WWSFF 2009 Wrap-Up

After getting off to a bit of a rocky start – day one at the Cumberland was a mess, organization-wise – the festival ran smoothly (if damply, due to rain) and I saw a wide-ranging spectrum of films. Some were great, some were boring, some were weird and some were really pushing the “short” part of “short film.” Thankfully, none were awful.

I will admit that I am biased when it comes to shorts. I love it when they really are short — if you can tell a great story in five minutes, bravo to you! – and I tend to enjoy just about any animated offerings.

Due to assorted work commitments, I wasn’t able to attend as many screenings as I did in 2008 or 2007. What I’m most bummed about is missing the always-hysterical “Accidentally Funny” program, which features educational and/or instructional shorts from decades gone by. Those are priceless.

Having said all that, below are the 10 films I enjoyed most this year, listed in alphabetical order:

Alter Ego (dir. Cedric Prevost) Two people (Christine Farenc and Jeremy Azencott) who met through an online-dating site have their first in-person encounter in this beautifully shot and thoughtfully executed drama about preconceived notions and the perils of allowing your heart to be free.

Balloon Tunes 1 (dir. Matilda Tristram) Not everything has to be a brilliant, thought-provoking piece… which is why I totally lurved this fantastically silly and stupid (which I mean in a good way!) one-minute musical effort.

Buddies (dir. Louis-Alexandre Martin) What is the cost of mental illness? That’s the question that’s answered in this unexpectedly moving drama featuring a once-lauded puppeteer explaining his downfall… through his long-silenced puppet.

How To Be Alone (dir. Andrea Dorfman) Simple, poignant and quietly comforting, this music-and-poetry meditation on solitude and what it means to be alone in today’s society was probably the best of the fest for me.

The Kinda Sutra (dir. Jessica Yu) Cute and funny documentary where assorted adults discuss the hilarious things they once believed (as children) about “where babies come from.”

Oktapodi (dir. Julien Bocabeille, François Xavier Chanioux) It’s no surprise that this adorable, whimsical animated film, about a pair of love-struck octopi, earned an Oscar nomination. It was terrific.

Sand (dir. Joost Van Ginkel) Narrative shorts can be challenging, because it can be difficult to elicit emotional reactions in under 30 minutes. But this finely crafted Dutch offering packs a punch in 22 with its moving story of a working-class father (Jack Wouterse) struggling to rescue his young daughter from his abusive ex-wife. Totally made me weep.

Suspension (dir. Nicolas Provost) Normally, I’m not a fan of “experimental” films, but this one was so stunningly gorgeous that it sucked me right in. It blends mirrored images of exploding clouds of smoke (?) and the resulting images are freakishly fascinating… namely because you can almost see human forms in each and every one. Loved it.

Token Hunchback (dir. Tim Reckart) In this comic, stop-motion short, a beleaguered, hunchbacked actor laments his career as he shoots a horror film. Cute and clever.

And, of course…

Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (dir. Nick Park) Not surprisingly, this latest Aardman Animation short is just as fun and funny as its heroes’ previous outings. This time, the bumbling inventor and his canine best pal find themselves at odds with a serial killer knocking off bakers one by one. Charming, as usual.

[By contrast, the one film that sticks out in my mind for all the wrong reasons – namely, because it scared the crap out of me – was Pencil Face, a freaky, nightmarish and surreal tale of a girl and a giant grinning pencil. Don’t believe me? See for yourself. *shudder*]

From all accounts, WSFF 2009 was a success. I’ll post the award winners as soon as the press release is posted on the fest’s official website.

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