The Cinema Eye Honors kicked off the Camden International Film Festival today with their annual “Shorts List” announcement, naming the finalists for the 2014 Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking award. All ten will be screened later in the festival. Previous winners include Tim Hetherington’s Diary and Sergio Oksman’s A Story for the Modlins.
The award often feels like the antithesis of the Best Documentary Short category at the Oscars, honoring daring and experimental filmmaking over the less formally ambitious issue films beloved by the Academy. The ten shorts gathered here have played at many festivals and have already won a number of awards. I’ve seen five and I can report that they each more than deserve the attention.
I’ll start with the first one on the list, Foundry Night Shift by Steven Bognar. A five minute glimpse into the factory where Steinway Piano frames are made, it exploits the hypnotic potential of molten metal and the otherworldly atmosphere of red-hot industry. In a similar vein is Hacked Circuit, by Deborah Stratman. Instead of venturing into a piano factory, however, she takes her camera into a Foley stage where a sound artist is creating afresh the soundtrack from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. All in a single take, this is another quietly riveting film about artists at work.
Of course, tranquility is not the only thing honored here. One Year Lease, a comic memoir by Brian Bolster, plays with the loudest and most annoying of soundtracks: voice mails from a nosy New York City landlady. He pairs images of his apartment with this increasingly absurd monologue, saved over the course of an entire year of unwanted phone calls. Perhaps the funniest documentary short I’ve seen all year, I included it in my Top 12 Shorts of the Tribeca Film Festival over at Film School Rejects. Voice over is also used creatively by Peter Middleton and James Spinney in Notes on Blindness, a Malickian dramatization of the audio diary of theologian John Hull. Recreating both the outside images of the writer in his later years and the interior experience of losing sight is no easy task, here accomplished with expert use of light and water.
Finally, Lukasz Konopa’s Vegas is a film that only a European could make about the glitzy and morally suspect capital of American fun. Focusing on a struggling young crooner trying to get gigs, a man living in tunnels beneath the city after losing everything at the casinos, and an eviction officer, this is no celebration. Its desolation is not without reward, however. Its absurd juxtapositions and its brutal honesty make this one of the truest, most complex films about the United States to play in any cinema this year.
Here’s the full list:
Foundry Night Shift (United States)
Directed by Steven Bognar
Hacked Circuit (United States)
Directed by Deborah Stratman
Directed by Aneta Kopacz
The Lion’s Mouth Opens (United States)
Directed by Lucy Walker
Notes on Blindness (United Kingdom)
Directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney
One Year Lease (United States)
Directed by Brian Bolster
The Queen (Argentina)
Directed by Manuel Abramovich
Santa Cruz del Islote (United States)
Directed by Luke Lorentzen
Unlocking the Truth (United States)
Directed by Luke Meyer
Vegas (United Kingdom)
Directed by Lukasz Konopa