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New Directors/New Films 2020: Some Thoughts On Shorts Program 2

Miniflix continues its reflections on the second half of the ND/NF short film slate.

In today’s article’s we watched the thought-provoking and visually-stunning selections within Shorts Program 2 of the New Directors/New Films virtual edition of their annual festival. Here’s our thoughts.

The Power Of Waiting

Poster for PLAYBACK

How to follow up the tonally diverse and thematically eclectic lineup of Program 1? Create a panel of selections that are remarkably similar in theme, filmmaking style and preoccupation. In some way, all five films could be considered fiction-documentary hybrids, whether it’s capturing a fictitious rendering of high verisimilitude, experimenting with archival footage, or conducting interviews with wholly original people. The corporeality of film also seems to be on each film’s mind, particularly the two shot on 16mm.

But PLAYBACK, the Argentinian meditation on drag queens and trans women as they face the AIDS epidemic, sets the scene for the entire slate of films. It introduces the power of waiting, an idea that subtly links all five films. PLAYBACK is a film about re-invention, about the possibility of re-animating the tragically lost — or at least turning back time to let one’s final moments play out a different way. Each person introduced is waiting for an inevitable expiration date, while hoping against hope for a different future for others like them (such as raising money for AIDS wards of hospitals). The narrator of the film seems too to be waiting, using the film as a way of living in that interminable moment between someone’s last filmed moments and the end of their lives. The audience is trained to wait for the next shoe to drop, for news of the next person they identify with to be lost to time. Only cinema can reclaim them now — turning the tragic into the poignant.

AFTER TWO HOURS, TEN MINUTES HAD PASSED is the most up-front about waiting. Using a slow cinema approach, director Steffen Goldkamp takes us through the routine of young men in a juvenile detention center. Of course, you wouldn’t be quite sure where you were if not for the synopsis notes, which creates a certain amount of tension at first. Any of us could be trying to sleep an endless night away. Any of us could be eating rice and yogurt. But about halfway in, we see the bars, notice the limits, feel the claustrophobia of their specific situation. The hours (and minutes) are quiet, are filled with hushed, repetitive activity.

We start to see waiting take its toll, on our ability to withstand the “boredom,” but especially on those imprisoned. They can’t even speak to each other directly now, as we only get dialogue through telephone calls and mutterings under the breath. Speech is lost, time is infinite (infinitely unbearable) and all that’s left is the image.

Our Hazy Realities

Poster for BLACK SUN

Both HAPPY VALLEY and BLACK SUN use the tactile and boxy nature of 16mm film to evoke their particular realities. HAPPY VALLEY is the experimental documentary variation of this, relying on associations with familiar colors, shapes and camera movements to create linkages. Much of what is captured is the tedium of modern life in crowded cities, yet trauma is always on the precipice. Every time the film starts to feel elevated, ethereal, otherworldly, we’re quickly grounded back to a line of ambulances or broken bricks on the ground. Creation and destruction stand side by side. The recurring motif of the tunnel signals to us that we must figuratively pass through the night to reach new channels of existence, of experience and of memory.

BLACK SUN is a more literal passing through darkness. There’s talk of an eclipse, of pets fleeing, of signs that global warming is creating quite un-natural natural events. But director Arda Çiltepe only chooses to focus on the outskirts of catastrophe, once again leaving us waiting for a cataclysm we can only anticipate. We see food in almost every scene, our characters always eating and always talking about eating. Is it for sustenance? It is distraction? Is it the best way to wait out an uncertain hour?


The first four films are more or less somber in their relation to waiting, whether it’s waiting for our end, the world’s end or the end of a period of confinement. But programmers wisely saved T for last, a film very much about waiting but a different response.

Director Keisha Rae Witherspoon introduces us to three different Miami residents, all connected by annual event meant to commemorate dead loved ones. Each one grieves (and waits for reconciliation) in their own way, but still take life into their own hands, seeming determined to live out their story their way. A mother creates a costume her son would have loved. A brother brings life to various produce in his large greenhouse. Another sibling creates a light-up suit that represents their relationship to the lost loved one through color and movement.

Each in their own way face death head-on, and seek to conquer it with exultation, dancing, connection and culture. Witherspoon literally takes us to the stars by film’s end, showing us that perhaps our artistic evocations and unique creations have resonances beyond our imagining. T suggests that if the universe is waiting for anything it’s for us to speak back into it.

To learn more about Shorts Program 1, New Directors/New Films and how to see this slate of films before the festival ends, go to




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