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Political Irak inspired shorts at Palm Springs Fest of shorts

Political Inspired Shorts Screen at Palm Springs International Festival of Shorts

The 11th Annual Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films presented a daring combination of documentary and dramatic shorts exploring the complexities of the US-led war in Iraq, to a full house Saturday evening.

The program, cleverly titled “Iraq and a Hard Place,” included six strong films that each explored a facet of the war in a surprisingly apolitical fashion. From the story of a man in Camden, Maine who has turned his front yard into a memorial for fallen soldiers in Kristy Higby’s Flag Day, to Eli Kaufman’s dramatic Winning the Peace, which portrays the struggles of an Iraqi-American Marine on the frontlines, the audience was riveted to the diverse interpretations of a conflict that has been treated with much hype but little emotion by the media and politicians alike.

Known for its competitive selection of films, Palm Springs took a risk in devoting an entire program to such a controversial topic – a risk that did not go unnoticed by the filmmakers present. British expat Ash Baron Cohen, Director of The Confession, saluted the Festival for having the courage to program his film. Widely accepted in European festivals, this was the American premiere of Cohen’s film, where it seems festivals have been less willing to accept films dealing with such strong subject matter. Shot in just three hours, The Confession skillfully confronts the Abu Gharaib Prison scandal through the emotional exchange between a military man awaiting trial for abuses and his wife, during a conjugal visit.

Writer and Director Stephen Collins, perhaps best known for his fatherly role on the television hit Seventh Heaven, transformed a one act play into a touching portrayal of an estranged father being notified of his daughter’s death in Baghdad. Next of Kin summons a string of “what-if” questions while simultaneously treating with dignity and respect, the military tradition being carried out every day across this country.

Collins noted, “I did not want to do something that would be preaching to the choir,” referring to the fact that many festival-goers tend to be of the liberal persuasion. Preach to the choir he does not. Collins instead took inspiration from coverage in the Los Angeles Times, along with the experiences of his brother who was one of four men of his unit to return from Vietnam, to weave the emotional, political and spiritual discussion between two men facing the harsh realities of war.

Local Coachella Valley filmmaker Vincent Mazzara’s The Nature of My Enemy was inspired by the pre-invasion incident of an American Muslim soldier lobbing a grenade into the tent of his fellow soldiers. The dramatic piece confronts the notion of loyalty to God and Country, while exposing the dangers still to be faced at home once the Iraq War is over.

Australian Richard Gibson contributed to this coalition of films, with his A Message From Fallujah, which takes a new twist on an old story of what happens in the mind of someone about to die – in this case, a civilian about to be beheaded by terrorists. Stunningly shot, this film, the most graphic of the six, was bold in its attempt to deconstruct events few have wanted to confront.

Powerful, moving and surprisingly free of much political bias that would have been easily expected in such a program, the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films has raised the bar on how to tastefully present challenging subject material to a diverse audience. This was only possible due to the strength and quality of the filmmakers represented.

The eleven year Festival runs from September 20th to the 26th with screening and seminars taking place at the Camelot Theatres, Palm Springs City Hall, Palm Springs Mall and the Wyndam Hotel. Recognized as one of the premiere Short Film Festivals in world PSIFSF screens over 300 films from 38 countries. Many of the award winning films from this Festival goes on to be recognized by the Academy Awards. Last years big winners Wasp and Ryan were nominated and Ryan went on to win as Best Animated Short at the Oscars.

By Andy Verostek & Keiko Beatie

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