The programming of a shorts block is one of the ways for an artistic director to really show his or her stuff; creating a common thread out of four or five or six disparate movies can be both fun and tricky. Consider the four choices for “Border Crossings” at Silverdocs this year: “La Caminata,” “Nutkin’s Last Stand,” “Leavenworth, WA,” and “Wagah.”
On the surface, there’s little connecting these four shorts. They are, in order, about a town that simulates illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, the decline of the red squirrel in Britain and the rise of the American gray, a town in Washington state that has modeled itself on Bavaria, and the only checkpoint on the Indian-Pakistan border. Thematically, however, you begin to notice the similarities more than the differences: What are the lengths we go to in order to keep our identities and our peoples apart from each other? How artificial are those identities?
A good short program is the key to any festival, because festivals are essentially the only place you can find short films. There’s no national market for shorts, no distributors putting shorts blocks in your local AMC or Regal multiplex. It’s a shame, because the short film is a fantastic artform, a great way to touch on a narrow topic without beating said topic into the ground by extending it to 80 or 90 untenable minutes.
Of course, some filmmakers can make any subject untenable: “Leavenworth, WA” is one of the few total misses I’ve seen thus far at Silverdocs. Director Hannes Lang has taken a subject that could have been interesting — a town searching for an identity of its own to spur economic development — and made it as boring as possible, punctuating brief interviews with long, lingering camera shots that just destroy any momentum the picture has managed to build up. 29 minutes of 20-30 second long shots of people standing outside of their houses is about 25 minutes too many.
“La Caminata,” “Nutkin’s Last Stand,” and “Wagah” more than made up for “Leavenworth, WA,” however. You can catch all four tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.