I don't like to use phrases like "a star in the making," but the minute you lay your eyes on young Indigo Hubbard-Salk in award-winning short film Broken Bird, you can't help but think to yourself that something special's going to happen.
Indeed, something special does happen in Broken Bird, screening as part of the Reconnected block of shorts during the 2020 Indy Shorts International Film Festival in Indianapolis. Hubbard-Salk bursts to life during the film, a soulful and intelligent performance with uncommon intuition adding a richness of humanity and wisdom to writer/director Rachel Harrison Gordon's wonderfully realized 10-minute short film.
Hubbard-Salk is Birdie, a biracial girl raised by her Jewish mom (Mel House) in a New Jersey suburb and on the cusp of her Bat Mitzvah. Spending a rare day with her father (Chad L. Coleman), she overcomes her doubts and risks inviting him back into her life. Amidst the differing voices that surround her, Birdie discovers her own independent voice and begins her step into adulthood on her own terms.
Rachel Harrison Gordon picked up the $1,000 Best Directorial Debut Grand Prize during Indy Shorts, the latest accolade for a short film that has screened at such fests as Berlin International Film Festival, SXSW, Atlanta Film Festival, NJ Jewish Film Festival and several others.
The story of Birdie comes alive simply and realistically, the inherent tensions between former partners obvious throughout along with those felt by the increasingly independent teenager struggling to discern her place in cultures living inside her. Wisely, Broken Bird never really takes sides but does portray the tension realistically. Mel House is terrific as Eileen, who has raised her daughter and seemingly struggles with the father and world for the most part left behind. Likewise, Chad L. Coleman is equally terrific as that father, a seemingly good but detached man who loves his daughter but clearly hasn't raised her.
Yet, his influence is also undeniable.
Rachel Harrison Gordon seems to understand all of these tensions, bringing them to life in her intelligent and intuitive script while finding it in the words, the actions, and even the environment in which the story is set. Symbolism is found here in big and small ways and it adds depth to a story already filled with substance and meaning.
Amy Leon's original music adds richness to the film's emotional tapestry. Rashad Frett's cinematography brings us intimately inside each word and encounter between mother and daughter, father and daughter. The film's final scene, potentially cliche' is instead exhilarating as a statement of freedom captured beautifully by Frett's lens and through Hubbard-Salk's fluid and flowing performance.
Broken Bird is an impressive debut from Rachel Harrison Gordon and I eagerly anticipate her future efforts.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic