Featured Animated Short: Life with Herman H. Rott

In a world saturated with new technologies, constantly changing the playing field within the animation industry, it’s refreshing to find something that not only resembles a style of ole but also offers a charming story and set of personalities that feel vaguely reminiscent of TV characters from my youth. Like an odd couple vying for the most annoying spot in each others’ lives, "Life with Herman H. Rott" gives us a rat-cat music loving duo that are anything but normal. Herman is a black rat, large and in charge - a dirty, rough-edged smoker with a penchant for rock music. One day, a quite clean little classical music loving white cat, dainty and meticulous, waltzes through his door with everything she owns, changing his entire world. A battle of space, music, personality and dominance plays out, resulting in an animalistic comedy of errors battle that builds up until it explodes in a very human way. Maybe rat and cat are not so different from each other or from us, eh? Hand drawn on paper and shot with a photo camera, all of the coloring here was done digitally, giving the animation a sort of mid-century, cyan faded film look. There’s a dreamy edge to the film - everything communicated with music and their dueling styles. In that way, the soundtrack is a third character, bringing life to our two characters and filling the void between them with something a human audience can connect with. Something else humans can understand? Well, according to Estonian filmmaker Chintis Lundgren, the rat and cat are stand-ins for how humans function in unhealthy relationships, seeking out the bad guys, forcing them to change, and then moving onto the next challenge when there’s nothing left to manipulate. The nice guys finish last, isn’t that what they say? What doesn’t finish last is this film. A pure gem and true winner deserving of all the medals and accolades it has earned on the festival circuit and online. A funky little animation with a heart of gold and an unexpected ending well worth checking out!  

Featured Short Doc: THE CAROUSEL

I’m not sure what it is about B&W films that give me that unsettling yet familiar, soothing feeling after watching. I start feeling slightly unhinged during the viewing process - at once freaked out but at ease. I get this hyper-awareness regarding what cinema actually is. A recording of moments past. Little ghosts forever cemented on celluloid (or more like digital bits and bobs these days). So color me all shades (no pun intended) of emotional instability (but mostly the shade of thrilled) when I watched Jonathan Napolitano's festival favorite “The Carousel”. A short documentary that covers carousel art, a small town in New York and….the Twilight Zone?! Yeah, you heard right. Situated in the small town of Binghamton, NY, is a carousel from 1925...but not just any standard issue merry-go-round. This is one that once inspired the legendary Rod Serling and has since become a portal into something far beyond normal! Don't worry. There's nothing overly eerie about this film. It has an honesty to it and is quite the whimsical concoction of stories. A pinch of childhood nostalgia and a dash of talking television history gives birth to a lovely, low-key profile doc on Rod Serling's life via a carousel in New York. Serling, creator of the forever popular TV show "The Twilight Zone", was from Binghamton, sure, but what does the restoration efforts of an almost 100 year old ride there have to do with any of this? Well, when artists Bill Finkenstein and Cortlandt Hull decided to dedicate the carousel's panel art to Serling in order to honor the local, iconic episodes from the notorious series became relevant - including a memorable one titled “Walking Distance". This particular episode features an overworked career man that visits his hometown and pursues his younger self on a carousel, wanting so badly to tell the boy how important it is to cherish his youth. The storyline echoes Serling's own passion for nostalgia and childhood. The carousel in Binghamton served as massive inspiration for this television homage to saying goodbye to the past and moving on. From the childhood beauty and elegance of a wooden horse spinning in circles forever to the story of human finiteness - the irony is hard-hitting. But you can't deny the magic of such an existence, which is a theme often seen in "The Twilight Zone" and is definitely found in Napolitano's short film tribute: one that is, at once, painfully aware of the past while also continuing to hold onto those memories in the present (ala the presence of Serling's own daughter in the film, Anne). A time capsule or time machine - that's what you will find in "The Carousel". It's all up to how you interpret it. So, what are you waiting for? Take a haunting spin on a merry-go-round in B&W and feel that unsettling yet soothing struggle I often have when escaping into a monochromatic world on film. As I was, you too will be rewarded.  

Maria's Pick: Lil Dicky's PILLOW TALKING ft. Brain

Most definitely not your regular music video (really: don't watch it at work!). If the explicit sex scenes make you uncomfortable (although trust me, you haven't seen an intercourse shot quite like this ... and in Matrix style! ... though you might remember this Megaforce wackiness) feel free to ffw to 40s in where the love ends and the 'war' (a.k.a talk) begins. The witty rap lyrics are brilliantly lip-synched and so awesomely complimented by the occasional animations. The debate escalates (in a bizarre way!) quite naturally and what's so great about it is that it transcends 'pillow talk' and manages to depict conversations we might easily find ourselves having as well - whether online, with colleagues or people we have just been introduced to. The animated Brain, disregarded in the course of the action (as it's often the case in such contradictory talks), is left stating it needs to poop. And this might very well be the most adorable thing you've heard all day!  “Pillow Talking” is not the first collaboration between Dave Burd (Lil Dicky) and director Tony Yacenda. Though sharing a series of similarities with the four previous works between the two, "Pillow Talking" definitely ups things a notch being much more complex, cinematic and overall more similar to a short film rather than a regular music video. So embrace its uniqueness and enjoy the chit chat! 

  About Maria: "Multimedia in Human Form. Media researcher. Journalist. Filmmaker. PR and Social Media Mind. Cinephille. TV Shows aficionado. Books Lover. Music Video guru and former curator of the project"

Featured Animation: HATE FOR SALE

Every so often I come across a short film that I will silently pass on to my fellow film loving friends. Key word: silently. I don’t need to try to sale the film or wax poetic about this or that, over using filmic language with my signature heavy-handed verbosity. No, sometimes I come across a true gem that doesn’t require my word vomit explanations. It takes just a simple: “Watch this. Trust me.”  This is exactly what I did after watching Anna Eijsbouts’ stop-motion cut out animation “Hate for Sale”. Created for the 2017 Visible Poetry Project using an original poem by Neil Gaiman, this short manages to sum up the world we live in, in just under 3 minutes. Eijsbouts’ chaotic, multi-colored style mixed with Gaiman’s honest text creates sheer, gorgeous magic. It’s cruel, unique, and brutally true. It’s beautiful and arresting. The harsh words about the state of society and our sadly inherent lust for hatefulness in contrast with narrator Peter Kenny’s theatrical yet comforting voice and the film's visual puppet master controlled carnival-esque world is pretty much perfect in a way you have to watch to totally grasp. Just a few days before discovering this film, I spent a morning at a puppet theater. It was like disappearing into a totally different world, full of strings and illusions. Like the 20+ other 3-year-old audience members, I was entranced, fooled even. Now, after a few viewings of “Hate for Sale”, I feel like I finally get it. I see the control that societal expectations have over us. It took a 2.5 min short and a Park Slope puppet theater to truly open my eyes. We all need to cut some strings.  So, yes, it seems I’ve run away again with my words! Neil Gaiman himself tweeted that he watched and “was floored”. And that’s enough for me. Just: Watch this. Trust me.  

Over on Indie Street, we are definitely familiar with the fact that with new advancements in technology come new exciting forms of film and storytelling entertainment. But it’s not just films that are evolving - it’s the marketing and advertisement worlds as well. Take one of the newest commercials to hit the market: Sherwin-Williams. Sure, it’s hard to imagine a paint company dropping one of the most mind-blowing commercials of the year, but they’ve sure done it. The best part of their new commercial entitled “Epiphany”? Absolutely no CGI was used to create the jaw-dropping, trippy effects. All that was used was water, paint, a robotic arm and a Phantom camera. Technology in its purest form (just equipment essentially) leads to beautiful effects that will transport you to a multi-colored world of pillow-like clouds of paint. Jump in head first, watch the commercial, and then head over to No Film School to get a sneak peek at some amazing behind the scenes production stills and footage.  

Featured Short: The Lovable "123... You Please."

Many things come in threes: good stuff, deaths, triplets. It’s all about the “rule of three” - a magically (and literally) odd yet satisfying number. A wise owl once said it takes 3 licks to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop. See, magic.  You know what else is magic? Josh Close’s new short “123… You Please.”, a story that gives the number 3 a whole new meaning. We follow a blue-haired, perpetually frustrated Jesse as she struggles to maintain the normal routine of her daily life while also navigating her severe OCD. Her stability comes from rituals based around the number 3. But with a recent break up leaving her emotionally bruised and her OCD out of control, will a new and accepting relationship not only save her from that triple-doomed spiral but also help her learn self-acceptance in the face of insecurities?  Though it’s quirky with its Jean-Pierre Jeunet circa "Amelie"-era vibes and "Punch Drunk Love" fueled instability, “123… You Please.” still carves out its own place in the film world. Josh Close inserts many of his own experiences with the disorder, turning this story into a lovely and personal rom-com. Sweet as pie yet just as eye-opening, there’s such an abundance of necessary humanity to enjoy in this film. Allow yourself to face a whimsical sense of reality while also escaping into a totally new world and watch this short now!  

Featured Short Film: "At the End of the Cul-de-Sac"

Sometimes technical achievements trump story and creativity. Sometimes story and creativity win out over said technical achievements. And sometimes, just sometimes, in very rare, magical moments, creativity, story and technical prowess align and produce a mind-blowing filmic experience. Case in point: “At the End of the Cul-de-Sac”, the newest short film taking both the film and internet world by storm.  Imagined and pulled off by seriously impressive filmmaker Paul Trillo, this recent Vimeo Staff Pick Premiere is a force to be reckoned with. And why? Because the entire film is a single take shot entirely from a drone. Yes, a drone! Even more insane? The take that became the actual film was the very first official take of production. A daunting task, sure, but one that produced something that is sure to dazzle pretty much everyone. The skill on display in this film is seriously off the charts (and literally in the sky)!  Not only does “At the End of the Cul-de-Sac” show off some fine eye-candy aerial work, the short also navigates one man’s total and complete meltdown in an interesting way. In the film’s one continuous shot, we become like voyeurs, taking in the public insanity happening right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood cul-de-sac. As the neighbors gather and watch this emotionally unstable man “perform” for them, things turn dark as their almost cultish shaming is pushed to extreme heights - no pun intended! You’ve got to see this film in order to believe how it was made as well as enjoy the story it tells. If you haven’t already, make sure to set aside a few minutes to watch Trillo’s mini-technical masterpiece now!  

Featured Short: Ornana's FROLIC 'N MAE

Ah, cardboard. At once so bland and yet so purposeful. What would we do without its functional flexibility, stuff-carrying abilities, and scratchy beigeness? Well, leave it to an animated short film to show us both the pros and cons of a cardboard cutout relationship.  In Indie Street fav Ornana’s latest animated spectacle, “Frolic ’n Mae”, humans’ interaction with cardboard takes on a whole new meaning. Director/Writer/Animator-extraordinaire Danny Madden has created a whimsically chaotic world full of wonder, youthful angst and acceptance. The film’s young protagonist, Mae, doesn’t exactly fit in with her “friends”. After she reaches her tipping point at a birthday party (riddled with pre-teen clichés in only the greatest, nostalgia-inducing of ways), she decides to escape reality, channeling her frustrations into doodling on a pizza box while biding her time away from the others. However, you see, Mae’s drawings are rather different - special even. And when her latest cardboard creature creation, Frolic, comes to life, Mae realizes she has produced just a little more mayhem than she bargained for. Craziness ensues and impressively cute hijinks crash the party, with everything resulting in one unforgettable experience for this shy girl. Who would have thought that cardboard could have such power? Everything Ornana churns out becomes an instant hit with all of us at Indie Street. If you, too, love truely innovative ideas that create new worlds for audiences to escape into, then you’re not going to wanna miss “Frolic ’n Mae”! A film that creatively shows us the true definition of our go-to theme of ‘Escape and Connect’. 

Maria's Pick: James Blake's "My Willing Heart"

Without a doubt, the fact that Natalie Portman let herself be filmed in such intimate settings, revealing her baby bump and even diving under water for a music video, just days before giving birth, is pretty amazing. It seems, however, that director Anna Rose Holmer has lots of amazing tricks up her sleeve because her latest music video, “My Willing Heart” by James Blake, is simply full of them. Holmer is no stranger to directing music videos, a couple of years ago having created the intriguing “Baby” for White Hinterland. However the work for Blake's track is simply at another level of accomplishment and subtlety. Natalie Portman is undoubtedly a key element of the video but her work, gestures and movements are so simple and natural, that we don't even need to see her face in order to know we are looking at the quintessential beauty of a pregnant woman. Holmer too seems to realize this, opting for black and white cinematography, an aesthetic that is as revealing as it is concealing. Complimented by close-up framing, details and insanely atmospheric shots, Portman seems to lose her own Hollywood glamorous-looking-pregnant-star identity, and simply capture the general beauty and mystery that usually comes with a pregnancy. You see her serene gestures, her calmness, you watch her admiring her moving baby and you simply know that this is exactly the magic and beauty most women remember from their own pregnancies. Blake's track brilliantly glues everything together. It sinks in every gap, fills every crack with emotions so that, at the end, you simply can no longer point fingers and say who is the star of the music video. It's not just Portman, it's not the brilliant director, it's not the cinematography, it's not a singular element. It's everything together. What we allow our willing hearts to feel. The experience.    

   About Maria: "Multimedia in Human Form. Media researcher. Journalist. Filmmaker. PR and Social Media Mind. Cinephille. TV Shows aficionado. Books Lover. Music Video guru and former curator of the project"

Featured Short: Kim Sherman's "Dogwalker"

Let me paint a picture for you, dear reader: Woman walks dogs for a living. Woman finds her client’s dog dead. Woman stuffs dog’s body into a suitcase and heads for the train. Woman meets a nice, handsome fella’ who gives her a hand. And then, suddenly: Bloody-nose woman heads home empty handed.  Got all that? If so, would you believe me if I told you it all happens in the same short film, in under 12-minutes? Peaked your interest? Wondering where it all went wrong? Keep reading because filmmaker Kim Sherman’s 2016 award-winning film "Dogwalker", now available online, is the stuff of urban legends. Like long-standing myths, campfire stories, drunken party memories passed from person to person, “Dogwalker” is like a total dark fairy tale from another reality. It’s a bittersweet film that almost plays out as a non-story until the very end when you can’t believe what you’ve just witnessed. Trust me, you won’t leave this film silently in the past. You’re going to want to tell someone…anyone…about this one. A sweet rendition of a tale you may have heard in passing, complete with pastel hues and quirky emotions, Sherman’s short dark comedy is a must-watch. Check out the surreal film below and then do your part and pass it on!  

Featured Short: Jim Cummings' "The Robbery"

Fresh off its premiere at Sundance Film Festival as well as follow-up screenings at this year’s SXSW, Jim Cummings’ one-take dark comedy “The Robbery”, presented as part of the Minutes Collection series for Fullscreen’s SVOD service, is now available to watch online for free. The short paints us the rollercoaster tale of Crystal, a down-on-her-luck young woman simply seeking to well…rob a convenience store. Easy enough right? Wrong. As these things tend to go, nothing is as simple as it seems. Crystal’s own fate is intent on introducing bad scenario after bad scenario, in only the most painful and hilarious of ways. Starring a magnetic Rae Gray as a girl way out of her league, “The Robbery” is a perfect intro to the rest of the series. True dark comedy at its finest, this one-take short is also a stylistic follow-up to Cummings’ widely successful 2016 award-winner, “Thunder Road”. It seems this is one filmmaker who has found his filmic forte. Watch the ill-fated robbery attempt on Vimeo now!