Like short stories in literature, short films take on a life of their own in comparison to feature length films. When you’re limited to telling a story within the span of 5-15 minutes, every frame, every piece of dialogue, and every moment becomes painstakingly important and laced with meaning. After getting a chance to see the Short Film Program V at Sundance, and the Animation Shorts at Slamdance, I have to say how impressive it is to see talent cropping up all over the globe in these small projects. The two programs combined yielded a total of over 20 films so I’m going to break it up and just mention some of the personal highlights.
Short Program V
Surrounded by a festival often filled with dark subject matter and people taking themselves too seriously Captain Coulier shines through as a perfectly funny spoof on cult 50’s sci-fi classics such as Lost in Space. While this as a concept is funny in its own right, this film would be nothing without the brilliant writing, and well timed comedic performances by the entire cast.
Wunderkammer presents us with an intimate look at a sad and complex dynamic between a mother and her son who suffers from down syndrome. It is set in a surreal room inhabited as much by various species of birds as by it’s two human occupants. Much like the birds, the mother (who, by no mistake, looks like a bird herself) is trapped by her son’s limitations. The film works beautifully as a haunting meditation and tells a side of the story we rarely get to hear, even if we don’t want to confront it.
The program wrapped up with my favorite film of the selection, Netherland Dwarf. The story could not be more basic. A young boy who is obsessed with rabbits and his recently divorced father are just adjusting to their new lives. After unexpected news that the boy’s mom will not be in town when she had planned triggers a trip to the pet store to buy a pet rabbit. Every performance is extremely well executed and we are left with a poignant slice of life story that would touch even the most jaded.
Slamdance Animation Block
Trepan Hole was chosen as the opening film for this collection of shorts and with good reason. It’s surreal, vivid, trippy, and sonic. The director explained that trepan holes were procedures in which people would boar into their skull in order to relieve themselves of a psychosis. Despite such a seemingly dark subject matter, the film does not go for the disturbing as much as the playful and we are treated to fantastic and varied visuals throughout.
The Adventures of Ledo and Ix cannot go without mention. It tells the story of two 16 bit video game characters from a fictional role playing game who engage in very non-video game conversations. The writing is witty and quickly pulls you into these characters even though your only reading it through text bubbles. In concept this sounds like it would make good series for some website to churn out weekly episodes, but what is remarkable is how this manages to feel totally complete by the end and should be left simply as it is.
Perhaps the most visually compelling film was Seeking You. A failed love story set in Hong Kong in which the narrator comes to terms with his true love, the city. The visual style is riveting, combining CG, digital photography, rotoscoping, and hand drawn elements to create a complex tapestry in which we are presented with a jaw-dropping portrait of Hong Kong.
Kanizsa Hill however walked away the clear winner of the collection. The story revolves around a man who is shot by a sniper and in a surreal twist is required to have his head separated from his body in order to live. Thus begins a creative examination of duality in which the filmmaker explores the relationship between the body and mind (as a side note this was a much more interesting exploration of the subject than the recently debuted Cold Souls). Matching this creative story is an equally compelling visual landscape in which photography and hand painted images are combined to create surreal collage of the subconscious.