For short films, finding an audience is an often uphill battle. Even major award winners struggle to reach viewers outside of the festival circuit.
Thank goodness for The Screening Room, The New Yorker’s online platform for sharing short films.
It’s a magnificent free buffet for those of us who’d like nothing better than to gorge ourselves on these little gems.
If you’re not yet a fan of the form, allow us to suggest that any one of the 30 fictional shorts posted in The Screening Room could function as a superb palate cleanser between binge watches of more regular fare.
Take co-directors Amina Sutton and Maya Tanaka’s hilarious The Price of Cheap Rent, clocking in at 6 1/2 minutes, above.
A community-supported project, starring Sutton and shot in Tanaka’s Brooklyn apartment, it’s a comedy of manners that brings fresh meaning to the semi-controversial phrase “Bed Stuy, Do or Die.”
Sutton plays a young Black artist with a masters from Yale, a gig behind the bar at Applebee’s, and a keen interest in positioning herself as an influencer, an ambition the filmmakers lampoon with glee.
When she discovers that her new apartment is haunted, she is “so freaked the f&ck out,” she spends a week sleeping in the park, before venturing back:
And it’s a studio, so it’s like living in a clown car of hell.
But once she discovers (or possibly just decides) that the majority of the ghosts are Black, she begins planning a podcast and makes her peace with staying put.
Pros: the rent’s a lot less than the 1-bathroom dump she shared with five roommates, there’s laundry in the basement, and the ghosts, whom she now conceives of as ancestors, share many of her interests — history, the arts, and the 1995 live action/CGI adaptation of Casper the Friendly Ghost. (They give Ghostbusters a thumbs down.)
Cons: the ghost of an 18th-century Dutch Protestant settler whose white fragility manifests in irritating, but manageable ways.
Those with 18 minutes to spare should check out Joy Joy Nails, another very funny film hinging on identity.
Every day a group of salty, young Korean women await the van that will transport them from their cramped quarters in Flushing, Queens, to a nail salon in a ritzier — and, judging by the customers, far whiter — neighborhood.
Writer-director Joey Ally contrasts the salon’s aggressively pink decor and the employees’ chummy deference to their regular customers with the grubbiness of the break room and the transactional nature of the exchange.
“Anyone not fired with enthusiasm… will be!” threatens a yellowed notice taped in the employees only area.
Behind the register, the veil is lifted a bit, narrowing the upstairs/downstairs divide with realistically homemade signs:
“CASH! FOR TIP ONLY”
Like Sutton and Tanaka, Ally is versed in horror tropes, inspiring dread with close ups of pumice stones, emory boards, and cuticle trimmers at work.
When a more objective view is needed, she cuts to the black-and-white security feed under the reception counter.
When one of the customers calls to ask if her missing earring was left in the waxing room, the story takes a tragic turn, though for reasons more complex than one might assume.
Ally’s script punctures the all-too-common perception of nail salon employees as a monolithic immigrant mass to explore themes of dominance and bias between representatives of varied cultures, a point driven home by the subtitles, or absence thereof.
The 2017 film also tapped into its release year zeitgeist with a plot point involving the boss’ son.
On a tight schedule? You can still squeeze in Undiscovered, director Sara Litzenberger’s 3-minute animation from 2014.
Identity factors in here, too, as a Sasquatch-like creature terrifies a string of camera wielding humans in its attempt to get a photograph that will show it as it wishes to be perceived.
It’s an easily digested delight, suitable for all ages.
Explore all 30+ fictional shorts in the Screening Room for free here or on The New Yorker’s YouTube playlist. You can find them all embedded and streamable below.
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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto. Follow her @AyunHalliday.
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