Telluride, Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, New York: there’s nothing like leaving a movie theater in one of these cities and walking out into the streets, which is just to say that part of what makes a great film festival, well, great is its location. So while, admittedly, it’s a lesser experience to watch the five films under review here on a blue screen and not a silver one, it’s better than missing out completely. The films are all part of the Tribeca (Online) Film Festival, and they fall into two official categories: BFF, Doggy Bags and Transmission are in the Short Narrative category; CatCam and Scenes From a Visit to Japan are Short Documentaries, though the latter would fit more squarely into a third label: experimental. Truth be told, however, this is an experiment that has had its day in the lab a long time ago.

Directed by Joel Schlemowitz, Scenes From a Visit to Japan is just what the title suggests and, according to the official synopsis, it’s meant as an homage to the recent tragedies in that country across the ocean. The problem is, without reading the synopsis, the viewer has no idea that Schlemowitz is meaning to memorialize the terrible tsunami hardship: there’s no narrative, and even poetic filmmaking must give us a sense of what the poem-film is about. This 14-minute short, shot on super-8, with accompanying scratchy sound, doesn’t communicate much of anything. It seems simply like a redo of Dziga Vertov’s 1926 classic film, One Sixth of the World; Vertov, though, had the foresight to add intertitles to his poetic and experimental masterpiece. Scenes of takeoff and landing, a street eatery, and visits to a sacred mountain shrine are all left unexplained, and because of the uneven cinematography and impersonal feel, unexplained here means unexplored.

CatCam, on the other hand, takes a much less serious subject in the course of its 16-minute play time, but infuses it with warmth and humor. Director Seth Keal tells the story of Juergen Perthold and his cat, Mr. Lee, using a combination of footage captured by the feline on a device designed by its owner, and interviews with Perthold and his wife, Jenny. While we all, at this point, may have seen every imaginable type of cat movie on YouTube, Keal is wise enough to know it takes a human to tell a really good story. He lets the Pertholds — father, mother, young daughter, recent German immigrants all to South Carolina — recount how the white and gray Mr. Lee came into their life, and also how he’d occasionally walk out of it, reappearing a few days later either very clean, very dirty, or very full. After one such occasion, Perthold, who by his own admission was a reluctant cat owner, decided to design a camera to hang around Mr. Lee’s neck, to solve the mystery of how the cat spent his time when he went out on his occasional adventures. Turns out, Mr. Lee lives a life that includes places Perthold couldn’t recognize, and cat friends who meet peaceably — no cat fighting — under cars, in ravines, and on front porches. CatCam is a peek into the life of animals we think we know, but are really in the dark about. How wonderful to discover what your pet is discovering. (CatCams are now available for purchase, so successful was Perthold’s idea. You can buy one here.) There is one vital detail left unexplained, however: why the name “Mr. Lee?”

If CatCam is a film about the lives of animals, Transmission is about their deaths. A vision of post-apocalyptic Australia after a deadly airborne outbreak, the 13-minute film opens with a nine-year-old girl telling us, “The birds got sick first, then Mom did. Now it’s just me and dad.” Indeed, nearly everything is dead in this piece of spare storytelling, and there’s something McCarthy-esque about the two characters: father (Wayne S. Davies) attempts to lead daughter, Tilly (Angourie Rice), to rumored refuge, while wrestling with environmental (lack of drinking water) and human (desperate, thus dangerous, survivors) dangers. The film’s title refers not only to the possibility of catching the unnamed disease — gas masks never fail to leave an impression, and the rule holds here, as well — but also to the task of driving. If something happens to the father, the daughter will have to learn how to drive the car herself. Rice plays an excellent Tilly, and director Zak Hilditch deserves credit for coaxing a professional performance from such a young actress. In the final scene, a sign flashes by, reading “52 km to Leonora.” Leonora is where, with some luck, things might be better. It seems unlikely there’s a clear road ahead, but then, Tilly’s become a top-notch driver.

A film that could have done with a bit more drama is director Neil LaBute’s black-and-white BFF. LaBute is an acclaimed playwright perhaps best known for Mercy Seat, his post-911 play, but this short film is too hokey to be seen as serious commentary on anything much, and not funny enough to be much of anything. Jill (Gia Crovating) seeks comfort, and help, from Jack (Thomas Sadoski), her best friend forever — hence the title, BFF — after she becomes convinced that her boyfriend is cheating on her. But there’s a patina of falseness over the acting and the dialogue, which makes the painful conversation hard to swallow. Jack is only half-interested in Jill’s tale of woe, although with a bit of arm-twisting, he agrees to shadow the boyfriend on his way home from work that evening. Though I won’t give away the ending, the eight-minute film closes with a bisexual twist, but it’s got as much kick as the lemon from yesterday’s martini glass. BFF is something that’s been done before, most notably in JD Salinger’s story “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes,” in which a man fields a phone call from a colleague about his missing wife while lying in bed with the very woman in question. Salinger’s story has sincerity and pathos. BFF is big on bathos.

From writer and director Edward Burns comes the 14-minute Doggy Bags, undoubtedly the standout in the bunch. Burns has a string of credits long enough to stretch across the skyline, including The Brothers McMullen, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1995. In his latest, two recent college grads, Justin, played by Matt Bush, and Hannah, played by Daniella Pineda, meet up for brunch. Their orders: egg whites scrambled and dry wheat toast (him); pancakes and bacon, special omelet and sausage, pigs in a blanket and a side of French toast (her). Justin handles the bill and Hannah takes the leftovers in doggy bags, purportedly intended for her dog, Nathan. The two part with plans for a romantic dinner date. Justin, though, is suspicious, and with good reason — he follows the girl to a parking lot and finds out that the contents of the doggy bags are actually being consumed by a biped companion.

Burns has an ear for dialogue, and Bush and Pineda have a gift for delivering it. “What are you, like, a food prostitute?” gapes Justin, onto his friend’s scheme at last. Doggy Bags is full of pitch-perfect lines like this one: original, funny, and endearing. It’s a film you might want to, well, wrap up and share with others.

A few of these shorts are good enough for watching anywhere in the world, no matter if you’ve got to wait on line, or wait online.

“BFF,” “Doggy Bags,” “CatCam,” “Scenes From a Visit to Japan,” and “Transmission,” can be viewed in person at the Tribeca Film Festival or online for free through April 29 as part of the Tribeca (Online) Film Festival. For more information visit the following Web sites: or

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