SXSW 2019: The Shorts Program

Patricia (Lauren Blumenfeld) drinks too much wine while Wyatt (Max Jenkins) does not. Photo Credit: John de Menil

The 2019 SXSW Film Festival had no shortage of laughs, thrills or outright drama when it comes to the shorts screening during the fest.

Narrative Shorts

Stepdaddy sees a reunion between Patricia (Lauren Blumenfeld) and Wyatt (Max Jenkins).  The quick backstory is that the two of them did a work study for the same professor during their senior year.  Anyway, Patricia brings wine so she’s more than a bit drunk.  All the while, Wyatt is just trying to get a few words out of his mouth.  He never gets to do that because she’s going on about wanting him to be a sperm donor.  About that, her father, Brad, (Peter Gallagher) shows up to Wyatt’s place.  This completely catches Patricia off guard.  Much to her surprise, they drop a bombshell on her.

Unlike Sundowners, which Lisa Steen directed and Anna Greenfield co-wrote, this film leaves us with a complete ending rather than a cliffhanger.  Both Steen and Greenfield have a knack for comedy so it’s great to see them team up again for another film.

DIRECTOR: Lisa Steen
SCREENWRITER:  Anna Greenfield
CAST:  Lauren Blumenfeld, Max Jenkins, Peter Gallagher

Laith Nakli (Amir) and Adham Murched (Ali) in Bodega.
Laith Nakli (Amir) and Adham Murched (Ali) in Bodega.

Bodega is one of those films that feels like it’s dealing with two different stories.  One the one hand, we have Syrian Deli owner Amir (Laith Nakli) and his employee, Ali (Adham Murched).  Amir’s daughter is getting married and he’s most definitely not ready for her wedding.  The other part of this film deals with Iris (Mirabella Raschke-Robinson) and Rachel (Bella Danieli).  These two are out at night to buy beer before hanging out with their friends.  Of course, they have a rather bad encounter in the store thanks to Cigarette Guy (Bryan Fitzgerald).  Amir sees this go down and he decides to calm the situation down.

Even though the two stories intersect, Bodega still feels like a complete film.

CAST:  Laith Nakli, Adham Murched, Mirabella Raschke-Robinson, Bella Danieli, Bryan Fitzgerald, Nadia Affolter

Allegra Leguizamo in Lockdown.
Allegra Leguizamo in Lockdown. Photo Credit: Lowell A Meyer.

Lockdown is a short film that follows Marie (Allegra Leguizamo) as she struggles with her feelings for Lena (Sarah Lynne).  Co-writers/directors Celine Held and Logan George take advantage of an unfortunately familiar situation for students nationwide in telling this story.  Marie decides that the perfect way to get her feelings out there would be to call in a threat against the school.  While it’s a stupid idea on her part, it allows her to get closer to Lena as the gym class is in their lock-down position.  It gets worse from here because what Marie does to Lena during the lock down–honestly–could very well be defined as an assault.

The cinematographer on this film is Lowell A. Meyer.  Here’s why you need to know his name: he’s the same DP who worked on both Thunder Road and Greener Grass.  Meanwhile, it’s only a matter of time before Held and George decide to tackle a feature film together.

DIRECTORS/SCREENWRITERS:  Celine Held & Logan George
CAST:  Allegra Leguizamo, Sarah Lynne

John Ennis (Dale), Anna Seregina (Chrissy), Kiel Kennedy (Tyler), Allan McLeod (Jason), and Elaine Carroll (Natalie) in Milton
John Ennis (Dale), Anna Seregina (Chrissy), Kiel Kennedy (Tyler), Allan McLeod (Jason), and Elaine Carroll (Natalie) in Milton.

Milton is a very hysterical film that manages to put the twist on the “Meet the Family” genre.  What manages to make this film stand out from all the rest is because Jason meets the family when their loved one is minutes from passing away.  Anything that can go wrong will.

Milton may work best as a short film because anything longer and it would start to feel like a very long SNL sketch.  But for what we have, it’s a very solid film.  This isn’t to say that I would like to see filmmaker Tim Wilkime give it a shot because I do think there’s potential for a feature film.  Milton is comedy perfection!

CAST:  Allan McLeod, Elaine Carroll, John Ennis, Anna Seregina, Kiel Kennedy, Angela Leib, Pat McNeely, Bob Evans

Documentary Shorts

Howard and Juliette Brunet at their home in Isle de Jean Charles, Lousiana.
Howard and Juliette Brunet at their home in Isle de Jean Charles, Lousiana. Photo Credit: Todd Martin

Lowland Kids is a heartbreaking documentary about two of the last teenagers living on Isle de Jean Charles.  For Howard and Juliette Brunet, this island off the coast of Louisiana has always been their home.  However, climate change has taken its toll and they aren’t able to call it home for much longer.  The two of them live with their uncle, Chris.

As we watch Sandra Winther’s documentary, we can’t help but feel for this family.  When we talk about the dangers of climate change, this is what we’re talking about.  What happens when coastal families are forced to move further inland?  What happens when we run out of homes and such for them to move to?  This film is absolutely devastating to watch.

DIRECTOR:  Sandra Winther
FEATURING:  Chris Brunet, Howard Brunet, Juliette Brunet, Mike Arceneaux

Mack Wrestles follows Texas wrestler Mack Beggs both before and after the high school wrestling tournament.  I’d be remiss if I did not mention WFAA sports anchor Dale Hansen.  The Hansen Unplugged clip makes an appearance here.  Both Erin Sanger and Taylor Hess do a good job at putting this documentary together.  While Mack Beggs may want to live his live, the attention that he faced in February 2017 and then again a year later will likely never leave.

DIRECTORS:  Erin Sanger, Taylor Hess
FEATURING:  Mack Beggs

Trans in America: Texas Strong is already available to watch on YouTube.  It’s a brief documentary on the Shappley family.  If you’re unfamiliar with their story, Kimberley Shappley delivered an emotional plea a few years ago during an Equality Texas press conference.  Her daughter, Kai, wasn’t allowed to use the girls’ bathroom at school because of her gender identity.  Shappley is a woman who used to identify as a Tea Party Republican.  Her beliefs changed when she realized her daughter is transgender.

I hope that more people watch these films from the ACLU–the entire three-film series is available on YouTube.  It’s not easy being transgender when you’re dealing with discrimination.

DIRECTOR:  Daresha Kyi
FEATURING:  Kimberly Shappley, Kai Shappley, Kaleb Shappley, Ashlynn Cox

Midnight Shorts

The Do It Up Date is a very brief short film that comes from the mind of comedian Josh Fadem.  This particular short comes from a short story that Fadem wrote.  It’s brief and to the point.  Kip (Josh Fadem) and Shayla (Bridey Elliott) go out on a date to a restaurant that only serves toilet paper.  How did these two get ready?  Well, it’s even more outrageous.  Kip places rocks in his underwear while Shayla draws genitalia on her face.  Absolutely absurd!  The two have worked together in the past so on-screen chemistry isn’t an issue here.

DIRECTORS:  Emily Ting and Andrew Barchilon
CAST:  Josh Fadem, Bridey Elliott, George Griffith, Kate Comer, Chris Nichols

How To Be Alone is the directorial debut for Souls of Totality co-writer and Stranger Things staff writer Kate Trefry.  The film focuses on Lucy (Maika Monroe) and what goes through her head when husband Jack (Joe Keery) leaves for work.  Lucy has a list of steps for what to do once Jack leaves.  Because this is a horror film, things do get quite a bit scary.  I won’t lie in that there were moments in which I had to look away because of a kitchen cabinet.  Outside of my own horror fears, it’s a solid directorial debut for Kate Trefry.

CAST:  Maika Monroe, Joe Keery, Ryan McFadden, Evan Miller

Bodega, and Lockdown screen in Narrative Shorts Program 2.  Stepdaddy and Milton screen in Narrative Shorts Program 3.  Lowland Kids and Trans in America: Texas Strong screen in Documentary Shorts Program 2.  The Do It Up Date and How To Be Alone screen in the Midnight Shorts program.  Mack Wrestles screens in the Texas Shorts Competition.  

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.