Every now and again I like to take a little peek at what’s going on in the world of the short film. With Hollywood paying more and more attention to the products of unknown filmmakers posted on video hosting sites like YouTube and Vimeo, due in large part to the success of Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, it seems that the path towards getting a film green lit is changing. And changing fast.
Pixels, The Raven, Blinky, and Panic Attack have all drawn interest from studios (some of them have already been picked up)looking to produce their own low budget District 9. This is not meant to take away any credit from these filmmakers. These films are all creative and interesting in their own ways. And I’m glad to see these filmmakers getting their shot at the big time, but I think possibly (hopefully) the most positive lesson to have come from the success of District 9 is the idea that budget has very little to do with how entertaining or good a film can be. It’s all about the creative drive behind the film itself.
I like the idea of a director and crew working within the constraints of a tighter budget. How many of history’s most memorable and successful films have involved some kind of desperate struggle, or strife on the part of the crew? Star Wars comes immediately to mind. The hardships that the characters endure in that film are quite possibly the perfect parallel to the struggles of the crew working behind the scenes, and within a very constrictive budget, to get the film realized. It’s the hero’s journey personified. Francis Ford Coppolas’ Apocalypse Now is another example of tenacious filmmaking overcoming great difficulty and personal hardship (famously chronicled in the documentary Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse) in the pursuit of great cinema.
The lesson seems to be: Nothing worth doing is ever easy. I like the idea of struggling filmmakers getting a chance to show the world what they can do when they are so dedicated to a vision that they’ll do nearly anything to see it through to fruition. True art is almost never aware of its value or the value of the work that took to produce it.
But enough of my pontificating. On to the films.
I’ve spotlighted more than a few of these short films over the past year or so, but there were some pretty good ones that I missed as well, and I’d like to share them here now. I hope you enjoy them.
Panic Attack by Frederico Alvarez isn’t all that inventive from a story point of view, but it sure is pretty to look at.
Yet another proof of concept trailer continuing the samurai theme. Gary Shore’s Cup of Tears blends a manga look at samurai with a strange, but very interesting science fiction angle. I’m not sure what kind of mythology Shore is working on here, but I like it. Definitely shades of Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City here in terms of the visual style.
What happens when you mix great dialogue with odd, stop-motion visuals, a kooky concept, and brilliant voice talent? You get something akin to Marcel the Shell With Shoes On by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like variety in my movies. If you do like this sort of thing, check out the gorgeous short film, Out of a Forest, and the quirky Czech film, Kooky’s Return.
Adam Berg’s Carousel used the single take shot to great effect in this The Dark Knight inspired commercial for Philips Company. Philips has been responsible for several terrifically composed short films this past year, including Carl Erich Rinsch’s The Gift and the very Blade Runner-esque short, Dark Room, by Johnny Hardstaff (gosh I hope that’s not a made up name from a previous movie career), which also employs the single take shot very effectively.
Daniel Mercadante and Will Hoffman’s Words is oddly moving. The film uses words as interpreted through pictures to create a flow of images and scenes that explore the beauty of the human condition. This film isn’t particularly aground breaking in its message, but it is creative and wondrous in its ability to move the viewer through the use of everyday images and themes.
This proof of concept animated short by creator/director David Weinstein, like Panic Attack, doesn’t offer much in the way of story, but the visuals are more compelling than almost anything I’ve seen in a big budget Hollywood film lately (with the obvious exclusion of Tron: Legacy). And to these filmmaker’s credit, these proofs do not really concern themselves with story, as that’s not really what these trailers are trying to sell. The visuals are key to stories like these, and that’s what the footage focuses on. All we can do is hope they put enough work into the screenplay, if these films ever get made. Check out Azureus Rising.
I cannot overstate the wealth of impressive, inventive filmmakers that are out there just hoping to be found right now. You can find them on sites like Vimeo, YouTube*, Viewfinder, and Kickstarter. If you enjoy creative filmmaking unimpeded by the homogenization that has become the hallmark of the mainstream film industry then go. Seek them out. Find them. You can immerse yourself for an entire day in the content on Vimeo, let alone the other sites that are out there, and still not have scratched the surface of the incredible work that is being done in independent film right now. It’s an exciting time. Let’s just hope that big business and dollar signs don’t ruin it.
*YouTube is mentioned in the interest of fairness and thorough reporting. It’s wide use makes it attractive for any filmmaker wanting to get their movie in front of people, but it also attracts the lowest common denominator. Comments sections are cesspools of negativity and foul language, and it’s very difficult to find the quality work buried beneath all of the nonsense and spam. Use at your own peril.