Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Archive for the ‘Anthology Films’ Category

Mister Green (2010)

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Another installment of the FUTURESTATES TV anthology, this 15-minute film by Greg Pak (comic writer behind The Hulk) personifies climate change as it gives us a vision of a bleak future if we do nothing to reverse this change. Greg Pak poses a question for the audience: How quickly would we seek change if we had to survive the same way plants do? Pak uses scenes shot directly into bright sunlight and scenes focused specifically on the drinking of water to emphasize for the audience how important these things are – to us and to plants. The director sets the stage in an interview on the Live for Films blog:

He blew it and as far as he’s concerned everybody blew it because folks didn’t get out there and push the government hard enough. Nobody pushed hard enough, so he’s this jaded and almost self-hating guy as the story begins.

In contrast to Mason, the corporate suit character, is Gloria, a woman from his past that represents everything ethereal and natural. (Greg Pak’s official website includes an interview with the actress, Betty Gilpin.) Gloria helps the protagonist to “be the change” he’d like to see in the world – quite literally. The filmmakers ends the film with that infamous Ghandi quote, as well as an image of Gloria and many others soaking up necessary sunlight on the National Mall in front of the nation’s Capital, a symbol of American government. Definitely an interesting look at the future.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

May 2, 2011 at 9:38 am

Fallout (2010)

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There’s a very long list of things that I like, but in the top 30 or so are anything post-apocalyptic, graphic novel-esque artwork, sappy romance, and neat soundtracks. Good thing Ben Rekhi’s Fallout includes ALL of those!

Fallout is part of Season 1 of the FUTURE STATES TV anthology, a collection of shorts online by various filmmakers all exploring the future of the United States. It’s filed under anthology films for obvious reasons, but I’m also including it with the Short Film Renaissance online because you can only stream this films online to view them.

It’s a small story in the face of a much larger one – nuclear fallout after a catastrophic blast is trumped for the audience by a much more personal story of Damien racing back into the radiation to save his baby mama, Rose. It’s a bit cliched story about a semi-slacker guy who doesn’t want to fully commit to the “love of his life” while she’s ready to give up on him completely. Obviously, a nuclear bomb will clear up all those nasty insecurities and now Damien has to find out if Rose is still alive, life-threatening radiation be damned. The film was shot in live action on a blue screen and the graphic black and white animation was then added to the scenes. The visual effect is pretty great, and fits the storyline perfectly as science fiction and dramatic graphic novels are finally starting to get their deserved recognition in our mass media consciousness. This film also works well in a short format, because I don’t think many audiences would be receptive to a feature-length film with this same kind of graphic novel inspiration. (Though the case of 2007’s Persepolis animated right from the images of the graphic novel proves me wrong.) Overall, I enjoyed this movie, as did other critics.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

May 1, 2011 at 12:21 pm

8 No Time Left

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Cinema cannot make the world better, but more aware, yes. – Gaspar Noe

This is the overarching theme of the 8 No Time Left campaign, in which eight filmmakers produced eight short films about the Millenium Development Goals set by the UN in September of 2000. By 2015, they hope to cut world poverty in half. The issues the filmmakers explore include poverty, education, equality, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and development. (You can read more about the No Time Left project on their website.)

I’d like to focus on two of the films included in this project, by two auteurs with distinct filmmaking styles, Mansion on the Hill (2008) by Gus Van Sant and The Water Diary (2006) by Jane Campion.

Honestly, I’m not sure I see the connection between a skateboarding montage and child mortality. The information Van Sant includes in the film is startling, and I can appreciate the simple way he reveals his purpose to the audience – with statistics in bold white lettering across a montage of young adults testing their limits. The only connection I could reach for is that many children will not get the chance to try things like skateboarding, because they’ll never reach the age to do so. In developed countries we take advantage of our time for leisure and ability to try any activity, while Third World countries struggle to meet the physiological needs of their younger generations. The simplicity, short length, and nonfictional nature of this short stands in stark contrast to Jane Campion’s short.

This film blew me away. Campion tells a much larger story about resources and sustainability through the eyes of a child dealing with the hardship of extreme drought and global warming in a diary format. The film has incredible pathos to move people to action; it is fiction, but it is believable fiction that represents a coming reality. The film includes great visual effects, like the scene where the children are leaping over clouds formed along the ground. My favorite part of this film is the way Campion framed many of the wide shots; when the protaganist finds out her parents had to kill their horses, the camera is so far away that the conflict between characters is going on down in the bottom left corner of the screen, while the audience can see the barren landscape these people exist in. She frames another scene, of Felicity playing her viola, through the window of her house at night, beautifully focusing our attention on this central figure offering hope to her community. The last shot, where Felicity plays on the hill as the clouds behind her gradually darken, offer the audience a glimpse of ambiguous hope (I’m thinking of the very last scene of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Inception) even as it visually suggests “dark days” are still ahead. This film is one of my favorites from this entire semester.

You can find more information on the anthology on the United Nations Development Program website, and on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website.

To Each His Own Cinema (2007)

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This anthology was commissioned in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Cannes Film Festival, and the credits read like a snooty film class syllabus. While some reviews state that these auteurs manipulated this framework to make a film about whatever they damned well pleased, many of these shorts have something unique to say about the ritual of going to the cinema, the devotion which we pledge to the chapel of film, the way the art of film mirrors our lives and how we shape our lives to mirror it, and finally how, as with every other artistic endeavor, technology and modernity are killing everything we love. Variety.com says this of the collection:

Especially through the first part of the grouping, the overwhelmingly dominant image is of old movie theaters fallen into states of disrepair, disintegration and disuse. In the films of Takeshi Kitano, Theo Angelopoulos, Andrei Konchalovsky, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Tsai Ming-Liang, just for starters, one beholds the spectacle of a world in which cinemas, at least as a home for shared experienced in a privileged domain, no longer seems valid or valued. A mourning for the passing of the classical Euro-style art cinema of the ’60s — of the sort very much represented by films commonly shown in Cannes — filters strongly through the proceedings, no doubt in great measure because they were made by men who belong to that tradition or grew up on it (Jane Campion, still the only woman to have won the Palme d’Or, is the sole femme in the group here).

My personal favorites were Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Anna, about a blind woman’s visceral reaction to Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, and  Zhang Yimou’s Movie Night, in which a young boy is so excited during the preparations for the town’s outdoor movie night that by the time the film is actually shown, he has fallen sound asleep. This anthology is definitely valuable, especially in terms of short film study, though I wish we had focused on each short’s context (who directed it, where they are from, and what else they’ve directed) in order to understand fully the range of celebrated talents featured on this DVD.

All the Invisible Children (2005)

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The goal of this anthology was to tell a story about ignored, forgotten or unseen children in the home country of each director. The filmmakers were given no other guidelines or rules in the hopes that the stories they told would be unique and close to their hearts, and it seemed to work out wonderfully. The press book for the DVD quotes one of the anthology’s producers, Chiara Tilesi:

The title says it all: ‘All the Invisible Children’; our aim is to bring ignored children’s issues into public awareness and consciousness, if nothing else, to make them more visible. Cinema, like music and other art forms, is a perfect medium to raise the bar of awareness, empathy, compassion and understanding. We all felt that this was an opportunity that needed to be seized. I am so glad we did, and I thank all our participants very sincerely.

We viewed two of the shorts from this collection in class, Song Song and Little Cat directed by John Woo and Jesus Children of America by Spike Lee. The films were constructed and shot in very different ways, with exceedingly different goals. Song Song was loaded with pathos, building a heartwrenching story through deeply personal experiences with two vastly different characters. Jesus Children shocked with cavalier brutality and made the audience feel for the main character through their distaste with everyone around her, causing her to act out in violence and hatred. Overall, these films told two important stories, and they serve to show us that the mistreatment of children is both transnational and wrong. The producers’ goal was to raise awareness, and they certainly did.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

April 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Stories on Human Rights (2008)

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This anthology was commissioned in recognition of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with contributions from 25 notable filmmakers worldwide. The shorts focus on various subjects under human rights, including dignity, justice, gender, culture, development, environment, and participation. One of the twenty-five shorts, Mobile Men by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, stuck me in particular simply because when I watched it, I had no idea how it related to the ideas of human rights or its subheading, justice. I found a fantastic interview with the filmmakers on Art for the World’s blog that demystified the meaning for me. Quoted from the filmmaker:

In my recent short film, the main actor is played by a migrant worker from Shan state in Burma named Jaai. The shooting of this film provided me a great opportunity to learn from his stories. He is one of the lucky ones who have decent jobs and are contented with the new living condition. But there exist many others who are still living in the opposite circumstances. For this film project, Mobile Men, it is a portrait of Jaai. By the act of making the film, I would like to instill and capture his confidence and dignity. It is not about storytelling, but about a man who is full of life.
 
Rather than attempt to moralize or make a comment on human rights directly, Weerasethakul choose to film a profile of someone he feels defines justice in the current situation in Burma. A story on this subject could feel didactic or sorrowful, instead he chose to make a film that is both joyful and subtle. He glorifies his main character, Jaai. The interview goes on, detailing how the act of making a film like this helps break down the barriers that contribute to infringements on human rights:
 
In Mobile Men, the cinema is a tool to create self-awareness. It is important for one to be proud of one’s own existence and recognize it in the others. Here the situation is choreographed as a movie-making game to celebrate youth, beauty, and dignity. The film honors simple gestures that mark individuality through visual exchanges. I hope the viewers realize that, when the actors and a director are holding a camera and shoot, we are destroying a discriminating barrier. The pickup truck simulates a small moving island without frontiers where there is freedom to communicate, to see, and to share.
 
After reading about the concepts and the devotion that went into making this short, I learned to appreciate it much more. I’ll leave you with a very different type of short film, also dealing with the Universal Declaration of Human rights, released by the Human Rights Action Center.
 

Lost and Found (2005)

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In Lost and Found, six young filmmakers from this region present their personal views on the subject of “generation” and the many changes that sometimes separate them radically from the generation of their parents. There are moving tributes to traditional values in a world of rapid technological change (Bulgaria) and to the pragmatic, can-do spirit of the elder generation (Serbia-Montenegro). – Short Film Shop

The image above is from Nadejda Koseva’s Das Ritual, about a couple who gets married in Niagara Falls as their Bulgarian family celebrates without them in the traditional way of their country. Through many small moments in the film, we see the generation gap between the parents and the marrying couple. The mother asks if the bride is wearing earring she sent; her sons assures her she is even as we see the bride wearing much smaller, more modern earrings of her own. The film lingers over the preparations for the Bulgarian celebration, the loud family gathering squished around a communal table, even as we see the couple quietly preparing to celebrate their private joy. After they are wed, they call their family to share the good news, and we see the generational divide best expressed as neither party can “hear” each other over the phone – despite celebrating the same event, the young couple and the older parents cannot reall “connect.” It is a blending of sadness and joy.

There’s a short bit on Nadejda Koseva’s work here.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

April 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm

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