The shorts were already my favorite part of the festival, but now there's a reason to respect them even more: The Florida Film Festival is Oscar-accredited in all three major shorts categories (live action, animated and documentary) for the first time. Fewer than 20 festivals worldwide have accreditation in all three, and no other Florida festival has any type of Academy accreditation.
The only two programs of the 11 shorts blocks at this year's FFF that I've seen in their entirety are Shorts Program No. 2: "Ashes to Ashes" and the documentary shorts program, "6 x Real: Where Are We Now?" "Ashes to Ashes" is a must-see, a mind-expanding, consequential program that's among the best the festival has offered in recent years. (It's for adults only, as it contains graphic violence and simulated oral sex.) And, befitting the David Bowie-inspired title, alternating threads of death (or some other life-changing event) and absurdism run through every short.
That doesn't mean all eight of its films are winners. For instance, Other People's People thinks it's a feature, introducing more characters and plots than it can handle; Los Niños Sicarios struggles to convey its message; and Savasana – well, you'll just have to decide for yourself whether its brand of absurdism is for you. All three deserve 2 stars (on our zero-to-5 scale).
The other five selections in "Ashes to Ashes" prove just how powerful short film can be. Florence (3 stars) is a horror film about the dangers of overmedication and wrongful diagnoses, while Tail (3 stars) is a charming and unique examination of a physically challenged nerd's quest for love. Absurdism tinges Tail but goes full tilt in My Last Film (4 stars), a cleverly meta-theatrical examination of film itself.
The program saves the best for last. Black Swell (4 stars), starring the incomparable Richard Kind, again looks at death, but in a moralistic, almost poetic way, while Thunder Road (4 stars), which won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, teaches that grief comes in all forms, even ridiculous ones, thanks to a terrific performance by writer-director Jim Cummings.
The documentary shorts are just as good. The Tricks List and Traffic Stop (both 2 stars) don't reach their full potential, but the other four are stellar. And though The Trials of Constance Baker Motley and The 100 Years Show (both 4 stars) are top-notch, my favorite is I Am Yup'ik (5 stars), a stunningly human look at how basketball unites a tiny Alaskan community. It's the Hoop Dreams of short films.
Among the other shorts programs, Pickle (4 stars) is a stand-out. Preceding Newman, the short doc is devoted to animals who need a little help to survive – who are in, well, a pickle.
If you're into potty humor, there's Killer (3 stars, from Shorts Program No. 3: "Young Americans") – perhaps the best short film ever about masturbation – and, from the animated program, T.P. (3 stars), about actual potties. Also from the animated block is The Loneliest Stoplight (3 stars). Animated by Bill Plympton and narrated by Patton Oswalt, the film, which some might remember from this year's Oscar Shorts program, is simple and not as edgy as Plympton's usual fare, but it has more than its share of heart.
As good as many of the aforementioned films are, nothing can prepare you for a selection from the "Let's Deutsche: New German Shorts" program: Till Nowak's Dissonance, a jaw-dropping blend of animation and live action that is pure cinematic genius. It's not just the best film of the festival (features included) – it's the best short film I've ever seen.
"You cannot talk about art," says Carmen Herrera, the subject of The 100 Years Show. "You have to art about art." With that in mind, I'm done talking. Now go see these films.