The Trouble with Shorts
The race to be short listed for an Oscar Nomination
Live action short films are perhaps one of the purest forms of film. Stories told in under an hour, usually in under thirty minutes, creating a snapshot of life, whether placed in the fantastical or in reality, that work with minimal budgets and act as a visual sample of work from a writer/director. That said, they are also the most challenging film mediums to execute flawlessly. It takes a master storyteller, director, and team of actors, composers, and production to make a short film immensely powerful. It is by far one of the more polarizing looks at what a filmmaker is capable because most of the time, a short film is a filmmaker’s calling card to get the opportunity to then move on to making feature films. With that said, each year, the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences sifts through countless submissions in order to find ten gems that will leave audiences bewildered, intrigued, horrified, in love, in tears, or perhaps even a bit nostalgic. Regardless of genre, a live action short leaves little room for forgiveness so filmmakers have worthy demands placed upon them to deliver a piece of cinematic marvel that has a shot at winning an Oscar.
When it comes to shorts, I am particularly watchful. I am looking for stories that can endear you from beginning to end which can be quite the feat. A perfect example of a live action short done impeccably is Benjamin Cleary’s, “Stutterer”. In truth, that film ruined me for all future shorts because every single aspect of that film was sheer perfection. From the cinematography to the acting to the score and moreso, the beautifully written story, it was one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema I’ve seen. I know and understand the demands and restraints placed on filmmakers to pull something undeniable off with little to no budget, but that’s no excuse to short change an audience. It’s a balancing act, and it pushes ones limits in every conceivable way. Still … it is possible to make beautiful and worthy shorts, which is why I’d encourage the filmmakers of these next three films below to consider reevaluating their execution.
Gridlock is a thriller set during a traffic jam on a country road. When a little girl goes missing from one of the cars, her father forms a desperate search party to find her, and soon everyone is a suspect.
Directed by Ian Hunt Duffy, Written by Darach McGarrigle, Starring Moe Dunford
A film that engages you from the onset with a forced traffic jam on the one way street of a small town in Ireland. In the first moments, a child goes missing, a father fights to find her, and a tale unravels rather intensely, unfortunately then falls apart once you get to the end. It’s a prime example of storytelling overreaching rather than staying in the lane that was already working. The acting in this film was notable, the anxiety of what was happening was well done, however when the payoff came to the surface, it was anything but. With a storyline that was strong, cinematography that was shot nicely, it’s a real disappointment when a story unravels – and not in a good way. I’d encourage the filmmakers to reshoot the ending to be a bit more cohesive and a lot less aloof. That ending could have been brilliant – an actual monster in the trunk, something to elude to the fear of why the little girl disappears! The implied idea that the woman was perhaps the mother doesn’t make much sense because a little girl would have recognized her mother’s voice and wanted to help her – This is one of those unfortunate story holes …
THOUGHTS: Moe Dunford gives a compelling performance all the way through but the ending left a gaping hole. The cinematography was beautiful and each character enhanced the discomfort unraveling scene by scene. The final scene didn’t have the shock value it needed. It just left the audience feeling unappreciated. We could have handled a more seamless surprise twist. That simple change can make this film one that earns a spot in the festival circuits.
Directed by Michelle Figlarz, Written by Larry Cech, Michelle Figlarz
I honestly don’t even gather how this storyline was connected. This was one of those films trying desperately to pay homage to film noir but failed spectacularly. Visually it was pretty in black and white but the characters, the rough edits in between scenes, the story arch – all of it fell short. What was meant to be an existential film about grief and self awareness became a campy, overly ambitious breakdown of irrelevant characters, spotty dialogue, and overreaching mise en scene.
THOUGHTS: I needed to understand the choice of characters. I understand they each represent an emotion but it was way too disconnected to have any real impact. Tell the story moment by moment rather than dissecting random thoughts and mismatched visuals.
Written & Directed by Kaveh Mazaheri
I loved this film and the subtleties … until the end. This was a haunting story of a mother in Iran facing the accidental death of her husband – an accident she easily could have helped avoid but instead watched her husband take his last breaths. The silent feel of the quiet emotion was done so beautifully that I was engaged every minute of every frame. But yet again we are faced with an ending that tried being far too introspective without ever having let the audience in. The husband’s death, while tragic, made little sense when there was no evidence of abuse or something that would have led to her wanting him to die, leaving her alone to raise their daughter. Instead it felt more like a glimpse into the mind of a killer without ever having motivation for the kill itself. With so many extraordinary nuances, perfectly executed scenes of discomfort and desperation, that ending left me feeling totally dissatisfied.
THOUGHTS: Sonia Sanjari is flawless but where this one left me a bit short was no indication of WHY. Her performance gives me that haunting feeling of hurt, anxiety, strength and brevity but when we never find out why, it takes away some of the magic. Perhaps showing a single bruise on her body to indicate some sort of abuse would justify why she let it happen. Otherwise it seems more murderous than understandable. That one fix could make this a front-runner on the short list.