D.C. Independent Film Festival: Select Shorts, Reviewed
It's a classic story. Boy meets girl. Girl likes boy. Girl begins trolling him hardcore on the Internet.
In a cute little romance involving vegetables and raves, protagonist Ruby is a plucky redhead miraculously undeterred by the fact that she lives with her comatose-level depressed mother and has one of the most awkward jobs in the world: Going door to door asking people if they’d like fresh fruits and vegetables delivered. Over and over, we see her getting the door slammed in her face, provoking every more desperate (and amusing) attempts at grabbing strangers' attention: "Not everyone's wee wee smells when they eat asparagus. Why don't you see if yours does?"
The one person who doesn’t shut the door in her face is a sexy DJ who goes by "Vinyl Lionel." As their spark ignites, the film takes some fun and unexpected turns toward the absurd, never quite allowing for predictability, even as it gives you the happy conclusion you want.
This Is It
A short and sweet piece about the trials and tribulations of having to share cramped quarters in a city—something that is familiar to most of us in D.C.—This Is It is told entirely with a series of "Do you/Did you/Have you" questions. Two bro dudez are sharing an apartment together. They like the same girl. They squabble over the bathroom. They can't take care of plants. It ain't deep, but it's nonetheless a clever little riff that hits all the right marks.
Sweet, Sweet Country
Dehanza Rogers’ film about a family reuniting with their now-grown daughter after years in a Kenyan refugee camp is set in the real community of Clarkston, Ga., a town of about 7,500 people located 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta. Clarkston is uniquely recognized for its huge refugee populatio, most hailing from war-torn areas in Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Liberia.
Sweet, Sweet Country isn't the first time Clarkston has gained attention as a rich resource for stories about people finding one another again and adjusting to American life (according to 2012 census data, the percentage of residents who were born in another country is almost 50 percent). The New York Times and PBS have done in-depth profiles of the community, and it made an implied appearance in What is the What, the fictionalized account of real-life Valentino Achak Deng’s life story, written by Dave Eggers.
Rogers, who is currently working on an MFA from UCLA, filmed on location and cast mostly Atlanta actors for this story. While the troubling truth that this family discovers about their daughter—that she has been selling sex to pay for housing—may not be as extreme as some stories of human trafficking (she appears to be doing it on her own), it's still a touching glimpse into a community that has few parallels in America.
There is an image of Italy with its charming piazzas and sunlit old buildings and beautiful people riding around on Vespas. But the Rome featured in Halina is not Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s Rome; it’s an all-too-real side, full of corrupt figures who reign over rising poverty rates and ignore infrastructure problems.
Halina is a little girl who spends her days wandering the streets, rifling through trash for valuables that people have discarded among the rubbish. When Halina hands three Tarot cards she picked up—the moon, the fool, and the devil—to the fortune-teller in her impoverished trailer park, we get three intermingling stories from across the city.
The cards may be Tarot, but what succeeds is the poker-style flourish of how these characters intersect with drugs, crime, and each other, like a lighter version of Soderbergh's Traffic. That the disparate lives of a nasty, gnarled-looking fellow recently sprung from jail, a woman who recently found out she’s pregnant, a young politician whose handsomeness makes people trust him more than they should, and the wayward youth of a concrete slab of apartments on the city's outskirts are all, in a single day, intertwined forever.
The storylines are perhaps wrapped up a bit too neatly in the end. There's comeuppance for each evil deed that doesn't reflect the way the world really works. But it’s still an intriguing meditation on how each action we take has a particular consequence, one we may not be fully aware of without the benefit of magical powers.