If You Can't Laugh, You'll Cry: Topaz Film Festival's Comedy Shorts Tackle Contemporary Issues
By Cristee Cook
The Topaz Film Festival, presented by Women in Film Dallas, is celebrating its 20th annual presentation of independent filmmaking. Currently showing with virtual passes through October 31st, the festival is offering 3 feature films and short film blocks in numerous categories.
Proceeds from the festival serve to fund the Women in Film Dallas Grant Fund, a 501c3 that provides financial support through grants and scholarships to women in the pursuit of media arts degrees and those in the productions of film, television, and screen-based media.
I was offered a pass to watch and review the Comedy Short Films block. The group of 9 films is a diverse mix of dark comedy and oddball stories. Most of the films in this block use comedy as a vehicle to look at harder hitting themes and are overall successful in doing so with lightness and joy. As we slowly come out of this pandemic, laughing about life in 2021 is a balm for the spirit.
Arbor View Memory Gardens, created by Steven Dietz and Paul J. Fuccillo, is a surreal short comedy about life, death, and possibility. When funeral home employee Rhonda (played by Mo Watkins) is approached by potential customer Tim, we learn that Rhonda has some interesting views on life and death. This funny, philosophical piece will have you laughing while you contemplate what you think you know about death and life.
The Dogfriend, created by Fredgy Noel and Emily Kron, is one of those stories that you’re almost afraid to laugh along with. The Dogfriend is a dark comedy about what happens when you get exactly what you ask for. Much of its success comes from the actors. Olivia Puckett and Jack Mikesell sell the story with impeccable timing and expert commitment to this surprising story about loneliness, being true to yourself, and the absurdity of life. Through relatable humor, the story also spotlights the inherent privilege of white, cis males, and race and gender inequities in society.
Donut Chase, created by Valery Lessard Lisa Baron Ray, and Sarah Baskin, is a nonstop laugh with oddball lady cops, Pam and Sam (played by the film's creators Lessard and Baron Ray), as they search for the perfect powdered donut. Little do they know, their sincere trek for the divine dessert has alerted the FBI. When investigators catch up with Pam and Sam, the comedy escalates. This short film reminded me of a (potentially award winning) late night comedy sketch, and the epic chase scene is comedy gold.
Egg Party, created by Kersti Bryan, features a cast of powerhouse women. The group appears not-so-diverse on the surface, but as the story unfolds, we learn about the varying, and sometime conflicting, perspective each woman has on Motherhood. The twist at the end will surprise you and is likely relevant and intimate to many audience members. This short film is a bittersweet comedy about grief, loss, and hopes and dreams. It’s a perfect balance of goofy and poignant.
Loser, created by Vanessa M. H. Powers, is a 10-minute comedy of errors about a woman for whom nothing ever seems to go right. While a little heavy handed in its writing, Loser is a funny film with a positive message about self-acceptance and gratitude.
Sweetcorn, created by Niamh Donohoe, Imogen Short, and Jessica Short, tells the story of a successful businesswoman. Actress Hannah Bath is remarkable as Mel, who has been recently named “Woman in Finance 2020.” As she is interviewed about the award, the façade of perfect business slogans and rigid presentation begins to crumble. This short film has the whole package with hilarious one-liners and sight gags, a crisp and fluid story, and excellent visuals.
Lastly, Tone Deaf, created and performed by Daisy Hobbs, is about a Black woman who learns that her favorite boy band isn’t who they seem to be. This film is a funny look at how to cope when our idols fall from their pedestals, and through the lens of Black Lives Matter. Hobbs is sincere, hilarious, relatable, and manages to hit present, heavy issues with a delicate lightness that will open anyone’s heart.
Topaz Film Festival is offering virtual passes through October 31, 2021. For the festival schedule and tickets, visit https://topazfestival.sparqfest.live/en/index.html.