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Soaked in 'The Blood of the Dinosaurs'

The Blood of the Dinosaurs is a surreal horror comedy short film from filmmaker, Joe Badon. Starting with a discussion about the film itself between the director and an actor, this unusual behind-the-scenes launchpad sets the scene for a self-aware, eclectic, provocative and sensational short film that pushes boundaries.

Centred primarily at a Mr Rogers-style children's show, where Uncle Bobbo leads a lesson on where oil comes from, the genre-bending horror comedy branches out to equally unsettling sequences as if moving by association. Opting to straddle genre, reality and twist perceived target audience, The Blood of the Dinosaurs has a pitch black sense of humour and a destabilising effect on its audience as the nightmare continues unabated.

The Blood of the Dinosaurs stars Vincent Stalba, Stella Creel and Kali Russell whose unflinching performances contribute to Badon's off-kilter and warped vision. Stalba recalls Matthew Goode, delivering a bold yet controlled performance that channels the insanity of everything around him. Creel makes this her third short film with Badon, adding some much-needed innocence to counterbalance and inform while Russel's take as an older Purity finds her thrust into sixth gear.

Moving at a frenetic pace in its cutaways, it returns to the creepy Uncle Bobbo who seems to control proceedings, generating an extra layer of slime by slowing things down as if you were trying to get the hidden message from a pop tune. Immersing viewers in a kiddies show environment that leans into its adult themes, the stark contrast between naive and world-weary creates a rich tension from the inbetweens.

The Blood of the Dinosaurs Review

This mix of horror and comedy is reminiscent of Monty Python's playful yet barbed sketch shows. Keeping a straight face and pushing through the dark comedy craziness, their campy undertones keep us distant enough to know it's for our amusement yet disturbed by the psychotic implications of the illusion. This is also the case for The Blood of the Dinosaurs, which uses montage and a tonally obscure treatment to toy with its audience using its apparent frivolity to underscore its much darker residue.

While the nightmarish quality, use of slowed down language, artful appeal and warped TV show formula may draw some comparisons with David Lynch, the madcap bizarro comedy is much more forceful here and more play when it comes to channel-flipping, mixed media and the precarious balance between reality and unreality.

This mind-bending short is not for the faint-hearted and is designed to leave you guessing. Possibly tapping into some There Will Be Blood allegorical world-building, the story has flow even if the overall feeling is more poetic. Switching between strict form and primal instinct, the appearance of things is bent to infer a much more sinister undercurrent.

This modest production is densely packed with the stuff of nightmares, outperforming itself in reaching its interdimensional currency. While there are some incongruencies and bits that seem more polished than others, the sketch show spectrum and campy undertones excuse these fluctuations, which however intentional work for and against.

Based on its corrupted children's show and reference to oil as it relates to the dinosaur apocalypse, The Blood of the Dinosaurs seems to be grappling with issues relating to pedophilia and environment. While these inferences could serve as straightforward metaphors with a direct reference to Psycho, the short film could also be a moral representation of our lackadaisical and unconscionable treatment of the earth's resources.

A thought-provoking and surreal thrill ride that ventures boldly from one maddening moment to the next, The Blood of the Dinosaurs somehow manages to keep a lid on things. As diverse, divergent and disturbing as it becomes, Badon gives himself permission to play and tease out story concepts with flair.

Soul-searching with 'Viva Dada'

Viva Dada
is an introspective documentary from filmmaker Matthew Kalil, featuring his inspirational friend and author Sjaka Septembir . The two were part of Kalil's first documentary Porsellynkas, a retrospective exploration of the legacy of a performance arts group whose notorious and free-spirited works captured some of the disillusionment around the Afrikaans identity of the time. Sticking closely along the lines of identity with a soul-searching quest around self-worth, Viva Dada sets about trying to recover a long lost book authored by Sjaka. Recalling his suicide attempt, this honest work spoke to people at the time of its release but was so underground that the few copies that were distributed become difficult to track down.

Viva Dada film

Loosely centred on the quest to find Viva Dada, working through a list of people who last had a copy or some form of contact with it, the duo make it their mission to interview or locate the people on their list. Revisiting old haunts in the process of unearthing the origins of Viva Dada, the documentary takes these creatives on a nostalgic tour of their childhoods, triggering dormant memories and emotions in the search. Admittedly not quite sure what the documentary is about, Kalil's open-handed approach begins with Sjaka turning the camera on him so that by way of gonzo journalism he too becomes the subject.

This free-flowing approach leads Viva Dada as Kalil is guided by feeling and mood rather than trying to adhere to a linear story line. Questioning beliefs in a reflective way, self-doubt and a series of false starts characterise the documentary as the men share intimate thoughts and memories. From small victories to suicidal thoughts, Viva Dada echoes the very spirit of Dadaism, a movement around happenings and found objects. Questioning the intrinsic nature and value of things, the movement had a blend of the absurd with a comical undertow. Viva Dada seems to move by way of feel and makes for an honest and challenging cinematic experience, which while full of questions around self-worth is mostly ironically funny. Tripping into special moments and even losing valuable takes, there's a fatalistic undercurrent to this melancholic film.

Sjaka comes across like a clown without make up, an idea that his hairstyle and expressions invoke. This is further impressed upon us by his blend of happy/sad as he jokes about and reminisces, culminating in him literally wearing a red nose. A doccie with a dual biographical slant, Viva Dada's outward perspective is inversed so that Kalil actually becomes the primary subject. Porsellynkas saw him adopt the behind-the-camera role of director and narrator, yet he takes a much more active role in this unofficial sequel. A charming and likable guy, his refreshing honesty reveals some of his triumphs and relative failures, charting his previous documentary, his screenwriting book 'The Three Wheels of Screenwriting' and his unfinished film about growing up in Table View.

Viva Dada film

Filming meditation, mini road trips, surf expeditions and suburban views, we get a raw semblance of their worlds with moody settings that echo the film's nostalgic and self-reflective ebb-and-flow. Viva Dada's novelty, subjects and unpredictability make it an entertaining film that finds inspiration in some of the darkest places. Not afraid to represent the shadowier, doubtful side of humanity it works against the natural order of modern entertainment. Complementing this rather spiritual quest with some magical drone footage, Viva Dada moves from eclectic to ethereal.

Shot on a shoestring budget, it echoes the indie spirit of Porsellynkas, reinforced by its soundtrack comprised of Afrikaans folk music from Caltex. Filmed in English and Afrikaans, it's a uniquely South African film that focusses on the existential crisis of its subjects, embedded in their hometowns and familiar environments. Touching on identity, white guilt and the disparities of living in a city like Cape Town, this heavy and somber mood permeates unapologetically. It's a truth-seeking documentary, an artistic and spiritual endeavour, which while constrained by its no-budget origins still has plenty to say without saying anything at all.

Moving from introductions to introspection and a form of inquisitive visual poetry, Viva Dada isn't for everyone. While its complex characters remain compelling, its see-what-happens approach work for and against... pushing the quest forward as the novel search continues, yet constrained by its own commentary on honest, heart-on-the-sleeve frustration. A deeply personal story, the scattershot come-what-may approach remains fascinating and checking in at 45 minutes it doesn't overstay its welcome. Viva Dada's searching spirit underpins this journey where self-understanding and greater awareness make a worthy spin-off for achievements not unlocked.

Viva Dada is premiering at the Vrystaat Arts Festival.

The Doll - A Short Documentary About Child Marriage

The Doll is an Iranian short documentary about child marriage, which focusses on the story a 14-year-old girl named Asal. Taking an objective stance and allowing interviewees to speak freely, the film captures some of the nuances of the matter without passing judgement. Iranian filmmaker, Elahe Esmaili, voices her concerns about children's and women's rights by simply representing the complicated situation as it stands. While Esmaili is dealing with child marriage within the context of a staunch patriarchal society in The Doll, the film also touches on parental conduct, violence against woman and overarching social inequalities.

The documentary laces together interviewees from across Asal's immediate family circle with a primary focus on her and her father. Introducing the situation, husbands and wives from both sides of the equation explain the age they were married and offer their opinion on whether it's wise to do the same. Specifically speaking into Asal's impending child marriage, the general consensus is that it isn't wise for a girl to marry so young. From not being mature enough to being unable to attend to her husband's practical needs, there appears to be a general understanding that 14 is much too young. From this point, The Doll narrows down the discussion to young Asal whose father has promised her to another man.

Through interviews with the attractive girl, it becomes apparent that she's still very much entrenched in her childhood. Accepting toys and candy as gifts, learning to skate and still figuring out who she is in terms of personal style and what she wants to do with her life, the exuberant youngster is in her rebellious stage. Estranged from his wife, who he had to discipline through physical violence, it becomes clear why Asal's marriage couldn't come soon enough. Living in his photographer work studio and wanting to move on with his life by marrying his fiancee, it appears Asal's presence has become a nuisance - both reminding her father of his ex-wife and destined to be a problem to his second wife.

The Doll documentary

The stream of interviews flows steadily as one gets a good sense of the situation through familial speculation and words from the prime subjects themselves. While we never become acquainted with the suitor who's studying medicine, the underlying concern from her family in a culture where child marriage is normalised and permitted, speaks volumes. The Doll isn't simply about an exception but about a contentious and universal social issue, leveraging Asal's story as a figurehead for an matter that is prevalent but not limited to Islamic societies.

Speaking quite candidly as if none of the family members will ever hear their comments, the documentary unearths a number of deeper social issues affecting women and children, which could serve as the subject of spin-off documentaries. The Doll's powerful, timely and important message is what creates an eerie undertone to this matter-of-fact documentary. Asal's willingness to get married and her father's eagerness for his daughter to essentially be adopted by another family with a view to marriage don't seem to fully comprehend the underlying issues. According to the Statistical Centre of Iran, over 300 children were born from mothers aged 15 or younger during the Spring of 2020.

The Doll documentary

While repetitive, the interviews have an openness and honesty, compelling the viewer through an almost seamless channel of thought as comments are stringed together to create a sense of continuity. Beautifully framed and shot, The Doll is almost entirely comprised of talking heads, offering cutaway footage of home videos, the family in their day jobs, passing time at home, dealing with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and having fun at a skate park. Esmaili creates a sense of authenticity and establishes trust with her subjects, one of the documentary's main selling points, which underlines the importance of its message. While Asal has been exposed to Instagram and realises there's another world beyond the fashion and fun of the platform, her excited anticipation of becoming a child bride does jar.

Esmaili is a brave filmmaker, whose thought-provoking work is sure to create international interest and spark the right kinds of conversations. If The Doll is what she's able to achieve with modest resources, one can only imagine what other groundbreaking social issues documentary ideas she will be unearthing next.

Short Film Review: Saloon

Saloon is a dark western actioner from writer-director Dayakar Padayachee, produced by Simon Ratcliffe and Pelisha Somiah. Starring Kwenzo Ngcobo as a tough hitman, the short film explores one wild night as he follows up a bit of business with a drink at a nearby saloon. Five Fingers for Marseilles recently captured the world's imagination with an African western playing out against the picturesque Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape. Taking a similar edge and multi-cultural approach, Saloon is a more contemporary take on the Wild West, shot in Zulu against a dystopian futuristic South Africa.

Saloon Short Film

The short film is not short on style, using neon lights and plenty of swagger to capture a dark, moody back alley and sleazy bar scenario. Westerns are famous for their tense bar scenes and stand-offs, which is where Saloon takes aim, unpacking a lone gunslinger's mysterious and sacred mission. Ngcobo grapples with a character loosely modeled on the likes of Keanu Reeves and Clint Eastwood, operating with a sly, smooth and devil-may-care demeanor. Entering a dangerous situation with enemies around him, he stumbles onto his next hit only to draw his weapon and summon up a blaze of enemies.

Being a short film, Saloon does feel like an excerpt from a larger work. The story airdrops audiences in the deep end, feeding bits of the character's intention through his whirlwind action, cold attitude and destiny-orientated dialogue. Being geared around action there isn't all that much time for exposition and unfortunately the closing credits roll just as the film gets started. The rock 'n roll soundtrack energises things as the mood and lashings of style compel and intrigue. It's difficult to convey character in such a short space of time, which is why Saloon is fleeting.

Saloon Short Film

The set up works as it ends on an ellipsis but this Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style climax is equally anti-climactic given the film's short lifespan. While gritty and dripping in mood and style, it's also insubstantial and momentary. Saloon shows great promise, building a world, displaying panache and carrying a consistent tone. As a taster it leaves you wanting more but doesn't feel like a complete expression of its potent story and brooding characters.

Short Film Review: Day Zero

Day Zero is a post-apocalyptic thriller from indie film-maker Stephen Nagel, written by Dean Ravell and starring Nicola Duddy, Megan Alexander, Caelan Curry and Brad Roman. Set years after government, scientists and authorities fail to solve a looming water crisis in Cape Town, a group of survivors must make their way to a safe haven pursued by a vicious hunter. In many cases, independent means shoestring budget or no budget at all as in the case of Day Zero. These passionate film-makers took it upon themselves to craft a short film using limited resources about a limited resource, water.

WARNING: Day Zero trailer features strong language.

The film's teaser trailer does a great job of foreshadowing the context of this thriller and probably would've served well as the film's introduction. In fact, it's recommended viewing if you want to make sense of Day Zero, which drops you in the deep end as a ragtag bunch make their way to an oasis. The plot, setting and styling of Day Zero has been directly influenced by Mad Max: Fury Road down to the hunter's mask as this journey unfolds. At first, appearing to be a wasteland slasher, we get snippets of back story as the hunter joins the hunted.

Day Zero is timely, following months after the #DefeatDayZero campaign, greater worldwide awareness with echoes of people saying the next war will be over water. Using many natural locations and ruins in the Cape metropole, they've managed to give the journey scope and setting it against many varied backdrops gives texture. The make up and wardrobe is fitting, adding some layers to the storytelling and transporting the audience to this post-apocalyptic vision of the future with little to no water.

While promising, it's constrained by its budget... probably not giving the film-makers enough time to develop the screenplay and forcing much of the film to be done on the fly according to availability and resources on the day. While it starts like a hot pursuit slasher, it fizzles out as the two parties converge in a rather disappointing anticlimax. Using flashbacks to create tension, there's just not enough exposition to anchor the characters in this world. The amateur ensemble look the part and seem eager to be involved, but perhaps the call should have been for naturalistic performances.

Inconsistency in editing, foley work and performances keep you at a distance. While there are some good ideas at play with some promising shots, the storytelling is a bit haphazard and choppy. You understand the basic outline and motivations, but Day Zero just seems to be a bit too ambitious for its own good struggling to develop one's interest in the characters or scenario. The passion is there, the film-makers are inspired by some edgy cinema but perhaps delving into their memory banks and confining the film to one or two locations would have given them more depth and control over the final product. The good news is that these film-makers are young and hopefully take the experience they've gleaned from this project into their next.

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