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The Independent Critic

Jolene Andersen, Mason Moghimi and Iyad Hajjaj
Sasha Sibley
13 Mins.

 "Thirteen" Has West Coast Premiere at Dances With Films 
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In writer/director Sasha Sibley's 13-minute short film Thirteen, we're introduced to Silvia (Jolene Anderson), a U.S. operative in the war against ISIS, as she's being tortured in a military tent by Mubarak (Iyad Hajjaj), an ISIS leader for whom waterboarding is part of the game and the Geneva Convention is irrelevant. Despite the torture, Silvia refuses to break and Mubarak is forced to interrupt his "interrogation" to attend to other matters. Taking all of his men with him, Mubarak leaves a heavily armed Musa (Mason Moghimi) watching over the bent but not broken soldier. 

It doesn't take long for Silvia to realize that Musa is no man, instead a mere child revealed to be 13-years-old who has joined the battle seeking revenge against the Americans who slaughtered his family. Dynamics will change over the course of the conversation that flows back and forth between Silvia and Musa, at times fiery and filled with rage and other times eerily sympathetic in such a way that the film's ending resonates emotionally. 

Thirteen had its West Coast premiere at Dances With Films and was a prize winner at Worldfest-Houston along with the Accolade Competition. Thirteen is, perhaps, most effective in the sense of being a thought-provoking cinematic short that challenges the whole "us vs. them" mentality by humanizing the character of Musa, a young teenager who, right or wrong, has a reason for the actions that he's taking and they're reasons that are easily identifiable and would likely resonate universally. Wisely, Sibley doesn't so much excuse the actions of either side involved in the events that unfold but neither does he play judge and jury. The story is, instead, rather balanced in its portrayal and brings humanity into a conflict that can often be inhumane. 

There are moments in the 13-minute film that don't quite click, not particularly surprising given the ambitious nature of the short and the inherent challenges of bringing such a slice-of-war to life in such a quick way and in a way that draws us into both sides. However, fans of war/conflict short films will appreciate yet another angle on a conflict that continues to dominate American military efforts and worldwide headlines. 

For more information on Thirteen, visit the film's website linked to in the credits.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic