Screening entries for a film festival like Beaufort’s is brutally anonymous. As in, I knew nothing about any of the hundreds of filmmakers who submitted their work this year. Not their back stories, not how many other festivals accepted their films, not their “American Idol”-like tear jerking testimonies of near-death experiences and how much it all means to them. Some entries were hand scribbled on the DVD itself in Sharpie and I couldn’t even read the handwriting. That’s the way it should be. It’s how festival-goers know that the films that made it through to the finals and begin screening on Thursday got to Beaufort strictly on their merits.
Among the ones that sailed through, easily one of the best shorts I’ve ever seen, was a piece called “Left Alone.” Here’s why. Shorts are incredibly hard to pull off. They have to have the clearest of concepts, the tightest screenwriting, to work. They don’t have the luxury of 90 minutes to convince you or to tie up loose ends. Most shorts try to say too much, cram too many stories into too few minutes.
“Left Alone” started with a short story, a smart move. Even smarter, it’s a story by Anton Chekov. About a man dealing with grief that no-one else has any reason to share. Which, when you think about it, is easier to write about than to show, on screen. But the filmmakers who came up with the adaptation “Left Alone,” found the perfect vehicle. Literally. A modern-day taxi cab. And a driver who can’t accept the anonymity of his loss. It’s brilliantly acted, and beautifully shot and scored. It was the only entry of all the hundreds I screened that left me in tears. It’s that universal and yet that personal. By a certain age, we all meet grief. And the world doesn’t stop to let us off. Life around us goes on, whether we like it or not. On the strength of its ability to share that story, “Left Alone” became an instant finalist in best short film category of this year’s festival.
A couple of hours ago I read Mark Shaffer’s interview with the man who directed “Left Alone:” Seth Boggess. The veil of anonymity was lifted and I saw the context behind the film that so moved me. It turns out there’s no way I couldn’t have liked this film. First, it’s premiering here, at BIFF. Way to make a statement about the value of small festivals! Second, it’s made by a husband-and-wife team, Boggess and producer Natasha Warloe, both of whom are making the trek from Chicago to Beaufort for the entire festival. (Not that I’m prejudiced or anything, but my favorite projects are those I embark upon with my husband and partner.) The lead actor is a Steppenwolf veteran, no wonder he was amazing. And to top it all off, the music that put me right there, in the front seat of the driver’s grief, was composed by the director himself. Creating scores for movies is his day job. If only a screenplay of mine someday is set to music by Boggess.
In the end, film is never anonymous. Or the work of just one person. When we buy a ticket at the Cineplex it’s after a huge marketing blitz that is almost inescapable. But when a film like “Left Alone” can stand alone, without the benefit of any prior assumptions, that is raw talent.