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Best of 2012 Palm Springs Short Film Fest

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The 18th annual Palm Springs International Short Film Festival and Film Market, the largest festival of its kind in this country, completed its run June 19-25 and this writer's eyes have started to come back into focus after seeing more than 50 shorts in two days. The standouts among those screened:

Caldera/Dir: Evan Viera
A truly magnificent animated film, not only for Viera's stunningly realized imagery but his music score. A young girl refuses to take her pharmaceutical medication and her grey, somnambulistic world turns into a vibrant underwater vista, where a giant sea turtle rescues her from an exploding volcano that decimates the ugly existence above water. Caldera reaches a place in the psyche that films rarely touch.

Grandmothers (Abuelas)/Dir: Afarin Eghbal
An animated documentary that utilizes stop motion and cutouts. British actress Geraldine McEwan touchingly translates the voice of an Argentine grandmother, whose personal tale of losing her daughter to the junta echoes "los desaparecidos," the disappeared 30,000, who include 500 babies adopted from murdered Argentine mothers. Winner, Best Animation, Aspen ShortsFest.

The Chair/Dir: Grainger David
A gorgeous, heartbreaking, poetic live action film about a mold that emanates from a chair and kills the mother of a young black boy in a rural community. Director David works in great tandem with his cinematographer Jimmy Lee Phelan and King Hoey, the young man who narrates this tale, shot on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. The Chair was one of only twelve short films selected for this year's Cannes Film Festival.

The Vacuum Kid/Dir: Katharine Mahalic
A punchy, fast-paced and hilarious doc on Kyle Krichbaum, an adorable boy whose obsession with vacuum cleaners has resulted in his owning more than 150 of them and being on television numerous times. In an outstanding clip, he is blindfolded on a British quiz show and identifies numerous vacuums by the sound alone. Mahalic really cleans up with this well-constructed charmer.

In the Pines/Dir: Zeek Earl, Christopher Caldwell
Directors Earl and Caldwell have sumptuous outdoor photography and lush music to aid and abet this live action story of a daughter who has left her mother a phone message indicating she has re-established contact with extraterrestrials and is leaving the planet... and we find out she is not imagining things. It is remarkable for a film to go from tragic to uplifting in such a short time.

Abiogenesis/Dir: Richard Mans
Speaking of aliens, New Zealand director Mans has a popular festival title here, a dialogue-free animation about a technologically complex rocket that morphs and has a multiplicity of functions, inevitably shown to be a way of creating foliage on previously barren planets. A welcome breath of optimism, inventive in the extreme.

Light Years (Lichtjahre)/Dir: Florian Knittel
This was apparently the year for outer space films at Palm Springs. German director Knittel has some cleverly surreal touches in this live action film about an astronaut who seems to be dreaming of an accident on an upcoming space mission but may well be dying from that same accident and remembering his fears about the mission as well as his reluctance to leave his wife and young son. Knittel's smooth transitions and editing suggest his readiness for feature film work.

Out of Erasers (Sudd)/Dir: Erik Rosenlund
A coproduction from Denmark and Sweden, Out of Erasers is director Rosenlund's offbeat-turned-tragic animated and live action short about a woman who brushes up against some kind of virus that looks like pencil scribblings. But her wry attempts to use erasers to get it off of her gives way to the fact that there is a worldwide epidemic. Wordless moments of human desperation and kindness make this, like Caldera, a film that generates deep feelings and various interpretations, long after it has been breathlessly witnessed.