As much as I love features, when it comes to film festivals I’m always even more interested to see the shorts programs. There’s something so satisfying about a really good short film, probably because they’ve got to do more — tell a tight, emotionally engaging story that grabs you from the outset — with less time, fewer actors, and a lower budget.

Though all the films in the CIFF shorts screening yesterday were solid, there was one major standout: The Boy Who’d Never Seen Rain, written by the Australian Kim Ramsay and produced at a Sydney film school.

It’s a moving portrait of a man trying to maintain his family’s sheep farm in the dusty Australian outback. He faces what end up being insurmountable odds, losing his entire flock in a single dust storm, and very nearly succumbing to desperation. Without choppiness or artificiality, the filmmakers focus on each character — the husband, the wife, and the young son — separately, painting a picture of their personal struggles and fears at different points in the story. Yet somehow, they also manage to show clearly who these characters are as a family, and the things that bind them together as well as those that threaten to tear them all apart. It’s a pretty impressive feat for 28 minutes.

Another film of note was Double or Nothing, written by the screenwriter and playwright Neil LaBute and starring, among others, Adam Brody of The OC fame. It’s a dark comedy about a young guy named Clark (Brody) and his girlfriend who are approached by a homeless man late one night. Clark takes a major power trip, and behaves as despicably as only a falsely secure, petty bully can. By the end, it turns out all is not what it seems (except for Clark’s character — he really is a complete jerk).

Tonight, it’s on to the feature film Commencement.

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