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At The Movies: Malibu Film Festival:

Judging by the films in the opening night shorts programs at the Eighth Annual Malibu International Film Festival, held in Santa Monica April 13-16, it seemed like this festival was one for film buffs. The audience was filled with filmmakers who, during the Q&A sessions after the programs, peppered the directors of the participating films with questions about techniques and costs.

But the films themselves showed both a high level of craft and a higher than average level of artistry and entertainment value that anyone could enjoy.

Program One kicked off with a six-minute animated short called The Toll, whose protagonist is a CGI troll, a geeky, garrulous fellow who collects the “toll” at a bridge and speaks to the camera, documentary-style, about his carnivorous lifestyle. Zachary Pike’s film is economical, hilarious, visually stunning and offers a character who could be the subject of future films.

Life is Short, by Don Oskowitz and Riki Lindhome, is a comedy about a short fellow who lets his height become an issue when dating women. It proved to be a crowd-pleaser with its quirky humor and a guest appearance by Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls fame.

Paul Bickell’s Hollow is a thriller about a family living in a house that might possibly have a secret door to a nightmare world. The resolution seems a bit mysterious, but the scary element is certainly there. Bickell later informed the audience that he has written a full-length screenplay version of the story.

Lance is a Jerk, by Mark Teitelman, spoofs “personal assistants” who fawn over the celebs they are working with, in this case Lance Armstrong, who obligingly spoofs himself in four funny minutes.

Kim Jacobs’ Greetings From Earth, at 23 minutes the longest film in the program, deals with a wife (Mariel Hemingway) who seeks relief from her tedious life and stalemate marriage by using a New Age technique to literally leave her life behind – by leaving her body. Hemingway gives a fine performance, although the film itself felt like it would be better if developed as a feature.

Program Two began with another animated film, Moe and Les by Lindsay Vander Galien, featuring a blue creature attached to another blue creature, which causes some social problems. At three minutes, this left one wanting more – possibly a regular series of  Moe and Les cartoons.

The program then turned serious with two amazing films. Still Life, by Mahesh Pailloor, is a study of a photographer, renowned for his photos of world conflicts, who takes a picture of a bereaved boy in Iraq and is thrown back to examining his relationship with his own son. This film packed a whole feature into 20 minutes, using direct visuals and profound non-verbal moments to tell its story.

Kevin Ackerman’s The Falling Man began as a Twilight Zone-style story of an errand boy trying to deliver a lunch and finding a whole office building deserted. The theme of a person who encounters an unexplainably desolate world has been done many times – but this film has a surprise twist relating to our recent history. It received the most applause of any film shown.

Damaged Goods, by Graham Rich, brought back some comedy (with some dark undertones) as a young man with a phobia meets a young woman with “suicidal tendencies” at a group therapy meeting – and the two fall in love.

The Malibu International Film Festival is a showcase for independent filmmakers and offers juried prizes for the films screened.  Winners as well as audience choices for best films can be found at malibufilmfestival.org/. 

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