The fifth annual Sun Valley Film Festival runs March 2-March 6 in Ketchum, Idaho, featuring over 60 narrative films and documentaries, as well as special guests Oliver Stone, Mark Duplass, Bruce Dern and Amy Smart, and musical guests The Joy Formidable and Thunderpussy. Films are shown at local venues including the Sun Valley Opera House, Magic Lantern Cinemas, and NexStage Theatre in a celebration of film and storytelling. Here’s a look at some of the shorts featured:
17 mins, USA
This feminist satire edges close to hyper-reality as it heightens and turns upside down the all-too-real situations of rape, unplanned pregnancy, and systematic sexism. A cast of semi well-known stars fills out the bill: Zoë Kravitz, Teresa Palmer, and Clark Gregg, as well as Nick Corddry. The premise takes inspiration from Todd Akin’s infamous statement in a 2012 interview that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Set in a world in which women can test for pregnancy a day after intercourse, med student undergrad Sully (Zoë Kravitz) finds out she’s pregnant right after being raped by frat boy Matt (Nick Corddry). Sully and roommate Kimmie (Teresa Palmer), believing that her body will reject the baby without the need for abortion if it was a “legitimate rape”, go on a quest to figure that out, a journey that takes them from rapist Matt to Sully’s longtime doctor to a dean of the school. Each of these three characters is highly exaggerated, a ruthless cobbling-together of multiple stereotypes and types of sexism that occur in response to rape. The characters are so over the top, in fact, that particularly with the dean, it’s sometimes enough to jar the viewer out of the story – but it’s also a highly effective method to portray the misguidedness, evil, and questionable ethical stances taken by people in positions of responsibility and authority. Not entirely successful, this is nevertheless a bold and imaginative take on a pressing social issue.
The Barry & Ro Show
5 min, USA
This hilariously cutting send-up of 70’s varieties shows was easily one of the most compelling short films of SVFF’s 2016 lineup. Jeff Richards of Saturday Night Live and Whitney Rice of Roast Battle are the married, at-odds co-hosts of a 1970’s TV show. Fizzing with energy and wit, this does the near-impossible and one minute into a short makes the viewer forget entirely the active action of watching a film, instead immersing the viewer completely. Barry and Ro of The Barry & Ro Show make a series of increasingly abortive attempts to shoot a promo together, and turn on each other. A gem.
13 min, USA
This vicious little tale begs the question “is it necessary?” It feels a little like a Southern Gothic, but because it’s not set in the South is perhaps more Coen Brothers-inspired in its embrace of the macabre and of people’s capacity for sudden brutal violence. In the wake of their mother’s sudden death, estranged siblings Mark and Beth argue, while deciding what to do with her body.
Cinematography and pacing are strong, and acting from Erin Daniels and Michael Maize is top-notch. However, this is a thoroughly unpleasant film that offers little reason for its existence beyond an exercise in watching the dysfunction and self-loathing of unlikable characters. Violence onscreen should have a kind of tether, a specific purpose that’s part of a larger vision, and this distinctively lacks that. There’s an emptiness to both premise and delivery that makes this feel more like a stylistic flourish than a successful piece of art.
18 min, USA
This is not the 2015 short starring Kristen Wright and based on a Stephen King story. Instead, Mercy is written and directed by Mylissa Fitzsimmons. Mercy is an agoraphobic who hasn’t left her house in three years. When her friendly single neighbor invades her space, an unexpected result occurs.
This is a memorable short with a very strong style and sense of itself. The camerawork is unusually crisp and beautiful, with very high quality visuals. Physical space is ably used to reflect and develop story elements; the straight lines and minimalism of Mercy’s apartment underscore her containment, while her large rooms show a level of freedom. Mostly, however, there’s an ever-growing sense of claustrophobia, a sense that the world has shrunk to this (Mercy’s) reality. Sometimes playful, sometimes dark, Mercy spans a wide range of emotional twists and turns over its 18 minutes, and packs quite a punch. Also, Essa Oshea as Mercy, an actress with a grand total of three credits to her name, delivers a brilliant performance – don’t be surprised to see this one become a major star.
13 min, USA
The best thing about this short is that it doesn’t overreach itself. A semi tongue-in-cheek take on 80’s activism, Mercury lovingly tracks four idealistic, clueless friends who embark on a road trip to protest at the United States’ largest nuclear weapons testing facility. There’s both nostalgia and a sense of genuine protest in the film, which is based on a true story. Nostalgia is the heart of the story, however, which refreshingly keeps it from straining at a serious idealogical treatment of the subject matter (a mistake made by too many indie films before it). The film ends on a stirring, visually effective scene that acknowledges the inherent ineffectiveness of the friends’ attempts at protest, while also capturing the hope and dignity of their loyalty to each other and the cause.
6 min, USA
Joyous and utterly charming, this clever homage to silent films uses text messages and physical comedy to convey its plot. A young man receives a text from a friend with the phone number for the girl he was in love with in school and sets out to contact and pursue her. This sends him on a spiral of frenzied happiness and insecurity, and actor Dusty Aunan showcases a loose-limbed, full-body comic expressiveness as the character shifts between multitudes of exaggerated emotions. A monochromatic tone – muted hues of pink, gold, and the like – contributes to the throwback vibe of this love story. A delightful screwball salute to silent comedy.