I see a lot of short films.
I don't see a lot of short films made by filmmakers who truly trust their story.
Of course, it may very well help that Rocketship writer/director Alfred Thomas Catalfo writes such darn fine stories. Whatever the reason, Rocketship is the kind of short film that both critics and audiences alike absolutely love with a simple yet transcendent story and a quietly confident filmmaking style that makes the film one of the most pleasurable short films I've had the privilege to see in 2014.
The film centers around young Henry Dunbar (Russell Doucet), a typical space-obsessed young boy with few friends, stressed out parents (played by Gregory Athans and Donna Phofolos), and an overwhelming desire to soar. Henry spends most of his time with a reclusive neighbor, Mr. Braddock (Tom Dunnington), who claims to be a former astronaut. The two, one at the beginning of life and one nearing the end, spend their days transforming a vintage vacuum cleaner into what will most assuredly become a little boy's rocketship.
Constructed with ample doses of both wonder and meaning, Rocketship is the kind of film that soars precisely because Catalfo trusts his story enough to focus on telling the story and ignoring the all too often tendency to fill the story with fluff and the production with unnecessary special effects. This doesn't mean that Rocketship is devoid of special effects, but it means that the special effects serve the story rather than the other way around.
Rocketship is the fifth short film for Catalfo, an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter with nearly 30 major screenwriting competition wins to his name, and it's the kind of film that makes you want to immediately rush to look up his other work.
Now then, I hesitate to say these things or overly praise the film because, in fact, it's not a "blow you away" kind of film. Instead, Rocketship is the kind of film that is so solidly constructed that even within its relatively short 15-minute running time you find yourself completely immersed in its world, in its generation, and in the lives of these wonderfully developed smalltown characters.
As Henry, Russell Doucet projects an introverted yet wild-eyed innocence that makes you believe in his dreams and hope they come true. While his interactions with Mr. Braddock are filled with an almost awe-filled reverence and trust, his interactions with his family have an almost palpable tension about them that makes believe in the underlying stressors that seem to guide this family. Doucet makes Henry's journey completely and utterly believable and fantastic.
As Mr. Braddock, Tom Dunnington seemingly has a quieter yet more difficult role as an elderly gentleman whose history we aren't completely sure of until the film has actually played out. What is truth? What is fantasy? Does it matter? Dunnington's portrayal of Mr. Braddock is one of quiet confidence and graciousness with just a slight wisp of regret and resignation.
Gregory Athans and Donna Phofolos have relatively brief appearances as Henry's parents, but their appearances are unquestionably deep and meaningful and vital to the story's evolution. They both do a terrific job of projecting an appropriate tension without over-hyping it and stealing the story's impact away from everything else that is to unfold by film's end. Both Michael Walsh and Juston McKinney shine in key scenes and the film's supporting players all do a nice job of maintaining the film's sense of time and place.
The film's visual effects and lensing from D.P. Jeff Spires are simple yet integrated beautifully and memorably within the fabric of the film, while Charles Carpenter's original music harkens back to the sci-fi/fantasy television serials with touches of contemporary magic woven in to create a sense of the miracle and awe that served as companion for so many young boys in the early days of NASA.
Rocketship had its world premiere on June 1st at Dances With Films and should have absolutely no problem finding a home amongst both indie and more mainstream film festivals with a story that makes you think and feel and smile.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic