Treated to a screening of five short films at the Tribeca Film Festival and knowing nothing in advance about any of them, I marveled yet again at human diversity and creativity.
The first film was “Earthrise,” by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee. The three astronauts of Apollo 8 tell the story of their otherworldly adventure from launch to splashdown. It was an experience that immeasurably enlarged and changed their perspectives. The first humans to orbit the moon, they were awestruck when they saw the Earth rising above the moon’s horizon. They recall the emotion they felt when they saw their distant home, a blue planet ascending in brilliant color from the moon’s unremitting gray into the blackness of space. Their mission was to photograph the moon’s surface, but the first pictures ever taken of the Earth from space eclipsed the novelty of the far side of the moon. Their iconic photo of earthrise is one of the most famous photos ever taken.
“The Blue Line” examines what happens when someone paints a blue line down the main street of a small town in order to honor the police. The line exposes a previously well hidden division between conservative and liberal, white and black. Voices raised in anger on either side of the divide eventually come to a town meeting to hear each other out. When Samantha Knowles heard about the controversy from her dad, she immediately dropped everything and returned to her childhood home to document the affair. One of the tiny percentage of African-Americans in an overwhelmingly white community, she was amazed and gladdened by the willingness of all the townspeople to speak with her.
The third film, “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes,” is a son’s attempt to come to terms with destructive family relationships, and especially with his father. Charlie Tyrell pieces together an understanding of his distant, dead father with scraps of memorabilia. He draws on his own little bit of hard knowledge with very few existent photos, including the single one of him and his father together, the memories and impressions of his sister, random artifacts his father left behind and family stories he had heard to trace the origins of his father’s unwillingness to be known.
Sindha Agha tells her story of battling menstrual pain in “Birth Control Your Own Adventure.” She represents her period with raspberries floating in water, catsup among balloons and other unique metaphors. She made the film in two days to distract her when her pangs were particularly intense. Her experience, she discovered, is far from unique. Women called and wrote and shared their stories, stories that no men wanted to hear, stories that they kept undisclosed for most of their lives.
Lance Oppenheim is a junior at Harvard, fascinated by the man who calls himself “The Happiest Guy in the World.” He profiles Mario Salcedo, a man who boarded his first cruise 20 years ago and never returned. Mario lives his fantasy, shucking off the responsibilities of living on land. He doesn’t have to take out the garbage, for example. Someone else makes his bed and cooks and serves his food. Oppenheim gives Mario free rein to explain why he is the happiest guy in the world, but he seems to be unaware of some glaring contradictions in his narrative. Strange.
All the filmmakers are under 40, three in their 20s and one not twenty yet, and all have made other films. I was struck by the originality of their work and the compelling stories they tell. Agha’s and Tyrell’s shorts are available in the New York Times Op-Docs section, and the others will soon be. Check them out. You won’t be sorry.