Gaia shares her favourite, and most inspiring, shorts from the past decade, and explains why they have made a lasting impact.
Being asked to compile a list of some of the short films which have left a lasting impression on me in my work as a programmer is an arduous yet exciting task. There are obviously so many titles I would love to draw attention to, for different reasons. After some consideration, I have decided to restrict the selection to 15 short films which have made an impact on me in the last decade, since the beginning of my professional work as a programmer in 2008 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
This is by no means an exhaustive list - it is, rather, a collection of what, for me, are some great examples of short filmmaking which have stood the test of time. Very often these films are based on simple ideas executed with minimalism and boldness, embracing the aesthetic and structural freedom pertaining to the short form. Short films have a different language, a language which strikes me as unpredictable, audacious, unruly, endlessly inventive and unencumbered by conventions. This is what still never fails to inspire and excite me after all these years.
If any advice at all can be given to emerging filmmakers, mine would certainly be to get immersed in the world of short films and watch loads of them, from all over the world. It is an invaluable education.
So here they are, in chronological order. My wish is that this small selection will be an opportunity to discover or re-discover what I consider are some veritable gems and, hopefully, explain why I think they are so bloody good.
Princess Margaret Boulevard by Kazik Radwanski, Canada, 2008, 14 min
A hit at festivals around the world, this was director Kazik Radwanksi and producer Dan Montgomery’s breakthrough title. The duo went on to make a number of successful short films as well as a feature. With its documentary-style and rough editing, Princess Margaret Boulevard draws us into the daily life of an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s. The camera captures the fragmented, disorientating quality of her reality with frequent close-ups of details, often of her face, eyes, hands, as she starts losing grip on her memory and surroundings. Refraining from emotional manipulation, this short film creates, with great dignity and subtlety, a deeply affecting portrait of a character and her struggle. Watch an excerpt of the film here.
Echo by Magnus Von Horn, Poland, 2008, 14 min
This harrowing drama of two teenage boys having to face up to their brutal actions is hard to shake off, just like the persistent rain battering their crime scene. It is brilliantly acted, distressing, subdued, its leaden grey photography wrapping us in its chill. The confidence the filmmaker demonstrates in building up the tension culminating in the film’s shattering final moments is absolutely astonishing. Von Horn has since debuted his first feature, The Here After, at the Critics’ Week in Cannes. Watch now.
Believe by Paul Wright, UK, 2009, 20 min
Scottish director Paul Wright achieved wide critical recognition with his first feature, For Those In Peril (2013). However, his distinctive style was already distilled in this compelling study of grief. Layering unpolished images, audio recordings and found footage through expressive and rough editing, Believe is, for me a perfect example of a short film effectively combining form and content, as audacious stylistic choices are used to enhance the emotional resonance of the story. The result is a daring, gritty, visceral journey into the emotions of a man crushed by sorrow, revealing beauty in the darkest of places. Watch now.
Incident By a Bank by Ruben Östlund, Sweden, 2010, 12min.
Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund has recently won the Palme D’Or with the feature film The Square, but his name had been familiar for some years in the short film festival circuit thanks to this single-take piece, the anti-heist film par excellence. Capturing a failed bank robbery observed and casually commented on by two bystanders from a point far-out from the action, Incident By a Bank is as technically well-executed and choreographed as the crime it portrays utterly isn’t. I love how Östlund’s austere camera work strips the action of the dramatic tension, sense of danger and clichés typical of the heist genre and infuses it with a nonchalant, hapless tone and a good dose of deadpan humour. Watch now.
Turning by Karni and Saul, UK, 2010, 11 min
This surreal, magical short film combining animation, live-action and puppetry is a delight from start to end. It’s a boy’s sixth birthday and three bird-like old ladies come to pay him a visit and tell the story of an emperor with no skin. In its celebration of the magic of childhood, Turning is at one time wildly inventive as well as intimate and melancholic. Every detail of the production, down to all its whimsical visual inventions contributes to draw us into the world of a child’s unrestrained imagination. Lovely and so beautifully crafted. Watch now.
The Cage by Adrian Sitaru, Romania, 2010, 17 min
In the mid 2000s the film festival circuit was taken by storm by a number of excellent Romanian short films exploring the mundane with a minimalist visual aesthetic. In The Cage the premise couldn’t be more simple: a boy brings an injured bird home to his parents. What ensues, however, is a surprisingly engaging chamber piece, revealing the dynamics at play in a small family with authenticity, emotion and humour. This brilliantly uneventful film turns the prosaic day-to-day of a lower class Romanian family unit into something we deeply care about and find ourselves totally engrossed in. Watch now.
15 Summers Later by Pedro Collantes, Norway, 2011, 5 min
When directing his own films, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Collantes, perhaps to over-compensate for his parallel work as an editor, adopts a very rigorous style, using long uninterrupted takes, often with barely any camera movements, as demonstrated in this 5 minute gem dishing out awkwardness and cringe aplenty. For me this is a great example of effective short filmmaking: a simple idea, a sharp script and a distinctive, minimalist visual style which really gives the story an edge. Watch now.
Dura Lex by Anke Blondé, Belgium, 2011, 19 min
Dura Lex was one of the early short films to address the topic of the migration and refugee crisis through the story of a single mum hiding an illegal cleaning lady from the police when they suddenly turn-up at the doorstep looking for her. This domestic piece thrives on the sharp execution of a very clever script, subtly building up a sense of trepidation and unease as a police interrogation initially punctuated by casual small talk turns into a tight cat and mouse game. Watch now.
Home by Thomas Gleeson, New Zealand, 2013, 11 min
It might seem unusual for a documentary capturing the journey of a mobile home to elicit any emotional engagement. However, what makes this piece so unique and affecting is the choice to show the transported house from the inside, with its empty rooms and fixtures creaking and jolting along the road, revealing the fragile nature of an object able to find its own “home” only when finally inhabited by the people it was destined for. A great example of a short film taking a familiar theme and completely shifting our perspective on it through its visual, narrative and stylistic choices. Watch now.
Baby by Daniel Mulloy, UK, 2010, 25 min
The unexpected encounter of two strangers can probably be considered a short film sub-genre in itself. Here, acclaimed British filmmaker Daniel Mulloy delivers, in my opinion, a truly fine example of it by describing the spark between a distant, heavily medicated young woman and a petty criminal whose connection and intimacy is bound for an abrupt end. I love the slow build-up of the connection between this unlikely pair. The acting is all small, significant gestures and subtle power shifts. The camera work is beautifully handled, lingering on details of their hands, faces and expressions as they get more intimate with one another. As spectators, we are led to refrain from judging their actions and to instead simply be in the moment with them, completely captivated by the urgency of their connection. Watch now.
Premature by Gunhild Enger, Norway, 2012, 17 min
Prolific Norwegian filmmaker Gunhild Enger has an exquisite talent for capturing the absurdity of the mundane with intelligence and humour. Here, a single static shot filming the inside of a car is used to observe a young couple being picked up and driven home from the airport by the Norwegian in-laws. As the communication struggles through linguistic and cultural barriers, the conversation escalates from bumbling pleasantries, to awkward silences, to excruciatingly inappropriate comments and words of advice. The camera traps us inside the car, as we endure in real-time this agonising build-up, so brilliantly directed and acted. Watch an excerpt of the film now.
A Million Miles Away by Jennifer Reeder, US, 2014, 28 min
In 2014 this short film was nothing less than a film festival phenomenon when it made it into the programme of a large number of international festivals, often with very different curatorial styles. What made this general consensus even more striking is that it gathered around such a strange film creature: a very long short film, combining an 80s John Hughes-type aesthetic with a surreal, dream-like style and anchored by an empowering rendition of Judas Priest’s You’ve Got Another Thing Coming performed by a high-school girl choir. The result, in Reeder’s confident hands, is a hugely captivating and imaginative take on the female coming-of-age genre; one in which young girls resort to their authenticity and camaraderie to support a struggling adult. Watch now.
The Chicken by Una Gunjak, Croatia, 2014, 15 min
For quite some time I was convinced that period short films had a tendency to come across as rather laboured and affected. Una Gunjak’s The Chicken completely dismantled my pre-conception by presenting a story set in 1993 Sarajevo, at the height of the Bosnian war. The filmmaker dug deep into the memory of her own stolen childhood through the character of Selma, a 6-year-old girl whose actions put her family in danger when she receives a chicken as a birthday present. It is a tense, poignant and very moving drama, capturing a day in the life of a mother and two girls living in the confinement of their flat in a time of war. The Chicken won the European Film Award in 2014 and was a real breakthrough for Gunjak who is currently developing her first feature. Watch the trailer now.
Listen by Rungano Nyoni and Hamy Ramezan, Denmark, Finland, 2014, 13 min
Inside a Danish police station, a Muslim woman is reporting her abusive husband and looking for protection. At her side, a woman translator, also veiled, is deliberately giving an inaccurate rendition of this desperate plea for help. Listen distils a powerful statement on obtuse bureaucracy, cultural isolation and domestic abuse. The claustrophobic and poorly lit environment of the police station only reinforces the sense of oppression experienced by the woman, unable to get her voice heard. For me short films have more licence to refrain from neat resolutions, leaving us in a questioning and uncomfortable place. In Listen, we are powerfully alerted to one of many instances of human rights violation inflicted on the most vulnerable. Watch now.
Over by Jörn Threlfall, UK, 2015, 14 min
By reversing the chronological order of his storytelling, director Jörn Threlfall found the antidote to the numbness generated by an inundation of news reports on the refugee crisis and reminded us that behind the anonymity of such reports exist individuals. Going back in time, a series of static shots slowly unravels the events of a crime scene in a suburban neighbourhood. When the mystery is finally revealed, it truly hits like a punch in the stomach. This is a cleverly constructed short film which requires patience and dedication. An ingenious stylistic choice creates a gripping, tense and ultimately shocking viewing experience able to readjust our perspective on the tragic events happening on our doorstep. Watch now.
Gaia has just finished programming for this years Encounters which will run from 19th to 24th September in Bristol. http://encounters-festival.org.uk/