YoFiFest (2020) In Review

Unfortunately, much like a vast majority of film festivals in 2020, this year’s YoFiFest – an annual event coming out of Yonkers, New York had to be modified and presented as a virtual event. I was one of the lucky bunch to have a short film “The Body” playing at this years festival. It’s a Crime/Comedy about two men tasked with burying a body in the countryside but the seemingly simple job becomes anything but. The organizers of YoFiFest deserve all of our thanks and appreciation for their ability to adapt to these COVID restrictions, as well as the various methods for which they’ve kept filmmakers and viewers engaged in an all-inclusive experience. From the executive director, Dave Steck and festival producer Alex Torres, through to programmer Patty Schumann, and the additional support staff who helped ensure the event was a success, on behalf of all the filmmakers I say thank you very much! It’s been a pleasure so I thought I’d cover a little of the event.

My day job had me otherwise engaged throughout a chunk of the festival, but following an informative and enjoyable Q&A talkback on the weekend with Alex and other filmmakers, I wanted to invest what time I could with some of the films that were on offer. Sadly, I haven’t been able to put aside the time to check out any of the feature films, nor the documentaries (although that’s more of a personal preference matter) but I did manage to catch over twenty five short films, some of which I’ll be covering in this article.

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The short films for the festival were divided into blocks under various categories like Comedy, Locally Sourced Showcases, Scream Screen Showcases, and general Shorts Blocks. In no particular order I’ll run through some of what I got to see and my overall thoughts on the content. “In The Blood” was a revenge style western short from Regina Russell Banali that boasted superb gritty color grading utilizing a great palette of earthly tones. Whilst I wasn’t so much drawn to the narrative, which I felt lacked a little clarity. Ryan Griswold, the DP, editor, and colorist behind the aesthetics of this film deserves the highest of praise. “Loose Narrative” was a major deviation and light-hearted in tone, something I welcomed. A short in which a narrator searches for new subjects to narrate as his human grows tired of his commentary. Writer/Director, Jack McCafferty (who also acts in the film) has conceived of an original, funny and ultimately cost-effective abstraction. Well done. John Washburn’s “The Dead Drop”, about a group of kids who stumble upon a secret code and find themselves caught up in a game of cat and mouse had potential but fell a little short for mine. The same can be said of “Attention”, a micro-short about possession that was seemingly over before it ever really got started. “Too Late” and “Blind Spot” both had their moments, the latter rather ambitious and fittingly self-aware given its lower-budget nature. The former is another micro-budget short about a man who sets out to apologize to a woman he wronged – only to see things take a further turn for the worse. “Donuts”, Written and Directed by Anu Valia turned out to be an effective slice of serious drama. A wife has been keeping a secret from her husband – one that’s ultimately revealed with uncustomary timing.

At almost twenty minutes, “In The Deathroom” was the lengthiest of the shorts I saw. Rachel Wyn Dunn’s cinematography was impressive, and the edit came together in a suspenseful way. The performances were even across the board and the resolution an honorable one. If I had a criticism it was regarding some of the patchy CG (probably due to budgetary constraints). Some honorable mentions from the festival include a couple more micro’s, “Benehooy” in which two brothers argue over respective approaches to driving through a tunnel. It didn’t appear to make a whole lot of sense but I was certainly entertained for 4 minutes (haha). The other “Steve Of The Antarctic”, a comedy that took travel/immigration lengths to a ridiculous extent – very funny stuff between a Canadian tourist and an Aussie bloke on a power trip. Teddy Tenenbaum’s “Sidepiece” managed to put an unexpected twist on the inner-workings of the online dating scene. Showcasing funny and natural performances from its leads (which include Michael Muhney from Veronica Mars) and a fittingly full-circle conclusion. Lastly, “On In 15” from Jack and Joseph Archer was shot in one continuous take and centers around personal dramas of members of a band who are about to go on stage for the biggest performance of their careers. The comedic timing was impressive, the dialogue snappy, and the premise relatable for those who’ve ever been involved in band life.

Of the selections I watched there were about eight that I felt elevated themselves in one way or another. John Gray’s “The Desecrated” and Gregg Blake’s “The Smiler” supplied the creep factor portion of the festival – each shrouded in mystery with their own style. Gray’s film was set in the confines of a morgue and had an “Autopsy Of Jane Doe” other-worldly feel about it. Marcia Moran was particularly unnerving throughout, and the combination of Michael Levine’s eerie score and Ross Berryman’s crisp cinematography drove home polished development. Gregg’s film had an equally frightening premise built around an intense performance by Eva Visco, who plays a mysterious witch that haunts a couple on vacation. Come the closing shots, I had a desire to want to know more. Hearing the news that Blake is planning to turn The Smiler into a feature was an extra added bonus. “Shots Fired” comes from Hezues R. in which he puts a new twist on the all too familiar school-shooter (a pertinent issue right now). The reveal feels organic, and although understated in the mechanism, it speaks volumes all the same. Jeanette L. Buck and Rani Deighe Crowe bring the heavy with the 8-minute short, “Quiet On Set”. Two actors are in the middle of filming a heated sex scene, when unbeknownst to the crew one of them takes things too far. This short highlights and raises awareness about standing and speaking up against all forms of abuse. The material is well-handled by everyone involved and things have that dirty air about them, making for a difficult but important watch.

These last four films were among my favorites from this years YoFiFest and any one of them would be well deserving of a “Best Of Show” award (or something akin to that). I’ll start with Sarah Gurfield’s Horror/Comedy “Boy Eats Girl: A Zombie Love Story”, Co-Written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin. I’d had the chance to converse a little during the talkback (where Sarah was present) but I didn’t know much heading into her film and was most delighted by this surprising little zombie short. The pacing was excellent and the practical fx work might just be the best of the festival. DP, James Codeglia demonstrates the skills of his craft effortlessly. Shot choices are tight, Mike Gurfield’s edit is seamless, and the film is clever with the way in which the preliminary washed out nature of the color grade swiftly softens into a more vibrant warm glow. The use of Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” gave me a good laugh, so to the way the characters sort of grunt at each other (because it’s all they can do to communicate). I can see Boy Eats Girl making a big splash when it eventually drops to a wider audience.

I believe Writer/Director, John Gray (behind the aforementioned The Desecrated) might just be the only filmmaker in the festival with a second film playing. “Extra Innings” benefits from a couple of familiar faces in T.J Thyne (TV’s Bones) and Peter Riegert (The Mask and Traffic). The film puts us smack bang in the middle of an office where a reporter (played by Thyne) is interviewing a major league baseball manager in an attempt to uncover details of the past. Extra Innings is a cleverly written piece of material commanded by two excellent performances. Gray’s script subtly and patiently weaves its magic across 9 short minutes, and the end result is a poignant and dramatic story about love and loss. I was blown away.

It came as no surprise to me to learn that Douglas Petrie’s, “Pa Pa” was already an award-winning short film. It’s a one man show, and that man is Clancy Brown (of the Shawshank Redemption and TV’S Billions). In the film he plays a lonely inventor who builds himself a mechanical son and experiences everything that comes with that. This one is yet another high production value short with beautiful cinematography and lighting, complemented by a whimsical score from Zev Burrows. Brown is so adept at gauging emotion without requiring dialogue to convey said feelings to the audience. As good as both the writing and acting are, the honors here rightfully belong to Frank Langley, the man who ultimately brings this cute little robot to life. The film manages to condense our life cycle down to just 14 minutes and the ending makes for a lovely touch.

I covered the masterpiece that is “Strange Times In Wapakoneta” earlier this year as part of the “Massachusetts Independent Film Festival”, where I was lucky enough to first see it (another festival in which my film happen to be playing). It was my favorite film then and it still is now. Writer/Director, Ben Fraternale approaches with so much attention to detail, this quirky Comedy/Drama about two brothers who run competing newspapers in the same town and go head to head in a personal war over who will cover the biggest story. It’s got brilliant performances from all involved, particularly Alex Herrald and Lucas Harvie, wonderful dry comedy, and a good natured feel about it. The cinematography is masterful, the score peculiar in the best way possible, and the edit perhaps the most dynamic of any of the films in this years festival.

Well folks, that’s pretty much a wrap on this years YoFiFest. It really was a pleasure to not only get to see some fine films from up and coming filmmakers (as well as some established), but to personally be involved in this years festival with “The Body” playing alongside films of this caliber really is a huge personal achievement and a pinch myself kind of moment. That’s it from me for this years festival but YoFiFest is sure to be back bigger and better in 2021 and hopefully we’re all enjoying each others company in a live theatre setting by such time!