Robert Redford knows how to kick off my first screening right. He makes a personal appearance at the very first Shorts Program, and comes up with a statement that I hurry to write down in my notebook: "Looking at those shorts is very, very impactive, because they're all stories."
This is what I'm here for. The stories. Thanks, Mr. Redford.
Spike Jonze's I'm Here is the story of Sheldon the sad-eyed library reshelving robot and his love affair with a female robot he spots as she drives by at a bus stop. "You're a good dreamer," he tells her, when she reveals that even thought they are incapable of dreaming, she makes them up herself, ones in which she's being suffocated by plants. She hands Sheldon a cassette of a band called The Lost Trees (fronted in the film by the beguiling Aska Matsumiya and scored by the Yeah Yeah Yeah's Nick Zinner) and tells him it's her favorite band, then takes him to see them as his first rock show, where an incident in a mosh pit leads the story to... well, it led me to weeping over robots, is where it led. It's the story of how you can love someone so much that you'd literally give every part of yourself to them. I hope I wasn't the only person who sucked back a couple of light sobs in the final frames.
Rory Kennedy's The Fence is the story of a fence built (or not quite built) between the United States and Mexico. The message of the film to me, was summed up best in a sign seen on a golf course lazily confined to a no-man's land between the actual border of Mexico defined by the snaking Rio Grande, and the fictional border of the Fence:
DO NOT HIT GOLF BALLS INTO MEXICO (Violators will be prosecuted.)
The long and short of it, really.
Another story altogether: the French animation Logorama, an elaborate Michael Bay-esque action sequence played out entirely in corporate logos. Without naming names, lest the filmmakers find themselves in a host of trouble with certain corporations, seeing a certain fast food clown be derailed in his evil plans by a weight loss company's logo was more delicious than two all-beef patties and a special sauce — almost as delicious as seeing David Fincher listed in the credits as the voice of a certain "unstoppable once poppable" potato chip logo.
If I leave you with one piece of advice over the course of this adventure, let it be this: DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT sit behind someone taller than you during a foreign film screening. You will miss the punchline, unable to stretch your neck enough to read the subtitles, and then you will spend the remainder of the film cursing every gray hair on his stupid gray head. The better person would have asked him to slouch; instead, I complain to the internet. (And he was perfectly kind to me before the film started! I'm sure he's always perfectly lovely to be around, unless you have to read subtitles around his head.)
Despite missing the line that got the biggest laugh during Patrik Eklund's Seeds of the Fall, I did catch others. "We've both seen you digging in your potato bed, topless." was a choice one. Anything involving topless potato bed digging has to be a good thing, right?
The Q&A session revealed the filmmakers to be a quiet bunch, subtly grateful to their audience and each other. They whispered wisdoms about the short film form such as "the idea dictated the length" (Jonze) and "it's a freer form; you can make some shortcuts in your storytelling" (Eklund) or simply "who's zee bad guy? It is always zee clown" (one of the two Frenchmen, each with accents that made me want to slowly sip wine and listen to them talk all night).
After the event, we pour out into the lobby and onto the street. I find an open pizzeria with a friendly staff willing to sell me a late-night slice and let me sit for a moment at their bar pondering sad robot stories. Mr. Redford was right: They're all stories. And, hey, these people are pretty good dreamers.