SXSW (or South by Southwest) is an annual gathering of film, music, interactive media, and other creative fields that has been going on since 1986. Because of COVID-19’s spread, this year’s SXSW gathering has been canceled. But one way the organizers are bringing the festival to our homes is through MailChimp hosting over fifty of the short films that were to be screened there. I will be spending April watching and reviewing every short film by category. Our first two screenings will be devoted to documentary shorts.
The Claudia Kishi Club (***)
Directed by Sue Ding
The Babysitters Club was one of those children’s lit phenomena in the 1980s/90s, a series of books detailing the misadventures of a group of girls collectively babysitting the children of Stoneybrook. This film is focused on Claudia Kishi, an Asian-American character who was one of a rare few to exist in popular media at the time. The interviewees are all Asian-American artists and creators who speak to how Claudia Kishi broke the stereotypes that were put in them by so many other outlets. I don’t have a personal love of The Babysitters Club, and I think if I had been a fan of those books, I would have liked this more. That said, it’s not bad, and the director does an excellent job of catching those unfamiliar up and showing the rippling influence of Claudia on these people.
Modern Whore (***)
Directed by Nicole Bazuin
Andrea Werhun is a former escort who shares stories about her experiences in this stylish and cheekily directed short. The “Modern” part is derived from Andrea’s insight on the growing culture of escort rating online. Entire message boards are devoted to patrons of these sex workers in metropolitan areas describing their encounters and assigning scores to the women. Werhun details how one review was full of embellishments and of a meeting that ended up as a form of sexual assault. I thought Werhun was a great interviewee, but Bazuin’s presentation often got in the way of the documentary’s narrative rather than enhance it.
Directed by Kevin Staake
I knew I recognized the tilt-shifted landscape of the bayside city in the first few frames of this short. Then I saw the caption “Bellingham, Washington,” my home from 2006-2007. The doc is focused on Abigail Goldman, a public defender whose hobby is making gruesome miniature dioramas based on crime scene photos. There is a mixture of horror and comedy in her work, a very dark sense of humor. I love all the stories implied by her work and how they are small, they are easy to miss them if you aren’t paying attention. The doc is very straightforward with interviews of Goldman and her family/friends intercut with shots of her art. It makes me want to see how much one of these costs to add to the art in my house.
Broken Orchestra (*****)
Directed by Charlie Tyrell
In 2007, Philadelphia had its public school music program budget cut from $1.3 million to $50,000 for the whole city. Through classic A/V cart televisions positioned around a school, we hear interviews from music educators and other citizens about how instruments were allowed to decay and break to the point they couldn’t be played correctly. To get the message out to the city of Philly, a Broken Orchestra is formed where students gathered and publicly performed using these instruments. The presentation here is fantastic and smart, with lots of background details related to what is being talked about. There is a great moment where we break the wall between the camera and televisions to have a very emotional moment with one of the interviewees.
Affurrmative Action (*****)
Directed by Travis Wood
While Travis Wood was looking to apply for a job, he noticed a disturbing trend on many company’s “Meet the Team” pages. There is a staggering lack of black and brown faces but always a dog or two or more present. With zero voiceover and minimal text commentary, Wood simply presents the audience with a series of “Meet the Team” pages and lets us soak in the astounding whiteness of corporate America. I think the presentation here is so smart and tight. The doc is short and to the point, gets its point across and concludes. There’s a sense of humor, so it doesn’t drift into preachiness but still sends a message.