Short Session 5 was seen as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

Time for another stack of short films from the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Today, we’re going through session 5 on their program which might have the best set of shorts so far, and that bar has been set pretty high by everyone else.

Holy Duty (Directed by Sarah Marcuson) introduces a non-Jewish audience to the “Chevra Kadisha”, a group of volunteers who spend their lives preparing and burning Jewish bodies. It’s a film all about coping with death and the understanding that we will all die one day while also explaining this absolutely fascinating job description. Largely consisting of an interview with Nicole, a Chevra Kadisha Volunteer, we’re walked through some of the process and the cultural importance of this role in society. A slow-moving and fascinating look into an element of death and the ritual surrounding it, this short fulfilled every element of its holy duty.

Inner Portraits (Directed by Christian Berzi) is a profile of the artist R J Poole, a photographer who spent a significant part of his life as a member of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment. Through a combination of interviews with R J Poole and slides of his work, this film gives a grand overview of his style of artistry and hints at the elements of his life that appear to have influenced his dark and confronting artworks. One of the most honest and pure profiles of an artist that you will see, even though it’s short it feels like you end up knowing more about R J than you would if it was a feature-length documentary just because of how open R J is during this interview.

Free Riding Iran (Directed by Alec Wohlgroth) is a ten-speed joyride through the world of Iranian mountain biking. The film embeds itself among a small group of cyclists who might not have much in common, but when they’re on a bike ride together they’re a family. Full of beautiful visuals, interviews with charming riders and a lot of high octane bike riding action, the short uses Westerners’ notions of what living in Iran is like to create a heavy contrast with the freedom shown by these small groups of mountain bike riders. It’s wheely good… no, I am not ashamed of that pun, even though I probably should be.

Free Riding Iran Short
Free Riding Iran

The Art in Healing (Directed by Stella Dimadis) explores the concept of Art Therapy through interviews with experts and people who use art therapy as part of how they deal with severe trauma. The concepts behind the practice are so clearly explained that within minutes it becomes apparent how useful this tool is and the great need to make it into a more mainstream form of therapy. Filled with important information and some absolutely gorgeous art, every minute of this short is used to its maximum potential and ends up creating a fascinating therapeutic experience that’s easily accessible to just about everyone.

Rat Tail (Directed by Chad Sogas) is one of the best short films I’ve ever seen. An autobiographical tale, it begins almost benignly by talking about the rats tail that Chad grew for ten years and his seemingly idyllic childhood. It’s funny, charming, Chad and his family come off as one of the most delightful sets of people you’ve ever met (even though you technically haven’t actually met them) and then a rug gets pulled and surprise, it’s been about mental illness this whole time and the film about a haircut made me cry. In under ten minutes, this film runs between hilarious and heartbreaking without breaking a sweat and it’s just… it’s fucking brilliant, end of story.

Hags (Have a Good Summer) (Directed by Sean Wang) is a beautiful personal story about someone just trying to figure out how to be an adult and so they call their old school friends to see how they’re doing. An energetically animated documentary, the idea behind it is so simple (The director called some old friends from 8th grade and talked about some of their memories) that even though these experiences are incredibly specific to the people talking there’s also something so incredibly relatable about it. Touching on the happy memories of childhood and the confusing complexities of growing up, there are some really great moments throughout this short that’s all combined with some brilliant directorial skill. At one point during the documentary. Sean brings up that he’s always wanted to make films and judging by what’s on display here, not only can you tell that this is a lifelong passion but it makes me excited to see just what Sean Wang is going to do when the time comes to try something feature-length.

Memory Lanes (Directed by Brian Gersten) is the short film on this list that I want to see a feature-length version of because it’s conceptually perfect and just dips its toe in the vast ocean of brilliance. What starts as a documentary on bowling, made up of archival footage from TV shows, movies, commercials and educational films, slowly turns into something else. As the film reveals more about the history of the sport of bowling in America, it slowly turns into a documentary about the worst elements of humanity and their link to this simple little sport. Touching on sexism, racial violence, mass shootings and (of course) the Nazis, it shows how something so seemingly innocent can have a truly horrific and grotesque history that we have allowed ourselves to forget in favour of comfort. It’s confronting, powerful, heartbreaking and laced with some incredibly dark humour… this movie is a strike and I want more, I want so much more.

That’s all of them. Tomorrow we’ll look at another set of assorted shorts and see which of those makes my jaw hit the floor… they’re going to have to work hard to beat the Bowling one in terms of pure shock value but we’ll see what happens.

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