Little Things Mean a Lot

Action! John Killacky's "Dreaming Awake"
Laurie Toby Edison

Excess abounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's, from overstuffed shopping malls and omnipresent cookie trays to overlong, Oscar-seeking movies. That's why it's a good time to praise the little things--short films, for example. This week Twin Citians can enjoy an unusually large number of shorts programs, and while none of them deal with the love lives of giant gorillas, they do tackle some weighty and memorable subjects.

The first of three installments in Minnesota Film Arts' "A Look Outside" series is curated by Emily Goldberg, maker of the recent rock-doc Venus of Mars. Goldberg's four selections (screening Saturday at 1:00 p.m.) are all documentaries, but their perspectives are highly diverse. Chris Langseth's "Ryan" is a poignant animated short about Ryan Larkin, an Oscar-nominated film animator in the '70s who slipped into oblivion, a victim of emotional and chemical delusions. Langseth's own animation is alternately whimsical and devastating, and he wields it to startling effect in demonstrating the sadness behind Larkin's ruin. Ironically, though Larkin himself never actually won an Academy Award, Langseth did for his direction of "Ryan."

Larkin's demons seem almost tame compared to those that plague the mother-and-son drug addicts in Gina Levy and Eric Johnson's "Foo-Foo Dust," which culminates Goldberg's 75-minute program. Stephanie, who has been using for 30 years, taunts her 20-year-old son Tony when he fails to bring her enough crack; meanwhile he nods off in the bathroom, coming dangerously close to overdosing on heroin. The film, shot almost entirely in a decrepit hotel room in San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin neighborhood, is a brutal but necessary assault on the senses. Although the doc would benefit from more background on how the pair ended up in such horrible circumstances (snippets of previous history are revealed in interviews), it still presents an unflinching glimpse into two lives that teeter on the brink of self-annihilation.

In contrast, Kim's Story: The Road from Vietnam (1996)--showing at the Minnesota History Center (Sunday at 2:00 p.m.) as part of its monthly ReelMN series--reveals a more positive side of human nature. Many have seen Kim Phuc's image, immortalized in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken during the Vietnam War. After her village was hit by napalm, she ran down a highway, naked and screaming, her body burned by the chemical. Filmmaker Shelley Saywell catches up with Kim as an adult in Canada and follows her as she meets the doctors who saved her life, the photojournalists who witnessed her tragedy, and even the American commander who ordered the attack. Despite years of pain, loss, and sacrifice, the astonishingly upbeat Kim still manages to forgive, if only to heal her own emotional scars; the physical one, while well tended, will never go away.

Personal power, both lost and reclaimed, is also a central theme of "Body Image," a collection of shorts screening at Intermedia Arts (Friday at 7:00 p.m.) as part of the "Words! Camera! Action!" series. Contributing filmmakers include former Walker Art Center performing arts director John Killacky (now at the San Francisco Foundation), who will combine readings with videos that depict the experiences of disabled artists. (Three of Killacky's films will screen separately at 10:00 p.m.) Killacky's knowledge is drawn from his substantial work as a curator and fundraiser, and also, most important, from his own personal journey as a result of Brown-Séquard syndrome.

Finally, there's The Environment: A Historical Perspective, presented at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (Thursday at 7:00 p.m.) at the tail end of the "Eco-Design and Business Film Series." One of many offerings in the Canadian Films for the Humanities Series, the film is academic in its approach and offers only an introductory survey of environmental issues, yet it's hard to ignore the message: People, Americans in particular, are consuming in such large quantities that the earth will not be able to sustain it. The thought of King Kong stomping his way through Manhattan seems appropriately cartoonish compared to the real destruction that we ourselves inflict casually every day.

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