Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Archive for the ‘Academy Awards’ Category

9 (2005)

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I originally saw this film, directed by Shane Acker as his thesis project upon graduation from UCLA, before the feature film version picked up by Tim Burton came into existence. I figured now that I’m a bit wiser to the conventions of short film, it would be worth another look.

The short film was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Animated Short Film category in 2006, leading to a greater development of the project as a feature film released in 2009, including the voices of actors like Elijah Wood and John C. Reilly. The animation in the film is incomparable. The design in utterly unique, taking on a post-apocalyptic landscape from the perspective of an sentient object. (Which doesn’t at all sound like a robot-centric Disney film that came out in 2008, does it?) Still, Acker imbues his rag doll, simply named “9” with all sorts of personal qualities: friendship, sorrow, courage. Adding to his mastery of emotion, he lends all these qualities to 9 without employing any dialogue. The diagetic sounds as well as the soundtrack to the film add all the audible emotion the audience needs. Overall, I love this film more now under the influence of short film study.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 30, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Das Rad (2003)

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This Academy-Award nominated Animated Short, translated from German as “The Rocks”, is directed by Chris Stenner. It is a short, sweet, humorous view of the transcience of humanity from the perspective of something much more permanent and slow-moving: rocks. Using an animation combination of stop-motion, puppetry, and CGI, this film is another example of exactly what I like short films to do: make a simple point, use a bit of humor, and tell the story in a way that is completely unique. Das Rad is certainly that. Stenner manages to give the rocks personalities, qualities fitting of their ancient, unmoving nature, to get us to see the phase that is humanity from a perspective other than our own. The film confirms its point with the inclusion of the deteriorating billboard proclaiming “Built to last.” Obviously, the filmmaker wants to make the case that humans do not live as if our society is built to last. The rocks mention the Ice Age, natural causes that have eliminated living things in the past and began nature anew. Ultimately, the only thing permanent about the world is nature; in the end, the only thing that remains are “das rad.”

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm

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.

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

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.

Wasp (2003)

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This twenty-three minute, Academy-Award winning short film directed by Andrea Arnold is also featured on the Cinema 16 European Short Film Collection. Though bleak and heart-wrenching (watching Winter’s Bone this year gave me the same feeling) it is shot beautifully and the narrative speaks volumes as it says little. Slant magazine blogger Rob Humanick writes of the film’s namesake:

The titular bug is first glimpsed during an understated scene in Zoë’s ramshackle apartment; while the youngest toddler cries after having dropped his pacifier onto the floor, the buzzing insect vainly attempts to pass through a closed window. In this way, the wasp comes to represent the poverty-stricken protagonists in their struggle against invisible social and financial structures. Unfortunately, Wasp ultimately sidesteps such readings.

Viewing the wasp as mirroring Zoe’s will to escape her life makes the scene where the bug endangers her baby’s life much more heartbreaking. Is the director trying to tell us Zoe’s lifestyle is killing her children? That Zoe herself is slowly killing them?

Zoe represents an entire generation of too-young mothers without a partner or parents to rely on for help. We see her children idolizing and emulating their mother as children do, in the scene when they all flip off the neighbors. We even see one of the younger girls playing mother to her doll, we assume copying the style of motherhood Zoe has exhibited. Arnolds does an amazing job of developing these characters in twenty-three minutes. She also establishes the important relationship between the children and food, something they seem to be lacking. Fin de Cinema blogger Joe Bowman wrote a worthy article establishing Zoe and her kids’ relationship to consumerism:

For Zoë, the Beckhams represent the same thing, the false pinnacle of desire: fashionable motherhood, physical perfection in marriage.

I definitely recommend reading his analysis focusing on their fixation with the David and Victoria Beckham.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 6, 2011 at 4:04 pm

J’Attendrai Le Suivant (2002)

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This simple, four-minute film by French director Phillip Orreindy packs in plenty of emotional power for its length. It was nominated for an Academy Award for a live action short film in 2003, as well as a wealth of other awards listed here. Strangely, I could not find any reviews or analyses online for the film, so I will have to make do with my own!

This film is beautifully shot and timed perfectly, making the most of its short running time. The director sets up the character of the woman longing for love as we see her watching lovers on the escalator. We see her smiling at the man speaking on the train agreeably, we can feel as she feels – that she has found a kindred spirit. The man’s speech is moving and seems sincere, and by the time the train stops at the station, we are as exciting for this woman as she seems to be to meet this stranger. Then we are just as disappointed, crestfallen, humiliated and betrayed as she feels when she learns it was all for entertainment. Orreindy makes a powerful choice when the last image we can see is her unhappy face, as the applause and calls for small donations continue on the train. The careful way the filmmaker built the anticipation of the story and then pulled the rug out from under the audience serves to show how even a small narrative can completely immerse you in the emotion of the characters.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm

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