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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Opening Night Shorts shows off festival’s range

    The 2010 Arizona International Film Festival began last night with an appetizer of short films. They ranged from an elegant meditation on time by a Honduran watchmaker based in Grand Central Station to a humorous homage to Hong Kong opera by two brothers from Australia.

    (Look for assistant arts editor Brandon Specktor’s reviews of “”Charlie & the Rabbit”” and “”Seed”” at

    Colin and Cameron Cairnes combine Eastern and Western stereotypes, 1980s Hong Kong music videos, cultural misunderstandings and some choice Cantonese sexual jokes in “”Celestial Avenue.”” Kath meets a blind date at Celestial Avenue, a restaurant that serves such authentic Chinese food as roasted pigeon. Her date, Joel, is as shallow as the dishes he orders. As she takes a cigarette break, Kath overhears Ah Gong, a kitchen hand from Foshan, singing beautifully to himself while washing cabbage in the alley.

    The Cairnes brothers find the right blend between style and homage without sacrificing narrative. Watching “”Celestial Avenue”” was like talking with friends who spent childhood afternoons listening to their parents’ record collection of Cantopop stars and being mesmerized by the imported Hong Kong martial arts movies they bought at the videotape store in Chinatown. A Chinese-looking Groucho Marx stenciled on an alley wall and misspelled/misinterpreted English lyrics in the music video are but a few of the details the Cairnes pepper into their love story. “”Celestial Avenue”” is an easy favorite among the shorts.

    “”Ana’s Playground”” takes a decidedly serious and taut tone. It opens with a quote from the Greek philosopher Plato: “”The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”” Three children are playing soccer amid a rubble-ladened street. They listen to a broadcast of a sports game to drown out the sound of machine guns and tanks firing in the distance. One child kicks the ball toward the goal and the goalkeeper blocks it, but knocks the ball over the fence and into a playground. The children flip coins to see who will have to retrieve the ball. It’s the goalkeeper. She hands her coin and pocket toys to the youngest child, as if to say, “”These belong to you if I don’t return.”” She slowly slips into the playground, which is covered with green grass, abandoned toys and cans of food. Her eyes scan the windows of the apartment complexes looming over the playground. Everything seems clear. A bullet is fired. It misses her by a few inches. A new game begins.

    Even though it is only 20 minutes, “”Ana’s Playground”” seems to last an eternity thanks to Eric Howell’s expert pacing. Moments of respite as the girl and the audience pause to breathe are punctured by each gunshot that punches through the air. With almost no dialogue, every characters’ actions take on greater significance and convey more meaning than any explanation that could be given through spoken words. Howell shows us that no one, especially children, should receive the education that war presents to us.

    In “”The Time Machine,”” Mark Kendall profiles Wilfredo Alvarez, a watchmaker from Honduras who works in Grand Central Station, one of the world’s largest train stations. Wilfredo spends each work day in a small cubicle that can only accommodate his workstation, watch parts and himself. He has only a window big enough to fit an arm as his only means of contact with passersby. Wilfredo’s musings on the nature of time in our lives are intercut or complemented with scenes from his workshop or from the throngs of people as they scurry from one destination to another.

    Among the shorts, “”The Time Machine”” moves with the grace of a prima ballerina, and Kendall provides many hints at such a connection: the tastefully chosen classical music, the leisurely panning shots, the motion blurs of a crowd moving around a central figure. There is even a brief scene of watches pirouetting as they orbit in a display window. “”The Time Machine”” can become too precious at times, but this is counterbalanced with the presence of Wilfredo. It’s easy to see why Kendall chose Wilfredo: Their respective professions handle time in different ways — he captures and edits time on film, Wilfredo creates and repairs time through watches. Perhaps due to his profession, Wilfredo is rather philosophical about time and life: “”You stare at your watch all the time and you realize you have no place to go, nothing to do.”” Sometimes, Wilfredo says, you have to pause, to take a moment to breathe, before you can head to your next destination.

    All in all, the shorts present a great selection of the variety and talent audiences can expect in the Arizona International Film Festival.

    Opening Night Shorts

    – The Time Machine

    – Charlie & the Rabbit

    – Ana’s Playground

    – Celestial Avenue

    – Seed

    Visit for future reviews and a schedule of festival screenings.

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