Every summer, the nonprofit San Francisco Frozen Film Festival hosts a variety of film screenings, ranging from virtual reality pieces to experimental shorts. The festival aims to provide a platform for independent filmmakers, youth and filmmakers from underserved communities. On Saturday and Sunday, the festival featured a series split into two parts and meant to highlight local filmmakers: “Bay Area Local Shorts.”
Hosted in the quaint, homey, fairy-light-decorated Roxie Theater, the screenings presented a mixed bag of content. And while it can be tempting to nitpick every short film, truthfully it is more edifying to appreciate the diverse voices and types of films presented. At this event, audiences are brought into the middle of these directors’ journeys of growth to recognize the potential these filmmakers have and cheer them on to continue traveling forward. The San Francisco Frozen Film Festival is opening gateways of opportunity for filmmakers by upholding the standard that everybody should have the joy of creating.
– Alison Church and Cameron Opartkiettikul
Bay Area Local Shorts, Collection I
The standout in this collection isn’t obvious from its semi-passable synopsis, which reads, “a day-in-the-life of a San Francisco comedian discovering and delivering a joke.” Mock epic “Cheaper Than Therapy,” directed by Kindrid Parker, follows a delightfully ordinary sequence of events detailing the supposedly grand preparation to formulate a joke — only to ultimately reveal how anticlimactic the process of creating content for stand-up comedy is. Contributing to this idea is the teasing and mocking tone of the original music composition, which conveys to the audience the ridiculousness of not only the joke-making process but also the comedian’s life. The storyline does hit a lull in the middle as it tries to decide where to go, but for the most part, it keeps to its wit and doesn’t waste time, putting intention in every scene.
“Firestorm” smoothly blends statistics and facts with the touching experiences of people impacted by disaster. After the October 2017 Wine Country Fires, retired fire industry worker Coby LaFayette took initiative and documented the perspectives of, as the program reads, “a fire ecologist, firefighter, daughter, and radio host” in order to bring more awareness to this tragic issue in California. The daughter shared a striking story about how she saved several people in the hospital before saving her mother, who encouraged her all the way through. During the Q&A, in hopes of adding to her documentary, LaFayette entreated anyone with footage of the fire to contact her at [email protected].
There were some films in the collection that stood out for the wrong reasons. “The Assassin’s Apprentice” follows the relationship between apprentice assassin Kaylee (Tarah Paige) and her mentor, Pete (Robert Picardo). The film is meant to segue into a formulaic blossoming of Kaylee becoming more in tune with herself. But in light of its consecutive, mind-numbing and unnecessary stunt shots, “The Assassin’s Apprentice” offers no rewarding content — except having the ingredients to be an amazing parkour commercial. Littered with an erratic array of techno music, poorly read lines and unappealing technological advancements, the film’s potential to tell a compelling story is squandered from the get-go. Before producing a sequel, as director Russ Emanuel mentioned he might in the Q&A, he should at least first acknowledge the crucial need for a maintained plot and direction.
Thomas Grascoeur’s “Swept Away” startles at first with its black-and-white layout and fast-paced headshots as a couple (Laura Galley and Henri Rizk) quarrels over their relationship with one another, as well as with a mysterious man. This builds into a seemingly normal breakup scene, with one partner’s desire for an adventure that Jake so conveniently provides, until the film twists the audience’s surmises by unveiling that Jake is a guide dog. Various other plot twists impel the audience to rewind the conversation and reevaluate the relationship. The cringingly cheesy script unfortunately doesn’t do these twists justice — but at least they elicit some deliberation and, more importantly, honor the experiences of blind people.
– Cameron Opartkiettikul
Bay Area Local Shorts, Collection II
“Callmeister” stood out for its originality and jumbled mood. The film is somewhat tonally inconsistent — a deliberate stylistic choice. Directed by freelance San Francisco-based videographer and photographer Sage Christian Drake, the film follows a young girl (Paige Laree Poucel) as she struggles with her telephobia, or fear of speaking on the phone. The cinematography is somewhat chaotic — it alternates between shots of the girl crying, rehearsing how to say “hello” to a pizza man on the phone and anxiously pacing around her house in a timelapse. This technique is meant to visually represent the disorientation of a panic attack, Drake said in an interview with The Daily Californian after the screening. At the same time, he said he also wanted to keep things light by combining his humor into the story. Fittingly, the ending of “Callmeister” received audience laughs, with the girl finally conquering her fear, ordering a pineapple pizza and letting out a satisfied burp to finish off the film.
The only animation that was featured in this collection was Claudia Cardia’s “Panas.” This film stands out for its heartwarming story, which revolves around a Sardinian myth surrounding panas, or women who die in childbirth. “Panas” opens with a newborn’s cry as her mother’s transparent spirit gracefully lifts out of her body. As per the myth, because dying during childbirth was seen as impure, the mother’s spirit must wash her newborn’s clothes in a river for seven years. The daughter allows her mother’s spirit to move on by washing the clothes in her place.
“Panas” is straightforward and loyally follows the myth on which it’s based. It tells a sad but beautiful story through simple animation and a neutral color scheme. During the Q&A at the event, Cardia said it took more than a year to direct and animate the film, which she did all by herself — “Animation is very time-consuming,” she said.
Short documentary “Uncle Frank’s House: An American Dream” blends filmmaker Kathy Drasky’s personal journey of searching for her great uncle’s former house with an informative history of the suffering city of Detroit. Viewers watch as Drasky navigates Detroit in search of the house, all while narrating historical tensions between black and white homeowners in the city. Drasky also includes interviews with Detroit locals, who emotionally touch upon how little the city is acknowledged by the rest of the United States.
Though Drasky’s subject matter is absorbing, the abruptness of music, dialogue and title screen transitions is noticeable. One audience member asked Drasky to summarize the film because they “didn’t understand what exactly happened.” Personal story and history could have been more smoothly weaved together in order to prevent this confusion.
The only short that told a fictional story with live action was “Last Call,” directed by Santa Barbara City college student Brent Buda. The film follows Gracie (Nell Geisslinger), who discovers her sister Sarah murdered in Sarah’s apartment.
There is certainly a twist to this story, which makes it compelling. But the dead facial expressions and monotonous concern for Sarah’s death expressed by a bartender (Mark Stancato) who originally appears innocent make this shift predictable. Nonetheless, this film by far had the most professional cinematography, making for a pleasant viewing experience — despite the fact that Buda wrote the thriller with a friend as a final project.
Overall, audience members seemed to find each film well worth their time. During the Q&A, one woman commented to the moderator, “You did an excellent job putting together a nice variety of different films; they all did a great job.”
The filmmakers were filled with love for their profession — and the Bay. Drasky gratefully stated in the Q&A that the best part about being a Bay Area-based filmmaker is the community’s support: “We are fortunate to live in a place where people support creativity, open-mindedness and critical thinking,” she said.
Supporting local artists will only help this loving community grow stronger; paying a visit to this film festival along with the many others out there will give a voice to the creative minds of the Bay Area.
– Alison Church