Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema brings short films to the big screen

ScreenerBlog

Outside of film festivals, it’s an infrequent thing to be able to see short films on the big screen. And that’s a shame, as shorts offer just as much quality and variety as their feature-length counterparts. New York’s Nitehawk Cinema is doing its part to get shorts on the big screen and in front of eyeballs with their Nitehawk Shorts Festival Selects program, kicking off its week-long run tonight.

The 91-minute program is made up of seven films from last year’s Nitehawk Shorts Festival. It was “a bit tough,” explains Nitehawk’s Director of Programming/Special Projects Caryn Coleman, to choose what from the festival would be included, as “we have so many incredible works in the festival each year.” Some shorts were award-winners, which made their inclusion obvious. Another criteria: that the Nitehawk Shorts Festival Selects program would reflect the diversity that Nitehawk finds so important, both in their mix of genres (documentary, horror, comedy, etc.) and in the POVs expressed by those behind the camera. Settings for the film range from Brooklyn to South Africa to the American South, and four of the seven films have a female director. It was important, notes Coleman, “that these films reflect cultural relevance and diversity.” And they all, she adds, have as an “overarching theme of searching for connection in this disconnected world we live in.”

Nitehawk’s home borough of Brooklyn is the setting for Saj Pothiawala’s Vegas, in which an insecure 20-something is stood up by his online date, only to be propositioned later in the evening by a sex worker dressed like a “Sailor Moon” extra. In fact, that’s Vegas’ (or “Vegas”’s) whole thing: catering to lonely nerds by offering to indulge in their Pokémon and videogame-oriented fantasies. It’s a funny enough premise, though there’s a whiff of Manic Pixie Dream Girl about the whole proceeding. Still, I never thought I’d hear someone say “I’ll ride your face like an Arcanine”—it’s a Pokémon thing—so all in all I have to say I’m glad I caught this one.

We’re over to the West Coast for Doron Max Hagay’s Vape, in which an uptight real-estate agent and a laid-back mechanic share a meet-cute via vaping. (Yes, it’s set in California.) Molly Hawkey is great in the former role, and those who enjoy taking the piss out of Los Angelenos should have a good laugh.

Vaping and real-estate deals aren’t exactly on the minds of Dahlia (Robyn-Leigh Lopez) and Cristina (Pianca Ramages), two bored teenage girls who break into strangers’ houses in Marysia Makowska’s Dahlia. Only, one of the strangers is still in the house, sparking unintended consequences for the two girls. Handsomely shot and featuring a stellar performance from Lopez, Dahlia should herald good things in the future for all involved.

Grace Rex and David Dastmalchian star in writer/director Rex’s Be Good, a slice-of-life drama about a young couple living in New York. It’s slight—just a handful of characters and locations—but well-written and emotionally authentic. Of the narrative films in Nitehawk’s shorts program, it’s one of my two favorites. The other is Catherine Fordham’s Consommé, in which a woman walks the streets of Brooklyn at night after having a fight with her boyfriend, and…hey, just watch it. It’s five minutes. A sharp, tense five minutes, capped off by a brutal “Hell yeah!” final-act twist.

Where the Nitehawk’s shorts program really shines is in its two docs, which serve as bookends. The subject matter of Ivete Lucas’ and Patrick Bresnan’s The Send-Off seems completely innocuous—a group of teenagers in small-town Florida go to prom. That’s really all there is: You see girls getting their makeup done, couples dressed to the nines posing for friends and family in front of flashy rented cars, teens familiar with being in front of smartphone cameras darting in front of the filmmakers’ lens to show off their dance moves. No talking heads, no explanation of who these kids are and what prom means to them. Yet it’s shot with such skill, with such an eye for detail and tiny, intimate moments worth capturing, that the final result is imbued with a real sweetness. Of all the films in the program, The Send-Off is the one that best makes the case for seeing short films on the big screen. It’s a beautiful film, shot with such carefully staged cinematic flair that for the first few minutes I couldn’t tell whether I was watching a doc or a narrative.

Nitehawks’ shorts program is capped off by my favorite entry, Dan Taberski’s These C*cksucking Tears, about Lavender Country, the first gay-themed album in country-music history. Songwriter, singer and guitarist Patrick Haggerty is a magnetic screen presence who evokes both pathos (as in a tearfully told story about an unexpected childhood confrontation with his father) and humor. “I wish I had a beautiful voice…oops.”

“The experience of seeing any film, feature-length or short, in a cinema is unparalleled,” argues Coleman. “And it’s important to give short films more of an opportunity to be seen in this type of setting. Short films are often only seen in cinemas during film festivals and on online platforms, so giving shorts a longer theatrical life allows them to not just be seen the way in which they were intended but to also give them an opportunity to engage with larger audiences.” Audiences outside New York will get a chance to see the Nitehawk Shorts Festival Selects program when it goes on the road, first to The Picture House in Pelham, New York (July 28), then to Chicago’s DePaul Art Museum in late September. More bookings are forthcoming; you can keep up-to-date by following Nitehawk on Twitter.