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Family Ties, Experimental Beats and a Comedy of Errors: What to Watch on ‘Film School Shorts’

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Still from 'uNomalanga and the Witch.' (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

Film School Shorts is back just in time to make your late-night Fridays a little less lonesome, with tales of all-too familiar family strife, beloved pets, 19th-century adventure and unrequited loves.

Season 5’s offerings excel at finding light moments even in the most painful situations — whether through humor, luscious visuals or unexpected connections. Tune in: the future of filmmaking is bright.

Still from 'Groomed.'
Still from ‘Groomed.’ (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)


Episode 501: “First Gen 101”
Airs Friday, Sept. 8, 11pm

The premiere episode of Film School Shorts delves into some heady subjects — pernicious racism, immigrant family expectations, biracial relationships, where to buy a corsage — but the characters of Groomed manage to use the myopia of discrimination to their advantage. When it appears a WASPy bride’s been jilted by her Mexican-American fiance (playing into all the Vermont wedding guests’ expectations), she and the groom’s devious godmother hatch a plan to give the crowd the ceremony they expect, so long as they don’t look too hard.

Mira, I worked in white homes for 40 years,” the godmother says. “All you need is the slightest doubt as to who is who and none of you will dare say a thing.” With some excellent physical comedy and just the right amount of flute, Groomed skewers upper-crust society’s unwillingness to acknowledge its own intolerance in one unsteady trip down the aisle.

Still from 'When We Were Young.'
Still from ‘When We Were Young.’ (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

When We Were Young

Episode 503: “Coming Home”
Airs Friday, Sept. 22, 11pm

Just a warning: This animated affirmation of intergenerational family love might make you cry. And if it doesn’t, there might be something wrong with your heart. Using the trope of home video footage, filmmaker Gabby Capili flashes between scenes of a childhood spent in the warm care of her grandmother with scenes from her young adulthood, their roles reversed. With soothing, poetic narration, When We Were Young resembles Robert Munsch’s classic children’s book Love You Forever, updated with a small army of grandchildren and a non-linear narrative. Moving back and forth through time, Capili contrasts colorful images of children running amok with grayscale renderings of her grandmother’s now-quiet home, cementing their bond with the line “We grow old, together.”

Still from 'The Execution.'
Still from ‘The Execution.’ (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

The Execution

Episode 504: “Pet Problems”
Airs Friday, Sept. 29, 11pm

Anyone who’s spent time in a small town knows there’s a fine line between neighborliness and nosiness. Everybody’s up in everybody else’s business and everybody has an opinion about that business. The Execution begins with its titular moment, leaving the audience to piece together the details of who — or what — was executed, and why. As the residents grapple with the unexpected aftermath of a necessary decision, Maxine, the bar owner who pulled the trigger, finds herself the target of recriminations from the very people who thanked her only days ago. But the limited supply of people — and bars — in this small town means feelings of guilt and sadness can be addressed directly, processed and put to rest, especially over a pint of beer.

Still from 'uNomalanga and the Witch.'
Still from ‘uNomalanga and the Witch.’ (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

uNomalanga and the Witch

Episode 510: “Bewitched”
Airs Friday, Nov. 10, 11pm

Palesha Shongwe’s uNomalanga and the Witch occupies the entire 10th episode of Film School Shorts — and for good reason. If anything else had to play alongside this gorgeous South African short, it just wouldn’t be fair. Nomalanga is the wife of a schoolteacher, her days spent cleaning, cooking, reading the Bible and praying. Across the street from their new home lives a mysterious widow, Salome, who refuses Nomalanga’s religion but accepts her biscuits in exchange for hair-dressing appointments. As the two grow closer, Nomalanga becomes less reserved, arising the suspicion (and superstition) of both her husband and small community. A skillful meditation on friendship, loss and love, uNomalanga and the Witch will have you on the lookout for anything and everything that comes next from Shongwe.

Still from 'Shadow Beat.'
Still from ‘Shadow Beat.’ (Courtesy of Film School Shorts)

Shadow Beat

Episode 511: “Best of the Bay”
Airs Friday, Nov. 17, 11pm

Half the fun of this season’s final episode is getting to see familiar Bay Area backdrops in student films. But my favorite of the bunch is pure abstraction, a black-and-white Super 8 film made by USF student Sarah Frei. Set to a soundtrack of jazzy drum rolls, checkered patterns zoom in and out, overlapping in prismatic effects. The whole thing is barely a minute long, but it’s a fitting reminder of the incredible local history of experimental film — and of what can be achieved with even the most basic elements of image and sound.



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