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Microwave Time Machine (Indy Shorts)

Microwave Time Machine

I got a chance to check out six of the Indy Shorts International Film Festival films on opening night July 26 at the IMA at Newfields. The films were all part of the Shorts Program “Indiana Spotlight 2,” featuring films either filmed in Indiana or involving Indiana filmmakers.

Speaking for myself, I’ve seen a superabundance of short clips on YouTube as of late. Much of what I’ve seen has been utterly forgettable. And I’ve consumed much of it (cat videos, film trailers etc..) while washing dishes, writing articles, or lying awake in bed. But the short films on view at this festival, whatever the genre, are actual films with actual beginnings, middles, and ends.

The short film has been around for as long as there has been film, and you don’t have to look around to find some undeniable masterpieces like the French science fiction film La Jetée.

Still, the short film genre sorta gets short shrift at the multiplexes.

(I was, however, pleased to see Bao, a Pixar short film that played before The Incredibles 2 when I saw it a couple of weeks ago with my daughter.)

Seeing a total of six films, a small fraction of the festival films on view, I got the sense that this film fest offers more than $25,000 in awards over multiple genres—was helping the short film genre is coming into its own.

The Spotlight Program began with Microwave Time Machine in which a young scientist figures out how to transport items back in time in a beat-up microwave. How would you feel if it was 1985 and you were just about to boil water for your Sanka and you find almond milk in your microwave. Then a fidget spinner. Then an iPhone.  Something like that would probably ruin my breakfast.

Up next was Mabingwa, which translates from the Swahili to English as champions. The film focuses on four young Kenyans—two of them from a Nairobi slum—who get a chance to go on a Safari.  The 37-minute film also focuses on Kenya’s daunting environmental problems, stemming from Kenya’s explosive population growth, set to double in 25 years, and its fragile environment. While striking a relentlessly hopeful tone reminiscent of The Lion King  it provides an excellent overview of Kenya’s unique variety of environments, an honest assessment of its environmental challenges,and a brief look at the daily challenges that slum inhabitants face on a day-to-day basis.   

Momentum is a much shorter film (six minutes) that also focuses on keeping young people engaged in society was filmed much closer to home, right here in Indianapolis.  The subject is soap box racing, where young city residents get a chance to apply skills to racing that will eventually help them in their careers, whatever careers they choose. Hopefully, they’ll consider the Indy 500!

If you grew up in Indy anytime between the 1980s and the 2000s and you read The Indianapolis Star, you will have come across articles by Y-Press and its forerunner The Children’s Express in its pages. Teams of young journalists aged 10-18 covered issues ranging from gang violence to immigration policies and their work frequently wound up side-by-side with that of Indy Star reporters. It’s clear in the interviews with former reporters, that the lessons they learned in the program helped them in their subsequent careers.

Sadly, the program, hobbled by a lack of funding in the wake of the Great Recession, shuttered its door for good in 2012. The good news is that the archives of the program are now being digitized and will be available to future generations of teachers and student reporters.

The former director of Y Press, Lynn Sygiel, was on hand at the opening screening, and I asked her about the impact of the program.

“It took kids with curiosity, kids who had skills, kids who didn’t have skills and let them run with their curiosity but it taught them how to form questions, formulate a story idea and tell that story,” she said.

The story told by the animated feature A Drawing, in just black and white, is a powerful one.  Focusing on the relationship of a boy to his mother—who is not on hand when she dies in her hospital bed—it is a beautifully told and beautifully animated tale. And the score, a stellar piano track by Indianapolis jazz musician Mina Keohane, fits beautifully with the emotionally-charged tale.    

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Jenni Berebitsky with family and friends

Jenni Berebitsky with family and friends

Speaking of emotionally charged, the documentary Grateful about Jenni Berebitsky—an Indianapolis woman diagnosed with ALS five years ago—shows the devastating toll the illness has taken on her body. But it also shows how she has managed to keep a sense of humor over all this time as well as a sense of dignity.

The most powerful moment in the film just might be where you see talking about a conversation that she had with her son about how the disease had taken a turn for the worse, and how she might not be around all that much longer. While being severely limited in the ability to speak, she manages to make audience members laugh and cry at the same time. The emotion of the film showing was heightened on the film fest’s opening night by the presence of Berebitsky and her family, and Berebtisky’s presence afterward at the Q&A session.    

For the record, there were seven films in the program, but I missed the seven-minute long Chain-Stitched: The Work of Jerry Lee Atwood, about one of the nation’s premiere designers and fabricators of western wear.  Let’s just say, this is what happens during a short film festival when you have to use the bathroom.

Anyway, if you think you might like all of these films to see them all together, you still have a chance. On Sunday, July 29, the Indiana Spotlight 2 program will be repeated at the IMA at Newfields at 7:45 p.m.  But check out the other programs here, and the other many, many other short films available and see what appeals to you.

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Arts Editor

Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.