Apr 8, 2009

Notes from Aspen - on New Australian Short Cinema

I just got back from the Aspen ShortsFest, which completed a terrific 18th edition this past weekend. A tetnus shot in my left arm and a severe case of jet lag slowed my reaction time a bit, but I’m happy to report that if Aspen’s lineup is any indication, the currently non-monetizable medium of short film is still producing ambitious (and costly) work at both the graduate student and professional levels.

Unless you pay close attention to the world of short films, which next to no one but the most devoted cinephiles do, you probably wouldn’t know that there is an amazing crop of short filmmakers emerging from Australia and New Zealand, one that represents the largest outpouring of talent to come from the isles since the Australian New Wave of the late 70s. This new, loosely connected group, which includes Aspen alumni David Michod (Crossbow), Julius Avery (Jerrycan), Rene Hernandez (The Ground Beneath), Katie Wolfe (This is Her), Erin White (Dulong) and Luke Doolan (Miracle Fish) have been fixtures on the international festival circuit for the past few years and Mr. Michod, who’s new film Netherland Dwarf appeared at this year’s ShortsFest, is currently directing his feature debut.

While its tough to lump all the filmmakers together because of the breadth of the work, all of these filmmakers are making formally challenging and very dark films, many of which center on the disappointments and dangers of childhood and the difficulties of Aussie and Kiwi working class life. In Miracle Fish, which was head and shoulders above the rest of the field in Aspen, Doolan introduces us to a shy young kid, tormented by his school yard mates because his mother is on welfare, who takes a nap during recess only to wake up in a completely abandoned school. The film envelopes us effortlessly in the mystery of where all the other students and faculty members have gone, trolling down hallways and through classrooms in graceful tracking shots reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. The film contains a haunting reveal concerning what has taken place that is as jolting and sublime as anything in the great Van Sant’s oeuvre.

In Crossbow, which was one of the real revelations of Sundance 08’, Michod presents us with a neglected child whose parents, when they aren’t screwing and smoking weed with their buddies, show him absolutely no affection. Told from the perspective of a neighbor remembering the events of yesteryear via a propulsive and melancholy voice over, it is a visual treat and an absolutely heartbreaking account of one boy’s self-destruction, one which is motivated mostly by misbegotten love. Check it out below via youtube…