The 2021 Long Distance Film Festival continued with a series of shorts loosely compiled under the umbrella of the ‘Present’. Any sort of blanket categorization would have been folly to describe the rich compilation from such diverse filmmakers with distinct voices, but these films do touch on the concerns of modern times, especially in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, in wildly creative ways.
A good number of these films were experimental in ways that seem to be limited by environmental and economical concerns but were still packed with inventiveness. We witness the Sisyphean struggle of a seagull trying to pick up a piece of food in ‘IMG_3505.MOV’ in a state of voyeurism typical of social media, or the cyclical nature of time itself in ‘Time’. Films like ’Press Pound to Connect’ and ‘Neko’ seem to comment on frustrations worsened by the pandemic. ‘Press Pound’ features a collage of old images of forms of communication (landline phones and the like) with the sounds of dial-up Internet providing a telling soundtrack as if to observe the difficulty of meaningful communication even when such things like Zoom exist. ‘Neko’ takes the pet video and turns it into a kaleidoscopic visual and aural assault – the furthest thing from instant gratification that we usually seek from such content. Perhaps the boldest and most opaque is ‘I’ve Said and Done Things that No-one Will Ever Remember Volume VI’, a very personal and reflective piece in which a man reflects in half-mumbling quasi-Beat poet fashion on the women he has had sex with and the art that he has created.
The experimental spirit continues in the animated shorts. While shorts like ‘Interdimensional Pizza Pushers,’ ‘My Dear Quarantine’ and ‘Flying Turtle’ were either quirky or even gentle, especially in the case of ‘Flying Turtle’ where a girl’s picture of a turtle holding on to a fishing net goes viral, the other animated films were not afraid to delve into some deeply personal and existential issues. In ‘Existing is a Bitch RN’, primitive animations with deliberately robotic performances give voice to the creator Hannah King Bosnian’s deepest concerns about anxiety and loneliness. The images could have made this film annoyingly self-deprecating if Bosnian’s words weren’t so emotional and unrestrained. ‘1 Bottle of Wine’ takes the simple conceit of animating creator Anne Isensee’s emotional journey as she downs a bottle of wine. She eventually lays bare her fear of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it might affect her loved ones. While she is understandably emotional and fearful, the animation style provides a wry counterpoint that is a sign of the author’s self-awareness and sense of humor. Finally, ‘Forever’ takes something as mundane as the failure to get life insurance into a meditation on mortality and death that finds a strange solace in the knowledge that digital imprints of people grant an immortality of their own. ‘Forever’ is animated in a pointillistic, digital style to reflect the liminal nature of this mortality and fits the message perfectly.
Three of the narrative films took the limitations of the pandemic and ran with them in wildly varying directions. ‘Please Enjoy your Stay’ is a Kafkaesque portrait of a musician stuck in a hotel room and is constantly needled by the staff and unseen authorities to pump out content, no matter how trite and unfinished it is. Characters speak in buzzwords and the film clearly references the ephemeralness instituted by a world dominated by social media, but in a frantically fun and heightened manner. ‘A Quiet Declaration of Independence’ dares to make the beloved holiday of Christmas into a mundane chore that is tied down by material expectations, as symbolized by the frequent shots of the actress bound by Christmas lights. And ‘Salt’ takes a conversation between a wealthy man and a delivery boy and explores the dynamic between the two, which goes from awkward to threatening to potentially homoerotic in an almost whiplash fashion while remaining coherent narratively.
The final and longest film of the collection is ‘Peeps’. We see the dynamics of a clique of teenage schoolgirls hanging out at a shopping mall explored with the expected tensions between superficial and real. After one of the girls deliberately makes a point of giving one of her friends the briefest of hugs while the other friends receive long, warm embraces, the snubbed friend deliberately goes on a tirade of backstabbing gossip. All of these actions are commented on by a bizarre Greek chorus of birds, whose peeps and chirps are translated into hilariously ornate language that not only pontificates on their own mortality but on the most cutting of truths about each of the girls, such as how the offending hugger has an imaginary boyfriend. ‘Peeps’ ends with a hilarious bit of characterization that acts as a redemption for the pariah of this group, one that must be seen to be believed and is a bizarre yet fitting end for this collection of films.