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What the Berlinale Shorts have to offer
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

One of my favorite sections is the short films program which this year received a new name: Berlinale Shorts as well as a new logo. It is one of those under-budgeted categories which could definitely use a lounge, like the children’s sections, which would give you accessibility to the directors of these short but creative films. The short film section is also important since it often reflects the current trends and shows how society is changing.

This year there were several films dealing with gay themes like the American film Traces by Racheal Zisser where a young man dies and his father finds out that he was a cross dresser after meeting his boyfriend or B theme, a Russian film by Olga Popova which shows how a Russian Lesbian couple lives in a small apartment and talks about the difficulties they face in their society with their chosen lifestyle. The film is black and white and done in very tight quarters where the audience intimately experiences how these women feels about life and their struggles. This film was banned in Russia due to its content but won the DAAD Short Film Prize.

 The films range from three to 25 minutes and cover every theme possible. It was interesting to learn that some films were like a private diary in attempts to find new directions in life like RGB XYZ by David O’Reilly from Ireland which was about a robot looking for a new line of work. O’Reilly apologized for the rough language used in the film. He said that he had made the film several years before when he desperately wanted to change jobs and had forgotten what he had said in his film. He received special mention for a contemporary gesture in animation with a nasty sense of humor. I am sure he had to apologize again upon receiving that award. Julius Onah, an American living in Hamburg, got the idea for Szmolinsky from an article about two pairs of giant rabbits being sent off to North Korea as breeding pairs that would feed the starving people there. In reality the government had a great feast and ate them and still the people had not enough food.

The beach was another recurrent theme but used in very different ways. In Superficie (Surface) by Rui Xavier from Portugal a man wants to drown himself. As he swims out to sea he changes his mind but has aleady gone too far, almost into another dimension. From out of nowhere comes a boat covered with a blue tarp and a hand pulls him in the boat. He is faced with African men who are trying to enter the country illegally. The film seems to symbolize a bridge between his despair and their will to survive and this film won a Special Mention as well. Ozi buna de plaja (A Good Day for a Swim) by Bogdan Mustata also was filmed quite spontaneously. Three criminal delinquents kidnap a prostitute and a man in a van and bring them to the beach to go swimming. It is a brutal moment but in the end the kids marry the couple in an act of forgiveness for what current society has done to the children of Romania. It was interesting to know that these three boys had actually spent time in jail and in the film their emotional anger still lies on the surface. The film is so well done that the images are unnerving as well as disturbing. This film won The Golden Bear Award without question.

The Silver Bear went to Udedh bun by Siddhardth Sinha (India) for its modern narration which I unfortunately did not see. One of the more touching short films was Three of Us, a film that highlighted the life of a handicapped man in India. Umesh Kulkarni showed with honor and respect the optimistic way that a family of three lived despite the son being severely handicapped. He truly caught the deeper sense of life by filming a simple day in this family’s life. Kulkarni said that he has just begun his film career. Coming from India, a country that makes the most films in the world, one would think that there would be a space for short films but normally films are three hours long. His feature film just previewed at Rotterdam but he said honestly this film means more to him. He said he will have to make his career in feature films but that the extra money will always go to his first love: the short film.

My all time favorite was an Irish film Frankie by Darren Thornton. It was direct and quick witted. Frankie is a young, working-class, teenaged boy who, throughout the film, is wheeling a baby buggy and explaining to the audience his views on fatherhood. He explains that he is about to become a young father and even shows us the girl who will be the mother. He then reiterates on the love and responsibility that is required to raise a baby. Then, at some point, he leaves the buggy behind and joins the other teenagers. It was nice to talk to the crew who made this film. They said they were part of an a Actors’ Guild which taught acting to young people who would not normally get the chance to learn this and then put on performances of the characters that they develop. They said that Frankie was a character that was developed from one of these workshops. They were a very inspiring group and this film took the Prix UIP Award in hopes that Thornton will continue this work.