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Arts & Culture

Festival Highlight: Experimental Shorts

"Leonora and Gabriel: An Instant" by Liz Benrey, part of the San Diego Latino Film Festival's Experimental Shorts program.
Liz Benrey
"Leonora and Gabriel: An Instant" by Liz Benrey, part of the San Diego Latino Film Festival's Experimental Shorts program.

SDLFF Delivers Variety With Short Film Program

The word “experimental” can cover an amazing amount of elements. For film, it often stands in for quirky, off-beat, unusual editing or, in the worst case scenario, a sampler of visual and audio special effects. The Experimental Short program at this year’s San Diego Latino Film Festival was no exception. It ran the gamut from arresting editing to short-lived charm.

One of the most interesting pieces on the program, which ran on March 15, was “La Huida”,(“The Escape”) a fast-paced romp through tiny vignettes connected through collages and surprising elements such as sudden animations of what someone’s brain might be thinking. This arresting short from Spain deftly ties together chewing gum, oddly shaped stains on a wall and a bank robbery, all points on a map, and yet all cleverly connected.

Walt Disney Square,” from Brazil, is also clever- way too clever for its own good. This short has flashes of brilliance such as a huge group of balloons vaguely shaped like Mickey Mouse, that bob gently in the tide along a crowded beach, or when joggers suddenly burst on screen to “Stayin’ Alive.” However, these moment, so promising at first, are only flashes in a tedious, 22 minute short that feels like it is holding the viewer, too polite to leave before the end of the program, an ever-more resentful hostage.


A nice, unstructured antidote is local filmmaker Lizet Benrey’s surrealistic short on British-Mexican Surrealist painter and sculpture Leonora Carrington (see interview). A film of dreamy impressions, which nonetheless communicates Carrington’s power as an artist, “Leonora and Gabriel: An Instant” is an intimate look at one of Mexico’s last great Surrealist artists.

Experimental shorts often present a lovely ironic twist as found in “Viejos Perdedores” (“Old Losers”), a beautifully shot piece about an middle-aged former boxing champion who asks his trainer for help with one last win. It’s not the money that attracts him, although there is some. It’s just that in the hard-scrabble Spain of the 1930’s, winning a packet of beautiful steaks for the tenth and last time, would make Manuel Quintana not only a champion, but a very well-fed and happy man. At 40, Manual is not quite the boxer he used to be, but he still has a trick up his sleeve- award-winning bullheadedness. It’s Manual’s staying power that gets him the steak, and in an ironic twist, a broken jaw. In the end, Manuel wins the match and the money, but is reduced to watching his trainer and his wife polish off the coveted steaks while Manuel gets, you guessed it, soup.

A lot of people shy away from film programming listed as “experimental, but, as this year’s selections showed, you never know what gems you might miss if you don't take a chance on experimental films.

--Rebecca Romani is a San Diego-based documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist who has covered film and culture for a variety of publications such as Cineaste, The Levantine Review, and