When I get the lineup for a film festival, my eyes go immediately to the list of features, because that’s where the films I’ve already heard of are likely to be. And features are likely to be the films I’ll be most able to discuss with others (because they’ve also heard of them/have seen them/etc. etc. etc.), and who doesn’t like to talk about film? The downside is that this process can create a vicious circle—buzz begets buzz, while other worthy films get ignored—sort of like the first mover concept in economics, with the marketplace being people’s attention. So I try to make a point of watching a few shorts near the start of a festival, and I’ve seldom been sorry: the films I discover in this way usually prove to be some of the most interesting of the festival.
My favorite film of the festival, so far, is “ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught)”, directed by Brit Hensel, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. It’s a stunningly beautiful film that evokes, in just over 9 minutes, the values of a way of living quite different from that of most modern Americans—one which is based on reciprocity rather than boundless consumption and accumulation, and which centers the responsibilities we have to each other and to the natural world. “ᎤᏕᏲᏅ “ was the first film by a citizen of the Cherokee National to be selected for the Sundance Film Festival, and you’ll applaud the selection committee’s decision once you see it.
Panola, Alabama is an unincorporated town in Sumter County in western Alabama, near the Mississippi border. It’s a pretty quiet place, with a population of about 350, the majority of which are black. Panola is also home to the remarkable Dorothy Oliver, whose day job is running a convenience store, but who made it her cause to get town residents vaccinated against COVID. Ms. Oliver, the central character in “The Panola Project,” a short film (17 min.) directed by Rachael DeCruz and Jeremy S. Levine, presents a model of how to influence members of your community to get vaccinated by meeting them where they are (over 99% of Panola’s adults got the vaccine, an outstanding achievement in a state with an overall low rate of vaccination).
Pierre Dubois is a noted French author, illustrator, folklore expert, and inventor of the field of “elficology,” meaning the study of fairies, imps, elves, and the like. He and his wife Aline live in the village of Cartignies, in a house so crammed with visually-memorable objects that every view of it threatens to be Instagram-worthy. Timothée Corteggiani and Nathalie Giraud’s “The Silent Shore” (36 min.) portrays the couple going about their daily routine, during which time they also tell stories about their lives and the painful memory of one daughter, Melanie, who died by suicide. It’s a beautiful and somewhat unexpected film, full of visual richness and the expertly-narrated memories of two people who lived a full life.
The folks in charge of Accepted, a feature documentary by Dan Chan, have requested capsule reviews only. So I’ll just say this much: this film uses the example of the TM Landry Prep School in Louisiana to look at some of the insanities of the American education system, from the substitution of emotion and inspiration for well-organized instruction and study (granted, focusing on the former generally results in livelier footage), to the bizarre nature of the admissions process for brand-name universities. It’s a well-made film and would make a great double feature with Varsity Blues. | Sarah Boslaugh
The shorts in this review are available for home viewing (some may be available in the United States only) as part of the 25th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, which runs from 12 pm ET on April 7, 2022, through 11:59 pm ET on April 10, 2022. Further information is available through the festival web site.