Over the course of the past eight years, the Charleston International Film Festival has been steadily gaining a foothold in the film community. This year's installment features 86 movies from all over the globe, including four from our fair state. Things kick off on Wednesday with a reception on John Street followed by a screening of Nick Sandow's The Wannabe, a Martin Scorsese-produced crime drama starring Vincent Piazza, Patricia Arquette, and Michael Imperioli.
But that's not all, Jay Silverman (co-creator of The Cleaner) brings us Girl on the Edge, a film about a young self-destructive woman, Hannah (Taylor Spreitler), who is sent away to an unconventional healing center in the wilderness. John Rowe's documentary, Omo Child: The River and the Bush, chronicles one young man's quest to convince his fellow tribes people to abandon their outdated beliefs and traditions, particularly curses. In Chicago-native Sam Kretchmar's Keep in Touch, a young man named Colin (Ryan Patrick Bachand) strikes up a not-so-coincidental relationship with Jessie (Gabbi McPhee), the sister of an old flame who passed away years before; as the relationship blossoms between them, it becomes increasingly difficult for Colin to reveal the true origins of their relationship as well as his true identity. The inspiring documentary Driving With Selvi tells the story of 18-year-old Selvi, a woman who is running away from an abusive marriage, and the remarkable changes she undergoes as she finds her voice and bucks social norms by learning to drive. Equally awe-inducing is Double Digits: The Story of a Neighborhood Movie Star. Director Justin Johnson follows the unconventional process and the back-story of 52-year-old Richard "R.G." Miller, an enthusiastic low-budget filmmaker, as he prepares for his latest epic film The Masked Man despite facing constantly challenging odds.
While these and other features, as well as several workshops for burgeoning writers, directors, and animators, are on the docket, the CIFF has become known just as well for its short film selections. I was afforded the opportunity to check many of the selections in advance. Below are the standouts.
One Armed Man
When a disgruntled employee visits his former cotton gin employer, C.W. Rowe, you feel the menace under the surface — clearly the titular character's mission to confront his former boss is not simply a dispute over money. The most striking thing about One Armed Man may very well be its intro, which drops viewers into the middle of a cotton gin in mid-operation. The opening sequence's tone haunts the rest of the film as the exchange between the two men grows. You know things won't end well, but thanks to the film's deft sound editing and the actors' commitment to their roles, you feel that teeth-clenching tension.
"It's not always the explosion that gets you, though. It's the debris," a co-worker mutters to Bobby (Mark Ashworth) during a quiet lunch break — fitting words for a film about a downtrodden man and his growing despair, prompted, in part, by the widening rift between him and his wife (Rachel Hendrix). Grape Soda doesn't offer Bobby an easy exit from his woes, but instead soaks him — and the viewer — in slow melancholy.
See You Soon
Like Grape Soda, the short See You Soon saunters as it raises questions about mortality, but it prefers to find sparkles of mirth in the macabre —and by macabre, I mean suicide. Having recently lost his wife, a widower tries to expedite his trip to the afterlife so he can be with her again. While the short is already quick and to the point with it's grim subject matter, it's given an extra load of quirk thanks to the film's electro-tinged soundtrack.
Sixteen-year-old Maddy (Molly McIntyre) lives alone with her sick grandmother in a rundown farmhouse off a highway in Texas and spends her non-caretaking time at the local roller rink. A classic misfit, Maddy meets an older charming stranger (James Gallo) and is immediately filled with a new sense of confidence. But little does she know how dangerous the man really is. This warped little treasure is the most rock'n'roll and thrilling short at CIFF.
Set before Paris' liberation from Nazi occupation, a man and woman meet in an underground tunnel as the chaos erupts above them. Juliet (Marion Kerr), an American resistance member, thinks she is leaving behind the tyranny and escaping Jean (Ross Marquand), a French resistance fighter, but then she encounters two German deserters. This romance of the highest order is peppered with a few gunshots and a somber violin here and there, plus a bone-breaking fight scene.
Carrying a present for his girlfriend, Adekunle Oduye (Kareem Farmer) is suddenly confronted by three undercover cops looking for someone who fits his description. When the film intentionally took it's abrupt turn to show how quick a beautiful moment can become ugly, I was admittedly ready for the worst. This is a short but powerful piece. And remember to stay through the credits.
Peanut Butter Jelly
This quick animated short about a group of jellyfish living on the coral reefs of the Philippines confronting a thieving pirate jellyfish is a pleasant Pixar-ish dessert thanks to the students of the Clemson University Digital Arts department.
The Man Who Fed His Shadow
A man claiming to be a magician attends a posh evening dinner party solely so that he can steal all the food from the table. He also makes the wacky claim that he is merely feeding his shadow. Is he for real? To expound further would ruin the magic of this short.
Seth (Logan George) likes to wear headbands. He also likes to apply lotion to his backside. And he counts a cadre of stuffed animals among his closest friends. However, there is one thing that he hopes to accomplish before the day is done: Impress his father. To accomplish that, Seth does all he can, however nutty it may be, to win dad's approval. Surprisingly, this is the only short to feature horse penises or posit that they are a way to bring father and son together.
Although Sam (Sam Lucas) can talk, whenever he's confronted with anything remotely nerve-wracking, he clams up, like when he's standing before his crush Emma (Clara Harte). While on a camping trip in the woods with a few friends and Emma, Sam is taunted by three cro-mags. There are words that Sam could utter but, he is reluctant to do so. What makes Hunter's Fall truly worthwhile is waiting for Sam to verbally slay the Goliaths before him.
La Boite (The Box)
As he stops in to pick up the rest of his belongings that are contained in a box, Guilliame (Gab Germano) and his ex Nathalie (Gabrielle Forcier) proceed to ruminate over all the things that drove them apart, including the 45-year-old professor she is currently dating. With the help of extreme edits that tease the viewer with crumbs of dialogue, the conversation becomes more intense and impassioned. As for what's actually in the box, that's something you'll be trying to guess the entire time.
Before The Bomb
A stripped down, downtrodden version of "The Great Pretender" plays as Elsa (Sterling Jerins) searches for nice clothes to disguise the very real poverty she and her brother (Jesse Dean Peterson) live with on a daily basis. The reason for the nice clothes: child services is coming to visit, and if things don't go well, Elsa could be separated from her younger brother. Even at a little over 23 minutes, it's amazing how this film can wring so much gut-wrenching emotion from a viewer.
When Pigs Swim
The Great Exuma is a chain of 365 islands that make up more than half of those found in the Bahamas. It has seen its share of celebs, but it has also become a habitat for a slew of pigs which are cared for on a daily basis — they even get fed mac and cheese! The history of how this all came to be is amazing enough, but, to be totally honest with you, the best part is just watching the pigs bob around in the water while steel drums play.