I’ve said it a hundred times, and I will say it a hundred more – I love the short film medium. Thankfully, even with the Tribeca Film Festival postponed, the curators behind one of the world’s most well-known festival have provided the opportunity for the short films that would have screened this year a moment to shine.
For its yearly segment, Tribeca N.O.W., three short films caught my eye, snatching my interest and proving to be truly captivating and eye-opening. Where one focuses on a life after religion, another learns to love itself, a the third brings the spotlight onto an industry we will all need one day but truly do not understand.
Backsliders (Micah Suddyth and Keylee Koop-Sudduth)
When I had read the synopsis for Backsliders, I was instantly enthralled. The idea of a young couple embarking on a new facet of life without religion was a fascinating idea, one that held a plethora of possibilities – and one I found to be more relatable than I could have thought possible. There is a richness of story, not just on the idea of leaving ones religion behind, but what life is like without it, the struggle to reidentify oneself and grapple with the voids leaving a religion behind can create.
In just under 17 minutes, Backsliders presents three examples of this, each structured in a kind of episodic form, each with their own introductory break. While the initial intro is a bit bizarre (a dream of Jesus appearing as She masturbates), it is a perfect lead into the concept that masturbating ensures you a place in hell. While He (Micah Sudduth) has come to embrace the act, She (Keylee Koop-Sudduth) struggles to reconcile doing so for herself.
From here, there is a clear sense of back and forth for each, embracing a life without religion but unable to fully let go. She still finds enjoyment in the Christian music that once was a solid part of her life, while He, even though he preaches about doing whatever makes you feel good, refuses to have religious (“pagan” he calls them as they are written in Spanish) candles within his home.
Not only is there a back and forth, but there is also a seemingly subconscious utilization of religion when it suits each of them. To win fights or to make a point, their previous religion is thrown in each other’s faces, contradictions between what is said and behavior running rampant. While they are ready to attempt navigating life without it, it still has a purpose that can not be shaken.
Thus far in my viewing, this has been one of the most relatable shorts of the festival. As an individual who decided to embrace a life without religion, I too experienced similar instances – each as confusing as both She and He display. Can I still be spiritual without religion? Could I still enjoy the same songs and films I had come to like? Even now years later, there is a dissonance that arises when elements of the past resurface, unsure of how to uphold the life I live now without forgetting where I had originally come from.
Backsliders truly encompasses these feelings, these questions in a tightly constrained and humored manner, keeping it light and relatable. For anyone who was brought up since birth in a religious environment, only to find it was not the path for them later on, this short will speak to you.
Circus Person (Britt Lower)
”You can be wild too” – a saying spoken and seen many times throughout Circus People, this has become the new mantra I need to incorporate more in my life. Having had her heart broken by her lover, Ava (Britt Lower) finds herself writing a letter to the woman, Luna (Jessica Marks), who took her love away. While the cinematic letter begins on a solemn note, it quickly transforms into a journey of self-discovery and a chance to love oneself.
As Ava embarks on her letter to Luna, she starts in the beginning – understanding what separates them, makes them different. While it may sound like a stream of consciousness, her thoughts find the first moment of enlightenment in her journey. While she originally defines their differences through shapes, she a square and Luna a circle, she begins to ponder on the idea of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” – wherein he is both a square and a circle. While she grapples with the philosophical discovery, that as humans we can and need to be both flexible and hard, her journey continues on, the circus she has joined further bringing her letter to Luna to life.
As we see the circus literally personifying these themes of circles and squares (the flexibility of the performers and the difficulty and hard work behind putting on a show), Ava begins to let go. She has always been a square, but for the first time, she begins to embrace the life of a circle. She can be wild, she can be free, she can be the canvas of her own art. As she discovers, maybe a broken heart was what she needed to excuse herself to let go.
While she started off writing to Luna as the other woman, it turns out she was writing to herself, to open herself up to the possibilities of the world and to the possibility Luna is not the villain in her story but rather the catalyst of change. It is an awe-inspiring short that allows viewers to not only witness her story but to allow her to potentially become the catalyst of change for her audience. As a viewer, I was surprised to see the direction this short film went – it’s a short that I recommend wholeheartedly.
Dying Business (Alden Nusser and Ben Fries)
No one knows the finality of death more than those making a living from it. From the funeral home to the grave, the various industries surrounding the departure of our loved ones pose a blend of challenges, eccentrics and an understanding that this is actually a business about the living. Dying Business, from directors Alden Nusser and Ben Fries, takes a brief look into each of these facets of the industry – Funeral Homes, Cryogenics, mortuary investigations and rentals – all in various locations, each with the focus of satisfying the wishes of the deceased and their loved ones.
Out of the three in this segment, this was the short film that I found myself most excited to see, and the one I was most disappointed with. Disappointed not because of a poorly executed short but rather because of the short amount of time given. As each avenue of the industry is introduced, my interest and even surprise piqued higher and higher.
I had never heard about the 18-month leasing of final resting places in Haiti, nor the challenges presented to the vault cemeteries in Louisiana when the waters rise. I had heard of mortuary investigations, but usually following a natural disaster. I found myself craving to know more, to learn more about each facet of the industry. And as much as I found disappointment at the film’s rapid conclusion, this is a compliment to the filmmakers for identifying an area of life that many do not know about, and crafting it in an intriguing way to invite those interested to research further.
While it is quick, Dying Business grazes over a variety of information, proving that no two days are the same and that there is more to a business than what meets the eye.
Find out more about Tribeca’s N.O.W. short film program here.
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