Forgive me, I know I’m a week late since POV aired the shorts program (you can watch all the short films online at the above link), but I was away and I just saw them…and they were so cool! I hope that you caught them too, maybe in much the same way I have come across some great programs in the past — channel surfing and then stumbling on something so unlike anything else amongst your 400 channels, with no shrill editing, fake actors or images of Lou Dobbs — that you became mesmerized. This happened to me once when I happened upon a doc about water towers. I don’t know who aired it, but I was immediately reminded of it when I saw City of Cranes.

City of CranesCranes has a lyrical quality to it that calls to mind a Radiohead song. In fact, someone should get those guys to see it, if they haven’t already. It could be projected behind them during a show.

Cranes illuminated for me how special short films are: they can be more universal and deep than feature-length films, exactly because they are short — like a haiku. For me, Cranes had a beauty to it, but also a dangerous glimmer of 9/11, with its constant theme of urban repair and disrepair and frequent shots of airplanes flying over head. Did anyone else take note of that? Or is it because I’m a New Yorker, where 9/11 struck closest, and where we’ve had more than our share of crane accidents in recent years?

But that’s what’s so great about these shorts. They can say different things to different people. The filmmakers’ agendas are less important. Is Nutkin’s Last Stand a satire or a serious depiction of the squirrel problem in the U.K.? Could Utopia Part 3 have been presented with any less context? But that’s cool: these are poems. Perhaps 34 X 25 X 36 shows its hand most, with its grainy abstract depictions of mannequins: it’s as if it were saying, “here is an art film.” Or, perhaps, a product of a grad school dissertation. Bring it on!

My one complaint is the one commonality amongst all four shorts: They each use serious, plodding, dreamy music juxtaposed against images to create a dramatic impact — a sort of Koyaanisqatsi effect, if you will. I wish filmmakers could mix up their musical selections more. It’s a trope that needs tweaking.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen