“Birds” was selected as a finalist in this year’s ShortList Film Festival, presented by TheWrap. You can watch the movies and vote for your favorite here.
Austin, Texas has proven to be the cinematic wave for filmmakers from Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, and Terrence Malick (more on him in just a second). Los Angeles native Katherine Propper joins the fray with “Birds,” hers a highly elegiac short about teenagers discovering themselves under the scorching sun of an Austin summer.
“I definitely wanted to show some of my favorite places, and it really started when I found [actor] Payton Washington on Instagram, a cheerleader and jumper,” Propper told TheWrap. “I sent her a private message and asked if she could meet her and if she was interested in being in a student film.”
(If her name sounds a bit familiar, Washington was also the unfortunate victim of a violent incident in Elgin, Texas that made headlines this year in which she and a friend were shot and wounded by a man in a supermarket parking lot after a misunderstanding. Her assailant was quickly arrested and luckily both women survived the incident).
This led to recruiting a large number of young people to complete his 14-minute short about flirting, foraging and fraternizing among a diverse group in a series of energetic and observational scenes, including Washington, who was born with one lung and has a moment tense. with an asthma attack in the film “that was scripted,” the writer-director assures us. There are also more young people, many of whom went to school with their younger brother, who shared their stories and experiences with Propper that went directly into the film.
“[Those conversations] In a way, it sparked in me the idea of wanting to do something with young people that was about the coexistence of fragility and beauty,” Propper said. “I know it sounds a bit abstract, but that’s how I was thinking through all the panels. I wanted it to be a lighthearted, romantic movie that had some fragility, risk and danger in it.”
Scenes in the film feel innocent, unhurried, sun-blessed, and even moments that seem fraught with tension (like when an older squatter approaches a couple of kids scavenging in the backyard). , the result is often the opposite. They remember the beloved American filmmaker Terrence Malick, for whom Propper worked in his editing department.
“What I learned from him is that he’s very playful,” said Propper, who worked on his long-gestating religious epic “The Way of the Wind” about the life of Christ. “He doesn’t come to the issue with a preconceived structure or storyline for how he should come together. That was really inspiring to me, because it inspired me to be really free about how I did the editing. Being bound by structure and plot can sometimes be very limiting in a short film.”
And Propper’s feature-length storytelling ambitions have already been achieved with his hip-hop-driven debut film “Lost Soulz,” which recently screened at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival, continuing his interest in depicting thoughtful young Americans. in Texas. Propper said, “It’s also a coming-of-age movie and I think it’s also a more upbeat, light-hearted portrayal of young people that doesn’t lean too much on angst. I would say it’s just the worldview I have for humanity.”
The 2023 ShortList Film Festival takes place online from June 28 to July 12, honoring the best award-winning short films that premiered at major festivals in the past year. See the finalists and vote for your favorite here.