Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

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

10 Minutes (2002)

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Ten Minutes by Ahmed Imamovic is a short film about the 1994 conflict in Sarajevo and just how significant ten minutes in a lifetime can be. Can you guess how long the running time is?

The film opens with a Japanese tourist in Rome, snapping pictures on his way to a 10-minute photo developer as quaint, jovial Italian music drowns out the sounds of fellow tourists and Europeans doing their daily activities. In a stark contrast, the film continues by showing us a Bosnian family in the next scene, in a dispute over their young son going to fetch water. In a scene that begs the question, “Is this the same Europe?” as the Italian scene that came before it, we follow the boy (sans cuts) through the war-torn streets of his neighborhood. He stops to kick a ball back to a neighborhood kid and pals around with soldiers in the trenches on his way to acquire the essential bread and water. The mise-en-scene is striking, with abandoned cars and small fires dotting the landscape, an overall look of dark, grey destruction. The idea of a child going to get water down the street and passing soldiers and snipers along the way is not what the average viewer calls to mind when they think of Europe.

The end of the film sees the boy headed back home as the battle starts up again, running as bullets fly and people scream. A neighbor we saw before, with no significance to his presence then, attempts to hold him back as he tries to get back into his now-destroyed home. He gets back into his home to find his family shot and killed, but that isn’t the scene the filmmakers chose to leave us with. The last scene finds us back in Italy with the tourist as he picks up his photographs and returns to his day’s plans of sightseeing, the ideas of war and death and destruction far from his mind. His ten minutes seem insignificant with what we know of the Bosnian boy’s simultaneous ten minutes. It serves to make the audience wonder, what’s going on in the world in the ten minutes it took watch the film? Or in the (less than) ten minutes it might have took you to read this blog?

Food for thought.

More analysis of 10 Minutes here.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

May 1, 2011 at 11:49 am

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.

Nina, Please (2010)

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This 15-minute Croatian film, also featured at the Libertas Film Festival and available streaming on Mubi, is directed by Barbara Vekaric. The film tells the story of a power struggle between a husband and wife – the husband wanting love and affection from his partner in the form of sex, and his wife having zero interest in intimacy. While this film reminds me of the American feature film that came out last year, Blue Valentine (2010), it includes none of the romantic backstory that made that film so bittersweet. Neven seems focused singularly on sex like it is the solution to fix his marriage. Nina is grateful for Neven’s financial support but seems to feel only little affection for him as a provider and roommate. She is no longer attracted to him. After Nina’s brother and his girlfriend come to visit and she compares her unhappy relationship to their happy one, she decides giving in to Neven will help fix their marriage. The sex scene at the end, with Nina’s initial protests and rejections giving way to a blase acceptance as the camera holds on her face, is incredibly uncomfortable for the audience. Not only is it technically rape, but the cinematography holds us close to Nina’s unhappiness on the actress’s face. This film has a bleak perspective on marriage, and includes none of the closure that Blue Valentine does. Not one of my favorite shorts.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

April 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

Jan Villa (2010)

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This 20-minute experimental montage focuses on the issues of home and the destruction of that idea after the 2005 floods in Bombay. Bombay native and filmmaker Natasha Mendonca did an impressive job of constructing this montage to affect all five senses, particularly hearing. Our short film class was lucky enough to have the filmmaker there to screen the film with us, explain her process, and answer our questions. I was continually struck by how similar her process was to the one I use for documentary photography: she goes out to shoot with certain shots in mind, captures everything she can all at once, and then picks the best sequences and slowly constructs the order the images should go in and the pace of the film. Mendonca uses a traditional, three-act structure for her montage, with Act 1 setting the scene of a community in decay, Act 2 a black and white departure consisting of personal memory, and Act 3 returning to an exterior view of the community and the people. The use of natural color versus black and white in the different acts effectively separates the acts and creates a flow for the audience, without the use of traditional narrative. She discussed her use of Eisenstein’s dialectic montage, a montage based on the concepts that connect the images, which I thought was palpable in her work.

Some of my favorite scenes, including the laser lights scene and the black and white underwater scene, employs a combination of strong visuals, rapid editing, and similarly-paced sound to create a full emotion on film. The laser light scene has quickly flashing lights, rapid cuts, and fast-paced sound to design the feeling. The underwater scene includes slow, deep sounds, slow movement in the scene affected by the water, and very little cuts for a meditative feeling. It causes a nearly physically reaction for the audience. The layers involved in each scene mimicks the density and layers of our own memory, how we experience different aspects of a memory each time we recollect it. I particularly liked her focus on how buildings and people both bear marks of their history, visible to everyone. She also made the decay of Bombay audible as well as visual. I also thought she had a good point during her Q&A when she told us not to make work with an audience in mind, because ultimately, the filmmakers must be proud and happy with their own work, and an effective piece will appeal to someone. It was truly exciting to view her work and hear about her filmmaking philosophy.

There’s an excellent interview with Natasha Mendonca here. The film won several awards from several prestigious festivals, including this year’s International Film Festival at Rotterdam.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

April 20, 2011 at 8:48 pm

March 9th (2010)

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This film is one of the selections for this year’s Libertas Film Festival hosted in Dubrovnik, Croatia. (The films are available streaming online through Mubi.) Directed by Irena Skoric, the synopsis for this 9-minute film is as follows:

One shot. Two bodies. And an interrupted sex. Film in which faces and voices are outside the shot, and protagonist is Her and His naked flesh, on that March 9th, in a casual relationship and a casual deceit. Nervous croquis of body language.

It’s unsettling to watch this film and see voices disconnected from actions, to see sex played out as a progression of meeting body parts separate from the people using those bodies. As the audience is privy to this intimate scene, so are we privy to pictures of a couple scattered around the room and other evidences of an intimate, emotional connection. Therefore when we finally see the faces belonging to the couple in the bedroom, it’s jarring to see that this is a different man than the one smiling in the pictures. We learn the female character is late to meet her boyfriend, unaware and separate from this intimate affair, and she is just as nonchalant about the feelings of her current lover as she is about the partner she’s deceiving. The lack of cuts and distance from the subjects leaves the audience caught in what’s happening despite its distastefulness; we come to know the girl’s tattoos on her naked body as well as her lovers do. We’re left to ask the question of whether sex is about the body or about the soul. As the woman leaves, we’re left with her dejected lover. In a gender inversion of the norm, we see this man feeling used for his body and angry that he’s allowing this female to walk all over him. He vengefully puts out a cigarette in her salad and we leave the scene discontent.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

April 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm

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