Amy Seimetz, Sun Don’t Shine, 2012, color, 82 minutes.


JOSH AND BENNIE SAFDIE’S short film The Black Balloon (2011), inspired by Albert Lamorisse’s immortal children’s work The Red Balloon (1963), begins as a harried balloon man accidentally releases an array of brightly-hued delights into the sky. While most of the balloons fly high up, a lone black one floats back down over a trash heap, a highway, and then Times Square. It accompanies a little girl along an urban sidewalk, joins a homeless bum who has been turned away from a restaurant, and hovers between the members of a bickering couple. (“Go back to your little cubicle with the robots up there!”) While Lamorisse’s film was a fantasy of close friendship between a boy and his balloon set in a cheerful Paris, the Safdie brothers’ balloon stays open to everyone in New York, even to its multitude of grumps.

The Black Balloon screens this weekend as part of the 92Y Tribeca’s inaugural La Di Da Festival, a display of recent narrative shorts and features curated by Miriam Bale. It was shot by American cinematographer Sean Price Williams, who specializes in photographing displaced, roaming protagonists with a 16-mm camera. Williams also filmed another La Di Da entry, Maiko Endo’s Kuichisan, an oblique and beautiful black-and-white study of the Japanese town of Koza. Americans settled on the island of Okinawa after World War II, and the film depicts Koza as a veritable melting pot of people wandering shopping boulevards at night. The town is featured in parallel scenes—of a bareheaded boy (Raizo Ishihara) native to Koza racing to play with friends, and of a newly arrived young white American woman (Eléonore Hendricks), who walks through crowds as she tells a companion on her mobile phone that she feels alone, confused, and lost. While she continues her travels in isolation, the boy and his friends and family set off fireworks on the town’s outskirts, perform religious rituals, and tell stories. “In Okinawa,” a character explains, “we welcome our ancestors by leaving food for them, to treat the ghosts well.” The behavior of the solitary Western woman, who seems to live only in the present, is in sharp contrast to the locals, who believe in the suturing of past and future.

Ghosts run throughout the La Di Da program. One is that of a strain of American independent cinema that lived briefly in the early 1970s in films like Wanda (1970) and The Honeymoon Killers (1972). The programmers suggest that the spirit of those films continues via a small group of current collaborators. Williams has previously worked with Kate Lyn Sheil, the slim, oval-faced lead actress who costars in Amy Seimetz’s Florida neonoir Sun Don’t Shine (2012) with the frantically earnest Kentucker Audley, also the writer-director of the ensemble-based relationship drama Open Five 2 (2012). In the first, a man kidnaps a woman to accompany him across the Gulf Coast; he soon discovers that she’s dangerously in love with him, to the point where seeing him with another woman makes her grab a kitchen knife. Eventually, neither can escape the other, save for small moments of fantasy. Sun Don’t Shine probably does not match the best of those ’70s films, but it shares a lot in common. It’s fiction, but it also seems like documentary, and the traditional road-movie structure allows the camera to visit places where movies don’t usually go. Light shines on rural, working-class homes, bars, and parks, and the awkwardness of the actors visiting them calls attention to their reality. As the two members of the couple fight for control, they both stumble for words and stumble physically. Whenever it seems like they’ve broken from a script, they surprise the viewer as well as each other, and remind whoever’s watching that life itself is always improvised.

Aaron Cutler

The La Di Da film festival runs September 14 and 15th at the 92Y Tribeca.