The last traditional fisherman; a supernatural tailor; and a fame-obsessed adolescent.
These were some of the characters featured in the From a Distance Shorts series screened Sunday at the Tower Theater as part of Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival.
The five short films, which came from all over the world, tell stories about distance and its effect on the characters’ perspectives.
Four of the five short films are competing in the Park Grove/Lexus Shorts Competition, and all five were eligible for the Lexus Audience Award.
Here are short reviews for each film in the order they were screened.
1. “Thread” (Malaysia)
Directed by Virginia Kennedy, “Thread” is about a Chinese tailor who is tormented by an ominous shadow. The tailor also has a supernatural ability that affects the lives of those seeking her help.
It’s an interesting choice to begin the series with this story. The allusion to the supernatural in a concrete story about survival and freedom introduced the overall theme of distance.
The tailor, played by Thien See Chua, feels isolated from the world that’s just beyond the door. The shadow that keeps her from breaking free represents the fears and inhibitions holding people back.
Visually, the muted lighting and close shots, in particular, add to this intimate, psychological portrait.
“Thread” is a perfect example of a small, contained story that would be difficult to realize as a full feature. The concise dialogue, story structure and focus on character make this ideal for the short film format.
2. “Habana” (Cuba)
“Habana” was an out-of-competition screening but was eligible for the audience award.
The film follows a 17-year-old named Lazaro who guides a film crew through a futuristic, dystopian Havana, Cuba that foreign forces have taken over. Shot in black and white, “Habana” is a visually appealing experiment in filmmaking but lacks a cohesive narrative.
The director Edouard Salier is a graphic artist, photographer and designer also known for his music videos for Justice, Air and Massive Attack.
Given Salier’s artistic repertoire, “Habana” could pass for an incredible music video. Audiences are transported to another world that seems familiar but can be believed to be overrun with toxic creatures and threatening military tanks.
Salier provides an allegorical message about Cuba and whether it can break away from an overbearing regime. At the same time, this subtle message is clouded by Salier’s aesthetic pursuits that sometimes distract from what could be a poignant sociopolitical moral tale.
3. “Miami” (Portugal)
Simão Cayatte’s “Miami” is one of the more traditional stories in the series. Originally from Lisbon, Portugal, Cayatte has an impressive film festival history with work featured at the Filmaka Film Festival and Cannes.
It should be no surprise that “Miami” was screened at MIFF. The city is the ultimate dream for Raquel, a teenage girl obsessed with fame. Her pursuit takes a dark turn when she believes that murdering someone is a fast track to stardom.
The storytelling techniques set Cayatte apart from the others in the series. Raquel’s voice-over monologues tighten the film’s focus on this one teenage girl’s goal: fame at all costs. The voice-overs also allow the audience to enter Raquel’s psychology and understand why fame is so important to her.
The premise may seem to suggest a melodrama, but Cayatte ensures that “Miami” is more nuanced. In the scene when she learns about killing someone, Raquel no longer hears anything else and the obsession is represented as an eerie, internal silence – one in which her thoughts are the only presence surrounding her.
4. “Distance” (United States)
The title of this film matches directly with the series’ theme. This one comes straight from Florida and is directed by Ismael Gomez III.
Gomez attended the screening and explained that he made the film for his thesis project upon graduating from Lynn University in Boca Raton.
Another black and white film, “Distance” is about a Cuban American college student who is forced to quit school to take care of his sick immigrant grandmother. Gomez himself was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to the U.S. at a young age.
Miami’s audience can relate to “Distance.” The Cuban American exodus of the ‘80s is still felt, and the recent conversations about opening relations with Cuba makes this story all the more relevant.
But aside from this context, Gomez shares a compelling and intimate look at the relationships in a multi-generational family. Despite the main character’s attempts to return to school, he realizes that sacrifice and selflessness help him bridge the distance that existed between him and his relatives.
5. “A Tree in the Sea” (United Arab Emirates)
Unlike the other films, which had dark, muted colors and dramatic storylines, “A Tree in the Sea” is a breath of fresh air.
“A Tree in the Sea,” which premiered for the first time ever at MIFF, is a beautifully crafted story about the last traditional fisherman from Fujairah, one of the emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates.
Two childhood friends find a boat and sail out to sea hoping to collect fish for an artificial reef. When one of the friends does not believe that this is possible, the other promises him that he will show him every fish categorized in an old British book.
The film has a rich color palette since most of the story happens out at sea and near the shore. But the visual experience does not detract from the story. They complement one another to the extent in which the ocean becomes its own character.
This is director Shahir Zag’s first film. He is working on his second one titled “Healer.”
No trailer is available for “A Tree in the Sea.”
For more information on these films, visit miamifilmfestival.com.