Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Archive for the ‘Academy Award Student Films’ Category

Theater of Blood Part VII (year unknown)

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According to the Internet, this film doesn’t exist.

According to the Student Academy Awards, this film ALSO does not exist.

But because it was filmed at good ‘ol Beaver College, it’s important to us. Yes, the production value seemed low, perhaps because the environment was all too familar in this particular short film class. I’ll admit I wasn’t riveted to the story, but I can absolutely appreciate the themes as a fan of horror movies and a film critic who loves when a genre can comment on or satirize itself.

Theater of Blood Part VII tells those who love horror flicks that we are sick, perverse people (probably true) by making the case that anyone who can write a horror flick is just as perverse. In this fantastic inversion, the distressed damsel terrorizes the writer that has damned her to so many horrifying experiences. The female character, which the fake credits tell us is played by actress “Jennie Lee Harris” (an allusion to Jamie Lee Curtis of the Halloween franchise, methinks?) punishes the writer for his sick imagination. This film does ask a serious question: why do we consider it entertainment to watch people terrified, fighting for their lives in unimaginable circumstances? Why do we loved to watch them hurt and degraded and more often than not perish at the hands of a psychotic (but ultimately quite human) presence? And why are those that are terrorized usually women? This film and many other have alluded to the sexist nature of the horror genre and how it is so pitted with plot holes, predictable tropes and unbelievable circumstances that the unrealistic nature of the movies render them totally unscary (the Wes Craven Scream franchise is a perfect example, and I can’t wait for the fourth installment!).

The plot includes another layer reminiscent of Marc Forster’s Stranger than Fiction (2006), in which fiction becomes reality. I think the film begs the question: How would we react if the things we imagined became our waking lives?

Christmas in New York (1997)

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This film, directed by then Columbia University Mark Millhone (pictured above), takes a sardonic look at the holiday season from a struggling writer’s point of view. Honestly, this wasn’t one of my favorites. The tone of the film starts out pessimistic and ends up pretty hopeful, having explored some of the bitterness associated with the commercialism of Christmastime. IMDb seems to agree with me that this film is only worth a passing mention.

One thing I do find interesting is that after Millhone won the student award for this film, he went on to direct … absolutely nothing. His bio states that he went on to teach screenwriting at NYU and then began writing a column for the popular magazine Men’s Health. He also wrote a memoir titled The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances. This is an all-too-uncomfortable example of “Those who can’t do, teach.” Yeesh!

The Lady in Waiting (1992)

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Short film is a somewhat obscure medium. Luckily, today we’ve got the Internet to reveal the mysterious and make the previously obscure knowable. Still, there are a few exceptions to the rule, like an obscure short film from 1992, winner of the Student Academy Award Gold Medal for a Narrative and nominee for the Academy Award Best Live Action Short Film. Hailing from the golden era of VHS and buried in the archives of the Student Award winners, there is next to no information about The Lady in Waiting that I could find. Still, I’ll take a crack at film analysis.

The film tells the story of two exact opposites, a blue-blooded society lady and a New York drag queen, who get stuck in an elevator together during a city-wide blackout. They bond over a shared struggle to be recognized for who they are, to combat invisibility. As I watched the film, the idea that kept coming back to me was visibility, since the characters spend the duration of the story in complete darkness. It is only in the dark that these ladies can truly see themselves and each other. Each woman yearns to be seen as beautiful for who she is; mirrors keep cropping up in the film to indicate vanity and self-reflection.

I found a strangely similar summary in the Sundance Archive which makes me think director Christian M. Taylor was hoping to turn this into a feature film. The storyline is a longer version of the same basic story. Some of the details are fuzzy.

Overall, I can appreciate this film as a brief look at the struggle for visibility and self-acceptance.

Rundown (2006)

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Florida State University student Patrick Alexander’s 15-minute Gold Medal Student Award-winning film relies heavily on dramatic tension and skillful acting. The production itself is simple – few sets, only one main character, and tight cinematography keep the audience focused on the face of the actress portraying Rachel Davenport, Alison Gallagher. We see doubt, suspicion, fear, relief, and regret in her close-ups, often all at the same time. The performance embodies the newsroom standard of the “talking head” news anchor, though the character says nothing except what she reads on the teleprompter in front of her, with a practiced smile on her face. Rachel feels the most fear when she studies the faces of the crew members watching her, unsure of the truth behind their faces. It’s clear that the idea of appearances at odds with the truth is one of the central themes of the narrative.

The other standout aspect of this film is the score. Composed by Gregory Tripi, who also created the music for The Grudge 2 (2006), Drag Me To Hell (2009), and this year’s The Lincoln Lawyer, it combines the usual newscast melody with more tension to create the soundtrack of a thriller. The music definitely enhanced the experience of the film for me.

While there isn’t much in the way of analysis online, there is FSU’s own write-up on the film, including an interview with the filmmaker.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 25, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Kavi (2009)

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Here is another fantastic example of a Gold Medal Student Academy Award winner that was also nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the 2010 Academy Awards. Directed by Gregg Helvey, this 19-minute film gives a face and voice to the thousands of people trapped in illegal slavery today. Like the previous two student films I’ve analyzed, The Red Jacket (2002) and A Day’s Work (2008), the director uses a smaller story to represent a much larger social issue. This is a perfect use of the medium of short film. The length, the simplicity, and the poignancy all serve to create a much greater impact than I feel it would have if the storyline was complicated for a feature film format.

I was again pleased to note this film has its own official website where you can watch it, find press and news, and read about the production. Duane L. Martin at RogueCinema has also written a brief review of the film. Jett Loe at The Film Talk called the visuals of the film “corrosive, seething, painful.” I would have to agree, although my favorite shot is the very last, where the camera follows Kavi’s feet as he takes his first steps to freedom over the wet mud bricks, crushing his labor under his bare, dirty feet. Overall, a moving short film.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 25, 2011 at 8:52 am

A Day’s Work (2008)

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Above is an interview from the director of this intense, 17-minute film, Rajeev Dassani, a USC film student. There isn’t much analysis on the film itself, but the backstory of how a student goes about making a film at this level is interesting to hear. The best thing about this film is how Dassani slowly builds the dramatic tension through the mistrust of both groups of characters, the Mexican day laborers and the white American family. He is representing a much larger culture of mistrust and social stereotypes through this microcosmic example. The film creates relatable characters in both parties – neither group is a “bad guy,” but they are both suffering the effects of stereotyping. Dassani also fosters a perfect example of how, with a little effort to cross the language barrier and a bit of sympathy, the young Latino boy and the young white kid can come to an instant understanding in the worst circumstances.

In the first good marketing move I’ve seen amongst the short films we’ve watched, Dassani created an official site for his film where you can see the incredible wealth of awards and festivals that have featured this film, including the Student Academy Awards Gold Medal.

Something I find utterly baffling is that there are zero reviews or analyses of the film online. Shouldn’t someone be talking about a film that garnered so much acclaim?

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 25, 2011 at 8:19 am

Die rote Jacke (2002)

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Without lingering on any particular part of the Sarajevo conflict, Baxmeyer paints a microcosmic portrait of a splintering world, with gritty but almost fairy-tale results. – Tasha Robinson, The AV Club

With an alumni list that includes the likes of Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump), Bob Saget (Full House, America’s Funniest Home Videos), Trey Parker (South Park), and Spike Lee (Malcolm X), the Student Academy Awards are nothing to sneeze at for an aspiring filmmakers. This film, translated to The Red Jacket and directed by University of Hamburg, Germany student Florian Baxmeyer is no exception to the rule. Baxmeyer manages to treat personal trajedy and and the large-scale trajedy of war with the same care and attention to detail. The red jacket of the title connects the characters and it also connects the audience to the characters’ tragic circumstances. Ultimately, this film is about what connects people, what is universal to the human experience. A winner of the student award for foreign film in 2003 and a nominee for Best Live Action Short film for the Academy Awards in 2004, this film made an impact with the film industry and with audiences. (The user reviews on IMDb have nothing but good things to say.) This film was a perfect introduction to the absolute best student films.

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