Short Session 3 was seen as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

So, mild housekeeping. Normally on this blog I review feature-length films because that’s what’s easily available to me and provides the most material for a review. For the next week I’m going to be focusing entirely on some shorts available during the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, so basically I’m going to pick a series of shorts and review them all for about a paragraph each. Why? Because it’s my blog and I do what I want!

Searching for a Friend (Directed by Gillym Davenport) is a delightful little film about a guy searching for an old friend he met online in a forum, something that anyone who grew up in the age of the online forum can relate to. Simple and sweet, the film shows the impact of online friendships and how much they can mean to someone. Its relatability is off the charts, since anyone who is being honest about their online friendships will admit to at least having one or two online friends who they wanted to catch up with but lost contact with. Absolutely heartwarming and with a good sense of humour, Searching for a Friend hopefully will help its creator find the friend that inspired this delightful short.

Stranger in the Crowd (Directed by Matt Alpass) follows Phil, a worker at an aged care home who also does performances as an Elvis impersonator. The focus of the film is never on the skill of the impression or the life of the performer (though that skill is considerable and the life seems fascinating) but on the impact that his performance has on those who see it, which is largely elderly people in a care facility. The shots of the audience just delighting in their own personal concert by Elvis are some of the most charming images you will see, the entire short just wraps you up in a warm hug and whispers “Come on, let’s escape together” in your ear. It used to be hard to explain the benefits of escapist media, now I know I can just point to a copy of Stranger in the Crowd and scream “That’s why escapism is important!”.

Citizen of the Great Barrier Reef (Directed by Tom Abood) is about a team of scientists looking at the effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef, or more specifically on certain remote and lesser checked regions in the reef. The entire short treats the story of “The reef is dying” with incredible nuance, pointing out that some parts are actually doing quite well and figuring out why could be the answer to saving the entire reef. It’s full of some incredibly smart people carefully and plainly explaining the issues of the reef and how we can help it out, making the topic more accessible to everyone… plus, so many beautiful drone shots and underwater shots of the reef that it’s basically Reef Porn. Seriously you will probably never see blue holes looking better than they do here (and no I’m not explaining that term, watch the short and learn!)

Solid Flesh (Directed by Christian Byers) is a fly-on-the-wall observational documentary set in a Sydney Funeral Home that really demystifies the world of death care. Shown in crisp black and white, the experimental arthouse style tricks the audience into going along with this very quiet contemplative piece. Viewing moments of the day to day events that take place in the funeral home, such as meeting with clients or preparing for a viewing or dealing with… well, something that ends up revealing the joke of the title so I won’t spoil it, makes the entire process feel less scary. If you, like me, recently got into YouTube mortician Caitlin Doughty’s series “Ask A Mortician” then consider this the arthouse cousin of that.

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Raising Joey (Directed by Stephanie Senior) follows Alex Cearns, a photographer that specializes in photographs of animals. Specifically animals in need of help or rescuing. After giving a brief overview of her career and style of photography, the short shows how Alex’s photography has been used to help document the health of kangaroos and joeys that were displaced or harmed by the 2019-2020 bushfires. While some shots are a little hard to view (AKA you’re gonna see some dead kangaroos and whose heart wouldn’t ache seeing that?), it’s an important short showing how a skilled photographer can help by using their art to spread a message… also lots of adorable photos of happy kangaroos and puppy dogs so really worth seeing. Feels like it’s the kind of short that should be played just before Black Summer (which you should have gone and seen by now!)

The Shape of Air (Directed by Rob Layton) gives a quick glimpse of the work of Willy Nicholls, a surfboard airbrush artist who does some genuinely fascinating work. The film showcases the incredible talent involved in making this art, the visual flourishes that Willy puts in that make his boards so unique and also gives us a lot of time with his ‘art director’, a beautiful dog named Ruby who basically steals the entire short. It’s a great look at an artist with such talent that honestly made me wish I was into surfing so I had an excuse to buy one of Willy’s boards. At the very least, you should go check out Willy’s Instagram and look at his absolutely incredible artwork… and Ruby, there are also photos of Ruby because Willy knows how important a good doggo is to any business.

Salty Sea Dog (Directed by Lara van Raay) provides a profile into the fascinating Madeleine Habib, a Master Mariner who uses her skills to help those in dangerous situations. She works with Greenpeace and helps migrants who are trying to escape war-torn countries and the film really just uses every second to show her as this kind normal person who just happens to be doing something incredibly heroic. It never plays it up (though it really could because the things Madeleine does are incredible) but just kind of coasts by and lets the power of its subject do most of the work. A great little look into an absolute legend, it’s worthy of some serious celebration

Murder on the Dance Floor (Directed by Louise Bertoncini) tells the true story of Audrey Jacobs, a Western Australian woman who decided one day in 1925 to go to the Western Australian Government House during one of its dances and shoot her ex, Cyril Gisley to death… and somehow got away with it. The details of how she got away with this murder make up the entirety of this wonderfully filmed short, complete with recreations of the actual murder and interviews with experts. Stylistic, fascinating and full of energy, any true crime lover who wants a 5-minute long hit should seek this out. The only way this could be improved is if someone paid for the rights to some Sophie Ellis-Bextor music to play over the credits.But seriously, some streaming network might want to call Louise and say “Hey, wanna make a true-crime documentary for us?” because with this amount of style and substance in just a few minutes, I wanna know what happens with a full series and a proper budget.

My Dad Elvis (Directed by Eric Piccoli) has Eric following his father, Richard Piccoli, as he prepares for his last performance as an Elvis Impersonator. Richard hasn’t actually hit the stage in almost 2 decades but at 70 he wants to hit hte stage one more time. We follow his process of getting himself back in the headspace to be Elvis, from picking the songs to perform to having his costume adjusted and even getting his hair died and shaped for that familiar Elvis look. It’s a sweet charming little film that lovingly shows how the desire to perform never truly goes away and captures at least some of a great impression forever on film. Such a wonderful way to finish this little series of shorts.

So that’s all the shorts that’re part of Short Session 3 at MDFF… tomorrow we might do short session 6 because proper numerical order is for cowards who can be bothered to be professional… unless something happens, then I have another thing in my drafts I’ll post. Again, I am a professional, damnit!

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