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The Independent Critic

 Indiana Shorts 1  
  • Milktooth: A Fine Diner
    Jon Brooks
    Directed by
    Sam Mirpoorian
  • Destination Park
    Chad Rothema
    Directed by
    Andrew Cohn
  • Left Hand
    Dylan Grunn, Delil Baran, Grant Schumacher, Ronan Colfer
    Written/Directed by
    Skyler Lawson
  • Reversal
    Iam Pomfret, Christian Jones, Jay Watkins
    Directed by
    Hannah West
  • Queens Inside
    Asia Labouche, Montana Melons, Sage Summers, Vicki St. James, Donny Coram
    Directed by
    Will Wertz
  • Amplified: A Conversation with Women in American Film Sound
    Vanessa Theme Ament, Kelly Bayett, Rachel Chancey, Rosa Costanza, Midge Costin
    Directed by
    Vanessa Theme Ament
  • The Soldier
    Timothy Bensch, Brittany Rachelle Smith, Greg Allen, Jude Rodda
    Directed by
    Ashton Gleckman
    Written by
    Ashton Gleckman, Samantha Maynard

 Indy Shorts Shines Spotlight on Indiana Films & Filmmakers 
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The inaugural Indy Shorts International Film Festival, presented by Heartland Film, is shining a bright spotlight on Indiana films and filmmakers with not one but two programs devoted exclusively to the Indiana Spotlight. This first collection includes some familiar names to Heartland attendees and some truly delightful short films. Here's my short reviews on this first collection of short films in the Indiana Spotlight 1 Program. 

Milktooth: A Fine Diner is a five minute doc short directed by Sam Mirpoorian that shines a light on one of Indy's newest yet most acclaimed dining establishments - you guessed it, Milktooth. The film is essentially a discussion with Milktooth founder Jonathan Brooks, who was named one of America's Best New Chef's in 2015 by Food and Wine while Milktooth was named by Bon Appetit as one of the 10 best new restaurants in America. 

Mirpoorian's camera alternates between a relaxed focus on Brooks and various shorts of Milktooth staff, customers and the restaurant's unique celebrations of the breakfast/brunch scene. If you're from Indy, you're not likely to get too much new from Milktooth: A Fine Diner but the entertaining short film, having its world premiere at Indy Shorts, will remind you that you really need to get back there for another visit. 

Andrew Cohn is a Heartland kind of filmmaker. With films like Medora and Night School to his credit, Cohn has become a Heartland favorite and it's not particularly surprising to see his name show up in this inaugural Indy Shorts. 

This film, Destination Park, again shines an Indiana spolight as Cohn focuses his camera deep within Trump's America at a camp of destitute truck drivers who swallow their trucker indie pride and visit a mobile chapel run by the compassionate Chad Rothema. The drivers confide in Rothema their anxieties, frustrations, and fears with most of those featured in this 9-minute film experiencing more than a little trauma and drama after what has been for most of them a lifetime on the road. 

Destination Park is beautifully photographed, though it doesn't quite pack the emotional impact of Cohn's feature docs. What it does pack is Cohn's ability to step back and just play observer to everything that's unfolding, an approach that feels refreshingly devoid of emotional manipulation and histrionics. 

The film feels like it wants to be a little edgier than what unfolds here. Heck, even the mention of Trump's America seems to indicate a level of edge that never really materializes. That said, Cohn has crafted another fine film here shining his cinematic spotlight on a segment of the population not often captured on film. You can check out the film for yourself as part of the Indiana Spotlight 1 Program. 

Left Hand is a 16-minute narrative short written and directed by Skyler Lawson. Based on a true story, Left Hand shares the experiences of George (Dylan Grunn), who arrives at basic training in 1944 and finds himself immersed into America's melting pot of cultures. It's an almost perverse machismo vacillating from bare knuckle boxing to verbal assault as the young men fight, sometimes brutally, to solidfy their own reputations as they all set off for the war that's raging in the Pacific. 

The film's low budget works to its advantage mostly owing to Lawson's clear vision of what's going on here and a pretty remarkable ability to bring it to life convincingly. While the film's bare knuckle boxing scenes hint at its lower budget, the truth is that this is an incredibly well shot film with a terrific central performance from Grunn and a fine ensemble cast. The film is a tad raw in spots, certainly not graphic, and it may be worth noting that any kids in the audience will likely have questions or concerns. 

R. Aaron Webster's lensing is absolutely top notch here, while Lawson's own music for the film serves as a top notch complement. Left Hand is definitely one of the highlights of the inaugural Indy Shorts International Film Festival's Indiana Spotlight films. 

It's well known that right around 50% of the films screening at the inaugural Indy Shorts International Film Festival are directed by women, a number that shouldn't be or seem particularly noteworthy but definitely is noteworthy. This film, Reversal, is a 28-minute short doc directed by Hannah West that centers around Ian Pomfret, a mixed martial artist from New Palestine, Indiana who refuses to allow the past to define him and struggles to balance his personal challenges and experiences in order to live into being the man he knows he's meant to be. 

Reversal drew me in right away, a fact as much attributable to Pomfret's authentic presentation and compelling personality as it is West's tremendously spot-on filmmaking. West nails the tone perfectly here, presenting a guy you don't quite expect to care about as much as you do by the end of the film. 

Reversal is artistic yet raw, eloquently capturing the beauty of mixed martial arts and nicely framing Pomfret's interviews yet never feeling overly sculpted.It should be mentioned that the film is really for more mature audiences with some adult themes and drug use. The film is having its world premiere at Indy Shorts and it's an absolute winner that should have no problem finding life on the indie film fest circuit. 

Amplified: A Conversation With Women in American Film Sound pretty much tells you exactly what to expect from its title, though if you think that's an insult you're definitely mistaken. Directed by Vanessa Theme Ament, whose work you probably don't realize you know, Amplified: A Conversation With Women in American Film Sound engagingly introduces the viewer to 30 women who work in film sound in New York and Los Angeles as they discuss their work, the film business, the successes, and the obstacles they face as women in a male-dominated field. 

It would be difficult to call the film anything resembling a primer in film sound, a fact that is most certainly intentional yet may limit the film's wider exposure to those audiences most likely to understand its world. At right about 30 minutes in length, Amplified is on the longer end of a short film yet it uses those minutes wisely and also absolutely refuses to do a fluff piece on these women who are experts in their field and are given the time to show off that expertise along with the human interest side of their stories. 

The film comes out of the Virginia Ball Center at Ball State University, a Muncie, Indiana university becoming increasingly known for the quality of its film program. This film, one could easily see, could be both a festival success and a wonderful teaching tool for film students. 

For more information on Amplified, visit the film's official Facebook page

Queens Inside is the true gem of the Indiana Spotlight 1 Program at the Indy Shorts International Film Festival, a 9-minute work of wonder that is beautifully photographed, intelligently constructed, emotionally honest and just an absolute joy to watch. 

The film delves into the world of the late and great club Talbott Street, an iconic gathering place for the gay and rag community from the early 1980s until its closing in mid-2016. At Talbott Street, everyone was welcome and director Will Wertz does a remarkable job of catching that communal spirit by following the experiences and stories of a handful of its reqgular drag performers including Asia Labouche, Montana Melons, Sage Summers, Vicki St. James, and Donny Coram. 

It likely goes without saying that Queens Inside won't please everyone, but that's a shame. It's an incredibly done film and it's actually rather thrilling to see it screening at the inaugural Indy Shorts International Film Festival presented by Heartland Film.

Wertz does a tremendous job of introducing moviegoers into the world of drag, the motivations and the challenges along with the incredible devotion that these performers have to their art and their craft. Yes, there's nudity, sexual content and mature themes in the film yet there's also a remarkable innocence and wonder to it all. 

A well meaning film likely to appeal to the more traditional Heartland/Indy Shorts type of viewer, The Soldier is a 10-minute short film abouit a young man named Jack (Jude Rodda) who arrives with his mother (Brittany Rachelle Smith) to visit his late father's grave. When he wanders off alone, he has an unexpected encounter with a uniformed stranger (Tim Bensch) who serves up some life advice that he won't soon forget. 

The film is written by Ashton Gleckman and Samantha Maynard, while Gleckman directs. The Soldier is picturesque and somber, an appropriate tone for its serious subject matter. The Soldier has something meaningful to say ... it just doesn't really say it meaningfully. The talented Brittany Rachelle Smith is under-utilized here, while the connection between our young man and the mysterious soldier never really connects. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic