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)

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A Brief Word on New/Upcoming Releases: “Alone”, “The Brainwashing of My Dad”, “Burning Bridges”, “47 Meters Down” and “A Quiet Passion”

By Andrew Buckner

“Alone”

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

“Alone” (2017), a 2-minute short film from director Tofiq Rzayev, is a smartly bare bones exploration of fear. Specifically, the terror that strikes one man (in an absorbing performance from Mehmet Faith Guven). This is as he begins to sense that he might not be the only one in his home. It is a classic horror story set-up; a scene spied in many cinematic entries in the genre. Yet, Rzayev proves its enduring effectiveness. This is with his atmospheric and nail-biting guidance of the project. The sudden bump-in-the-night trope so commonly associated with stories of this ilk is brilliantly incorporated. This is especially true when considering the wisely wordless attributes of the piece.

When combined with Gergo Elekes’ wonderfully creepy music and Rzayev’s masterful cinematography, the effort is all-around incredible. This Angry Student Films production also operates as a dazzling homage to an impression many have felt at one point or another in their life. Such a relatable trepidation makes this haunting exercise evermore unnerving. Because of these aforementioned qualities, Rzayev’s latest is as hair-raising as it is well-made.

(Unrated).

“Alone” can be seen in its entirety at the YouTube link above.

 

The Brainwashing of My Dad

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

Director and co-writer Jen Senko’s The Brainwashing of My Dad (2016) is a beautifully fashioned and essential political documentary. Concerning the effects conservative media has on her once long-standing democrat father, a World War II veteran, the 92-minute project is as powerful as it is timely. Though it can be argued that the Gravitas Ventures distribution release is a bit one-sided at times, the intriguing interviews administered are undeniably affecting. The same can be said of the myriad bits of documented evidence Senko presents to back up her case. Such results in an endeavor that is ever-absorbing.

Furthermore, the overall style of the documentary, which is heavily reminiscent of a Michael Moore venture, is perfectly suited to the material. When combined with Rachel Levine’s solid cinematography and Jeff Formosa’s same said sound contribution, the deft execution of the exertion is dually perceivable. Alongside these attributes, Senko fashions an insightful gem. It is one that is as well-paced and in-depth as it is eye-opening. In turn, The Brainwashing of My Dad endures as an emotionally resonant looking glass into the effects of televised propaganda on American culture. This is a must-see.

(Unrated).

Available now on Blu-ray, DVD and on Amazon prime.

 

Burning Bridges

Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

Rapper Ernie D’s 6-track, 23-minute EP, Burning Bridges (2017), is insightful, introspective and immersive; a truly inspiring work. The production is fantastic. Additionally, the lyricism is poetic, complex, clever and mesmerizing. It uplifts. This is while being filled with sorrow, pain, wisdom and life lessons. Correspondingly, every song is a standout. This is some of the best material from this artist to date.

(Parental Advisory). Explicit lyrics.

Available now at Amazon and other streaming platforms.

 

47 Meters Down

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

Aside from stellar cinematography and an enjoyable final twist, there is hardly anything that doesn’t feel standard service in 47 Meters Down (2017): a surprisingly ineffectual shark survival/suspense story. Mandy Moore is charismatic and enjoyable as the lead, Lisa. This is even if her central figure is a one-dimensional archetype. Additionally, Johannes’ Roberts’ direction is competent enough. Still, it does little to keep this forgettable 89-minute project afloat.

(PG-13). Contains violence and adult content.

In theaters now. On Blu-Ray and DVD September 26th, 2017.

 

A Quiet Passion

Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

Though conventional in structure, writer-director Terence Davies’ biopic of the ever-rebellious Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion (2016), effortlessly flows with an unvarnished beauty. This is in nearly all cinematic facets. Such is especially visible in Davies’ admirable handling of mood. Yet, the cinematography, music and philosophical themes explored in the venture are where this exquisite nature is most evident. Still, the crowning achievement of Davies’ exercise are the performances. Most notably, Cynthia Nixon’s masterful, layered and nuanced lead turn.

Dickinson’s timeless and immersive poetry, which is narrated in a manner which is meant to communicate her unspoken thoughts to the audience during the more pensive moments of the labor, only heightens the elegance of the 125-minute project. Furthermore, Davies’ screenplay and overall guidance of the feature, which brings about a hefty Ingmar Bergman-like sensibility to the proceedings, are every bit as mature and refined as the narrative demands. The result of these high-caliber attributes is a mesmerizing masterpiece. Davies has crafted what is undoubtedly one of the best movies of the year.

(PG-13). Contains adult content.

Now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.

“Leftovers” – (Short Film Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Leftovers” (2017), an utterly absorbing twelve-minute and forty second short film from director and co-writer Tofiq Rzayev, is sobering, heart-wrenching and undeniably powerful. It brings into account a meditation on the hellfire and purgatory one must endure for atrocious actions. Namely the rape and murder of an eight-year old girl. But, it is as adamant at addressing how such measures of wickedness immediately affects those who are closely tied to the situation. This is in both a familial and occupational sense. Much in the manner Rzayev issued with his previous entries from 2016, “Nihan: The Last Page”, “In a Time for Sleep” and his dazzling debut invention with Fidan Jafarova, “Araf”, the affair focuses on grief. Yet, this is without such primary agony ever becoming the sole selling point of the composition.

We note this most evidently in the method in which Rzayev, utilizing a bold and intelligently arranged screenplay he crafted with prior literary collaborators Alsen Buse Aydin and Mehmet Faith Guven, develops the personalities of the fiction magnificently. Such transpires via their reactions and mannerisms over the horror they encounter. This now trademark Rzayev storytelling device is spellbinding. It immerses viewers in the emotion overflowing from those on-screen to captivating effect. This is while simultaneously respecting the perpetually solemn tone Rzayev has so beautifully and carefully constructed. In turn, the harrowing impression of watching real life unfold never wavers. As a matter of fact, these wise narrative choices only amplify these attributes. The result is a mesmerizing masterpiece; a harrowing cinematic glimpse into the oft gloomy mechanisms of the human spirit.

Set in the Turkish Mountains, this Angry Student Films Production concerns two civil police (in fantastic portrayals by Ismail Mermer and Erhan Sancar that further etch the rugged authenticity at hand). They are in the process of taking a highly troubled and distressed person, credited here as The Individual (in a genuinely moving and emotionally riveting performance by Gokberk Kozan), to identify a body at a crime scene. Upon stopping to allow their passenger to collect himself, a series of foreboding turns enter the narrative. From herein, sentiments, motivations and judgments take hold. This is as the drama hits a brooding zenith. Such sets the stage for a second half that unflinchingly focuses on the reactions to the abovementioned tragedy. This is with anger and heartache almost always at the forefront. The ardor-laden intensity in this section is made progressively palpable. Such transpires alongside Rzayev’s decision to keep the entirety of these measures in the confines of an isolated location.

Originally titled “Geride Kalanlar”, Rzayev weaves an increasingly gripping, brilliantly paced and executed chronicle. It begins strikingly. This is with an incredibly done shot from the backseat of a moving vehicle. Such suggests that we, the audience, are a silent passenger to the alternately poignant and unnerving circumstances which are about to occur. An immediate interest such as this only grows as the scant runtime unfolds. It is pushed to an undeniably haunting, open-ended concluding sequence. This is a perfect departure for a composition such as Rzayev’s latest creation. Such is so because it forces bystanders to become ever-involved in what is being depicted. This is a courageous, evocative choice. It is one that also pays off handsomely. In turn, the overall success of the endeavor is even more vivid and astonishing.

From a technical angle, the opus is just as mesmerizing. Rzayev, who also produced, issues masterfully constructed editing. His brooding cinematography is exceptional. It holds a mirror to the life imitating qualities of both the tone and the account itself spectacularly well. This can also be spoken of the clean, quiet, phenomenally arranged and fitfully reverential concluding credits segment. Likewise, Zahit Battal Sari demonstrates a compelling presence as the voice of The Commissioner. Additionally, the script audibly rings with ruggedly poetic dialogue that is filled with sly introspection and keen observations. All of which are cut from the everyday. These remarkable details are all perpetual evidence of the sheer craftsmanship which pulsates hypnotically throughout the exertion.

More than anything, Rzayev’s guidance of the project is utterly triumphant. “Leftovers” continues to carry on an undeniable parallel to Swedish moviemaking auteur Ingmar Bergman. Such an awe-inspiring comparison helped make his sixteen prior efforts so memorable. Yet, his style remains distinctly his own. At a mere twenty-two years of age, Rzayev has already cemented himself as a modern maestro of the moving picture form. His material is consistently central figure-oriented, meditative and unafraid to peer into the most unpleasant of social issues. Rzayev’s material, a reflection of his own personal reservations, engraves a certain wide-spread intimacy because of this factor. It is a detail that visibly resonates through one of his undertakings. He speaks to the humanity in us all. This is while simultaneously articulating to the mind. Rzayev’s most current tour de force is no exception. This is unquestionably one of the best efforts of its type of the year.

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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)

“Araf” – (Short Film Review)

 

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Araf” (2016), an eight-minute and forty-five second collaborative short from writer-directors Fidan Jafarova and Tofiq Rzayev, is a masterful meditation on pain and suffering. It is also a heart-wrenching example of moving picture art beautifully evaluated through the lens of human tribulation. Such is phenomenally expressed through the underlying theme of the incredible tolls of war on mankind. This is signified by several distinctly woven personalities. The Angry Student Films, Synaps Production and Fidan Jafarova release, made for 1,000 AZM in the Eurasian country of Azerbaijan, also brilliantly elucidates echoes of Swedish cinematic auteur Ingmar Bergman’s tour de force, Cries and Whispers (1972). This is especially evident in its mature, sobering handling of grave subject matter. These are all articulated unflinchingly, yet respectfully. Such transpires with the topics of disease and dying at the forefront. Furthering this correlation, is the concentration in both endeavors on the measures and sentimental outcomes such unavoidable trials brings about on the family members which dominate each singular tale. Given that the term “araf” is often utilized to reference the Muslim borderlands between heaven and hell, instituted for neither the wholly good or wicked, there is also a religious constituent to the proceedings. This connects Bergman’s material with Jafarova and Rzayev’s latest in this respect as well. Likewise, the character-oriented emphasis is credibly etched in these accounts. This technical component is so well formulated that this quality alone carries each corresponding composition to greatness.

Additionally, the performances in each item are exceptional all around. This is with the incorporation of a superb balance between the photographic, the everyday and the theatrical. Also, the cinematography in each respective entity, with that in “Araf” stemming from Rzayev and that from Bergman’s construction from Sven Nykvist (who won an Academy Award for his work on the aforesaid invention), is gorgeously grim and appropriately bleak. There is a brooding, meditative color palette shared between these undertakings. Such is undeniably striking and ambient throughout. Yet, in Jafarova and Rzayev’s brief effort, the general veneer arises as more shadowy, stylish and thriller oriented. The constant rumble of thunder and the highly demonstrative sights of the rain hammering outside, which creates a breathtaking image which opens and closes the piece, spectacularly heightens this attribute. Thus, when the fabrication slides into an unanswered question of actuality, ghosts or delusions, all through the eyes of daughter Feride (in a captivating enactment by Konul Iskender), the progression is simultaneously natural and complimentary. This transpires to alluring consequence in the second half. There is also a countless deal of symbolic imagery laced into practically every frame of these presentations. At the heart of this is a focus on feminine strength, vulnerability and courage amid nearly impossible circumstances. Enduring this representative correlation, there is a concentration on inner-wars. This is noticeable, in one manner or another, through every disposition dominating these already addressed exertions. These are both unspoken or verbalized. In “Araf”, this figure is physically embodied. This is via an unnamed combat with an unspecified menace. It is frequently discussed but never seen. Yet, we ceaselessly impress upon ourselves the unnerving ideology that this brutality is inching ever closer to the treacherous mountains our protagonists call home. In so doing, the incorporation of this abhorrent item akin wonderfully increases the previously mentioned allegory. It also makes it all the easier to delve into the uncertain psyches of those we follow within the chronicle.

The story, credited to Rzayev, concerns a son, Ali (in a phenomenal turn from Adil Damirov), who becomes caught up in the previously addressed violence. Early on, the plot oversees the young man’s Mother (in a gripping, quietly commanding portrayal from Basti Jafarova) tending to her sickly husband. He is credited here simply as Father (an emotionally gripping turn from Sabir Mammadov, which triumphantly communicates his anguish largely through tormented grunts and groans). Enhancing the strain upon Mother and her kin is that her blood relations are all nearing starvation. It is also an ever-present fear for Ali. With this in mind, Mother braves departing her nearby loved ones. This is after defiantly declaring to Feride: “My other child…is out there fighting against the enemy and has nothing to eat. I cannot accept them both suffering hunger. You just don’t be afraid.” Such brings Mother on a quest to uncover a source of nourishment for those she is leaving behind. Feride than takes up Mother’s position. Almost immediately, the anxiety stemming from the unseen confrontations outside is personified in increasingly unique ways. This occurs as the situation around her instantly begins to deteriorate.

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Such is a genuinely intriguing premise. It is one which requires much insight into both the psychology and attitude of those living under the persistent threat of real life terror. This is to be as successful as it obviously strives to be. Jafarova and Rzayev offer exactly that with their intelligent and richly constructed screenplay. They concoct personas, situations and dialogue that are as fully-realized, elegiac and memorable as any Bergman production. Regardless, their use of deceptively straight-forward discourse is meticulously sharp and profound. For instance, the commencing narration pronounces that “In these mountains…it always rains a lot. It’s unfortunate that we cannot hear it anymore”. Such a sweeping declaration draws us in instantly. But, when contemplated in retrospect, this line exemplifies tremendously just how far-reaching the apprehension is that our leads are under. Continually, the arc is largely unpredictable. This is without ever becoming implausible. Jafarova and Rzayev also unveil a perfectly even, cerebral pace for the brief opus. It is one that compliments the atmosphere splendidly. This is without weighing down the overall progression of events. Such is an astonishing feat itself.

All of this is made progressively encapsulating and hypnotic by Gergo Elekes’ remarkably emotive, piano driven score. Simuzar Aliyeva provides fantastic costume design. Shahmal Novruzlu and Kamil Ismaylov evoke a sound department contribution that is illimitably crisp and undoubtedly attention-garnering. The same can be said for the seamless visual effects from David Kislik. Jafarova’s editing is just as stellar. Similarly, Mitch Davies’ use of premiere stock footage is thoughtfully delivered.

At only twenty-two years of age, Rzayev has reflected his big screen heroes Andrei Tarkovsky (1975’s The Mirror, 1986’s Sacrifice) and Stanley Kubrick (1971’s A Clockwork Orange, 1987’s Full Metal Jacket) with deft precision. Such is seen in the plethora of unique camera angles, the experimental nature of his celluloid catalogue and in the sheer prowess in guiding the project at hand. “Araf” is no exception. Prior depictions, such as “In a Time For Sleep” (2016) and “Nihan: The Last Page” (2016), only re-enforce this factor. With sixteen scripting and directorial recognitions already to his name in only a five- year span, he is incessantly re-affirming that he is a talent far beyond his years. The same can be spoken of twenty-one-year old, Jafarova. This is her third such labor. The $500 budgeted documentary “Nagillar Alemine Seyahet” (2016) and the autobiographical “Fidan Jafarova Film Portrait” (2016) arrived previously. Given the evident might between these moviemaking forces, and the all-around excellence of this first alliance, I sincerely hope that the ingenious “Araf” marks the commencement of many future pairings among the duo. What they have created here is enlightening, profound and engaging. It is indisputably one of the best entries in its genre of the year.

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“Nihan: The Last Page”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Nihan poster

“Nihan: The Last Page” is an evocative, elegiac and enigmatic fourteen minute dramatic short, released through Angry Student Productions and directed with an impeccably masterful eye for communicating emotion through both sight and sound by Tofiq Rzayev. It is one which is achingly beautiful. This is true in both its plot, symbolism and execution. It addresses the wrenching transition from clinging to a painful loss, unable to let go because of the agony associated with saying farewell to a loved one, to the early stages of acceptance spectacularly well. This expressive turmoil the piece accomplishes with endless sincerity and maturity. It also elucidates an understated tone that is perfect for the material. These aforementioned characteristics are unveiled in the gorgeously honed performances. They are also erected mesmerizingly from both Rzayev’s dark, moody and glorious cinematography and smoothly fashioned editing.

The somber luster illustrated within this endeavor not only helps set the contemplative tone of the piece instantly but, also works terrifically with the sounds of an unseen storm raging off-screen. This occurs in its opening four and closing three minutes. It not only adds to the poetic sensibilities so meticulously woven throughout the endeavor but, it also evokes an intimate extension of the inner-turmoil welling within the lead of the narrative, The Man (a portrayal by Erhan Sancar that is as brilliant and riveting as Rzayev and Mustafa Erdogan Ulgur’s spectacularly crafted screenplay demands). The piece holds onto the sentimental impact it ruminates from these early instances and sharpens them greatly throughout the sparse runtime. This, along with the meticulous and stunning craftsmanship that has obviously gone into conjuring this impression, results in a composition that resonates constant endless quiet and pensive power. These merits exist on all technical and storytelling levels. Its potent effects linger with you long after its ethereal and gripping conclusion.

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This multi-layered and absorbing endeavor concerns the gentle, and previously stated, chief individual. He is on the final sheet of a volume he is penning about his deceased love, Nihan (an enactment by Sevgi Uchgayabashi, who is also credited with the original idea for this phenomenal effort, which is fittingly tender and transcendent in equal doses). The book addresses the life the two lived together, as well as their ambitions as a couple. Hearing Nihan’s tender voice from behind him, an incident which transpires on both occasions the turbulent weather is heard raging to heighten the already overwhelming emblematic and demonstrative effect, The Man fights to finish the task at hand. But, as he speaks to Sister (an outstanding depiction by Alsen Buse Aydin), as he does in the riveting mid-section sequence of this brief bit of cinema, we learn that the house once held the promise of fulfilling the numerous desires he is currently writing about. This, along with putting the romantic rapport behind him, coerces a realization that the home, as much as actual association, could be the largest obstacles present in ending his literary effort. The protagonist’s problems become all the more immediate, in both their need to be addressed and resolved, when The Man finds out that Nihan’s wishes were unwittingly disrespected. This arises when he uncovers that others will soon be moving in to the once joyous domicile.

The storyline is undoubtedly thoughtful, soul-stirring and heart-tugging. Furthermore, the sign evident in the final page, and this being aligned along the completion of an ardent affiliation cut short before it could take root, presents various layers of allegory and depth in itself. Yet, Rzayev and his filmmaking crew find a way to bring these numerous inner-meanings to the surface. Such is issued with a consistently stunning allure. This is astonishing, as it is always formulated in a fresh and continually sophisticated manner.

What is all the more impressive is that the tale continously utilizes a dependably smooth, steady pace. It is one that never impresses upon the mind the idea of being anything less than the movement of life itself as we, the audience, watch it unfold before us. There is a natural progression to the proceedings which allows both engaging character-development and the necessary notes of melancholy and personal growth to take front stage without feeling either too gradual or rushed. This is achieved in a way that is striking and, simultaneously, makes the pain The Man is suffering all the more accessible to every viewer. Such makes the high sensitivity flowing throughout the affair all the more illustrious and impactful. Gergo Elekes’ luminous and memorable music, Busra Ozturk’s outstanding make-up and the sleek art direction by Zhivko Petrov only further punctuate these already palpable attributes. This results in an absolute masterpiece of short cinema; one of the most fully feeling configurations of its ilk that I have witnessed in quite some time.

Rzayev is a colossal talent. The proof shines in the credible dialogue he has given the three distinct personalities which populate his tale. It is also apparent in his visible mastery of framing and the manner in which “Nihan: The Last Page” makes you feel like a quiet witness to a succession of ravishingly done segments, all of which appear taken directly from the perpetual turmoil of human existence. What is just as remarkable is that the approach present here is reminiscent of the legendary filmic maestro, Ingmar Bergman. There is also a theatrical quality to this cinematic invention, a characteristic often present in Bergman’s material, that makes its artistic and life-imitating aspects combine marvelously. This creates a singular, and defiantly brilliant, experience. It is one that commands both multiple observances and awe from those lucky enough to be caught in its hypnotic and grandly compelling presence.

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You can check out the IMDB page for the short film here.