Short Films: Your Mom Says Hi! and Word Count - Reviewed [Winter Film Festival, New York City]

Last week, I had a chance to pop in to the “Celebration of Women” segment of the Winter Film Awards Festival in the Big Apple, now in its seventh year. Winter Film is a platform for emerging filmmakers from around the planet, one designed to showcase the “eclectic diversity and excitement of the independent arts world.” I was not disappointed in anything I saw, though two of the sixteen short films screened that afternoon--one serious and one madly comedic--especially caught my attention.

Let’s start with the comedic offering. Your Mom Says Hi! by Carlie Andrea Mantilla and Doni D Carley portrays the rollicking, over-the-top art of chickflickery par excellence. A commercial for p*ssy protection spray is a hysterical must-watch for the age of Trump, when everything is up for grabs. Another segment, in which a woman tries to prepare her clueless trans partner to meet her Mexican family, is a not-so-gentle satire on cross-border romance. In a rapid-fire short about “gangsta waitressing” in the post-apocalyptic world of diners, the wildly uninhibited grandkids of Rosie--remember Bounty’s old Quicker Picker Upper Queen?-- ultimately dish out more genderfuck than grilled cheese. This is Maelstrom Diner, not Mel’s, so watch your soup.

On a more serious note, Berlin-based artist Charlotte de Bekker, who grew up in the United Arab Emirates, presents Word Count, an unnerving but ultimately rewarding glimpse of a young girl living in a different type of dystopia: a grim post-Orwellian society in which people are permitted to speak only a limited number of words over their lifetimes. (Where did I read that Donald Trump has a vocabulary of only 77 words, all used in the dismissive mood?) Word Count trains its introspective lens on little Noor, a girl being taught to read by her Artificial Intelligence Mama. On the day she learns the word “insect,” she is soon puzzled to discover that neither the species nor the word is extinct after all. How can she keep her forced silence in the face of this epiphany? The underlying metaphor of this film is deep and complex, one that plumbs the arcane world of theoretical linguistics and philosophical speculation, but de Bekker is able to craft a poignant and sensitive narrative that makes viewers both feel and think more deeply--and more importantly, makes them emphathize with the victims of thought control and state-sponsored cruelty. Sadly, that includes all of us. Breaking News: At Winter Festival’s end, Charlotte de Bekker captured the “Outstanding Woman Filmmaker” award for Word Count.

-Edward Moran