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The Independent Critic

  • Across the Line
    David Shaul, Jalal Masrwa, Nizar Hamra, Ghassan Ashkar, and Mohamed Name
    Directed by
    Nadav Shlomo Giladi
    Written by
    Zuriel Melchior
    Running Time
    29 Mins.

  • The Cage
    William Lee, Michael Tabon, Iesha Edwards, and Eric Drummond
    Written and Directed by
    Ricky Staub
    Running Time
    15 Mins.

  • The Devil is in the Details
    Laure Lefort, Garance Rivoal, Thomas Suire, and Alice Butaud
    Written and Directed by
    Fabien Gorgeart
    Running Time
    20 Mins.

  • If Everything Was Real
    Edvin Ryding, Wilma Liden, Jimmy Lindstrom, and Lia Boysen
    Directed by
    Stephane Mounkassa, Stefan Sundin
    Written by
    Stephane Mounkassa
    Running Time
    35 Mins.

  • Me and My Father
    Lukasz Simlat, Krzysztof Kowalewski, Agnieszka Zulewska, and Tomasz Sapryk
    Directed by
    Alek Pietrzak
    Written by
    Alek Pietrzak, Mateusz Pastewka
    Running Time
    30 Mins.
 Narrative Short Finalists Shine at 2017 Heartland Film Fest 
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The last of the narrative feature finalists in the 2017 Heartland Film Festival is this Polish entry directed by Alek Pietrzak that tells the story of Dawid (Lukasz Simlat), who is trying to improve his relationship with a father who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. 

At times humorous yet grounded in an emotional naturalism, Me and My Father nicely balances the tale of a son trying to make up for lost time with the sad, often harsh realities of a loved one struggling with a disease that doesn't much offer flexibility with its timeline. Krzysztof Kowalewski's performance is at times heartbreaking, while Simlat's quiet determination and steady presence is unforgettable. 

The Heartland Film Festival screening of Me and My Father is the film's U.S. premiere, and while this type of storyline is somewhat familiar amongst American indies I'd not be surprised to see this film have an extended life on fhe festival circuit should the filmmaker so choose. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic 

The five films serving as Narrative Short finalists will each receive a $500 prize for being a finalist, a truly amazing prize considering many film festivals offer minimal or even no cash prizes for their award winners. The winner in Narrative Shorts will receive a $5,000 total award. These are this year's finalists in the Narrative Short category for the 2017 Heartland Film Festival: 

Directed by Nadav Shlomo Giladi and written by Zuriel Melchior, Across the Line tells the story of Hananel (David Shaul), a young religious Jew hurrying home for Shabbat when he has an unexpected encounter with Munzir (Jalal Masrwa), a Palestinian Hitchhiker with a stubborn streak and some unresolved conflicts. Despite his better judgment, Hananel picks up Munzir, who proceeds to lead Hananel on a series of mix-ups that, when all is said and done, eventually teach him lessons in communication, friendship and love. 

Giladi himself is scheduled to attend the film's screening at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival, the latest screening for the award-winning film that picked up the prize for Best Short at Stony Brook Film Festival and a film that ends up being one of the funnier films to take a look at the Israeli/Palestinian struggle to just plain get along. Shot in Hebrew and English with English subtitles, Across the Line benefits from fine performances from its two leads and Giora Bejach's pristine lensing for the film. Ronnie Reshef also contributes lively, energetic original music for the film that is perfectly suited to the film's witty dialogue and physical comedy. 

One of the grittier films in the 2017 Heartland Film Festival, writer/director Ricky Staub's 15-minute short film The Cage soars on the strength of its remarkably vulnerable, transparent performances from its mostly non-professional ensemble cast of youth and adult performers telling the story of a teenage basketball player struggling to resist becoming entangled with violence, anger and death in a rough Philly neighborhood. 

The story in The Cage isn't particularly rare in contemporary cinema, though Staub's unique voice as a filmmaker is present throughout the film and it's refreshing to see a gritty story told in a gritty way without the usual production gloss or over-stylized performances. While I don't know a thing about the cast's background, I do know that they bring this story to life in a way that feels authentic and emotionally honest. In a particularly strong year for the Heartland Film Festival, The Cage is one of the festival's more memorable short films. There's strong imagery that brings to life what it means to live in a place where the stories of hope are often outnumbered by those who don't make it out, Staub nicely weaves both elements into this story but never lets us stop believing. 

In writer/director Fabien Gorgeart's 20-minute French short film The Devil is in the Details, Alexina is a trainee school teacher in the mid-19th century at a young girl's convent where she grew up. Suffering from unbearable pains, Alexina is examined by a doctor who discovers that she is a hermaphrodite. Since, according to him, masculinity prevails over all it is determined that Alexina is, in fact, a man. As a result, she is given no choice but to leave the school as quickly as possible, a departure that will also lead to separation from her closest friend, Henrietta. 

The Devil is in the Details is a gorgeous film, a sensitive and intelligent story brought to life in a way that stimulates more intellectually than emotionally but is still quite effective. Laure Lefort's leading performance is played quietly, her internal struggles worn throughout her entire physical being and, at times, simply painful to behold. This recently completed film was shot in French with English subtitles and proves once again that Heartland Film Festival is truly working to redefine what it means to make movies to matter and to make sure they are brought to our attention. 

This 35-minute Swedish short film co-directed by Stephane Mounkassa and Stefan Sundin tells the story of 14-year-old Josef (Edvin Ryding), who has been diagnosed with cancer and granted three wishes by his guardian angel (Jimmy Lindstrom). Forging a new friendship with Linda (Wilma Liden), a woman he meets in the hospital, Joself goes on a magical journey that will lead to Linda's regaining her hope to live life once again. 

Steeped in both stark realism and unabashed hopefulness, If Everyone Was Real takes its time telling its story and that relaxed pacing allows us the time to bond with Josef and to embrace and immerse ourselves in the magical journey. With a relentless optimism and devotion to its characters, If Everything Was Real draws you in and holds onto you in what feels sort of like a hug of your soul. The performances are across the board strong, though Jimmy Lindstrom's rather remarkable turn as the guardian angel gives the film its innocence and wonder. 

This year's narrative short block is in many ways a rather consistent lot of films, emotionally honest and beautifully told stories that will hopefully attract the audience they deserve. If Everything Was Real will linger in your heart longer than you may expect, beautifully imagery meeting warmly with Stephane Mounkassa's insightful and deeply felt dialogue.