Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Crush aims to lighten the mood

The Oscar-nominated live action short film The Crush takes the universal theme of the childhood first crush, gives it a grave and solemn twist then progresses, to the audience’s surprise, to an unexpected humorous turn of events.

My classmate Ashley Rudder shares the same thoughts. “The Crush successfully took the relatable emotion of liking someone and created a story of a schoolboy chivalry that was comical!” Rudder said.

Considering that the film was only 15 minutes long, writer and producer Michael Creagh was able set up an effective progression of crucial events: from Ardle Travis (played by Creagh’s son Oran Creagh) declaring his love for his elementary school teacher Ms. Purdy (played by Olga Wehrly), to his challenging Ms. Purdy’s fiance to a dual with guns, to what the audience initially thought would be a tragic ending.

It was uncertain whether Ardle, in his jealousy and anger, would show him mercy, which made Ms. Purdy’s fiance’s  death seem almost imminent. However, Creagh did not have intentions of allowing the audience to mistakenly think they knew what was next.

Death was a theme, however, as it was with all the other live action short films, whether serious, humorous, or both glum and comical like The Crush.

This was the case with Wish 143, about a terminally ill 15-year-old who’s wish is to lose his virginity before he dies. Although it is heart breaking to see David deal with such adverse health issues, comedy is incorporated throughout especially when he turns down an older woman that wants to make his wish come true.

“I’ve already done it […] Ive done it now […] I don’t think I’m gunna wanna do it again for ahhh, for a bit,” David tells her.

Although both shorts are amusing none the least, the characters gracefully accept and embrace the fact that their initial life plans were not brought into fruition, but they did have a good laugh about it.

Posted in Independent Film | 1 Comment

When There Is Nothing To Confess

The Confession directed by Tanel Toom, is a phenomenal and brilliantly created film that brings its viewers everything from drama and mystery to suspense and tragedy and it also, very successfully, brings innocence into the picture. A film so extraordinary that leaves the viewers wanting more, wondering and questioning what would have happened if the film would have simply kept on rolling.

The film, set in a small town in England, greatly influenced by religious beliefs,   follows the story of Sam, an innocent 9 year old who is close to facing his first confession. His only problem: He has nothing to confess, something that brings him continuous anxiety. As a result, his friend Jacob assures him that together, they will come up with a sinful act that would allow Sam to face confession properly.

At this point, the film takes a dramatic turn when Sam and Jacob decide to take a scarecrow from the cornfields and place it in the middle of the row as an effort to scare Sam’s father. Not thinking of the consequences of their acts, Sam and Jacob witness the horrific death of three passengers of a passerby vehicle but Sam and Jacob are more concerned with hiding the scarecrow and making sure no one ever finds out.

“It was an accident” is all Jacob keeps assuring Sam hoping he will eventually be convinced but Sam’s consciousness tells him otherwise. The film goes from wanting something to confess to having something to actually confess but not being able to do so out of guilt.

Tanel Toom is known for producing films that speak to the heart; films that would impact his audience. He is known for incorporating religion and death in his works. An example would be The Second Coming(2008) about a soldier who is having a hard time coping with the death of his brother.  

Let’s not go without noting how well the acting helped the film deliver its message. Both Lewis Howlett who played Sam and Joe Eals who played Jacob did an extraordinary job with the acting. They were successfully able to reach the hearts of the viewers and send the right feelings whenever they needed to be sent.   

It is not a mystery as to why The Confession obtained an Oscar nomination, because no other short live action film was able to bring together such a variety of genres in just one short film as well as The Confession did.

Lewis Howlett as Sam in The Confession

Posted in Oscar Shorts | 1 Comment

The One That Got Away

The Confession, Tanel Toom’s eerie but exhilarating tale of adolescence heavily influenced by religious ideals is one that leaves the viewer with an ominous feeling that causes them to question the films motives long after it is over.

The beautiful cinematography sets the mood for the film. A serene landscape shot of a sunrise over a cornfield with a simple silhouette of a scarecrow on a cross seems peaceful yet foreshadows the shuddersome plot that has yet to unfold.

The film continues in a Catholic school classroom in a small town in England. The story follows Sam, an innocent nine year old boy whose biggest anxiety is not having a sin to reveal to the priest at his first communion. Sams best friend Jacob convinces him not to fear for together they will execute a sinful act so he can properly confess.

They decide to steal the scarecrow from Sam’s father’s cornfield and it is then that the film quickly escalates from a light hearted story about a boy’s first communion to one of horror and tragedy. “It was an accident.” Jacob tries to convince Sam, but Sams conscious is the driving force for the rest of the film.

Tanel Toom has another widely acclaimed short film called The Second Coming (2008) about a soldier who has a hard time coping with his brother’s death. Toom has a knack for incorporating death and religion into his cinematic works.

There is a way that Toom tugs on the viewer’s heartstrings by reminding the viewer that these are just nine year old boys with seemingly innocent intentions. The scenes of them riding their bikes to school and playing in their secret spot in the woods serves as an innuendo of this.  Toom taps into the human condition and exploits the significance that is placed upon the concept of religion. The balance between youth and sin makes it hard for the audience to form a solid opinion on the matters at hand, which seem to be religions negative impacts on its followers.

Lewis Howlett in The Confession

But it is also noteworthy to say that the child actors, Lewis Howlett who plays Sam and Joe Eals who plays Jacob, are who bring the driving emotions to the film. The intensity they bring to their roles are what rub off on the audience and leave them with shivers. Sam’s ultimate dilemma is not simple to find an answer for. Howlett really depicts the struggle he faces in where he has to place his faith.  Is it within God, his best friend, or himself?

It is all this and more that make it clear as to why The Confession has earned its Oscar nomination for best live action short film. When showing the shorts at the IFC Theater in New York City, the Academy chose The Confession as the first film to appear within the sequence and sets off the theme of humans coping in their darkest hour.  Although, as Bernardo Villela writes from The Movie Rat “It is so shockingly rare to see a short film that is so layered and plays on so many levels as this one does.”

Posted in Oscar Shorts | Comments Off

Wish 143 is an Absolute Gem

Director Ian Barnes brilliantly produced a heart-rending film that puts the mind and heart unease as the plot grew bigger from the size of a kiwi to a peach. Barnes isn’t James Cameron or Peter Jackson but his work, Wish 143, made it as one of the nominees for the 2011 Oscar in the short films category. With Tom Bidwell as the writer, the 24- minute film brought about many tears and laughter.

The story revolves around a 15 year old cancer patient who gets one wish from the Dreamscape Charity and in his presently ill moment, he pursued the desire to lose his virginity. Samuel Holland, who plays David, portrayed the character with sensitivity, sincerity, and full dedication to the role. He deserved applauses for creating a character that the audience can empathize with.

A Rep. from Dreamscape visits David

The film started out in a gray cloudy hue with David and the man from the Dreamscape Charity asking David to make a wish. Ideas like a trip to Disneyland, or meeting soccer player Gary Neville was suggested, however, like any teenager with raging hormones, David boldly said out loud he wants to have sex.

Scenes of comedy ensue as we are introduced to Father Carter, played by Jim Carter, who shows David a newspaper article regarding his wish to lose his virginity. A kind elderly woman responds to the newspaper article by telling David that she is willing to do the dirty deed of taking his virginity away, over at a bed and breakfast room she booked. David makes up a story that he already lost his virginity to get out of this one.

In a desperate attempt, David escapes the hospital to seek women off the street. After being rejected by a pimp daddy for being underage, it brought a tearful silence in the theatre, as David walked away in despair as it was obvious that his time was running out and feeling the self pity. Seconds later, the audience chuckled at the change of David’s facial reaction where he recklessly grabs a brick, turned around, and jump screen ahead, being bailed out of jail by Father Carter.

Similar to Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Father Carter, who was hesitant at first with helping David see his wish granted, eventually becomes understanding and helps David with his situation. Eventually, he becomes more than a priest to David, a mentor. “Sex is a sacred thing,” he tells David. Father Carter then sneaks David out of the hospital and takes him to a more respectable and professional call girl.

The events that happened and followed, although not entirely realistic, were very emotional and touching on screen. A film of schemes, mixed with comedy and sorrow of one’s unrealistic desire quickly became a self realization of the true meaning of love and happiness. David’s mission to seek out sexual pleasure from just any female partner failed but in returned his self journey helped him discover his desire was a cry out for love and company, and instead of finding it with what he thought would be, was found in his short-live friendship with the Father.  It definitely left a mix of tragic and a sweet satisfaction to the end of the film.

Posted in Independent Film | 1 Comment

I Must Confess, God of Love Should Not Have Won

In this year’s Oscars, five films were nominated for Best Live Action Short Film. While my favorite film was The Confession, I was surprised that my least favorite film, God of Love, was the winner last night. It’s not that God of Love was a bad film, but I wouldn’t say it was Oscar-worthy in comparison to the other films it went up against. It was fluffy, while the other films had so much more depth and emotion.

The Confession, for example, is an unpredictable film that raises questions about how innocent a child truly is. The film features a 9-year-old boy named Sam who is preparing for his first confession. Sam is so innocent that he can’t think of anything to confess. In an attempt to help Sam, his best friend, Jacob, comes up with an idea to steal a scarecrow from a nearby farm. A harmless prank results in a chain of events causing the death of a family and the murder of Jacob and when it finally comes time to confess his sins, Sam cannot bring himself to tell the priest what he has done.

The Confession was the first film played out of the five short films, and while I remember the mood in the theater being very light at the beginning of the film, I also remember the exact moment that the mood turned dark. It was the scene where Jacob and Sam had left the scarecrow in the middle of the road to scare the farmer and instead, he turned down a different street. The audience laughed, until a few seconds later, when another car came flying down the road, swerved to miss the scarecrow and hit a tree. We all shared a unanimous gasp.

Moments like this, when I’m so lost in a movie that I actually gasp, are when I know it’s had an impact on me. I loved it. I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. Looking over at my mom towards the end of the film, I noticed that she was crying. Afterwards, she told me how moved she was by the film. “You just don’t get that kind of emotion from commercial films these days,” she said.

 The film’s director, Tanel Toom, studied filmmaking at the Tallinn University and aside from The Confession, he has directed several short films including The Second Coming, which was premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008 and won an award for Best European Short at the Archipelago International Film Festival.

After deciding to go back to school, Toom graduated from The National Film and TV School in England in 2010. The Confession was his diploma film and won the Student Academy Award for Foreign Film. This film is evidence of Toom’s passion for stories that leave an impression on his audience and it seems The Confession is only one of many influential films to come from this creative director.

Posted in Oscar Shorts | 2 Comments

To Wish Upon a…Condom?

"Just hold me."

To think of cancer as anything but a crippling and deadly disease that kills more people in the US than the entire population of Luxembourg is, well, just wrong. The life of a cancer patient is not a happy one, and cases like Michael Douglas’s triumphant defeat of the dreaded infliction are far and few. We all live in fear — and rightfully so.

All, that is, besides David, or so he would like us to think.

Wish 143, directed by Ian Barnes, stars Samuel Holland as David, a fifteen year old boy diagnosed with cancer that has a wish far less noble than one expects from a boy in his position — to lose his virginity.

The plot line is almost a mockery — if placed in the wrong hands, it can easily become a teen comedy that mocks the protagonist’s attempt to come-of-age rather than encourage it; however, Holland treats the character with a maturity that extends far beyond his years.

That’s not to say, however, that the film does not have moments of comic relief. While the film’s genie, a member of the British version of the Make a Wish Foundation, suggests that David would be better off meeting Gary Neville, or, perhaps, going to a film premiere, the boy insists on having sex with a naked woman — preferably on the hood of the car. His attempts to find a willing woman are valiant yet also hint at desperation that not only brings the laughs, but tears as well.

What sets this twenty three minute gem apart from the other Oscar contenders is that instead of using a younger protagonist to portray the fickleness of emotions at such a tender age, like rivals The Confession and The Crush, David is shown to be so sure of his actions and desires, and is every inch an adult in a situation where it is absolutely okay to be a child. He does not falter from what he believes is right — in this case, getting laid.

What ultimately won me over (and unfortunately, not the Oscar voters) was when David was finally given the choice to fulfill his wish with Maggie, a prostitute his father recommended. Instead of leaning toward the kiss and touch of actress Jodie Whittaker, David leans away from her, and in a rare moment of intimacy, he whispers:

“Just hold me.”

It was with this line that the film took a turn from being a dark comedy to the most touching and most revealing short films this reviewer has seen.

Wish 143 holds nothing back, and between each giggle and tear, formed an inseparable bond between viewer and character, one that forces us to find the David inside each one of us — flawed, chasing after unlikely goals, and, most importantly, hungry for a friend.

Posted in Independent Film, Oscar Shorts | 2 Comments

Na Wewe: The True Rwanda Story

“Na Wewe,” Ivan Goldschmidt’s dark visualization of the Rwanda Genocide, means you too in Kirundi. Because of the historical context of the film and its underlying allegory of self-identity, viewers may just be left with vertigo.

As a director, a film editor, a theater stage director, and more recently a sculptor and a painter, Goldschmidt is an exemplar for diversity. His resume includes the short film, “Ketchup,” and the TV series, “François the Bachelor and his Terrific Friends.” He can now add that his recent short- film, “Na Wewe,” was nominated for an Oscar.

Accompanied with co-writer Jean-Luc Pening, Goldschmidt both wrote and directed Na Wewe. Although Jean Luc- Pening is from Belgian descent, he lived in Rwanda with his wife and child until the Rwanda Genocide took place. As a former UN agent for Africa, Pening captivates the realism of Na Wewe.

Civil unrest results in genocide in Burundi

After returning from his plantation one day, Pening was stopped by a military truck.

A soldier shot him at the temple. With his right eye torn off and his left optic nerve damage, he became blind.  He began to write a screenplay, which led him to remember a certain classmate. “I received this text by email and I told myself it must be done. It’s a universal story,” says Goldschmidt. Pening’s “vision” became Goldschmidt’s stage.

This stage took place in Burundi in the year 1994. Burundi, which is located in Eastern Africa, borders Rwanda. In 1994, the Rwanda Genocide took place. Within a matter of months eight hundred thousand Rwandans were killed!

Does any one have a choice of where they come from?

Most of the causalities included the Tutsis, who are at the forefront of Na Wewe. A bus carrying several people, including one Belgium man, who is played by Renaud Rutten, gets stopped by rebel Tutsis, who pillage and kill anyone who is a Hutus, the main perpetrators of the heinous act. What is a Tutsis? What is a Hutus?

How am I supposed to know that without Google?

This Belgium film was very well done, especially in terms of production, but there is a slim chance that lines of people are going to watch this film. With a cast of unknowns and a language barrier, many film goers may feel empty handed by Na Wewe.

Na Wewe hopes to follow Toylands success. Toyland, the 2009 Academy Award  winner for Best Live Action movie depicts the story of a Jewish family and an Aryan family who are friends and neighbors. As the deportation of Jews takes place in Germany, both families are impacted greatly. Both Toyland and Na Wewe are historical pieces that should not be forgotten. Their messages are to prevent future corruption and share the stories of the fallen causalities that should never be forgotten.

Will Na Wewe win the Academy Award on February 27th? Watch the Academy Awards on ABC at 8:30 PM to find out.

Posted in Independent Film | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Historical Context of ‘Na Wewe’ Proves Itself as an Oscar Frontrunner

In 19 minutes, the cold-hearted truth of the Rwandan genocide and an almost seemingly non-fictitious tale of an everyday occurrence of Hutus vs. Tutsis in Africa is combined to create a storyline of actual reality and importance. Directed and written by Ivan Goldschmidt, Oscar Live-Short nominated drama film Na Wewe sheds light into an historical subject without the bore, while simultaneously not being painfully gruesome. It presents itself as a typical day, where death is only natural, even in the most horrific terms.

“His short is both critical of the racial situation there and the role Europeans have played in it,” says Maria Garcia of The Film Journal. “The title Na Wewe, or ‘you, too,’ is obviously a direct challenge to viewers to imagine themselves as a victim of racial discrimination.” Na Wewe, set in 1994 Africa, tells of a group of ordinary people traveling on the road when their minivan is stopped by members of the Hutu army. As the leader seeds through each individual searching for any Tutsi enemies, the group fears for their lives. Watching the group beg for their freedom, a Caucasian male foreigner witnesses fearfully from inside the van.

What makes this film Oscar-worthy is the truthful eeriness at hand. The theme of death and children is easily noticeable in this year’s Live-Short nominations. What makes Na Wewe special is its ability to show a child that is the result of an evil environment. The film presents children gun in hand and an expression that would put fear even into an adult’s soul. They have completely lost their innocence, if it was ever there to begin with. From ages 16 to as young as 6 or 7, they are already in the army, ready to kill any person who steps out of hand.

Child Killer of the Hutu Army in Na Wewe.

It’s historical context is easily comparable to the acclaimed 2004 film Hotel Rwanda. Na Wewe almost could have been inserted into the film. Both films engross the audience to feel compassion for the horrible events that took place in 1990’s Africa. What Na We We does however, is attempt to provide a comic relief at the end to lighten the load of the the rest of the film. Rather the viewer found it to be cheesy or successful, it is undeniable that the director attempted to showcase that despite their rivalry, the Hutus and Tutsis had, after all, similar interests.

Through the tool of fear, compassion, and the will to want to help those in the film, Goldschmidt excellently portrays history through a short film, an insanely difficult task. Na We We is definitely a front runner for the Oscar win.

Posted in Independent Film | 5 Comments

Wishing for a Change of Pace

Many movie-goers today are cynical, pessimistic; constantly seeking the destruction of metropolises and hopeless hearts being broken. We do, however, still need the occasional light-hearted take on an unfortunate situation. Director Ian Barnes and writer Tom Bidwell brought this to fruition in Wish 143, a short film focusing on a terminally ill teenager’s wish to lose his virginity before it is too late, and my personal favorite short of the Oscar nominees.

While there is an obvious air of gloom and doom because of the setting, the pediatrics ward of a hospital, and the main character’s situation, a downhill battle with cancer, the filmmakers took a more whimsical approach to presenting his plight, and created a fabulously believable mindset of a teenage boy approaching the end of his life. The muted colors and dim lighting reminds viewers of the seriousness of the situation, but the dialog, mostly the unconventional quips of the lead, David, keeps it from dipping too low into morbidity. When approached by the British equivalent of the Make a Wish Foundation, David matter-of-factly writes down that he wishes to lose his virginity, to the distress of the wish-giver. The mix of sex-talk, the sinking realization of David’s pending fate, and the setting of a kiddie table in the pediatrics ward play room makes for a scene too awkward for words and perfect for some uncomfortable laughs.

As the film goes on, we see that David’s wish is fueled by more than just raging teenage hormones, but the desire to become a man before it’s too late, and to have the chance to really be close to a woman. The desperation sets off a tragic stream of events sprinkled with humor to keep the tears at bay. His unlikely accomplice in fulfilling his wish, Father Carter, works tirelessly to counter David’s irrational plans to make his wish come true, and eventually puts aside his beliefs and sets up a safe and secure way for David to reach his goal.

Not surprisingly, David reacts with fear and uncertainty when faced with the opportunity to fulfill his wish. Rather than acting out the moment of passion he’s had in his head for years, he is hit with the realization of all circumstances leading to this point, and curls up in the arms of the call girl, desperate for comfort. This heart-wrenching scene is not broken with humor, for good reason. It made for an extremely real, raw show of emotions and a believable response on all characters’ parts.

The end of the twenty-four-minute emotional rollercoaster brings us back from the brink of depression with David’s positive attitude, and the comforting presence of Father Carter. Some banter about their shortcomings over a light-hearted session of skeet shooting is an uneasy reminder that all is not well and things have not gone the way David wished, but leaves us with a feeling that he has found some kind of inner peace in realizing that he can’t control his fate or force himself to mature at a certain pace.

Wish 143 was on the verge of heartbreaking, but managed to keep the pieces together with some much-needed laughter. It didn’t seem forced, though. The mood followed David’s journey accurately; airy and awkward at first, sad and uneasy through his trials, and finally relieving and light again as David accepted his circumstance.

Posted in Oscar Shorts | Comments Off

Death, Guilt And Why Kids Have To Sin

Young boy's are told to confess. But what if one has never sinned?

The Confession shows no mercy toward the audience. The opening scene of two boys dragging a dead body through a forest is just the beginning of a dark and painful tail of sin, guilt and the confused minds of two catholic boys.

Sam is a 9 year old boy, living a simple and harmless life playing around the cornfields with his best friend Jacob. They go to a catholic school and one day it is time to do their first confession. Sam stares at the list of sins in front of him, and realizes that he has never sinned. Still, he is told to confess, as all “real Catholics” do. His naive mind feels guilt. What is he going to confess? To Sam’s relief, Jacob the “bad boy,” has an easy solution: Together they will do a sin.

But what happens when their little prank turns into a serious accident, leading to the death of three innocent people? How will a young boy be able to live with this new and awfully dark sin haunting the back of his head? Will God really forgive, and make everything go back to normal? Though questions are piled in font of these young boys, and when you think the story could not get any darker, death strikes again. Their world is now turned upside down.

It is not the first time the young director of this film, Tanel Toom (28 years of age) handles the themes of death and religion. In one of his past short films, The Second Coming (2008), a solider is unwilling to accept the death of his brother. One can clearly see a pattern that both of Toom’s films follows, portraying friendship, death and God.

“The Confession” is Toom’s graduation project for his degree in fiction direction at the National Film and Television School in England. Toom himself is Estonian, and most of his previous projects, both films and commercials, are all in Estonian.

The characters in The Confession are quite familiar: Sam, the innocent boy next door, and Jacob, his big mouthed alter-ego friend. Together they are a perfect team, sneaking through the cornfield of a grumpy farmer, riding their bikes and hanging out at their secret spot in the forest. What destroys this idyllic picture of childhood is the dark shadow of death and guilt that seems to follow the boys. Even though they are young and playful, these two friends lay in the forest staring at the sky, talking deeply about life, death and God. They try to figure out the Catholic life they are about to enter.

The Confession will definitely emote some sort of feeling from the audience. The two big motifs in the film, Catholic-guilt and death, provokes and splits opinions. This is also what makes “The Confession” so strong, and what probably made it earn its Oscar nomination for best action short film.

Child-actors can easily destroy even the best movies, but the two boys in The Confession stunned with their performance. For the 26 minutes that this movie lasted, you really got into Sam’s confused head – the torn mind of a child, struggling to choose who to trust: his own consciousness, his best friend, or God.

Posted in Oscar Shorts | 1 Comment