Tallgrass Film Festival Discussion: Identity Shorts

In 2018 I only highlighted one short film – Claire McKenna, a drama which was recommended by a friend that I just lucked into seeing during a showcase event. This year I’m only going to be able to make a couple of set for these films and I wanted to highlight at least one of them. They’re special, they’re unique, and they arguably display uprisen talent more than full-length features. Today I was lucky enough to have time for a series on personal identity, the crises it causes in our lives, and how we reconcile who we are in life. 

Pozole: A comedic intro to the showcase, Pozole focuses on the disconnect between heritage and personal culture. Maia (Ana Isabel Dow) stars as a young woman who decides to find her roots in a traditional Mexican family gathering for Nana (Petra Tovar Sanchez) when things go wildly wrong. Nana’s dead before we’re ten seconds in, a hilarious shot of a horrified family staring accusatory at Maia. Looks like Nana choked on something she made and from here we have a complete disconnect between the relatives. Awkward, sweet, and hilarious – Pozole is a fascinating look at what happens when we fail to correctly acknowledge where we’re from and they refuse where we’ve been.

Unkept: A young kid in a turban makes a life-altering decision to fit in with a baseball team. This seems like a simple route to take, we’ve all done things like that in our youth. It’s much harder, though, when you’re part of a culture that aesthetically clashes with things like baseball caps or helmets. Kamal (Yuvraj Kalsi) is a kid that has his lengthy hair up in a turban. It’s a religious point for his family and he is left without any recourse except for to hold onto it. What follows is a personal decision about where to fit in – with family and faith or with friends. I didn’t connect with this one as much. I think the subject matter is poignant and important, but there was a heavy seriousness to it that I felt needed either more time to breathe or a brevity to lighten it up. Just saying.

Mum: When a young Indian girl is ostracized from her white relatives things get messy between her and her mother. It’s a rough viewpoint as the young child talks about racial stereotypes that white people hold about Indian immigrants. Her mother is someone she denies often, afraid that people will think she seduced the father for a residency. The mother and daughter are quite different, but they match in ways that are difficult to describe unless you’ve seen the film. There’s a love and respect that all children want to have with their parents and fewer-than-acknowledged can achieve. A sweet film about connection and respect.

Coda: Sometimes cheesy is a wonderful thing. CODA follows the story of a young dancer, the title being an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adults.” Alex (Kerrynton Jones) has lived her life being caught between two worlds, the child of deaf parents and sister to a deaf brother. The family urges her to make use of her gift, to interact with the world around her, but the young child just doesn’t want to live outside of her small world. As a young adult she aims to dance professionally but can’t seem to allow herself the room to truly let inspiration in. Anyone caught between two types of cultures can relate to Alex’s struggle, her need to feel accepted by both and to fit right into the space between realities. It’s moving, if pretty corny, and it tugs on the heartstrings in all the right ways. 

Zero Gravity: This is the shortest of the films in this set and probably came the closest to my own personal genre choices. We begin with a walk through the woods, an innocent enough outing for a couple and their two young boys. One of the boys disappears in a horrifying but effective practical shot that then allows us to see the normal lives these kids lead. The entire short is under five minutes but says so much about family and who mans what to whom. I find special ideas in the mixture here as comfort is set in lies. There are notes of suicidal tendencies, dream sequences, falsehoods born out of love, and brotherly affection. A sweetly sentimental short.

Farta: Well this took me for a ride. We never think of how the social media we became addicted to will affect children in future generations, but it’s something we should talk about. I have embarrassing baby pictures but they aren’t on the internet going viral. Imagine if something you posted did so and was there to affect someone’s life for the rest of their existence, trapping their identity in a prison and sequestering it away. That shit would suck, and Farta follows that down the rabbit hole to discuss the emotional, personal, and legal ramifications that might show up in twenty years. Facebook appeared in my life less than fifteen years ago but there are many that don’t know life without it. Same with Twitter and Instagram or the vile and immature Snapchat. It’s an interesting line of thinking that needs to be on the table.

Exiled: It’s kind of poignant right now to watch a film about party loyalty over morals and dedication to a leader that is openly a horrible person. Exiled is a documentary short from the point of view of Zoilamerica Narvaez, his stepdaughter that now lives in an entirely different country to maintain her safety. She has accused Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega of sexual abuse during her childhood. His defense was basically that the statute of limitations had expired so he was in the clear. Legally…sure, but the fact that his wife (Zoilamerica’s mother) and the country continued to support him is dangerously close to the ideas behind what got us to America’s current political situation. This is about the identity of a sexual abuse victim, strong and fighting forward, but it’s also about America’s identity in a subtle but blatant way. 

I’ll have more short films for you in a couple of days. In the meantime I urge you to hunt down and support short films and their creators so that they get more exposure. It’s a beautiful art form and can stand on its own as a statement. Beautiful and strange and low-budget, they’re usually worth your time and can expose you to the early career of wonderful filmmakers. 

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