You generally don’t see them in theaters, and if you do, they are often a tacked on as a bonus, or come packaged as a group deal. They make up one of the categories that most tend to close-their-eyes-and-point-to when it comes to the office Oscar Pool. They are where film began, in the experiments of Edison Manufacturing Company, or, perhaps more officially, with Edwin S. Porter’s “The Great Train Robbery.” They’re also often where filmmakers begin, and in the case of many great filmmakers (Kurosawa, Godard, Altman, Soderbergh, and so on) at some point return to. They are short films. While today the short form is often considered a calling card or stepping stone, they’re also an opportunity to test narrative waters, or to try a new technique, and as video-sharing sites grow and improve, so does a short's potential for a much wider audience.
Guidelines for film festivals vary widely, with the shortest of shorts considered 1 second, and the longer generally adhering to Academy standards of 40 minutes or less, but other than the time they clock in at, short films have few-to-no rules. Works are being made in all genres, mediums, and styles, with all levels of professionalism, budget, and craft. From A-listers to film students, the short film is an accessible form of filmmaking due to its lower production time and costs, and the market is–to say the least–saturated. We’ve only just begun the processing of digging through what was making the festival rounds this year, but we’ve come out with a handful of films that left an impression. The best of the best? Who knows, we’re still digging, but the following are some recent and notable examples of what great storytellers can do with small amounts of time.
“Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared”
Using puppets and costumed actors, directors Becky Sloan and Joseph Palling lead us into a bright world with a felt-y aesthetic for their short “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared.” Working with This Is It, a collective of their fellow animators, illustrators and designers, the team created a cheerful look for what appears to be a pleasant children’s song about thinking creatively. It isn’t until we get a little too deep into the process that things quickly devolve. Wonderfully crafted, the beats of ‘Scared’ become increasingly unsettling, and darkly funny. The short made a showing at festivals like Sundance this year, and was among the finalists in the ShortList Film Festival back in September. Watch the madness unravel below:
Written and directed by blur studio visual effects supervisor, Kevin Margo, “Grounded” is the very definition of a labor of love. With over a year’s worth of production and special effects work put in, Margo has created a short that’s not just a show reel of his special effects skills, but a a sci-fi thinker that will keep you guessing through its 8-minute run time. Nerds and those interested in such things might be delighted to know that Margo has put up a process video, truly exemplifying the amount of work that went into creating the astronaut’s fall and the exosolar planet he lands on. The video shows a breakdown of the vfx for several key scenes, and can be found on the film’s website. “Grounded” won an impressive number of accolades while making the festival rounds over the past year, and now Margo has made it available online:
“A Brief History of John Baldassari”
Commissioned by LACMA for their “Art + Film” Gala honoring Baldassari and Clint Eastwood in 2011, “A Brief History of John Baldassari” is a captivating overview of Baldassari’s life and work, playfully strung together using interview clips with Baldassari himself and narration by his friend Tom Waits. Directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost (the team behind “Paranormal 4” and “Catfish”) ‘Baldassari’ moves at breakneck speed through the bullet points of the artist’s career, leaving not only an impression of his work and the man himself, but the tantalizing suggestion of how much more there is to know about this iconic American artist. ‘Baldassari’ was a finalist for the ShortList Film Festival and after playing at LACMA, made a showing at a handful of other festivals in 2012. Baldassari (and Waits) on Baldassari below:
“Metro” isn’t specifically billed as a children’s film, but, as opposed to “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared,” it is one you might actually show them. Storybook-like in its design and with zero dialogue, director Jacob Wyatt takes us on an “Alice in Wonderland”-like journey into the worlds within and below the Metro’s tunnels. Made by Wyatt while he was still a student, the film has taken off for the animator and illustrator, and after screening at a number of festivals this year, joined ‘Scared’ and ‘Baldassari’ as another finalist for the ShortList Film Festival. We can only imagine what it must have been like to watch “Metro” unfold on the big screen, as the worlds Wyatt created are breathtaking even on a small one. Experience them for yourself below:
“As I Am
In May of 2011, high school senior Chris Dean introduced President Barack Obama as his graduation keynote speaker, and his brief but inspiring remarks gave him a moment in the national spotlight, and a scholarship to attend Lane College. It was perhaps a surprise twist for a young man who grew up in the impoverished neighborhood of South Memphis; who at the age of 2 came back to life after his heart stopped; and who at the age of 5, lost his father to gang violence. “As I Am” is a film featuring Dean’s observations as he walks the streets of his neighborhood with celebrated photojournalist Alan Spearman and cinematographer Mark Adams. The footage they shot over 8 weeks, combined with Dean’s observations, which he performs as narration to the film, create a powerful and affecting look at a piece of America that is rarely allotted air time. Only recently released by the filmmakers online, we have yet to see if this one will be a part of the 2013 festival circuit, but waves being made in the blogosphere suggest it would certainly leave an impression if it did. You can watch it here: