Matt Carroll, Landon Simms and Kelley Wyskiel
I still remember Ronnie Crist.
He was one of the kids who made elementary school tolerable for this differently abled student who'd just been transferred in to a public school from a far more protective and insular school for the disabled that I had attended during my first couple years in school.
I didn't really fit in and it was readily apparent that most students didn't quite know what to make of me. Ronnie didn't seem to care that I was different and we began a friendship that endured throughout elementary school.
Friends, an eight-minute short directed by Bunee Tomlinson and written by Patrick Freeman, reminded me of Ronnie Crist. It also reminded me of other short films I've loved like Todd Tinkham's Sadie Turns Seven and Sharon Wright's Change for a Dollar that seem to magically capture slices of life that are both heartfelt and thought-provoking.
Truthfully, there's nothing really endearing about the scene that unfolds in Friends. Jacob (Matt Carroll) is a shy fourth-grader at a new school who tries everything he can think of to fit in but seems to continuously fail. At recess, he sees Tommy (Landon Simms) experiencing similar problems and, with simplicity and grace, reaches out with a simple act of kindness that plants the seeds of friendship.
And that's the beauty of Friends, a simple and poignant film wrapped around the contemporary themes of bullying and exclusion that are so predominant in the headlines these days and in the lives of our children. Rather than play everything for heightened drama, Tomlinson and his cast and crew put forth a beautiful and lasting example of how incredibly simple it really is to break the cycle of bullying and to make a difference in one another's lives.
The script by Patrick Freeman is actually minimal in dialogue, trusting these young actors to tell the story with their faces, their body language and with the scene that's unfolding.
It works. Both Carroll and Simms serve up sympathetic and warm performances that instantly make you like them and ache with each moment of rejection they experience. When Jacob reaches out, one can almost feel an inner gasp of relief.
Friends has already proven to be quite popular on the film festival circuit with appearances this year at Bare Bones International Film Festival, Sierra Canyon Film Festival, National Film Festival for Talented Youth, Texas Film Festival and Lovett High School Film Fest.
Susan Emberton's camera work is warm and calm, an approach that gives more emphasis to these young boys than to those who reject them. David Raiklen's original music is similarly soothing and emotionally resonant.
For more information on Friends, visit the film's website listed in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic