Gabriel Ponniah, Editor In Chief
Austin Alternative Screen Scene
Once upon a time, there was a film festival.
This festival focused on stories about animals. Projects were submitted from far and wide, focusing on exotic or endangered species. Some filmmakers had expertise and means to make big, sprawling projects, or journey to distant ecosystems for rare finds. Others used what they had around their home, drawing inspiration and resources from their own backyard, with no less potential for success than their globetrotting counterparts. “Wish” falls into the second category.
Based on a true story, the short tells a fable of sorts about a young girl longing for companionship who adopts a stray dog into her New Mexico home. At just under 8 minutes, the film features abundant use of b-roll, perhaps in the hopes of immersing the audience in the world of the film. In the end, it manages a brief statement on the importance of proper adoption procedure.
Filmmaker DezBaa’ (Sharon Anne Henderson) has extensive acting credits to her name, and grew up in a culturally rich environment, a citizen of the Navajo (Diné) Nation raised in the Española region of Northern New Mexico. A former geologist, the SAG actor has studied filmmaking at Northern New Mexico College and holds two MFAs from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM-one for Screenwriting and one for Creative Nonfiction. For all these credentials, and for all her admirable passion, the film falls flat on several fronts.
“Wish” tends towards overreliance on title cards, which are best utilized when the footage itself tells a story and the words supplement that story. Much of the footage (framed with little regard to aesthetics, I might add) sits on the screen with a lack of narrative momentum, making 8 minutes into an eternity when run in a block which includes projects with professional weight behind them, or amateur works with more instinctual pacing. DezBaa’ drops a quote to begin her film about never working with children or animals, a famous adage in the industry for its truth. While much of that statement’s content is aimed at avoiding the production hassle these elements introduce, here “Wish” succumbs to a residual problem of the inclusion: the performances are wholly unconvincing (though reads from the adult working the clinic show little improvement). In defense of the on-screen talent, they certainly didn’t have much to work with in regards to the threadbare plot, as an efficient retelling of this story would charitably break the one minute mark.
Film festivals like AniFab are beautiful in their unabashed combination of work from a broad spectrum of means and talent. Indeed, much of the meat behind the experience of attending the festival in-person was the teaching and learning—the collaborative, social process of becoming better filmmakers. Perhaps DezBaa’ can harness this power on future projects, learning from her professors, her contemporaries, and the wide array of talented individuals with whom I’m certain she’s come into contact during her time as a SAG actor.