07/02/2011 11:34 am ET | Updated Sep 01, 2011

Best of the 2011 Palm Springs Short Film Festival


[Colin Firth in Steve]

When you find yourself as a journalist at the largest short film festival and market in North America, it is neither daunting nor unlikely to see 87 films in three and a half days. Palm Springs may hover around 110 degrees in June but this collection of shorts from around the world is a cooling balm for those who have a diverse, worldwide perspective on filmmaking.

Steve [Rupert Friend, UK] Academy Award winner Colin Firth goes from stuttering King (The King's Speech) to intrusive, lonely maniac, making unreasonable demands upon Keira Knightley in this creepy, little gem about the dangers of getting to know your neighbors in London.

West of the Moon [Brent Bonacorso, USA] With a rich, visual palette, this wildly imaginative animated film is based upon children's dreams and where else would you find a robot with a live grenade for a heart playing the card game "Go Fish"? A totally transporting experience.

Martyr Friday [Abu Bakr Shawky, Egypt] Simple but powerful footage of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square that led to Hosni Mubarak abdicating power in Egypt. Hand-lettered signs like "Forgive Me, So Long I Was Afraid to Speak Up" move the viewer and remind us what is required to perpetuate any kind of democracy in this world.

Nullarbor [Alistair Lockhart, Patrick Sarell, Australia] Nullarbor is a plain with the longest stretch of straight highway in the world. It's a surprisingly fun setting for this computer-generated short about the misunderstanding between two drivers, one who desperately wants a cigarette while driving alongside the other. Winner of the Festival's Special Jury Citation.

The High Level Bridge [Trevor Anderson, Canada] This subtly twisted documentary shows a bridge in Edmonton, Alberta which is a magnet for suicidal tendencies. The wry voice-over truly makes this one perversely special, as the narrator recalls, whenever a local citizen seemed distressed, the usual comment was, "Sounds like the bridge to me."

Turning [Saul Freed, Karni Arieli, UK] A wistful and fanciful combo of live action and animation. A young boy has his three aunties visit for the afternoon to celebrate his birthday. They appear intermittently as birds and encourage his soaring imagination. A strong streak of melancholy makes this more than a mere slice of life and the image of light projections of young women cavorting, seen under an old aunt's skirt stays in the mind long after the short is done.

Vicenta [Sam Orti, Spain]
Normally, this writer is not a fan of horror but when it is animated and this outrageous, exceptions should be made. When a cheating, penurious husband dies, his long-suffering wife and sleazy mistress do battle, along with a mentally handicapped nephew, to find a hidden stash of loot. A hilarious nod to the Frankenstein creation, including a vacuum cleaner used to suck out a character's brain. But in a funny way. Really.

Zoltan: The Hungarian Gangster of Love [Justin Reardon, USA] Constantly unpredictable, this black and white film's eponymous character, with his ridiculous smoldering glances, clothes and pencil-thin mustache fancies himself the Lothario of a Hungarian village...but that apparently includes wives and barnyard animals. Just when you think you know the film's direction, Zoltan dances to early King Crimson music and has a series of dreams that wonderfully challenges reality.

Miss Communication [Ho So Yun, South Korea] A daffy and delightful piece about the complexity of human language and its processing by the brain. The boyfriend of a linguistics expert is asked on the phone if he loves her and various characters representing cerebral functions battle in his head to provide the correct response.

Pass the Salt, Please [Tatjana Najdanovic, USA] Fionnula Flanagan and Seymour Cassel have a field day in this brilliantly acted short, as an elderly couple whose dinner conversation suddenly veers into a scorchingly sexual direction, filled with aggression and lurid language. But the question is, will they actually act upon their words?

Preferably Blue [Alan Dickson, New Zealand] It may be animated, but it ain't for the kiddies. The Easter Bunny, in a rhymed fable, drunkenly decides to kill off his rival, Santa Claus. It is not every day one gets to see a cartoon Easter Bunny vomit or Santa body slam and stomp a drunk animal and because of that alone, it is worth its weight in cinematic gold.

Good Pretender [Maziar Lahooti, Australia] A young Aussie girl pretends her father, an injured Army vet, is a robot, in order to process the pain of her mother's inexplicable absence, in this touching, carefully observed story. Precocious actress Olivia De Jonge, a budding Tatum O'Neal/Dakota Fanning, shows great range -- and has just been signed by Creative Artists Agency, so expect to see her in features soon.

Method [Rider Strong, Shiloh Strong, USA] A struggling actress (impressive Alexandra Barreto) is cast as a hooker in a low-budget film and takes getting into character a little far, dressing up like a hooker and finding a john. Funny, sad and enobling at the same time, quite an accomplishment in a mere nine minutes.