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Manhattan Short Festival

Every year at the Academy Awards, the short film category comes up and we couldn’t care less. That’s because we haven’t seen those films, or even heard of them. Bloomington is about to get a chance to redress that situation.

The Manhattan Short Festival was originally held once a year in Manhattan, on screens erected in the park. It has now expanded to 37 cities. The vision of Nick Mason, the festival’s founder, is to build a network that bypasses the studios. The festival will be shown once a month through May at the Buskirk Chumley Theater.

This Sunday brings a special selection of award-winners made for under $2,000, and films that launched careers. One computer animated cartoon, called Bunny, generates adult emotion and character. You can tell the director, Chris Wedge, has got the goods. Sure enough, he went on to make the big budget animated features Ice Age, and next week’s Robots.

Some films thrive on the rigors of the short form. There’s a sly tale called Lucas, about a sneaky boy who one-ups his father. Shy Guy is shot from the point of view of a man who witnesses a bank robbery. He is so scared he refuses to move. What happens to him gets wilder and funnier all the way through the end credits. Crazy Glue, which cost about five cents to make, is a stop motion-animated film about a marriage that’s coming apart. Its characters and dialogue are weird, but they have weight.

One definition of a director is: a person who gets the money to make a film. Some of these films were obviously made as calling cards to get their directors work. Some are very polished. With no money, they are testaments to the hustle of their makers.

I was fascinated to find that the most polished films were the worst. Keys of Life looks like a feature film, but has feet of clay. The Right Hook is about a shy virgin trying to pick up a woman at a bar. It’s offensive, crass, and un-funny. The director went on to make The Animal and The Girl Next Door. Surprise! They were offensive, crass, and un-funny. Then again, if I had to choose between art without craft and craft without art, I might go for craft.

One film rises to the top. Walking with Walken is a mockumentary about a loser standup comic. This "man of a thousand voices" can really only do one impression: Christopher Walken. Man, he has Walken down. But the constant channeling gets old, then sad. Finally, our smiles freeze as we realize: this young man is disturbed. It’s an eerie film, worth the price of admission alone.

We should stop complaining that the Von Lee is gone, and support the Buskirk Chumley. At the Manhattan Short Festival, on Sunday night, you will see the passion of those driven to make art. You will also see the hackwork of those whose only passion is the art of the deal. Above all, you will be entertained by a medium with limitless potential: the short film.

This and other theater and music reviews are available online at Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.

Peter Noble Kuchera

Originally from Columbus, Indiana, Peter moved to Bloomington in 1998. He completed four years of film study at the University of Minnesota and two years of film production in the Film Cities in St. Paul. He began reviewing movies for WFIU in 2003 and began producing on-air fundraising spots for WTIU in 2006. In 2008 he received a second place award for Best Radio Critic at the Los Angeles Press Club’s First Annual National Entertainment Journalism Awards in 2008. Peter passed away suddenly on June 8, 2009.

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