Outfest 2020 Film Review: Girls Shorts

Like Boys Shorts, Outfest’s Girls Shorts program always sells out. I’ve often felt guilty slipping into the theater on a Press Pass, taking a seat from a young lesbian in the standby line who really wanted to see herself up on that screen. With the festival streaming online this year, goodbye guilt and hello girls!

I’ve always questioned why these two shorts programs merited segregation. Programmers, however, insist that gay men aren’t interested in lesbians and vice versa. I’ve always wanted to just see great films, but maybe that’s just me. Regardless, any program which provides opportunities for a broader spectrum of cinematic voices sits well with me.

Swipe Up, Vivian. Courtesy of Outfest.

SWIPE UP, VIVIAN (Dir: Hannah Welever. USA, 14 mins) ★★★★

This extraordinarily prescient film, set in the not too distant future, imagines a world in which, due to an unnamed incident, we mostly live inside our homes. Crazy, am I right? Vivian (the wonderfully neurotic Emily Marso) lives so miserably that when she almost chokes to death on a piece of candy, she logs onto a dating site before she dies alone. Through VR-style effects, she swipes through some potential matches, finally responding to Katrina (Mary Williamson), who exudes that cool girl mist. Director Hannah Welever and writer Addison Heimann perfectly create this world with some well-realized effects and two very earthy, flawed, and vibrant leads. With its high sheen, great sense of humor, and especially Marso’s messy, unapologetic Vivian, I couldn’t help but swipe right.

MEET CUTE (Dirs: Francesca Calvo, Omar Ahmed. USA, 8 mins) ★★1/2

Did you hear the one about the two women who met at the gynecologist’s office? From such a gimmicky premise comes a slight but charming film from Omar Ahmed and Francesca Calvo, who also stars a Greta, the receptionist at the aforementioned office. When a new patient (Nicole Pacent) arrives with a medical emergency, the details of which could put most into the friend zone or worse, Greta’s response takes it in another direction. I can’t say this short displays anything but perfunctory filmmaking talent, with some shots not matching, a lack of proper coverage, and clunky editing, but as an example of cooking up sparks between two characters, this does the job quite nicely.

The Mistress (La Amante). Courtesy of Outfest.

THE MISTRESS (LA AMANTE) (Dir: Pati Cruz. Puerto Rico, 11 mins) ★★★

Tete (Awilda Sterling) seems surprised when Angela (Magali Carrasquillo), her late husband’s mistress, shows up at his memorial service, but her presence and forcefulness awaken long buried feelings in Tete. It’s rare to see a film centered around two elderly women, especially when it comes to issues of sexuality. The two leads do a nice job of threading that needle but are hampered by a too basic filmmaking style. With less high key lighting and a little more attention paid to framing, as well as really honing in on the emotions, this short could have been much more special. It merits praise nonetheless for a glimpse into something often overlooked, and it has a wonderfully funny, surprising final line.

Victoria. Courtesy of Outfest.

VICTORIA (Dir: Dani Toledo. Spain, 8 mins) ★★★★

The trans experience gets an unexpectedly fresh set of eyes in this short from Dani Toledo. A floral shop owner gets an unexpected visitor, someone she’s never met before but by the same token knew really well in the past. Short and simple, yet directed with assurance and with some beautiful shots of our protagonist framed against some gorgeous flowers, Victoria excels with its willingness to explore more than one point of view. The final letter, accompanied by footage of a flower unfolding for a beetle, moved me.

Tender. Courtesy of Outfest.

TENDER (Dir: Felicia Pride. USA, 15 mins) ★★★1/2

A one-night stand turns into something unexpectedly intimate in Felicia Pride’s aptly titled Tender. Farelle Walker and Trishauna Clarke play two women with very different lives and approaches to them. When morning comes, an awkward goodbye seems to indicate the end of things, but a breath gets taken, they sit back down, and really start communicating. What looked like no match at all leads to two women opening up to each other beautifully. Nicely shot and performed, this film may be a little light on conflict, but its intentions remain pure. It’s the perfect short for anyone who wishes they had taken that moment and not hurried out the door.

DM (Dir: Ariel Zucker. USA, 4 mins) ★★★

Some shorts show off the next Sofia Coppola with their inimitable visuals and limited dialogue, whereas others display the opposite, such as Kevin Smith. DM feels like a calling card for a Smith acolyte with its standard issue style, rapid fire dialogue and entertaining spirit. Pallavi Gunalan and Daryl Paris Bright star as two friends who sit in a car and start almost every line with, “What if you DM a bitch and…” From this, we learn how Pallavi’s character seems a little too obsessed with a certain woman. Daryl’s character seems to delight in the brisk exchanges, but a twist at the end adds a new wrinkle to this mumblecore delight. The two leads bring such infectious energy to this that I’d love to see them play “What if” games down at, say, a Quick Stop Grocery or at a Mooby’s.

Babydyke (Babylebbe). Courtesy of Outfest.

BABYDYKE (BABYLEBBE) (Dir: Tone Ottilie. Denmark, 20 mins) ★★★★

Every young lesbian could use a mentor, but when it’s your older sister, things can get a little messy. Director Tone Ottilie finds the truth in every moment of this hard-edged yet surprisingly warm short about Frede (Anna Zerbib Streitz) a young butch who we first meet pining after her crush online. Her older sister Natasja (Levi Eja Roepstorff) and her girlfriend agree to bring Frede out with them to a club which her crush has posted about attending. It’s clear that Natasja wants to put her sister through a rite of passage, including some hazing along the way. With a pre-party game of Spin The Bottle going off the rails, a bathroom encounter at the club which goes a little too far, and a climactic blowout, Frede learns how to navigate this new world just a little bit better. Cinematographer Emil Aagaard creates messy yet honey-dipped images which perfectly compliment Ottilie’s hardscrabble approach to the material. Of all of this collection of shorts, I’d most like to see this one developed as a feature. Its harsh attitude yet humane performances reminded me of the terrific We Are The Best! from 2013, in which a group of 13-year-old female outcasts form a punk band. Babydyke feels like its natural successor and let me know that the kids are alright.

By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic

Girls Shorts is currently playing as part of the 2020 Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival and can be accessed along with a filmmaker Q&A until August 30th via OutfestLA2020.com .

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