hogan, Zeb
Written, Produced & Directed by: Aileen Mccormack
http://www.alakfilms.com

What seems like a story of a woman scorned gives way to love lost during the attacks of 9/11. Set to the beat of a music video, Carla Cope (Sheila McCormack) tells us her story of simultaneously dating both a fireman and a policeman and the heart that broke because of it. It’s dance-beat rhythm takes us along for the ride and its editing is inspired enough to let us soak in the images, however subliminal, instead of just barraging us into the onslaught of a seizure. Shedding a few minutes with this approach might work more as the consistent thump-thump of the music does manage to over-poke the senses halfway through, but this is still one of the best edited pieces of the night. (4/5)

CHAPTER IV VERSE III
(10 minutes)
Starring: Adriana Bock, Jim Bock, and Rick Ramirez
Written & Directed by: Robert David Zellner
Produced by: Fall From Grace / Maia Entertainment
http://www.maia-entertainment.com

“Can I forgive someone that I love,” asks the little girl reading an essay about her father. He gives a necklace as a “friendly reminder that there’s still good in the world” but it can’t stop her from having horrific nightmares of a man in black intent on finding her. What do the dreams mean? What has her father done to make him fall from grace? Well, its left up to you to decide the extent, but the horror suggested by the ending doesn’t leave much room for forgiveness. The nightmares have a eerie feel to them and utilizes the soundtrack stinger to greater effect than your average horror film, but we’re left wanting more, which is a varying degree of success. (3.5/5)

CODES
(2 minutes, 54 seconds)
Starring: Gene Hosey
Produced & Directed by: Jerry King Musser
Written by: Gene Hosey
http://www.musserism.com/

“Typing doesn’t seem like much of a job.” Particularly when you only air-type like the dude in this film and spout some Lynchian wisdom about the act of pounding keys and receiving dough for it. Tell me what it’s about. I’m all ears. (2/5)


COUCH FU
(3 minutes, 28 seconds)
Starring: Devin Breen
Directed by: Michelle Kaffko
Written & Produced by: Devin Breen & Michelle Kaffko
http://www.devinbreen.com/

Let’s make something clear. Bad dubbing is almost always funny. Except maybe in Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. But in only three minutes, Devin Breen & Michelle Kaffko produced greater laughs than the whole of that project. A man (Breen) stands before his mortal enemy – a couch. It killed his father and now must prepare to die. Complete with kung fu and six million dollar man sound effects, the epic struggle between man and demon couch comes to a head. If only tossing out garbage was always this much fun. You have to love Breen for actually taking a few worthy shots from the couch. (4.5/5)

CUSHION
(15 minutes)
Starring: Scott T. Jones, Nicole Salm
Written & Directed by: Alexander Rojas
Produced by: Armando Ballesteros, Jason Stephens & Mr. Eggeps
http://www.splitpillow.com

Anthony (Scott T. Jones) and Irma (Nicole Salm) have been chatting online for six months, but have never met. There’s a sexual undercurrent between them, but Anthony isn’t quite sure how to react when Irma wants to meet him. What transpires over the course of their “date” is a bravura trip into extreme discomfort. Anthony may seem like a poor, pathetic dope. But when he visits Irma’s familial domain, we know we were too quick to judge. The 2004 Oscar-winner for Best Live Action Short Film, “Wasp” treaded on similar territory, but was an ugly, pointless bore. Cushion, with its double-meaning title of the distance between communication and intimacy and the way an actual one is comically used, is as good as most of the short films I’ve seen on the festival circuit. The humor is dark and appropriately twisted and it continues to surprise with its subtle absurdity. Great work! (5/5)

ELEVATOR
(2 minutes)
Starring: Joe Teeters, George Caleodis, & David Schmoll
Directed by: Peter John Ross
Written by: George Caleodis
Produced by: George Caleodis, Joe Teeters, & Sonny Boo
http://www.sonnyboo.com

Cute is the best way to describe this odd little tale with a simple setup and not-as-funny punchline. A man waits for an elevator and gets a shock as to what prevents him from getting on. Kinda funny the first time. Mildly amusing the second time. The punchline is telegraphed and obvious. So much more creativity could have been put into what awaits him on the elevator, but instead comes off like a weak Benny Hill bridge skit. (2.5/5)

GLIMPSE
(2 minutes, 29 seconds)
Starring: Jerry King Musser
Written, Produced & Directed by: Jerry King Musser

http://www.musserism.com/

And that’s what we get, although maybe the title should be pluralized, as a group of random images flash and flutter across the screen with no hope of connecting the dots or what its meant to symbolize. By Jerry King Musser’s own admission, there is “no intended meaning.” Kuleshov it certainly isn’t. (1.5/5)

JAKARTA BOOM BOOM
(15 minutes)
Starring: Craig Cackowski, Robert Dassie, Rich Talarico
Directed by: Leroy Koetz
Written by: Craig Cackowski, Robert Dassie, Rich Talarico
Produced by: Rich Talarico & Leroy Koetz

Part The Guest that Wouldn’t Leave, part The Trip finds an IBM representative trapped in his Indonesia hotel room. A riot rages outside and two Pillsbury reps can’t understand that the party that night is over. In his attempt to get them out of there, he tries to solve the not-so-subtle mystery of their sexual orientation and as a last ditch effort, offers them the titular powder which promises “ten minutes of ecstasy followed by two weeks of hell”. Just don’t look in the mirror. There are humorous moments here sometimes overtempered by repeating the joke and like the guests, it goes on a bit too long and wears out its welcome without much of a finish. (2.5/5)

LINE OF MASCULINITY
(3 minutes)
Starring: Colleen Doyle & Jack Hourigan
Directed by: Peter John Ross
Written by: Peter John Ross, Colleen Doyle, & Jack Hourigan
Produced by: George Caleodis & Peter John Ross
http://www.sonnyboo.com

Two galpals meet up for a drink. One has just accepted the illustrious title of “Bank Lady” cause all the other titles were taken. The other has just come off another bad date and must explain the titular theory which involves her bad date on one side, gay men on the other and David Schwimmer somewhere in-between. Some very funny dialogue is accentuated by the perfectly droll timing of leads Jack Hourigan and Colleen Doyle. Finally, a woman putting the old-men-as-sexy idea down, applying an appropriate witticism to Sean Connery. (4/5)

THE LOVECRAFT SYNDROME
(14 minutes, 30 seconds)
Starring: Kathrynne Ann Rosen, Maurice McNicholas, Amy Harmon
Written & Directed by: David Schmidt
Produced by: James M. Collins II & David Schmidt
http://www.swordandcloak.com/

Fans of Lovecraft in either the written or cinematic medium should get a kick out of this short little creeper. A grad student plunges deep into the works of H.P. Lovecraft and begins to hear strange sounds coming from the radiator and slithery, slimy creatures where they shouldn’t be. I may be a bit ignorant to Lovecraft’s writings and his “unified theory of existential evil”, but this short certainly does feel like the Lovecraft productions I’ve seen on screen and it has its share of creepy encounters. A bit overedited at times (we don’t always need to see that octopus), but a nice mix of sound and mood goes a long way. (3.5/5)


THE MANHATTAN PROJECT
(2 minutes)
Starring: Vincent P Lowry, Andy Schofield, & Paul Valentine
Written & Directed by: Peter John Ross
Produced by: Sonny Boo
http://www.sonnyboo.com

Poop jokes are a comedy staple and will never go away. But all comedians will tell you that the reaction is always funnier than the action itself and its funny to look upon the painful gaze of an office worker sharing a bathroom with a nickname derived from his constant dropping of fat men and little boys off at the pool. The first half is quite funny in that juvenile sensibility we can’t help but let out from time to time. The middle mostly repeats itself and the punchline isn’t nearly as creative as the possibility of the office Oppenheimer somehow managing to break every one of the Cider House Rules posted inside. (2.5/5)

MANN IN THE SLIP
(5 minutes. 15 seconds)
Starring: Jon Osbeck, Frank Palmer
Written, Produced & Directed by: Jon Osbeck
http://www.themannproject.com

From funny poop noises into the way that funny sounds in the sped-up tradition of silent films to Monty Python and Benny Hill can provide an endless run of great, cartoonish humor. Like a Python or Hill sketch filtered through Chaplin by way of the Keystone Kops, a Man(n) shows up late for work and then must avoid his boss who is determined to hand him his pink slip. Neal Havener’s pianola score contributes wonderfully to Jon Osbeck’s classical sense of wackiness ensuing and you can never go wrong with substituting out real voices for chipmunk-esque communication. (4/5)

THE OFFERING
(10 minutes)
Starring: Laurance Tan, Jason Chow
Written, Produced & Directed by: Paul Lee

Sometimes short films force filmmakers into narrative short cuts that help reduce the burden heaped upon them with a minimum of resources and allocated running times. The Offering is one such film, the kind that would be studied in the introductory classes of film school. Without crutching on dialogue or music, Paul Lee traces the evolution of a friendship and ultimate love between a Japanese monk and his student. Using the right amount of metaphor in the titular gift of birth and death, it passes from teacher to student and back again from season-to-season until the two shall tragically part ways. Beautifully shot on 35mm, this is the kind of storytelling one thinks of when invoking the adage of “show don’t tell”. (4.5/5)

ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A KING
(10 minutes)
Starring: ELISABETTA MAGNANI, MAURO BATTISTONI
Written, Produced & Directed by: MASSIMILIANO MAUCERI
http://www.mauceri.it

Dog-earing a page from David Mamet’s Oleanna tagline (and I’m paraphrasing), whoever is right is wrong and vice versa, Massimiliano Mauceri takes an interesting approach to the breakup of two young lovers. In one singular take, he pulls a “He Said, She Said” as we watch the same events unfold with (mostly) the same subtitled dialogue spewed and reversed between the sexes, even breaking into song. The result is a point-of-view tug-of-war with the audience as we adapt our own thoughts and prejudices into who said or did the wrong thing. It’s a great jumping off point for an even longer short and with a few more additions to the irreversible dialogue, this could find itself playing for some awards. (4/5)

PHUDI MART
(6 minutes, 10 seconds)
Starring: Sandy Marshall, Justin Kaufmann, Kate James, Mark Hanner, Stephen Schmidt, Adam Witt, Sarah Tolbert, Dave Cenko
Written, Produced & Directed by: Schadenfreude
http://www.schadenfreude.net/

Martin Scorsese never thought to play out the high of cocaine ingestion against the backdrop of a Garth Brooks poster. Then again, I’m sure he never thought of a film against the backdrop of a grocery store chain of command. As a parody of GoodFellas and Casino, the comedy team of Schadenfreude utilize all the Scorsese tricks (narration, freeze frames, etc…) to show how one manager had to be set straight for overstepping his boundaries amongst the foot soldiers, who may skim off the top with “damaged merchandise”, but who keep the store working day-in and day-out. This is a quite funny introduction to the troupe and should find you bookmarking their website for future sketches. (3.5/5)

PIANO SFERA
(4 minutes, 11 seconds)
Written, Produced & Directed by: Jerry King Musser
http://www.musserism.com/

Not since the invention of the Theramin has a new way to create music sounded so effectively creepy. Like a game of Marble Madness, a ball slides and bounces independently across the strings of a piano, creating an eerie score that goes to show you that a horror theme composer isn’t needed if you have a little bit of ingenuity. Any of the short films on display here would be proud to mix-in. The best of Jerry King Musser’s three films in the fest. (4/5)

REQUIEM FOR A RING
(7 minutes)
Starring: Joe Hanson, Saran Subramanian, Ian Huisken, Lucas Weisendanger, Chris Mentrek, Chuk Moran, Stan Rabinovich, Jake Golovchuk, Clint Hammerberg
Written, Produced & Directed by: Joe Hanson

Now here’s a film really using its brain. Lord of the Rings geeks and film fans alike will be overcome with the exasperating energy and never-ending connection of images creating a remixed parody of both Peter Jackson’s trilogy and Darren Aronofsky’s brutal opera of drug addiction. When Clint Mansell’s music for Requiem for a Dream was refashioned to fit the trailer for The Two Towers, nobody could have imagined the flawless intertwining of the rhythms no matter how off-putting our memories of the original source material was. In this endlessly brilliant spinoff by Joseph Hanson, the agonizing final moments of Requiem take place in the land of Middle Earth (or Chicago) as Gandalf becomes Ellen Burstyn, Legolas takes one too many hits against the advice of Viggo (er, Aragorn) and Sam sets off to help his buddy, Frodo, by succumbing to the treachery we never want to see Jennifer Connelly put through again. Let alone, hobbits. (“Ass-to-ass, precious!”) The editing is right on the money, the pacing is perfect, the laughs are endless and once again, we are left with a new vision to place alongside Clint Mansell’s haunting music. (5/5)

SCARRED FOR LIFE
(5 minutes)
Starring: SPC. Carlos Arellano
Directed by: Michael S. Copeland
Written by: Michael S. Copeland and Carlos Arellano
Produced by: CootDog Productions
www.cootdogproductions.com

I don’t know how many different ways we can hear the stories from Iraq. But I’ll be damned if I don’t want to give every soldier over there the opportunity to tell theirs. This is just one of them, an overview experience, interspersed with images from the battlefront that serves as a great reminder what these brave young men and women are doing, no matter what they perceive it as. (3.5/5)

SOMETIMES THEY COME LOOSE
(4 minutes, 50 seconds)
Starring: Andy McGee
Written & Directed by: Nicklaus Louis
Produced by: Nicklaus Louis, Kelly Louis, Andy McGee, Ryan Crawford
http://www.creativenamefilmgroup.com/

In a hybrid of Dark City, The Truman Show and Cube, a man wakes up on his floor, disoriented from how he got there. A raging thirst combined with a double-dose of vomiting later, what he finds afterwards raises up more than just one red flag. Or was it nothing more than a dream? A solid start of something, if a little overboard on the vomitous fluids, we’re certainly intrigued and left wanting more. (3/5)

TAKEN
(3 minutes, 52 seconds)
Starring: Jeff Madden, Glen Connor, Mike Eidler
Written, Produced & Directed by: Joe Kreml

The TV show of alien abduction, Taken, interviews a man who has mistaken home intruders and their “pressed down faces” as beings from another world. In a quest for the Benjamins, the beleagured Don Dolmont (Mike Eidler) tries to communicate with the thugs while blood samples are taken from his face. A funny bit of sketch comedy punctuated with clever uses of the music from Suspiria and Escape From New York. (3.5/5)

VERITE NUE
(4 minutes)
Directed by: Greg Samata
Written by: Greg Samata, Luis Macias
Produced by: Luis Macias
http://www.noisemakerfilms.com

Verite Nue looks like the makings of a larger project about the changing of ones lives and the paths thrusted upon us either by nature or by our own doing.) The “pre-title” sequence of this documentary-in-waiting introduces us to six characters ready to bare their souls and bodies for the camera. Carly is going through the after-effects of Cancer. Cynthia was the victim of a rape. Dale is a transsexual who discovered his path by means of a talk show. Dwan didn’t hesitate to open fire on the police to escape incarceration. Patrick is himself an ex-criminal having spent a 2o-year stint in the big house. And Rebecca just seems lost in this world. This is a documentary I would like to see made, as long as the filmmakers can find the connecting prose that binds these six characters together in the second lives they are now facing. (4/5)

WARPATH
(3 minutes, 30 seconds)
Starring: project .44
Directed by: Rick Ramirez
Cinematography by: Rick Knoell
Produced by: Maia Entertainment
http://www.maia-entertainment.com (http://www.project44music.com/)
The opening ticking of 24 leads into this music video by the group Project .44 and its an appropriate countdown to their brand of anger rock. The video is well put together, juxtapositioning images that inspire passion and irritation and gets us paying attention to the lyrics instead of just thumping along with the beat. (3.5/5)

THE WAY YOU CHEW
(2 minutes)
Starring: Joseph Christiana, Suzie Christiana
Written, Produced & Directed by: Joseph Christiana

We’ve had pooping, vomiting and ass-to-ass hobbits in this festival – now comes disgusting, amplified chewing. We’ve seen worse, more annoying chewing before, but its enough for one person to take handing the knife over a bit too far. Hard to imagine that the regurgitating chokes of blood is less gross than the eating of one’s dinner. Aw well, c’est la vie. (2.5/5)

WINNER TAKE STEVE
(2 minutes, 43 seconds)
Directed by: Jared Hess
Written by: Wexley School For Girls
Produced by: Modern Digital
http://www.wexley.com/

Jared Hess, the director of 2004’s terrific cult hit, Napoleon Dynamite, brings it down to less than three minutes for Nike’s “you’re faster than you think” campaign”. Smack dab in the playground across the way, a gym teacher poses a challenge. He can’t possibly keep track of two boys named Steve. So its one race for all the marbles and who gets to keep the name Steve. A fun short in Hess’ bizarrity about the individuality that can be won or lost on the field of competition. (4/5)

THE YEARBOOK
(5 minutes, 7 seconds)
Starring: Luis Fernandez-Gil
Directed by: Jonnie Ross
Written by: Nicole Schofield & Maari Thrall
Produced by: Grant Jue / Oil Factory
http://www.wexley.com/
Losing a pet can be a sad day for anyone; no matter what your take is on goldfish as pets. What if that loss cosmically led you on a quest to find the lost love of your life? The sweet irrationality of the journey is beautifully embraced and it doesn’t end where you’re sure its leading. Few people can match the hysterical poetry in the answer to the question, “Do you know her?” (4/5)

THE AWARDS
I gave out two awards, complete with lovely certificates made up by the fest. The Hollywood Bitchslap award went to Joe Hanson’s Requiem for a Ring and the eFilmCritic award went to Alexander Rojas’ Cushion who was not in attendance to accept. Joe was though and as a thank you gave me a copy of a DVD with five of his short films including Kill Bill O’Reilly. As an interesting side note to meeting Joe, he informed me that he will actually be on the Ashton Kutcher-produced WB reality show, Beauty and the Geek. I don’t think I need to go into a description as to what its about, but Joe proudly inhabits the show as one of the geeks. We all wish him well and hope he shags the Prom Queen. Get some!

Richard Sharp from ChicagoFilm.com gave his “Go Shorty” Award for Best Picture to Johnnie Ross’ very worthy, The Yearbook. The “Hometown Shorty” went to Jakarta Boom Boom from the Second City improv group, Dasariski, which also screened at the 2005 US Comedy Arts festival. The “Dopest Shorty” (and that’s “dope” in the slang vernacular that’s so popular with dem kids dees days) went to Aileen McCormack’s Carla Cope. Finally, the “Emerging Shorty” went to one of my choices, Joe Hansen and his brilliant Requiem for a Ring. You may see Richard’s full piece here.

ImageUnion chose (in no order) The Yearbook, Phudi Mart and Carla Cope. They will air on the show in the fall during next season. Stay tuned to ImageUnion for updates.

The “Audience Award” went to Couch Fu, which as Rick correctly pointed out was primarily since their 32 supporters were amongst those who made it through the whole night. That’s not a knock on the film, of course, which is quite entertaining as I mentioned. Plus, ballot stuffing is a staple of the festival scene from local ones all the way up to Sundance.

So, another year in the books. We’re looking forward to next year and you should be too. Stay tuned for updates around January 2006 for information on how you may submit your film to be part of this very special and important event.




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