Kings County Cinema Society Unveils New Short Films

Last Friday I attended a strange and exciting event within walking distance of my apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; Kings County Cinema Society presented a showcase of short films made by filmmakers from Brooklyn and beyond, including several New York and Brooklyn premieres, at Littlefield NYC, a performance and art space with a well-stocked bar and a good-sized screening room. As is to be expected in a sort of punk rock/hipster gallery, seating for the show was folding chairs, which made the viewing experience a bit less than comfortable after a while, but the films were mostly quite good, and in addition to the usual popcorn and peanuts, there were delicious peanut butter chocolate chip cookies on hand at the bar, free of charge. I helped myself to one of these and a bottle of beer and settled in for an evening of mostly comedic shorts from the borough that is now my second home (Minneapolis will always be my first).

The showcase started strongly with “Jesus Comes to Town,” a loving spoof of the film noir genre directed by Kamal John Iskander and featuring some veteran Hollywood character actors, including Alex Veadov (ContactDrag Me to Hell) and Steve Eastin (Catch Me If You CanUp in the Air). In this film, Jesus Christ (Veadov) engages in a late-night poker game with a handful of lowlife noir types in a seedy apartment. The script is amusing, but what really elevated the film was the gorgeous black and white cinematography (hurt slightly by the transfer from Super 16 mm to digital projection) and great performances all around digital cinema.

This was followed by Daniel Cowen’s spectacularly weird pseudo-documentary “Body Magic,” in which the filmmaker attempts to recreate Alejandro Jodorowsky’s famous elemental transformation from The Holy Mountain (1973). Before attempting this strange feat (those of you who have seen Jodorowsky’s film can guess what it is), Cowen relates tales of other strange “body magic” phenomena, such as an incident when, after a night of heavy drinking, he supposedly vomited a whole clementine, despite not having eaten one that day. The fake sincerity and mysticism of this short made it a crowd-pleaser, though much of the laughter was mingled with groans of delighted disgust.

The best film of the showcase’s first half was D.W. Young’s “Not Interested,” which premiered at the South By Southwest Festival before getting its New York premiere here. It is a hilariously strange short about a knife salesman (Khan Baykal) who gets a lot more than he expects on a house call one day; to say more would spoil the film. Dan Bowhers & Matthew B. Maguire’s “This is Don” was also quite good, a slice-of-life look at an aging skate punk (James Kloiber) who ekes out a meager living walking other people’s dogs on the streets of NYC. My least favorite film in the first half was Christopher Bell & Ryan Sartor’s “Pilgrimage,” a lazy, slow-paced mumblecore type of movie about two awkward high school friends (Adam Perry and Mike Lieder) who no longer have anything to talk about. It wasn’t terrible, but it stood out mainly for its strangeness and for the ironic, detached presence of the two filmmakers in the Q&A that followed.

The best films of the whole showcase came in its second half, and it would be difficult for me to choose a favorite between three of them: Roberto Minervini’s “Las Luciernagas” (“The Fireflies”), Daniel Muller’s “Goodbye Canarsie,” and Jessica Burstein & Robbie Norris’s “Abbie Cancelled.” However, my least favorite film of the whole showcase was also in the second half: Andrew Lee’s “Home Again,” a boring, repetitive look at two unlikeable characters, filled with expository dialogue and average performances, and topped off with the most absurdly contrived ending I’ve seen in a long time. I have to give it a few points, though, for the impressive special effects used to realize this surprising, but ultimately very lame, conclusion. A far better short was Durier Ryan’s “Monroe St.,” another slice-of-life film about a young man named Khalil (James Beca) who wants to make his mark as a photographer. Some of the acting in this one was kind of flat, but the cinematography is crisp and pretty, and the tone of the film reminded me a bit of early Spike Lee. Now let’s talk about those three favorites of mine.

“Las Luciernagas” is a bittersweet, warm-hearted story of two elderly people in the Dominican Republic, where the film was made in 2006; it is just now getting its New York premiere. Virginia (Olga Bucarelli) is a grandmother who has lost her husband and, along with him, her will to live, until she meets Alfonso (Pericles Meija), an energetic older man still trying to find his place in a world that no longer seems to have much use for him. This could have been an extremely bleak film, and it doesn’t shy away from the sadness at its core, but it ultimately displays a love for life that is inspiring and encouraging. Also, its opening sequence, in which Virginia remembers her wedding day only to be abruptly brought back to her harsh present reality, was one of my absolute favorite moments of the showcase.

Another favorite moment was the beginning of “Goodbye Canarsie,” in which the protagonist, Warren “Wolfman” Winkler (Tomas Pais), makes sweet love to his apparently bored girlfriend, Frankie (Melissa Strom); it is only in the last shot of the sequence that we see the bullet wound in the center of her forehead, eliciting wonderful shocked laughter from myself and pretty much everyone else in attendance. This sets the tone nicely for the rest of the film, leaving us to wonder how exactly these characters (who we meet via extended flashback) got to this point, and the result is quite surprising. This film, which closed the showcase, left a big smile on my face, not only for its lovely sense of whimsy, but also because it had perhaps the most impressive production of the whole evening. A period piece set in 1973, the cinematography and costume design are Hollywood slick, and the acting is top-notch, especially Pais as Warren and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper as Sal, the hitman sent to to take him out, who also happens to be Warren’s good friend from high school.

In between these two, “Abbie Cancelled” also had a few surprises up its sleeve, as well as probably the best ensemble cast of the night. Each of the four lead performances were excellent, as we the audience watch two couples get through the most awkward dinner party imaginable when the mutual friend connecting them (the unseen “Abbie”) cancels at the last minute. Amir (Craig Glantz) and Amanda (Stacie Theon) are in disagreement before they even arrive, with Amir taking the news of Abbie’s cancellation as an excuse to bail on the party, and once they get inside, things only get hilariously worse. Grayson (Yuval Boim) is their affable host, who seems resigned almost to the point of obliviousness to his shrewish companion, Karen (Monica Knight), a woman who radiates tension throughout. Grayson and Amir get along great, leaving Amanda, who wants to write for television, and Karen, who works for HBO, to talk shop at the dinner table while they disappear to the basement for an unexpected liaison (not what you’re probably thinking). This short is being developed into a feature, and I for one am enthusiastically waiting to see what will happen next, but the film manages to stand on its own as well.

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