Based on a True Story at Aspen Shortsfest
The human toll of world-shaking events is easily lost in headlines, short news broadcasts and the dry pages of textbooks. Narrative film can bring viewers beyond those surface depictions and into the visceral experiences of people touched by global calamities.
Three outstanding films screening Friday at Aspen Shortsfest, for example, take on the experience of children uprooted by the Kosovo War, the hard choices of families enduring the ongoing Greek debt crisis, and the lingering emotional trauma of the children of Holocaust survivors.
“Shok,” which premieres Friday during the 5:30 p.m. Shortsfest program, opens with two men in a Mercedes, stopping when a bicycle in the road blocks their path. At the sight of the bike, one of the men flashes back to his boyhood, as an Albanian facing down Serbian troops in Kosovo.
VIDEO CLIP: “Shok”
Directed by Jamie Donoghue, and based on a true story, the 21-minute film follows two boys navigating life in the conflict zone and how the looming war tests their friendship. One of the boys, Petrit, a self-styled “business man,” has been collaborating with the troops occupying his town. The other, Oki, is wary of following, and eventually breaks ranks with Petrit.
“You’re no business man,” he tells Petrit. “You’re a coward, a liar, abut most of all you’re a traitor.”
As the boys move toward reconciliation, the gears of war and prejudice grind against them in a heartwrenching depiction of the human cost of the Kosovo conflict.
“Volta,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and screens Friday in the 5:30 p.m. Shortsfest program, is a quietly devastating depiction of a mother and daughter in today’s hard times in Athens, Greece.
The second short from writer-director Stella Kyriakopoulos, “Volta” follows the pair through a morning at home – bath time, drinking powdered milk – and out into the city. They ride a train, where the girl tells a woman “We’re going for a walk,” then ride a bus, then start walking.
VIDEO CLIP: “Volta”
We don’t know where they’re going, but the film takes on an increasingly foreboding mood over the course of its 11 minutes, deftly dropping details about their dire financial situation. During a stop at a corner store for ice cream, the mother is short of the price. Their final stop, and the film’s subtle, silent conclusion signal just how much people are struggling in Greece today. After seeing “Volta,” you can’t help but think of this mother and daughter when you hear the statistics and news of international negotiations over Greece’s economic crisis.
“German Shepherd,” which has already won prizes at the Pixel Film Festival and Heartland Film Festival, plays during the 8:30 program Friday. The animated film offers a droll look at how the American son of a Holocaust survivor thinks about Germans, “the Nazi thing,” and human nature.
“My mom hates Germany and Germans,” the voice of David Paul says, as simple, quick-cut animated domestic scenes play on the screen. “She thinks they were born to hate Jews.”
VIDEO CLIP: “German Shepherd”
David’s response is to travel to Berlin, to actually meet some Germans. He continues visiting for 20 years, and makes many friends there, but new acquaintances always have to pass “the grandfather question,” which he poses in a mock German accent, asking, “What did your grandfather do in the war?”
As “German Shephard” progresses, the animation by director Nils Bergendal mirrors the psychological landscape of a man pondering forgiveness, good and evil, and what he might have done if he was in the Germans’ shoes. At one point, his animated avatar stands, shifting, in front of a cinema marquee with the words “Human Condition” on it. As the 10-minute film concludes, its clear “German Shepherd,” in its quirky way, is about that enigmatic condition more than its about David, the legacy of the Holocaust or the Nazi thing.
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