“Black is the prerequisite of white. Woman: precondition of man.” The production quality of Amphibians, combined with its strong performances and its absurd dialogue and setting, makes it a striking experimental short that visually and intellectually tantalizes its viewers. This film and its subsequent exploration of race and gender will be available to stream anywhere in the world through the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival on Friday, June 11, along with four other experimental short selections.
Amphibians, the film’s title is quickly explained, though unexpectedly, with a discussion of whether or not to drink milk. A Black woman in a suit top and jacket, portrayed by Tricky Jones, argues that drinking milk makes humans mammals. Her counterpart, a white man in a dress played by Devin Finn, claims that since he’s lactose intolerant, he must be an amphibian. Thus begins both the profound discussion of the human condition that takes place within the nonsensical setting of the film, and writer Casey Wimpee’s precedent of expecting the unexpected. Throughout the film, the two characters partake in absurdist activities like drinking lighter fluid, discussing sex-changing frogs, and shining shoes. They continuously recall memories they have made together and use a dictionary to create definitions for words some may consider undefinable, such as black and white, God, sex, Heaven, and death. They use these hodge-podge references to life in order to create a sort of mosaic, a fuller understanding of reality, all while developing an increasingly convoluted reality of their own. One of the more striking scenes features the man and woman debating life after death, the existence (or lack thereof) of God, and the difference between a white and black person’s idea of Heaven. In it, Jones asserts that “white folks got a bright place in the sky for their Heaven, but everybody else wants shade ‘cause they’ve been working all their lives.” This culminates in a massive shift in tone, going from that which was conversational to something more akin to a sermon given by a mighty Jones, now physically looming over Finn. This metaphorical commentary is aided by dazzling visuals that feature symmetry in framing and mirror shots. The mirror sequences of the characters observing themselves in both a vanity mirror and a television introduce a self-reflexive quality to the film, in which the two characters recognize themselves and their roles within the dream world.
Directors Drake Howard and Devin Finn also utilize the motel room to add to the sensory experience of the film. By interacting with the performers as a sort of third character, the room helps to inform viewers of the characters’ moods. The first shift takes place as the God discussion begins, with the change of some direct lighting from yellow to blue as tensions escalate. Then, there is a complete transfer of the overall lighting to blue at the film’s climax and the sermon begins, coupled with the sound of a Godly thunderstorm. Finally, there is a slow recession back to yellow hues as the film approaches its cyclical end.
Amphibians feels deeply personal, and has a live-performance quality that truly makes it stand out. Jones and Finn manage to take a deeply metaphorical dialogue and make it tangible with their deliveries and actions, and their presence on screen and within their space gives them a larger-than-life quality that makes this film truly convincing. The writing-directing team of Wimpee, Howard, and Finn have collaborated to make magic on screen with Amphibians.
Don’t miss your chance to experience it on June 11 at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival, alongside the experimental shorts STOP, Frankston, My Strange Loop and Sometimes a Little Sin is good for the Soul.
Friday, June 11, 2021 - $12=General
Film will be available on Video On Demand for 24 hours on this show date.
To buy tickets and get more info go here.
Friday, June 11 - Experimental Shorts
Sometimes a little Sin is good for the Soul - Alex Beriault (Bremen, Germany) Sometimes a little Sin is good for the Soul is an experimental short film that takes place within an architectural, almost painterly world. Interior structures, shapes and colours form together the unusual spaces within which three women are suspended. Somehow their actions and mobility remain bound to their surroundings, and time moves slower than the speed of life to underscore the strange conditions of these subjects. All the while, a glowing red “Exit” sign periodically reappears to tease and perturb its cold, taciturn surroundings, but no matter how often the sign reveals itself, it never points towards any clear way out. Digitized 16mm, 2020; 8 min.
My Strange Loop – Shaquille Galvan (Denver, Colorado) In this exploration of the feeling of being overwhelmed, Sara, a Sisyphean figure, attempts to reach the end of a nightmarish hallway, but finds herself stuck in a strange loop. 2020; 12 min.
Amphibians - Drake Howard, Devin Finn (Austin, Texas) Amphibians confronts two universal issues, race and gender. Myster must face the reality of his own dreams or be subjected to a never ending cycle of inauthentic truth. 2020; 12 min.
S T O P – Marieli Froehlich (Vienna, Austria) We are all almost uninterruptedly exposed to countless unfiltered events, both near and far. Reflecting this kind of overwhelming situations the idea for STOP came up. The project can be understood as an action of deceleration, a call for slowdown from a state of sensory overload, a flood of stimuli, that consequently leads to a restriction of our original perception. Contemplation or meditation, an exercise that has had its place in all cultures, offers people the opportunity to experience oneness within themselves and further leads to a feeling of unity with their fellow men. Referring to this project, people from all walks of life, of all ages, religions and race from around the world were and are invited, to take on a sort of meditative sleep state without preparation or artificial setting in their personal environment and stand still for a few minutes, allowing me to record them. During their brief pause the world keeps turning and the grass still grows. The participants are turning towards silence experiencing a gentle stillness spreading throughout themselves. The goal of that continuing project is to collect as many people as possible to participate in the experiment. Experiencing the projection of an “entire world” of people in contemplation also creates a feeling of oneness and inclusion for the viewers. Division and prejudice, whether racial, religious, gender, class or political believes, are thus consequently eliminated in this moment. 2020; 16 min.
Frankston – Patrick Tarrant (London, England) Frankston is a study of the place I grew up, a satellite of Melbourne, Australia with affordable housing, nature-strips and beach views. The downright ordinary nature of the opportunities and festivities afforded by Frankston, and the ambivalence one can feel going back there, nonetheless give rise to a new aesthetic: the suburban symphony. In this case the symphony is rendered in strange hues and luminescences as though affirming Robin Boyd’s depiction of ‘the Australian ugliness’ in 1960, where he claims that “taste has become so dulled and calloused that anything which can startle a response on jaded retinas is deemed successful.” 2020; 21 min.