Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘academy awards shorts

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

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

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