'Nitehawk Shorts Festival Selects': Film Review

NITEHAWK SHORTS -Still 1-Publicity- H 2017
Courtesy of Nitehawk Cinema
Varied subjects, strong voices.

Cosplay prostitutes, gay cowboys and dry humor fill this Brooklyn-curated shorts program.

For five years now, Brooklyn's indie exhibitor Nitehawk Cinema has been host to an annual short-film fest, with last fall's event running a whopping six days. This year, just in time for the deadline for 2017 submissions, they've assembled their first program for theatrical distribution outside of Williamsburg: Nitehawk Shorts Festival Selects offers seven highlights from 2016, mostly made in NYC. A program about as strong as recent shorts anthologies assembled by Sundance and the Academy (if generally more modest of budget), it should fare well as it tours like-minded arthouses around the country.

Wry fictions with deadpan-abrupt endings are the norm here, but none of the entries are more efficient than Consommé, a nasty little anecdote about sexual assault whose punchline would be spoiled by just about any synopsis. The same is nearly true for Be Good, Grace Rex's open-hearted look at a young couple unexpectedly playing parents to a stray dog; adulthood has never been as close at hand, or as far away.

In Vape, a lonely California realtor is seduced by electronic smoking devices. What at times plays like a dramatized infomercial for the maligned gadgets turns out to be an allegory for stepping outside class boundaries; erotic billows of smoke in the closing scenes may make even non-smokers want a puff. Bad behavior is less seductive in Dahlia, a South African import in which our eponymous teen follows her bad-news best friend into a stranger's home. Her eventual punishment is of the poetic-justice variety, avoiding the darker turn the short might well have taken, but a sour mood persists, contrasting with the film's sun-drenched cinematography.

CollegeHumor vet Saj Pothiawala mixes realism and absurdity in Vegas, in which a young man, stood up by his internet date, is solicited by an unconventional hooker. The woman (Sunita Mani, a supporting character on the new GLOW) wears a blue wig and cosplay garb, clearly targeting lonely fellas of the anime-fixated demographic. "For an extra fifty I'll do Sailor Moon eyes," she tells him.

The program is bookended by two very fine, very different docs. The Send-Off, by Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan, visits a tiny Florida town on the day of prom, not preparing us for the glamour to come: In rented sports cars and Oscar-worthy outfits, these teens live the fantasy for one night, with proud parents left scrambling to pay the bills.

Decades after his own shot at the limelight, Patrick Haggerty remains a hero of self-expression in Dan Taberski's These C*cksucking Tears, named for the most memorable song on Haggerty's self-released 1973 album Lavender Country. Haggerty and his bandmates made the gay-themed album, sold out their run via ads in local gay newspapers, and forgot about it — until crate-digging record collectors rediscovered it and put it online, attracting a new generation of fans. Haggerty has already been the subject of one short film, an adaptation of a coming-out story he recorded for Story Corps; he retells that moving anecdote for Taberski, who also asks about the singer's years as a socialist politician and gay-rights activist in the Seattle area.

Directors: Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, Saj Pothiawala, Marysia Makowska, Doron Max Hagay, Grace Rex, Catherine Fordham, Dan Taberski

91 minutes