Sacramento International Film Festival Presents Surreal Cinema 2009

By Aaris A. Schroeder

I attended the Sacramento International Film Festival last year, an annual non-profit flim presentation put on by Martin Anaya and enjoyed myself so much I decided to come back.   The place wasn’t too packed which was too bad because the short films we were about to see were totally awesome.

“Wake Up, You’re Sleeping” was a short film about a chess player comfortable in his familiar state when a girl arrives into his life and he befriends an older gentleman.  He seems to loose himself when he gets tide up in computer-based chess and his relationships fall apart.  The director of this film, Nathaniel Bennett, became quite interested in chess before making this film which led him to utilize the game throughout this story of a young man who looses control of himself.

Next up were several shorter “shorts,” as they are referred to, including “Waffles for Breakfast.”  This film starts off with a table full of men and one woman, filled with spit, cigarettes, booze and foul language as they played poker in a low-lit room.  One man doesn’t have enough cash to put down on a bet, so he bets a watch that was given to him and his mode of transportation.  The man who wins these items is surprised to see a dame roped and taped up inside the motor home.  The story takes a twist when the tables turn on this poker player and the woman gets away with more than just roped arms and a duct tape face.

In addition, was the psychedelic cartoon, “Well of Lost Souls” in which a character gets dropped off into this water hole; loosing his beloved blanket and picked up by a much larger creature, bottled up and set along side several other bottle-caged souls.  He finds a way to get out and then an old-fairy-type comes to his rescue [after he saves her from a bottle] and brings him his blanket.  She seems to represent the main character’s guardian angel.  The depiction of lucid imagination and vivid imagery offers a dream-like quality to the film.

By far, the funniest, this film noir, “Animated American” is similar to Roger Rabbit yet instead of dealing with gangsters, a young, sexy couple is in search of the perfect home.  Winner for Best Short Film at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and Golden Pencil Award for Best 2-D Film for the 2D or Not 2D Film Festival, Directors James Baker and Joe Haidar pull of a classic Hollywood crime drama. With lots of money, the man is ready to buy until the “Animated American,” a short, older rabbit fellow and also the owner of the house begins showing off the house to the couple.  Suddenly, they find themselves locked in the huge walk-in closet where two of the characters seek their revenge.  This low-key, black-and-white, crime-drama is produced with expressionist acting, making the film one of my favorites for the day.

The following film is mainly shot in the dark; seemingly helpless, the character in “Abyss Derelict” is being chased and tortured by water.  The film is very abstract, making it hard to tell if it was all a dream.  He wakes up with water coming out of his mouth.  This film captures your attention since this person who is being made to suffer is in near-full darkness with the sounds of water, matches being lit and shaky hands. 

Best acting for the evening went to the film, “Cargo” where actress Adriana Solis is seen with friends and family members in the cargo-space of an airplane being shipped from Columbia to America in search of jobs and freedom.  The cinematography of this film constantly leaves you in suspense of what’s next.  The film shows the sacrifices that illegal immigrants make when they have the deep desire for freedom.  Sacrifices must be made by the whole for the few to survive or maybe just one in this case.  The film reminded me of a Columbian Twilight Zone.

In the short film, “The Visited,” a middle-aged librarian who hears voices, sees creatures pass by and is infatuated with a woman he works with at the library [shot at the San Francisco State University library]. He finds solace in his writing as it is calming and his only reality.  The woman he loves finds his book and begins to read his words.  Some people’s reality may be all in their head but this guy’s was actually real. 

Sending human chills down your spine, “The Collector” shows a manic depressive man who has chosen not to use medicine.  He wants to see his child so he invites over a professional to talk about his problems.  He finally gives in and wants to get better but he is pushed to the brink of his issues, deep down inside, self-hate thrives in this individual and the deep desire to end his mental pain.  At the end of this film, this man looses his struggle with life with his own hands. 

“Forecast” starts off in the future as a man wants to go back to his childhood to fix life’s problems.  He is seen sitting in an elementary class setting, a boy teases him and he erupts into a physical fight.  The young boy’s teacher knows there is more to this than just fighting.  When the youngster goes home, he sees his father, passed out drunk in their storage garage bleeding from his hand.  This young boy has to fix his bicycle since his father couldn’t manage to do so; he then takes off to his secret spot to think.  The film gets crazy as he drowns and is brought back to a different time in the time portal.  Maybe things are meant to be left alone.  This film seems to be about people making life-altering changes and not fate. 

Growing up, every little girl and boy think about what it will be like to be an adult.  Will they get married?  Have a career?  Produce children?  The man in the film, “Step Seven” leads this simple type of life.  Disgusted and finished with what he thinks is a waste of an existence, he leaves his wife and children to become something greater.  What he discovers is that he finds himself in a similar role once again.  Trying to find freedom and purpose lead him to be controlled and eventually seeing the reality of what he had really done; he had become a victim of his own principals.

Have you ever heard someone calling for help over the airways while traveling down Highway 65?  In the film, “AM1200,” Ray Wise plays an unemployed man seeking revenge to a crooked company in which he and his co-worker steal money.   His accomplice in crime ends his own life and now he is on the run.  The film takes a turn for the worst when Wise finds himself at the AM 1200 station.  With nothing to gain in life, Wise begins feeding into a horrible cycle of murder and torture. 

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