Review by Andrew Sweatman, Senior Editor at Arthouse Garage
The Tonkawa Film Festival featured an impressive and diverse block of shorts this year, with subjects ranging from corporate espionage and child bank robberies, to eldercare and domestic abuse. Many films brought intense emotion to the forefront while shining a light on social issues, and some managed to successfully hold comedy and drama in the span of just a few minutes. Here are just a handful of short film selections from the 2020 Tonkawa Film Festival:
Light My Fire
This dramatic short from writer/director Bobb Barito follows the confrontation and aftermath between a father and his daughter’s boyfriend, opening as the father character bursts angrily from his home and drives across town in a rage. This is a fairly straightforward story, but far from simplistic. Its nine minute runtime is filled with nuance and impressive directorial touches that cause this short to transcend its narrative and become a statement on a much larger issue: the uniquely American brand of domestic abuse that is all too prevalent in our society.
Through a carefully plotted climactic scene (which is also excellently edited and sound-designed), the lead character takes the audience through a series of sudden realizations and changes of heart, leading ultimately to a more full and empathetic picture of the situation at hand. In just a few short moments, the film manages to touch on many of the issues at the heart of the domestic abuse crisis: the cycle of abuse, deep nationalism, and toxic masculinity often co-mingle in abusive situations, and they all play into this impressive and moving short.
Gladys Brown (Winner- Best Comedy)
Lightening the mood a bit, director Chad Scarborough brought this comedic film about a woman passed over for a big promotion by her less experienced coworker, who may best her in business savvy but doesn’t contain an ounce of empathy or loyalty. This struggle plays out over the next 14 minutes as the titular Gladys deals with a toxic boss who doesn’t appreciate her, coworkers who ignore her, and a new employee that does nothing but use her.
Each of the major characters are incredibly well-developed for such a small amount of screen time, a testament to the screenwriting by Scarborough and Felecia Hunter. It’s a twisty corporate tale that has some big surprises and a great lead performance by Anna Maria Horsford as Gladys. Not content to sit by amidst workplace abuse, Gladys takes matters into her own hands in this darkly funny short that is equal parts hilarious and empowering.
This one is high-concept. Memio is a sweet little sci-fi short about a grandson helping his grandmother, but in a more universal sense it’s about overcoming fear. The grandmother in question suffers from severe memory loss, seemingly caused by Alzheimers or dementia. She forgets even basic details about loved ones and asks the same questions over and over, quickly forgetting the answer.
Her grandson visits her one day to set up her new Memio device. It clips onto her glasses and serves as an augmented reality display that reminds her about pertinent information as an AI voice speaks kindly to her. It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen Marvel superheroes use, but in this case grounded in reality and for a real-world use. Initially, the grandmother strongly resists this new technology, uncomfortable and afraid of it, but over time she gets used to it and sees real improvement in her life. This film is short and sweet in every sense of the phrase.
A Band of Thieves
Some filmmakers keep their influences hidden, while others, like this one, wear their inspirations on their sleeve. A Band of Thieves, directed by Fidel Ruiz-Healy, is like Bonnie and Clyde by way of Moonrise Kingdom if it was made by Quentin Tarantino. And the opening title sequence is straight out of Scott Pilgrim. Our Bonnie character is Josie, a young girl in Texas who is obsessed with the state’s history. After some trouble involving her brother, she steals a gun and a car and drives around the neighborhood robbing houses and banks with the boy who loves her. It’s a bizarre and stylish 15-minute ride.
A Band of Thieves manages to show off its influences without feeling derivative of any of them. What’s most impressive is that such disparate styles can come together into something that feels cohesive. Mixing Wes Anderson-style cinematography and dialogue with Tarantino’s editing and sound design seems like a terrible idea on paper, yet the finished product is a charming and funny piece of filmmaking that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Short films are unique for the way they distill an idea down into its purest form. These four films, like the best shorts, capture a burst of creativity and show off the skills of the artists behind them. From the impressive technical aspects of each film to the important social issues many of them are tackling, the directors of the 2020 Tonkawa Film Festival shorts are absolutely filmmakers to watch.