Did you ever imagine what it would take to create a film festival? People, places and things must be managed, funds raised, and personalities navigated. The best festival programs include a diversity of cinematic voices.
In a case such as the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, Artistic Director Jacques Paisner creates an artistic vision of the festival; his passion for film, creative experience and knowledge of emerging trends was used to guide the programming team in watching hundreds of movies, looking for outstanding voices and an overall theme to emerge.
During a sometimes-emotional introduction of the 2021 opening night film, Mr. Paisner expressed gratitude for the presence of so many fully vaccinated, masked film-viewers as well as filmmakers themselves. After eighteen months of isolation, the heartfelt welcome was like salve on a wound.
The theme of the 2021 Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, “An Uplifting of the Human Spirit” took on a restorative element in these unstable times. The Festival Program included a slate of five International Shorts from diverse countries such as Norway, Ghana, Canada, Turkey, and Romania with two strong themes emerging: courage, and yes, betrayal.
Nattrikken (Night Ride) from Director Eirik Tveiten (Norway)
On a cold Norwegian night in December, Ebba (Sigrid Kandal Husjord), a little person with an air of benevolent frustration, waits in the snow for a tram ride home from work. When the snarky tram driver refuses to let Ebba wait inside the parked, warm streetcar and leaves her out in the freezing cold, we know within seconds that Ebba isn’t going to let it go. “Usually in a Norwegian film that starts with a dark snowy night, a lone woman standing freezing, the next frame has to have a dead body,” says Janet Davidson, audience member and DGA Director, “But not “Nattrikken” a delightful, quirky, and I might add brilliantly cast, short film.”
With the conductor disappearing into a railyard office, Ebba summons her nerve and pries the tram doors open. Inside the train car, she seizes the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat and comically presses dashboard buttons to see what they will do; one of them starts the train rolling.
Emma momentarily considers whether to let the Tram Conductor back on, but elects not to, presses one more timely-found button and the train takes off, down the tracks. Slightly giddy with her new-found power Ebba must decide at the next tram stop whether to let passengers on or pass them by. Courageously and hilariously, she slams on the brakes and lets Allan (Axel Barø Aasen) and a group of troublemakers board the trolley.
Troublemakers being what they are, they harass and beat-up Allan, who turns out to not be what he seems. Decision after hilarious decision, Ebba summons the nerve to overcome self-doubt. There are a few twists that gently explore the biases that many of us have towards those different than ourselves. In a post film interview, Ms. Davidson went on to say, “If you can find this gem, take the ride you will love it.”
Like the Ones I Used to Know, directed by Annie St-Pierre (Canada)
It’s Christmas Eve, children are on sugar-overload and Santa is late. Outside a houseful of holiday chaos, Denis (Steve Laplante) sits alone in his car. With excellent acting and without a word spoken, you know a man has come to fetch his children, but he fears going inside to pick up them up.
When Denis summons the courage to go inside, his two children don’t want to leave with their father, they’d rather stay around the Santa excitement. Denis tries to impress them in a creative way and the suspense of whether or not his son and daughter will trust their father and leave with him is heart-wrenching.
Take note of the film’s end scene: Santa on his knees and the more-than-appropriate background Christmas Carol provide for excellent subtext.
Like the Ones I Used to Know picked up a SXSW Special Jury Award for Narrative Short.
Witness, directed by Ali Asgari (France, Iran)
What would you do if you went on a quick shopping mall errand and saw an elderly woman (Nasrin Kourdi) struggling to step onto an escalator? You’ve left your adolescent daughter alone in the car, double-parked at the curb. You might consider trying to save the fearful woman from danger.
However, what if your good intentions go terribly wrong and there’s an accident, then what? In Witness, set in an Iranian shopping mall, Director Ali Asgari examines themes of responsibility and selfishness.
The “Mother,” (Anahita Afshar) is an overloaded woman juggling a heap of chores and a brat-ish daughter who wants what she wants. In a rush to get back to her left-alone daughter, the Mother has to decide whether to wait for police officials to arrive and answer their questions.
With multiple global award-nominations, Witness, in Persian with English subtitles, was a 2021 Norwegian International Short Film Competition winner.
Les Criminels (The Criminals) from Director Serhat Karaaslan (France, Romania, Turkey)
On one level, Les Criminels is a simple story of a young couple that desires to spend a passionate night together, but on a subtextual level, the film is an allegorical tale about guilt and youthful pushback against present-day Turkish Conservative Mores.
In their second attempt at a lover’s tryst, Nazli (Deniz Altan) and Emre (Lorin Merhart), forced to book separate rooms and sneak into each other’s arms, begin to take off their clothes. They’re interrupted by a ringing telephone. Their guilty reactions and admirable acting seem to suggest that the phone is actually their subconscious suggesting that they’re doing something to feel guilty about.
When a menacing intruder knocks on the door and bursts into the room, demanding that Emre lay on the bed so that he can be beaten, the couple looks for a way to escape. With a couple of light Hitchcockian-type touches, the film avoids becoming trite and the most drama comes when the couple tries to escape the hotel and its tormentors.
Les Criminels has received multiple awards across Europe, the Middle East and the United States, including the Sundance Film Festival.
Da Yie (Good Night) directed by Anthony Nti (Ghana, Belgium)
Children chasing Chickens, tossed in the air, oblivious to a danger stranger that lurks in their packed dirt playground. That opening sequence encapsulates what Da Yie (Good Night) is all about. Winner of ten 2021 Cannes Film Awards, including Best Screenplay Short Film, Da Yie is a contemplative statement on a global problem.
In Da Yie, Young Matilda (Matilda Enchil) and Prince (Prince Agortey) are absorbed in simple childhood pastimes of soccer, chicken fights and staying out of trouble with Prince’s mother. In a Ghanaian village where a shower is a bowl of water over the head, The Foreigner ‘Bogah’ (Goua Robert Grovoqui) shows up in a fancy car offering Matilda and Prince a ride in air-conditioned splendor and a buffet full of treats. It doesn’t take Matilda long to convince Prince to get in the car and go for a ride.
At a seemingly innocent dinner, the children stuff themselves and when Bogah further suggests “I have an idea of where to watch the football match tonight,” Prince and Matilda are idyllically unaware of the danger they’re in.
Using a childhood need for approval, Bogah lures the children to the ocean to “feel the water.” Matilda asks about a tattoo on Bogah’s chest. “It’s a ram, a sign of loyalty. I had to earn this. Do you want to earn this?” However, Bogah realizes that Prince is afraid of the sea, and it’s a turning point when Bogah helps the young boy overcome his fear; Bogah starts to doubt what he is there to do and where his loyalties lie.
Sometimes a little threatening, sometimes a little charming, Anthony Nti’s Da Yie is a personal take on how easy it is to abduct children.
Zimnicea, Bogdan Naumovici director (Romania)
Based on a true story and seemingly the least dramatic of the 2021 SFiFF International Short films Zimnicea could have turned out to be pertinent to today’s global political climate.
How could it happen that an earthquake which destroyed 80% of a town turn out to be a lie? Naumovici’s Zimniceasuggests that a lack of moral courage could have accomplished just that.
In a narrative re-enactment, the City of Zimnicea has a new Mayor (Mihai Calin) beholden to a Communist Boss. Newly installed in office, and threatened by Communist edicts, the Mayor is anxious not to offend. Even on simple matters, the Boss demands obedience, “My orders must not be discussed, they must be obeyed.”
On the night of March 4, 1977, Romania suffered a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. The Mayor and others make good faith efforts to assess the damage and find that the town is pretty much intact. Wanting to pump-up his importance with his superiors, the Boss demands that the death toll and building damage be greatly embellished. Zimnicea on-screen text states that the City of Zimnicea was demolished by human hands in a day and a half, not by earthquake, and the truth wasn’t discovered until 2012.
As portrayed in Zimnicea, that jaw-dropping lie of 1977 earthquake damage being misreported for thirty-five years should have made real-life international news headlines. However, to date reporting does not confirm Zimnicea’s claims.
Film Festivals are a potential healing force in a 21st Century divided world. The 2021 Santa Fe Independent Film Festival gave voice to disparate languages using the most common language of all: a well told story.