Why didn't someone think of this sooner? The Journal of Short Film takes the concept of the high-toned, respectable literary journal, and applies it to the cinematic short. Published quarterly on DVD, The Journal of Short Film showcases an art form that's almost entirely restricted to film festivals and websites.
Available through its website, the inaugural issue seems intent on reclaiming cinema in the name of "art" from the entertainment industry. Often avant-garde and emotionally chilly, the nine selections sacrifice humor in the name of integrity. It wouldn't hurt to include a comedic or animated short, in the spirit of, say, the New Yorker's cartoons.
The first film on the disc is one of the best. In Jonathan Brough's "No Ordinary Sun," a New Zealander lives in total isolation at an Antarctica outpost, refusing to reply to e-mails from his wife requesting a divorce. When a global anomaly begins affecting the flow of time, he gets a cosmic do-over to rectify his mistakes, and the sci-fi twist doesn't detract from the short's splendid study of isolation. Steven Bognar's "Gravel" offers an enigmatic but engrossing portrait of a social worker, her skate-punk daughter and their visit to an ex-con. "Gravel" doesn't give up its secrets (we can only guess at the real relationship between the mother and the ex-con), but the well-acted, closely observed film feels spontaneous and lived-in.
The Journal accepts all kinds of films and closes with Ashkan Soltani's 15-minute documentary "Long Struggle." Unfortunately, it's the weakest of the lot. What should be a clear-cut case of the U.S. government taking liberties with Shoshone tribal land muddles the factual details. "Long Struggle" proves merely confusing when it should be complex.
Several of the Journal's experimental, non-narrative pieces manipulate stock footage or video images for dreamlike effects. Most disturbingly, "Tascam 224" captures the quality of a nightmare by showing a little girl playing with a balloon in a field, then reveals inhuman, indistinct creatures closing in on her. "Corner, Los Angeles" shows a busy street corner but divides the screen into multiple grids, each one lagging 10 seconds behind the other, creating a head-spinning exercise of time, motion and image. Despite its inconsistent selections, The Journal of Short Film deserves credit for providing a home for works that take chances, when so many Hollywood DVDs avoid creative risks whenever possible.
The Journal of Short Film, Vol. I, Fall 2005. $10. www.theJSF.org.