Festival on a spaceship

When I walked into the Boston Film Festival at The Revere Hotel this weekend I felt like I was walking into a ritzy club on a spaceship. In the waiting room outside Theater 1, there were groovy modern light fixtures on the ceiling and strange futuristic tables. The bar was serving wine by the glass and cute boxes of popcorn, and people were milling around—directors and press blended in with the general crowd. I went on Saturday, one of the less popular events, so I could sit anywhere inside the theatre, where there were lines of comfy couches. There was a diverse collection of eight short films shown from 12:00pm to 2:00pm before a heartfelt World Premiere of Shelley Taylor’s In His Footsteps. In short—I was impressed.

Of the selection of shorts, several stuck out to me as unmissable. The first film was Justin Tipping’s Nani—probably my favorite. Nani is a funny, gripping, and delightfully original story about a young boy, Oskar, and his friendship with 84-year-old Isabel. Isabel is quiet and sassy, wears a lot of pink, and is initially somewhat agoraphobic. She suffers from dementia and resides in a nursing home. Oskar’s passion is graffiti, he’s practically addicted to the thrill of it. After the fuzz catches him, he’s begrudgingly forced to do community service at the home. The film deals with a strong correlation between a lost youth and an ignored elderly generation— both Oskar and Isabel are dismissed by society as naïve undesirables. Oskar’s need to plaster his name across the city draws in Isabel, whose own desire to screech out her identity is stifled by her memory loss and the boring conditions inside the nursing home. Tada! Ghetto Granny. Their portrayals are natural and compelling, and the short left me completely satisfied. Ten stars.

The third short, Little Moon Lost, was the only short I could really disregard. The concept was simple—a boy finds a little glowing moon ball in a field near his house and tries to figure out what to do with it. He tries to feed it cheese, and attaches rubber bands and balloons to it in attempts to bounce it back up into space. There was no dialogue throughout, just some smooth, happy and orchestrated music.  I’m sorry, I’m going to ruin it for you—in his last attempt, he drops the moon in a pond and it becomes the reflection of the moon in the sky. The end. Maybe the effect of the film worked, because I’ve been thinking about it for days, wondering why anyone would make something so inane, cutesy and strange. Then I thought it meant, stop trying to set beautiful things free, just let them be. And that was sort of a beautiful thought, so maybe I should have given this one a chance.

Some of the shorts had awkward or grisly moments that made the audience squirm around, but Literally, Right Before Aaron took the cake. Directed by Ryan Eggold, the film was told from the perspective of a guy who has to watch the love of his life marry some other man. It sounds like torture, and the film was so effective, it felt like torture to me—but the best cinematic kind of torture imaginable, where I laughed, could not look away, and was screaming inside my head “No! Do not do this! You do not want to go to this woman’s wedding!” I could tell the audience felt the same way because everyone clapped the loudest for this one when it ended. I don’t want to give too much away, but seriously, this short was awesome, in a painfully hilarious sort of way.

The last one I thought deserved at least a mention is New, Broken Calculator. It’s about a physically and emotionally abused boy who is bullied at school and has a bully for a father. The cinematography is great, and the depiction of the father is looming and terrifying; we really feel and understand the plight of this boy.

Finally, Shelley Taylor’s moving documentary, In His Footsteps, is definitely worth a watch. This is a piece I’m not sure many conventional audiences would flock to, since it is an intensely personal account of Taylor’s own grieving period after her only adult son suddenly dies. Just afterwards, her once extremely successful company goes under. Having to deal with such catastrophic losses stratifies Taylor and leaves her with only enough energy to retrace her old identity in attempts to forge one anew. She travels from London to Berlin, New York, Beverly Hills and Silicon Valley to encounter Shaka’s (her son) life, his friends and his past environments. Shaka was an actor and videographer, so the film is ridden with footage of Shaka with his friends and on stage—we get an idea of him as an intensely giving, hilarious, gorgeous person. Taylor’s story, though at times feels low and bleak, really gives rise to the idea that there is hope even when our lives have reached their darkest corners. Her journey reaffirms that life, even after loss, can grow into something new. I also seriously appreciated this truthful account of grieving—we are often under the misconception that after a year or two someone should get over it and move on. Taylor was present for this screening, and spoke briefly afterwards. It was hard to know what to say—I give this woman a round of applause for having enough guts to put such an intimate account of her life on the screen.

And though the theatre did not (literally) blast off, I felt like it should have. Anyone who is interested in the other shorts or other films shown at the festival should check out the website: www.bostonfilmfestival.org.

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