HollyShorts 2021 Closing Night Highlights + Q&A With Sally Rubin

We’ve made it to the final night of the festival, with so many incredible short films featured this year. The final night features some major standouts as well, some of which will be highlighted here. At the end of the highlights will be a “5 Questions With” installment with Sally Rubin, a wonderful filmmaker whose short “Mama Has A Mustache” was one of the most beloved of the festival.

Mama Has A Mustache – Rubin’s short film is a brilliant mixed media animated film that has combined clip art, sound bites and other forms of artwork to tell a story about the way a child views gender and family, seeing the ways that kids see the gender spectrum. It’s beautiful to see how open and honest these children are being, as well as how much they understand the ways that gender identity can be so many things, and how any identity is perfectly fine. Definitely one of the more touching films.

Sloan Hearts Neckface – This film is a wonderful romance that follows a graffiti artist and a fan, who develop a romance. It’s a ridiculous and hilarious film by Justin Fair and written by Ian Grody. It’s a terrific back and forth between the two named characters (played by Clara Mamet and Raul Castillo) as well as the infinitely entertaining Isiah Whitlock Jr. A really fun film that will be sure to capture the attention of those who watch it.

Farmer Lee – This short documentary is one that is a bit bittersweet. It tells the story of Lee Jones, a farmer whose doing everything he can to help continue to tradition of farming that he inherited from his father. After the senior Jones passed, this is Lee’s first season without his father, and with it comes the memory of him, as well as the move into a new era at the farm. It’s a lovely look at what farmers think and feel when it comes to their crops, and also how challenging the life can be, even with its rewards.

We Are George Floyd – The unconscionable murder of George Floyd sparked a renewed movement towards the police’s treatment of people of color, and through the narrative of Killer Mike, this film continues to rally that message, bringing in an incredibly powerful message that should not be ignored.

Fempire – A film that’s certain to turn some heads, this terrific film focuses on a new normal, as society has put women in charge, with men now playing the role of the domesticated. Taking a shot at the many, many ways in which men have controlled women through political means, this film turns that on its head in a way that is very compelling.

Additionally, we have a great conversation with Sally Rubin for our “5 Questions With” series, so let’s see what they have to say!

Q: Tell us more about your film.  How did it come to be? 

As a gender nonconforming documentary filmmaker and parent myself, this film is highly personal to me. Because the film is rooted in my personal experience and community, the quality of each interview is intimate, refreshing, and—hopefully—funny. Most of the kids in the film are friends of my six-year-old daughter, some are the children of friends of mine, and others are folks around the country that I found through the film’s many advisors, with whom I am lucky enough to work. 

I came to make the film through noticing a rapid change in the gender identities of my students, whom I teach at Chapman University, as well as in the identities of my queer parental peers and also their kids. The idea of gender as a construct, rather than a biological trait, is not a new one. But the ways in which Americans are embracing this notion on a broad, national scale are vast and exciting. As we prepare to enter 2022, a slew of new terms are being used to describe anyone who identifies as outside the bounds of traditional gender expression: gender nonconforming, gender variant, gender fluid, genderqueer, among others, all used adamantly to eclipse the gender binary. Within this context, kids’ own gender identities and their perceptions of their parents’ gender are more complicated and nuanced than ever. I wanted to ask questions: How do kids, many of whom embrace this gender nonbinary, perceive their own and their parents’ gender? What are the ways in which children of nonbinary people are freed up to express themselves in a whole new range of forms? During a time when our world is suffering from so much pain and divisiveness, MAMA HAS A MUSTACHE seeks to explore and uncover this exciting new frontier–with lightness, humor, childlike openness, and play. The film is quirky, nuanced and meaningful but also humorous, taking a tone more curious than preachy, raising more questions than delivering answers. 

Q: What was your budget?
$18,000 (and lots of sweat equity from the whole team!) 

Q: What was the biggest takeaway from making the film?
I always knew that kids were smart and funny. But through making the film and having so many rich conversations with the kids featured in it, I discovered in a whole new way the validity of the general premise behind the film itself-  that kids have an innocence, inherent wisdom, and compassion that enables them to broach some of today’s most difficult and pressing conversations in a whole new way–conversations that, for many adults, can be triggering and divisive.  
Q: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?
Covid! Making a film during the pandemic, even an animated one, was tough. I would find a kid I’d want to speak with and then usually sanitize the sound gear, drop it outside their house, then get into my car to conduct the interviews via Facetime or Zoom. I’d instruct each child’s parent on how to use the gear, and then roll the tape. It was hard though not to be able to connect in person.

Q:  What is next for you?
I’m developing the short film, Mama Has a Mustache: Kids Talk Gender, into an entire series! I’m planning to produce four more Kids Talk shorts: Kids Talk Race, Kids Talk Religion, Kids Talk Politics, and Kids Talk Life and Death. I can’t wait to hear the hilarious– and brilliant–things that the kids have to say on each of these pressing, critical topics.  I’m also launching a major national impact campaign with Mama Has a Mustache, working with LGBT and other organizations on a national level to increase the film’s visibility and utility in supporting the critical work that these organizations do. 

Thanks to all the filmmakers for their work! You can get tickets for all of the screenings for today, as well as any other blocks for the festival through BitPix and HollyShorts.

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