I always like to fit in some shorts at NBFF. From time to time I’ve seen shorts here that end up with Oscar nomination the following year. I started my day with a group of shorts called “Held Back & Shortly Set Free”, which was described in the program as “Insights into the human condition are plentiful in this collection of thought-provoking existential quandries.” There were five films in this program:
- Noora (Norway, 20 minutes) – A girl from a strict religious home is set to marry an older leader in the sect, but she is in love with a local girl. Can she find the strength to escape the restrictive life planned for her? Directed by Tommy Naess.
- Behind Barres (Australia, 12 minutes) – Struggling with injuries that may destroy her career, a dancer discovers strength in the dance within her mind. Directed by Sophia Bender.
- Adele (Australia, 15 minutes) – A pregnant teen must struggle with her family’s cultural practices involving an illegally arranged marriage. Directed by Mirene Igwabi.
- Joy Joy Nails (USA, 19 minutes) – Sarah manages a nail salon, but has her eye set on the boss’s son. The harmony of the shop begins to break down when a new hire may be stealing his affections. But Sarah discovers that the girl needs help and protection. Directed by Joey Ally.
- All Exchanges Final (USA, 29 minutes) – This is the only comedy in the set—but still dealing with existential issues. As her sister is about to be taken off life support, a young woman gets a chance to swap souls to save her sister’s life. But instead of her own soul, she offers the soul of her six month old daughter. When her sister recovers, she knows what has happened and is furious. Whose life should be preserved? Directed by Annabel Oakes.
Prior to the start of the festival, I had the chance to preview The Girl and the Picture that played as part of a three film program, “Inspirational Short Docs”. It is the story of Madame Xia, one of the few remaining survivors of the Rape of Nanking. As an eight year old, she saw her family murdered by Japanese soldiers. She was also caught on film by missionary John Magee who documented some of the atrocities of the war crimes. In the film Madame Xia recounts her tale to her granddaughter and great-grandson. At the same time, John Magee’s grandson travels to Nanking connecting with his grandfather’s history. As director Vanessa Roth told me in a phone interview, “It is very much a film about bearing witness and storytelling itself.” (I’ll share more of my interview soon.)
The Turning Point is a documentary about the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Directed by James Keach (who also made Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me), the film mostly follows the clinical testing of a drug (Solanezumab) that was being developed by Eli Lilly. (Lilly provided a grant for the making of the film, but did not retain any editorial control.) The film also provides a bit of a primer on the disease and the scientific requirements for developing treatments. Alzheimer’s and dementia are already so ubiquitous that nearly everyone has some contact with it among friends and family. It is the great fear of many as they begin to reach their senior years. The film remains hopeful that a treatment will be developed.
Write When You Get Work, directed by Stacy Cockran, is the story of a young woman who has moved past the mistakes of her youth and has found a place working for a tony girls’ school in Manhattan. When she runs across you boyfriend from years ago, he is totally consumed with her. He works as a small-time thief. Soon he begins to work his way back into her life by making use of a family of one of the girls in his school. Is he to be trusted?