Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘student film

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

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!

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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