The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Summer 2020 Short Film Festival – Films 3 and 4: “The Red Carpet” and “I Feel”

By Andrew Buckner

The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Summer 2020 Short Film Festival continues with films 3 and 4 (of 14) in the festival: “The Red Carpet” (2018), which was directed by Richard Griffin, and “I Feel” (2017). The latter work was directed by Steve Blackwood. The connection between these witty and hilarious gems are their shared genre: Comedy. In a related note, this will be the first of two of these related categorical pairings in this festival.

As promised, the festival continues with:

Film 3: “The Red Carpet”

Cast information:

Directed and Edited by Richard Griffin

Written and Produced by Lenny Schwartz

Starring: Anthony Gaudette, Sarah Reed, Geoff White, Lee Rush, Dan Martin, Laura Minadeo, Graham Stokes, Bill Pett, Jim Kelly, Erin Archer.

Director of Photography: Dan Mauro

Production Designer: Margaret Wolf

Art Director: Angela Shulman

Assistant Director: Nat Sylva.

Plot:

When a young boxer suffers from a near-fatal hit in the ring, his slow struggle back to glory will fill you with hope and a promise of a new tomorrow. “The Red Carpet” is a movie for anyone who wants to know the true meaning of the nature of the human spirit, and what it means to be a hero.

Color.

Runtime: 4 min. 15 sec.

Contains profanity.

Film 4: “I Feel”

Summary:

A mockumentary about a couples therapy session gone wrong.

Cast:

Director: Steve Blackwood.

Writers: Karen Blackwood, Steve Blackwood.

Starring: Elle Matarazzo, Jeremy Labrie, Marty Smith, Marybeth Paul.

Music: Mathew Solomon.

Editor: Chris Esper.

Cinematography: Chris Esper.

Produced by: Steve Blackwood, Chris Esper.

Sonic Cinema review of “I Feel”:

http://sonic-cinema.com/movie/i-feel-short/?fbclid=IwAR0zV1_BbfNCEgHqaFxZVYyejUT3onA_5j34IqUyVZQ5C0ixRFcg2ZfVeZE

Color.

Runtime: 9 min. 53 sec.

*All films included in this festival are shown with the kind permission of the filmmakers.

 

Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams’ Summer 2020 Short Film Festival: Films 1 and 2 (“Yesteryear” and “Imposter”)

By Andrew Buckner

The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Summer 2020 Short Film Festival has commenced!

The idea behind this online festival will be to present two films each day, with a shared filmmaking crew member or narrative link to each other, for five days straight. This online festival will begin anew roughly every three months with fourteen more short films (all under forty-five minutes and in any genre, style and from any year). Each short film will be screened at AWordofDreams and kept on the site for the foreseeable future. 

The first day of this originating festival, August 8th of 2020, will be a Chris Esper double bill! We will be including screeners to his wonderful, thought-provoking short films “Yesteryear” (2020) and “Imposter” (2018).

As promised, here is a poster, general information, director’s statement and a screener link for each of Mr. Esper’s films:

Film 1: “Yesteryear”

Summary: “A visual documentary about the value of home movies through the eyes of those who filmed their valuable memories.” – Chris Esper

Director’s Statement: “With the recent pandemic causing unrest, many are turning to their memories as and nostalgia as a source of comfort. It could be a video or a photo. Whatever the case may be, these precious moments are a reminder of what is beautiful about life in a world of uncertainty.

This was the inspiration behind ‘Yesteryear’. I was initially in pre-production on another short film. However, amid the pandemic, I had to postpone production. This lead to me eventually coming across my home movies and concerting them. I was amazed by the storytelling home movies can possess. From there, I put out a call to folks in my circle who were kind enough to release their memories for this project. Two months and fifteen hours later, ‘Yesteryear’ was completed.

My goal was to show that everyone’s life has a story. With that story, there is a slew of memories that can be unforgettable. The documentation of these is very important in preserving what’s important.”

Color.

Runtime: 13 min. 52 sec.

Film 2: “Imposter”

Summary: “A silent drama that visually represents the inner struggles of suffering from anxiety.” – Chris Esper

Additional Information/ Director’s Statement: “According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the US, affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. I am among these 40 million adults.

As a filmmaker, I enjoy telling personal stories about subjects that are close to my heart while putting a spin on that subject. “Imposter” is easily my most personal film to date. I have always felt that anxiety was a silent disorder that many can feel, but others can’t see and nor do we ever understand it. This is why I chose to make it as a silent film. For many, anxiety is different. “Imposter” was my way of showing how anxiety, particularly the idea of Imposter Syndrome, can be very real to some and how many are suffering around us that we don’t realize. We suffer quietly and often feel trapped or feel like prisoners of our thoughts. That is what “Imposter” is ultimately about in its themes.”

Color.

Runtime: 9 min. 53 sec.

*All screeners included in this festival are incorporated with the kind permission of the filmmaker(s).

The 10 Best Short Films of 2020 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

*The inclusion of the short films on this list is based on the criteria of a 2020 release date.

10. “The Never Was”
Director: Mike Messier.

9. “Waffle”
Director: Carlyn Hudson.

8. “Dear Guest”
Director: Megan Freels Johnston.

7. “Thankless”
Director: Mark Maille.

6. “Wives of the Skies”
Director: Honey Lauren.

5. “Stuck”
Director: Steve Blackwood.

4. “The Dirty Burg”
Director: John Papp.

3. “Being Kris Salvi”
Director: Gabrielle Rosson.

2. “Fire (Pozar)”
Director: David Lynch.

1. “Yesteryear”
Director: Chris Esper.

Runner-Up:

“The Onlookers and Him”
Directors: Susruta Mukherjee, Saswata Mukherjee.

“Go to School, Kanunu” by Chris Esper (Book Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****

Hilarious, heartfelt and deeply personal, Go to School, Kanunu (2019) by Chris Esper is a perfect children’s book. Inventive and lively in its storytelling, with a multitude of terrific illustrations by Cardigan Broadmoor which bring these inherent qualities in the text to eye-popping life, the thirty-two-page tome has a look and demeanor that is easily aligned to the collective works of Dr. Seuss. This aspect can be easily assessed in the colorful and tone-setting cover Broadmoor conceived. It deftly summarizes Esper’s brief saga in a single image.

What further broadens this comparison to the ever-iconic catalogue of Dr. Seuss is how the project moves efficiently, effectively and enjoyably from one smirk-inducing situation to the next. Commencing with an ordinary moment, a mother telling her son to finish breakfast and do as the title of the effort suggests, the narrative becomes increasingly off-the-wall. This is as the mother seeks out inanimate objects as well as household animals to help get Kanunu to listen to her demands. They range from a timeout chair to a mouse.

Yet, what is most admirable about the self-published endeavor, which was released on July 30th of this year, is that it has a wide-ranging accessibility. This is most apparent in its theme of having a sluggish start to the day. Such is a topic guaranteed to ring true for every youth. It’s moral emphasis, the importance of punctuality, is fashioned in an easy-to-understand and amusing manner. It is one which its target audience will retain without difficulty.

As mentioned above, there is a private component to the undertaking which makes Go to School, Kanunu much more than an engrossing chronicle. In the touching Introduction, Esper states that this is a fiction his father would tell him and his sister. It was passed down to his father from his parents. Both of whom receive a loving dedication in the opening of the literature. This intimate connection tightens when we learn that Esper sees the yarn as a link to his Syrian heritage. It is an account his grandparents most likely heard themselves for the first time in the Middle East country. Esper’s hopes that the folk tale “may also shed a different light” on Syria is just as moving as the information garnered in this early passage.

Punctuated by an appropriately pleasant concluding note, Esper’s sophomore trek into the world of the printed word (after his brilliant 2016 debut, The Filmmaker’s Journey: Or What Nobody Tells You About the Industry) further showcases his depth and range as an artist. Whether tackling the subject of anxiety in the fantastic silent short “Imposter” (2018) or penning an engaging item for kids (as he does in his most recent opus), there is a consistently introspective nature to Esper’s material that is as relatable as it is endearing. This element illuminates every page of Esper’s latest venture. With great assistance from this quality, Esper has crafted an undertaking that feels immediately timeless. Go to School, Kanunu is an instant classic.

“Imposter” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Imposter” (2018) is among the most relatable, beautifully made, deeply symbolic and personal compositions yet from the incredibly talented writer-director Chris Esper. The nine-minute and fifty-four second short film is a series of three interconnected vignettes. They focus on the inward struggles of anxiety and the idea of the Imposter Syndrome. The latter concept, which was formulated by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978, concerns the idea that someone who is known for their accomplishments are afraid of being exposed as a con.

This theme is expounded upon early on in the form of an overworked man, Mike (in a powerhouse performance from Tom Mariano). During a meeting, he is plagued by visions of a young jester (in a quietly heartfelt enactment from Brendan Meehan). This figure can be seen as the adolescent side of Mike who simply wants to enjoy life. After his meeting he gets on a bus. From herein, we follow an artist (Sheetal Kelkar) and her counterpart (Jamie Braddy) to an art gallery. Here Esper wordlessly shows that both parties feel like they are embarrassed and on display. Returning to the aforementioned vehicle, Esper goes among the populace of the transport. In so doing, he often utilizes direct imagery to quickly tell many private stories of worry and woe. This ends on a highly effective note of tragedy that involves two military veterans (William DeCoff and Adam Masnyk).

Esper’s latest mechanizes tremendously well as social commentary and as an almost entirely dialogue free character study. His scripting and guidance of the project is masterful and mature at every avenue. The Stories in Motion and On Edge Productions fabrication, potently edited by Esper, is also a triumphant demonstration of Ben Alexander and Bryce Brashears’ sound. The same can be said of the lush cinematography from Rick King. This is also true of the make-up and special effects from Julianne Ross. The gently used music from Steven Lanning-Cafaro is haunting and evocative. It fits the tone of the project exceptionally.

All of these moviemaking ingredients help make “Imposter” a timely and timeless meditation on the insecurities which secretly bind so many individuals. I especially related to the first two segments. They immediately spoke to both the full-time laborer and the part-time writer within me. Yet, what is just as remarkable is how, when viewed as a whole, Esper creates a portrait of our civilization that is as intimate as it is grand. This is cinematic poetry. It is as open to interpretation as it is credible and layered. Esper wants to prove that beneath each person is an entire world of wounded self-doubt that others may never understand. He has done so with intelligence and grace. “Imposter” is a masterpiece. It is also one of the best ventures of its type I’ve seen all year.

(Unrated).

The 15 Best Short Films of 2017

By Andrew Buckner

Included below are A Word of Dreams’ fifteen favorite short films of 2017. The title of the work is proceeded by the name of the director or directors of the project. Enjoy!

15. “Ghost Bikes” – (Ethan Brooks)
14. “Alone” – (Tofiq Rzayev)
13. “Female” – (Aissa Carnet)
12. “Cosmic Bowling” – (Emily Berge, Spencer Thielmann)
11. “Tales to Line the Coffin” – (Evan Schneider)
10. “I Feel”- (Steve Blackwood)                                                                                                                                                                                                 9. “In a Heartbeat” – (Esteban Bravo, Beth David)
8. “To Be Alone” – (Matthew Mahler)
7. “The Stranger” – (Jeremy Arruda)
6. “Disregard the Vampire: A Mike Messier Documentary” – (Mike Messier)
5. “Undatement Center” – (Chris Esper)
4. “The Girls Were Doing Nothing” – (Dekel Berenson)
3. “Triangle” – (Christopher Fox)
2. “Leftovers” – (Tofiq Rzayev)
1. “Fireflies” – (Raouf Zaki)

“Undatement Center” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

“Undatement Center” (2017), a nine-minute short film from writer-director Chris Esper, is effortlessly charming, consistently humorous and always likable. It carries on the same seamless marriage of upbeat and hopelessly romantic tones that made his prior inventions Please Punish Me (2015) and The Deja Vuers (2016) such an incredible success. This Stories by the River and Stories in Motion co-production is also a fantastic showcase of Esper’s ability, which has been ever-present throughout his career, to project fully fleshed-out, relatable characters. Such transpires in a heartwarming and enchanting, yet undeniably human, manner. This detail is made increasingly admirable with the incorporation of a pace that is as breakneck as view of the world of dating that is the focal point of Esper’s endeavor. Yet, none of the sequences, even the laughter-fueled montage that takes over the mid-section, feels rushed or superficial. There is a breezy demeanor to the proceedings that even makes the most familiar beats of the plot triumphantly sing. This is apparent in the relationship that forms between our twenty-six-year old lead, Jack (in a phenomenal turn from Trevor Duke), who turns to the title corporation in hopes of finding love after a twelve-year hiatus, and Lindsey (in a depiction by J.D. Achille that is consistently marvelous, engaging and authentic). The opening and concluding notes are also evidence of Esper’s mastery in this aforesaid department. Yet, these segments ring with a sweetness, an earnest simplicity and lack of pretension that is genuine and captivating. Despite its often-modern attitude (reflected most readily in the intriguing plot itself), the project feels wonderfully old-fashioned. Such only increases its amiability. Randy Veraguas’ depiction of the quirky desk clerk, Shelley, as well as Shandy Monte’s enactment of the similarly positioned Jennifer enhance the agreeable nature of the picture. Christie Devine is also stalwart in her quick role as Annie. Acei Martin, in a brief part dubbed “Urine Sample Woman”, is also stellar. When combined with the masterful moviemaking and deftly constructed literary contributions Esper incites herein, with his ear for often clever dialogue being another high-quality trait, it’s becomes immediately evident that the Secaucus, New Jersey born maestro has delivered another all-around winner.

This Quincy, Massachusetts recorded endeavor is also graced with illustrious cinematography from Mikel J. Wisler. Such a veneer reiterates the sunny atmosphere of the piece fantastically. Wisler’s seamless and sharp editing fares just as well. Also, assisting matters is Steven-Lanning Cafaro’s cheery and deeply cinematic music. Dominic Kaiser’s sound issuance is spectacular. J.L. Major and Rich Simpson’s assistant camera work is equally proficient.

Esper intends to comment on how intimate associations have become more akin to a business transaction, a one-sided meeting that is based on quick facts and reams of paper, than a personal experience. The conclusion, which hints at the latter method as the more beneficial, is evidence of this bitingly brilliant, but undeniably true, observation. In less capable hands, this is a storyline akin to this could’ve become a bitter, somber experience. But, Esper keeps the jokes cracking and the smiles brimming on our faces throughout. This is without ever diminishing the impact of his thesis statement. Such is, like the totality of “Undatement Center” itself, a tremendous accomplishment. Esper’s latest, an extension of many of the themes present in his earlier photoplays, is an all-out confirmation of his continually broadening talent. It is also a testament to his exceptional skill as a photographic craftsman. The result is side-splitting and deeply transcendent; an endlessly entertaining, quietly emotive must-see!

Premiered on April 1st, 2017.

(Unrated). Contains brief language and some sexual humor.

Stories in Motion’s page for the film can be found here.

The 20 Best Short Films of 2016

By Andrew Buckner

It has been a breakout year for both up-and-coming as well as established talent. This is especially true in the medium of the short film. From heart-wrenching and experimental dramas, to mind-bending multi-genre tales, horrifying chronicles of fear and uproarious comedies, here is the list of my twenty favorite related works in this field from 2016. Please note that the name of the director of the piece is provided after the title of the production. Enjoy!

1. “Maya” (Veemsen Lama)
2. “Araf” (Fidan Jafarova, Tofiq Rzayev)
3. “Strawberry Lane” (Jeremy Arruda, Aaron Babcock)
4. “Chyanti” (Veemsen Lama)
5. “Kinnari” (Christopher Di Nunzio)
6. “Nihan: The Last Page” (Tofiq Rzayev)
7. “Numb” (Penelope Lawson)
8. “Dirty Books” (Zachary Lapierre)
9. “Here Lies Joe” (Mark Battle)
10. “The Deja Vuers” (Chris Esper)
11. “Tastes Like Medicine” (Steven Alexander Russell)
12. “Come Together: H&M” (Wes Anderson)
13. “In a Time for Sleep” (Tofiq Rzayev)
14. “Sisyphus” (David Graziano)
15. “Trouser Snake” (Alex DiVencenzo)
16. “Mail Time” (Sebastian Carrasco)
17. “Hell-Bent” (Foster Vernon)
18. “Hand in Hand” (Haley McHatton)
19. “Menu” (Matt Shaw)
20. “Last Night” (Tal Bohbot)