Some short films worth seeing at the TBUFF – Part One

by Martin Hafer

I love short films and try to see as many of them as I can.  This is because so often, you can discover some amazingly talented people out there just waiting to be discovered.  Plus, it is not easy telling a compelling story in a short film format…and I really appreciate it when folks get it right.  Because of this, I am bringing a few shorts to your attention that I saw over the weekend at the Tampa Bay Underground Film  Festival.  However, I should note that like almost all film festivals I have attended, multiple films were being shown at the same time.  So I am sure I missed some really deserving shorts.  Until I learn the fine art of cloning, I guess I can only review what I am able to see!  Here are a few that really stood out for me:

Happy Family

Mark Stolzenberg directed and co-stars in this weird little comedy.  After being tired of hearing from her friends again and again about their children’s accomplishments, Joy (Judy Copeland) decides she wants a child of her own.  Her husband, Marvin (Stolzenberg), is shocked to say the least.  After all, they appear to be a 60-something couple…well past the time when they can start a family.  But when they approach an agency about adoption, they are surprised that although they don’t qualify to adopt a child, they can adopt an adult!  This way, according to the social worker, they don’t need to worry about changing diapers or the awkward teenage years.  Plus, they and their potential adult son or daughter could meet and decide if this is right for them!

So why did I enjoy the film?  While the film’s premise is silly, Stolzenberg and Copeland ran with the idea and kept it utterly ridiculous!  The potential adoptees were a crazy bunch to say the least and the silly script (written by Stolzenberg and Copeland) just made me smile.  This is the second film I’ve seen by this incredibly talented pair (the other was Sisters) and I will make it a point to look for their films in the future as they’ve always made me smile!

The Wallet

Rafael Sierra and David Melendez created this touching short and I really would love to see it one day expanded into a full-length movie.  The story begins with an elderly man forgetting his wallet after he gets up from a park bench.  A short time later, a young reporter finds the wallet and looks through it for identification so she can return it.  All she finds, however, is a Dear John letter that is decades old…and she reads about the heartbreaking story about a teenage girl who is calling things off with Cliff because her parents say she’s too young to get involved with him.  The reporter then decides that she must assemble the few clues she has to find the owner of the wallet…and perhaps help get Angela and Cliff back together.  The first person she needs to find is the woman who wrote the letter.  She visits many folks named Angela and eventually find her (Susan O’Gara) in a retirement home–and Angela tells her the sad story of her relationship with Cliff.  It seems that Cliff was going off to war and she didn’t want him to worry about her…so she broke things off.  She’d hoped to take up with him later, after she was older and Cliff returned, but she only saw him one more time…and he had a wife and four kids…so she said nothing and remained single  the rest of her life.  As for Cliff (Jim Webb), the reporter soon finds him and discovers that he’s not married…nor has he ever been nor has he had any kids!  So what is the meddlesome but well meaning reporter going to do next and what will happen with these sweet elderly people?  See the film…you won’t regret it!

So why did I love this film?  Well, I thought Webb and O’Gara were simply wonderful.  I was particularly impressed by Webb and very surprised by O’Gara, as the only other film I saw her in was one where she played an insane old lady who kidnaps a guy on his way to  a Halloween party and insists she’s captured a real zombie!  “Chomp” is about as different from “The Wallet” as you can get…as were the two performances by O’Gara!  I also really admired the writing, as the story was just as sweet as you could ask for…and it had me in tears by the end!

The Rub

Despite the lower rating, this is a very entertaining film and is actually a web series.  It doesn’t score as high as some of the shorts I saw because it is so very crude and stupid…but it’s meant to be crude and stupid and sometimes you just want something like this!  So, while it’s not likely to ever appear as an addition to the Criterion Collection or on PBS, it is a lot of fun.

The story is about the one and only massage parlor in Tampa, Florida that is simply that…a place where you can get a massage.  No sex….just a nice massage.  But the clients all keep arriving in droves expecting to have a ‘happy ending’ and because they don’t provide this, the business is on the rocks.  Is there any way that the nice-guy owner can actually make a go of it…or is it destined to become one of ‘those places’?

Let’s cut to the chase.  This is not a web series for children, as the subject matter can be very crude at times and there are a lot of perverts showing up at the shop!  But, it is funny…and I found myself laughing repeatedly at the stupid antics of the characters in the series!  Well worth seeing and incredibly different!  And, you can find the web series on YouTube and Vimeo and the pilot episode is here:

Love/Hate: The Amazing Life of a Comic Book Artist!

I saw this short film at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival and I was extremely impressed.  After all, according to IMDb, the project only cost about $1000 to make and despite the relative inexperience of those involved in making it, the final results are enjoyable and well worth seeing.

Austin Janowsky plays ‘AJ’–a comic book collector and artist who loves illustrating his comics but absolutely hates dealing with fans.  Again and again he’s refused to go to book signings and his publisher keeps nagging him to go!  Eventually, AJ agrees…but only to do one and no more!  What follows is a cute look at some of the strange and sometimes annoying characters that frequent comic book signings as well as AJ realizing that perhaps it’s not quite as bad as he’d expected.

This clever short is one that comic book fans and those who couldn’t care less about comics could enjoy equally.  In fact, I would think that sort of thing could be expanded into feature-length and I was very impressed at the quality considering the minuscule cost to make the short. You can watch it by clicking here:

There were certainly other shorts I really loved…too many for just this one article, so come back soon as part two should be up and running very soon.