The Texas Show is a staple of the Dallas Video Festival, showing top-notch shorts from around the state. This year’s show features 10 such films, and while I haven’t seen every one of them, I’ve seen enough to know that it will be 105 minutes well spent. Among the highlights of this year’s show are:
In a Place Like This
In short films, every minute counts. In a Place Like This, a doc about a beloved house in the Central Texas town of Manor, uses those first few moments before the opening credits roll to grab hold of the viewer’s interest and let them know that this is a special place. As the film proceeds, we learn that a blended bohemian family inhabits the house, which was once all but abandoned. Two of the children were born there, Hollywood productions — including What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Simple Life — were filmed there and just about every year a huge square-dancing party is held on the grounds, known as Quicksand Farms.
It sounds like some place, the kind of life lived decades ago but seldom today. And that’s the kicker — the final few minutes of the film gets into the threats to places like Quicksand Farms, namely urban development. The film is a production of the students of the Austin-based Mobile Film School. Had these savvy filmmakers started in with the development talk from the beginning, viewers with no stake in such things may have nodded off. By setting the hook early, the greatest success of In a Place Like This is making you care before you even know you do.
Who hasn’t gone through moments when we wish we could disassociate ourselves from our families? Or at the least, convince ourselves that WE aren’t from THEM. That’s the situation that the title character finds herself in. As her not-as-cool-as-he-thinks-he-is father prepares to open a restaurant, Martha spends her days wandering her small town with her younger brother and dreaming of a more sophisticated life. When she meets a boy her age and visits his immaculate house, her dreams of high-class livin’ are emboldened by the knowledge that such an arrangement exists right around the corner.
Austin director Katja Straub delivers the lessons we would expect to learn in such a tale through sweet images and stylish visuals. Add in some quirky music and a whimsical vibe and Martha becomes a short that would have been perfectly at home playing before Napoleon Dynamite.
A woman surprising her unsuspecting partner with the news that she is pregnant can be a dicey moment. Will he be thrilled? Will he be upset? Will he even want the baby? These are the questions that Kate (Kate Roberts) has clearly been contemplating when her boyfriend, Blake (Blake DeLong), returns to the apartment that her mother doesn’t even know they are sharing. She wastes no time in blurting it out, and over the next 17 minutes we watch as the moods ping pong from joy to contemplation to anger and back again.
Austin director Chris Ohlson wrings every drop of intimacy out of the one-scene short by employing a hand-held camera style that utilizes claustrophobic closeups. If you’ve seen Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a feeling that you are sitting in the chair across the coffee table from the couch where all this is happening. What does watching this conversation say about the two characters involved? The answer comes in the final five seconds.
The Texas Show screens Sunday at 8:45 p.m. For Sunday’s complete schedule, click here.
ALSO SUNDAY: The Perfect Cappuccino (10:30 a.m.) crosses the globe in search of the title drink … Moral Kombat (5:15 p.m.) inspects the controversial topic of violence in video games … If last year’s Persepolis got you interested in Iran, the Iranian Compilation (8:30 p.m.) can further feed that hunger.