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The Independent Critic

 2013 Heartland Grand Prize Shorts 
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Narrative Short Winner ($5,000): The Amber Amulet

Director Matthew Moore's The Amber Amulet was already quite the festival winner when it showed up at the 2013 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. Every year, it seems like Heartland has a handful of films that really capture my heart and my imagination - For 2013, The Amber Amulet is without question my favorite short film among the festival's shorts entries. The fact that it picked up the prize for Best Narrative Short is only icing on the cake.

The film, which centers around a 10-year-old masked avenger (Ed Oxenbould) who goes all out to help a troubled woman (Genevieve Hegney) down at the end of the street near his home, has picked up a slew of nominations and prizes including a Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, a Grand Prix nomination at the Melbourne International Film Festival, a Grand Prize nominee at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, and others. Now, Moore takes home the $5,000 top prize at Heartland and it will be interesting to see if the film can pick up a nomination at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Ed Oxenbould authentically embodies a young boy who leaps past the usual bravado of your cinematic superheroes and instead portrays his justice seeking masked avenger as an ordinary boy who does extraordinary things. When he discovers that super powers are locked inside gems and minerals, he uses them to keep his Franklin Street neighborhood safe from injustice. Soon, however, he detects that not everything is well in the home at the end of the street and a "Happiness Questionnaire" begins to reveal the truth.

In some ways, The Amber Amulet is preposterous, yet for me that's exactly why it's so completely effective. Oxenbould seems like a kid who is so bent on doing what's right that he can't possibly comprehend just how ludicrous his whole scenario really is as it plays out. As the troubled woman in question, Genevieve Hegney presents with a melancholy that constantly makes you wonder exactly what's going on here. Rather than overplaying for the drama, Moore, who co-wrote the script with Hegney, celebrates the simplicity of this tale that ultimately is about the remarkable potential in each of us.

Beautifully written, photographed, directed and acted, The Amber Amulet is one of the best short films I've seen in 2013 and definitely the class of the 2013 Heartland Film Festival.


Documentary Short Winner ($5,000): Wrinkles of the City - La Havana

While The Amber Amulet caught lots of buzz during the 2013 Heartland Film Festival and was easily one of the crowd favorites, Wrinkles of the City - La Havana was a bit of a surprise as the winner for Best Documentary Short and the $5,000 prize. This 28-minute short film was directed by French artist JR and Cuban-American artist Jose Parla and tells the story of how the two created murals to tell the stories of 25 senior citizens who lived through the Cuban revolution.

Presented in French and Spanish with English subtitles, this 28-minute short film ended up topping a field of doc shorts that really was filled with several good shorts but nothing that just really screamed out "Wow." The exception might have been the festival's two world premiere doc shorts, Atomic Dream and How the Light Gets In.

While Wrinkles of the City - La Havana is a visual stunner, the film doesn't quite tug at the heart strings like your usual Heartland Film Festival winner. While it may not have the emotional resonance we've come to expect from Heartland's winners, the film does do a stellar job of transporting you into the world pasted and painted by JR and Jose Parla. The film also brings to mind the extraordinary work of Ry Cooder and the artists involved with Buena Vista Social Club, and the film manages to take a familiar story and present it in a unique, entertaining and mesmerizing way. An enjoyable film but a surprise winner, Wrinkles of the City - La Havana may very well make you want head on out to Cuba (which, of course, being in the U.S. is still pretty much an impossibility).


Written by Richard Propes 
The Independent Critic