While this writer was not able to see all 330 films from 49 countries over three days at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival -- the largest of its kind in the U.S. -- all or part of 98 shorts were seen. Those that warranted full viewing and high commendation are:
The Telling (director: Tam Morris, Australia)
A wonderfully creepy and philosophical treatise, The Telling features a psychiatrist who doubts his own sanity when he begins to have momentary, disturbing visions, no doubt influenced by the unnerving calm of his patient, Pandora, who insists there is a coming apocalypse. Haunting and expertly done.
Cicada Princess (Mauricio Balocchi, USA)
Using Stephen Fry's plummy, patrician voice-over, Balocchi has fashioned a gorgeous, bittersweet, animated ode to the cicada, an insect that slumbers nearly two decades, to have but one glorious night of revelry.
Forty Hymns of Faith (Charuvi Agrawai, India)
At times photorealistic, at times uber-psychedelic, this animated tribute to Hanuman, the Monkey God from Hindu devotional prayers, not only stimulates the brain remarkably, but also lifts the heart, regardless of one's religious faith or lack thereof.
America 101 (Richard Speight Jr., USA)
A teacher takes his elementary school children on a hilariously vulgar ride through History, which begins to sound like his own miserable, disappointing past with career, love and children. Not appropriate for impressionable, young minds but definitely for everyone else who needs a laugh at life's misfortunes.
Sequin Raze (Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, USA)
Finally, a film that really captures the manipulations, heartlessness and cold calculations of so-called reality TV. A woman who loses in a The Bachelor-style network competition show must give a final on-camera interview and a woman producer sick of the work must induce tears and humiliation or lose her job. Marvelous acting and refuses to wimp out on its clever condemnations.
A Better Place Than This (Daniel Grove, USA)
A Singapore death row guard consistently shows great kindness to those about to be executed. But an Australian woman who claims she did not know she was carrying drugs for her new boyfriend truly tests his ability to continue to perform his duties without rejecting the system of capital punishment. Top notch acting, subtly observed.
Not Funny (Carlos Violade, Spain)
Manolo's constantly practical jokes on the love of his life backfire when he thinks he has accidentally killed her. Whether she is really dead and what he might do with the body become the perfect twist ending of Violade's smart, delightfully unpredictable and well-shot short.
Vienna Waits For You (Dominik Hartl, Chile)
After a bad breakup, a young woman cannot believe her luck in getting a huge apartment for very low rent. But when she learns that the unit has a mind of its own and makes things, including the woman, age and decay, she is forced to find another unwitting renter or wither away. Dark but quirky, with some staggering, though not flashy, visual effects that make this a great macabre thriller.
Miniyamba (Luc Perez, Denmark, France)
A sumptuous animated film, with sweeps of painted color, following the efforts of a Mali blues singer to leave his native Africa for Europe, exposing his soulful music to a new audience. The marvelous music, aided by the gorgeous visuals, make this a memorable, visual feast.
Side Effected (Lev Pakman, USA)
A corporate, congenital liar tells his boss what he wants to hear about lab results on a new drug and the boss tries to catch him in a lie, rather than marketing a pharmaceutical that will make people go color blind. Pakman's whip smart dialogue and razor sharp editing lead to nasty, funny swipe at the remorselessness of the business world and refusal to take responsibility.
Honk If You're Horny (Joe Lonie, New Zealand)
A foul-mouthed cabbie, telling a lurid story about his own sexual exploits, while his passenger fears for his life, is the outrageously fun premise of this side-splitter. Cops and thugs chasing him cannot shut up the driver, but when his passenger reveals himself to be a man of God, we have the right ending to a crackling, well-made wacky short.
Junkyard (Hisko Hulsing, Belgium, Netherlands)
A powerful tale of two boys surviving the horrors of the inner city, only to meet suddenly, violently, years later on a subway, is the nature of Hisko Hulsing's animated film. A winner at the Ottawa Animation Fest, Junkyard exhibits stunning visual sense, as well as a very unique symphonic soundtrack with unorthodox instrumentation.
Penelope (Dan Susman, United Kingdom)
Juliet Stevenson shows why she is a world-class actress, in this subtle, emotionally overwhelming film about two women who meet for the first time in a café and reveal an intertwining tragedy that affects both of them and a man they separately loved.
It's Consuming Me (Kai Stanicke, Germany)
A young man flashes back to all the things he enjoyed and despised about his former lover, a young man who was outrageous in his passion, anger and selfishness. The music and lightning-fast cutting make one experience an entire relationship in three dense, fascinating minutes.
The Big Leap (Kristoffer Russ, Poland, Sweden)
After an economic collapse, a man is about to leap to his death when he sees an officer of his company there at the precipice, before him. Before they decide who goes first, another man on top of another skyscraper distracts them. Philosophically complex, bleakly funny, very impressive visually, with themes of religion, responsibility, self-interest and more, lurking under its shiny, clever surface.