Dixieland ★★★★ HollyShorts Film Festival 2023

Dixieland ★★★★ HollyShorts Film Festival 2023

The emotionally impactful Dixieland has a simple premise but executes it so well, thanks to all-around great work. William Hellmuth’s short film pulls you in for those 14 brief minutes. Tony Todd and Philip Orazio are on top form in this terrific period drama.

Charles, a Black Union physician. After his regiment is destroyed, he flees into the Virginian woods, stumbling on a Confederate soldier hiding in a cave; they share a fire and try to find a moment of understanding before the sun comes up.

One thing Dixieland was always going to be beautifully shot, considering cinematographer turned director William Hellmuth was in duel roles for his latest film. He utilises the light from the fire expertly to provide some striking imagery of Charles and William. When a short film is limited on budget, you dream of someone who can light and shoot around those restrictions, and Hellmuth has proven he is that person.

Hellmuth also makes some interesting choices framing-wise, with the battlefield shots loose and free, showing the chaos of gunbattle during the Civil War as a claustrophobic one. In that opening minute, we get a couple of glances at what is happening around Charles, but it doesn’t take long for us to zero in on his fear and the journey to get to some safety. In these opening minutes, we track him handheld, and the slight unsteadiness in the camera echoes Charles’s own body and situation.

By the time we get to him meeting William, it becomes a variety of mid to close single shots, showing that despite both characters being right beside each other, they are, in fact, very distant. It is not until the end of their night together in the cave that we finally start to see both in the same shot. Hellmuth uses simple techniques here, but in such a compact piece like Dixieland, it works wonders to accentuate the work the script and cast do.

What adds another level to Dixieland is how clever J. Scott Worthington’s script is. Showing how this is simply not a drama about two soldiers from differing sides having to cohabitate together for one night; there are even more significant differences between the two. For Charles, a Black Union physician who only wants to save as many people as he can in this war, no matter the side, and William, a Confederate haunted by his actions in the war. Yet, despite their differences, they find a commonality: they don’t want this war or have been broken by it. So, they bond, with both characters short monologues being impactful for different reasons.

Tony Todd rocks you in this film. He is a man devastated by the violence he is witnessing all around him; he is just weary of it all. He wants to help people, but they aren’t willing to help themselves. He is tremendous throughout Dixieland, but that scene where he reveals to William why he became a physician is a heart-string puller. Todd uses all his experience in those final moments as you feel the weight of what he has experienced in that cave weigh heavily on him. But you hope that what he has experienced has strengthened his resolve that his path is right. He commands your attention here, and you will immediately demand we see him in more drama-centric films like this in the future.

Philip Orazio is equal to Todd here, even if he gets slightly less screen time, a man who is trying to keep an air of confidence up but is terrified at the thought of being alone if this is his last night. Despite what he says and what he has done, you still feel for him as a person. William is a complex enough character, and Orazio does some excellent stuff here in his emotional performance. You sense the desperation in him to tell someone, anyone, what he has done, to confess in some form, to show the person that he isn’t who he really is. In reality, he is that young man who carries around his banjo, not a killer.

With Dixieland, you feel almost robbed that we never got even an extra 10 minutes more of these two characters conversing. Both actors showcase their talents wonderfully in a film that ends up being far more poignant than you imagined. There is an awful lot to love about this short; it is an impressive outing from all involved.


The 19th HollyShorts Film Festival is running between 10th – 20th August with in person and digital screenings available through the 10th to 27th August.

For more information go to www.hollyshorts.com

Coverage of HollyShorts Film Festival 2023:


Isla Soledad

In Too Deep


7 Minutes

The After

Swipe NYC

Shadow Brother Sunday

Zita Sempri



Hey Alexa

American Sikh

Spring Roll Dream

Welcome to 8th Street



Random Check




In The Garden of Tulips



Tall Dark and Handsome


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