Short films, much like short stories and one-act plays, have the power to surprise and engage their viewers in ways that simply cannot be accomplished in feature-length films. The new Stars in Shorts collection produced by ShortsHD is an exemplary set of seven short films featuring well-known and critically acclaimed actors. Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Dame Judi Dench, Julia Stiles, Jason Alexander and Lily Tomlin star in films that are simultaneously uplifting, intriguing and disturbing.
The films collected in Stars in Shorts are showing throughout the U.S., Canada and Denmark this October and November. The collection can also be downloaded via iTunes and several other on-demand providers serving global audiences.
None of the seven films runs more than 25 minutes. Thanks to the constraints the short film format puts on character and plot development, the endings of many of these gems are an absolute surprise. Viewers can expect to experience giddy laughter, unshakable discomfort and utter sadness when viewing these stellar selections from the ShortsHD arsenal.
The Procession, starring Lily Tomlin and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, is the darkly humorous tale of a mother and son who get caught up in a wayward funeral procession. Director Robert Festinger has brilliantly captured the sacred—and sometimes absurd—nature of guilt and grieving in American society. Tomlin and Ferguson are a true delight together, with comic banter flowing easily between the two.
Steve is director Rupert Friend’s salute to the awkward friendships that we all find ourselves stuck in every now and again. Keira Knightley and Tom Mison play a young couple suddenly saddled with a very curious neighbor. Steve (Colin Firth) is a seemingly nice and utterly nutty neighbor desperate for a real connection with others. Humorous, startling and touching, the film leaves viewers ruminating on what being ‘neighborly’ really means.
Sexting tells the story of a young woman confronting her boyfriend’s wife for the first time. Fed up with the man, the young woman chatters on in a monologue that sometimes feels more like an audition piece than a short film. Julia Stiles nails the irritation and ambivalence of a hopeless mistress but something seems a bit amateur about her performance.
Prodigal is the only sci-fi piece presented in Stars in Shorts. Featuring Kenneth Branagh, Jennifer Morrison and Winter Ave Zoli, the film is about the fate of a young girl with super-human powers in the X-Men tradition. Director/writer Benjamin Grayson provides a well-paced, labyrinthine script that keeps the viewer guessing long after the film has ended. This is the collection’s most technically sophisticated film, and also one of the strongest films in terms of overall story arch.
Not Your Time, produced by Joe Kamen, features Jason Alexander trudging through the unforgiving world of screenwriting. Once a promising writer and composer, Sid Rosenthal find himself facing the biggest rejection of his career and turns to suicide. But could his plans to kill himself end up being the best pitch he’s ever made? The highlight of the film are the brilliant, Broadway-style song and dance sequences that bookend the action.
Friend Request Pending in a touching short comedy that teaches us that women and men of all ages can find love on the Internet. Dame Judi Dench stars in this witty and often hilarious short about a woman who faces the same level of anxiety over a Facebook messaging session that one would expect of a teenage girl. Full of snappy dialogue, the short film ends with a message about modern technology that no viewer should miss.
After-School Special is writer Neil LaBute’s seemingly simple story about a young divorced man (Wes Bentley) who tries to befriend a woman he assumes is a single mother (Sarah Paulson) in a restaurant’s kiddy play area. The awkward, smile-inducing banter leads to the most shocking moment in all of the shorts presented in this collection. This one is likely to stick with viewers for weeks after its initial screening.
On the whole, ShortsHD has done a stellar job of curating a meaningful collection of contemporary short films that both avid movie buffs and casual filmgoers will want to see. Releasing the collection both in theatres and via iTunes is a particularly smart move likely to boost overall viewership. Busy folks who have only a few minutes to kick back and relax will find that these shorts are a perfectly packaged dose of guilty pleasure.
// Notes from the Road
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