Short of the Week

will

A graduation animation from CalArts, a spare, powerful 9/11 story that is heartbreakingly perfect.

There are rays of sunshine emanating from California that are beaming over the online video world. Streams of new animated shorts have been quickly arriving to virtual inboxes heralding the arrival of the year end CalArts projects. I’ve been watching many of these films, and want to highlight what to me is easily the standout of this year’s crop. Unlike many of its brethren, this film is not full of sunshine however, it is deeply sad. Graduating student Eusong Lee has created a 9/11 story, and it is a tearjerker—a deeply moving piece that is as devastating as it is beautiful. Using exquisite art direction and brilliant sound to heighten an already emotional subject, will is a tender, indeed heartbreaking, treatise on love, longing and loss.

It is a parent/child story, bookended by voicemail messages. In the chaos between the first World Trade Center crash and the second, a father wishes to connect with his daughter. Looking back over clippings of the disaster, a scrapbook of rememberence, the daughter wishes to turn back time. It is not strictly speaking a factual tale, yet, is there any doubt that among the thousands that lost their lives and for their families left behind that the story dramatized is ”true”?

The film revolves around a central metaphor, the girl playing with a yo-yo given to her by dad. The falling of yo-yo mirrors her father falling out the window of the tower. A yo-yo however, can be pulled back up. If only her father’s circumstances were the same. Into her imagination she retreats: the rising yo yo peeling back time, his morning routine in reverse until she can be safe in his arms again.

Reverse time is not a new trick, Coldplay’s The Scientist video might be most famous to use it in an extended way, but to pair the technique it with circumstances so dramatic is bold and effective. Overall Song’s juggling of time is exceptional. He uses a stellar match-on-action cut to transition between the present day and the flashback to the father from that morning. Color is also employed effectively to differentiate between the two timelines: burnt orange tones for the father, reflective of his fiery conclusion, cool greens and browns for the daughter.

Animated in a trendy minimalism, this decision helps the film greatly as well. In the ten year’s since 9/11 there has been much written about the lack of great art born from the disaster. I feel it is difficult for narrative artists to touch on both the specificity of the event and it’s overwhelming magnitude. But the less specificity in representation, the more empathy a drawing is able to engender. A story about a single girl, the film nonetheless feels more universal than that.

In a final note, the sound, designed by Paul Fraser and music performed by Julian Kleiss, is exceptional. Spare, like, the animation, they complement the film well. The most obvious and effective element however is the otherworldly, high pitched sounds that come in during the film’s second half. A simple audio trick of playing sound in reverse, they mirror the action of the film perfectly, as well as well as the inhuman power it would take to move the world backward. An impossible wish, but one wish the girl can’t be blamed for envisioning all the same.

~
Co-Founder of Short of the Week, Sondhi lives in Brooklyn working as a Curator for Vimeo. Follow his musings on online video, direct distribution and branded content: @jasondhi.
  • Pascoe Foxell

    I’m not sure with this one. I felt like the spare animation couldn’t really represent the reality of 9/11- to me it doesn’t feel like an event that can be abstracted or made universal without losing a lot of the stuff that makes it important and unique. I mean, I’m English and was young when it happened, so I never felt it as deeply as a lot of other people did, but this animation didn’t evoke whatever I think of as ’9/11′- it could have been any tragedy that the father died in. But maybe other viewers feel different…

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericgoetz Eric Goetz

    Pascoe, I think that’s the point: It’s not about 9/11.  Rather, it’s a story about a girl who wants her father back.  Brilliantly done.  The animation and music were just perfect in their simplicity, for me.

  • Pascoe Foxell

    You could well be right, and it’s an interesting thing to do in that case. To include 9/11 rather than any other event in your story, lending it an immediate weight and power, then to  simplify things enough so that it doesn’t feel like it’s about 9/11 at all. Curious.

    I just watched it again, and it did a lot more for me the second time round. I think it’s partially because I was expecting that stylistic shift from the rawness of the answer phone message to the music video of the rest of the film, which I still can’t really reconcile. 

    Incidentally, the music reminds me very much of this other SOTW featured film: http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2011/03/18/sometimes-the-stars/. Any relation?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasondhi Jason Sondhi

    Thanks for the thoughts Pascoe. No, I don’t believe there to be any relation. 

    In clarification of what I wrote—which is good of you to object to because I think it is unclear—while an  individual story cannot be a good stand-in for the enormity of the event itself, the simplistic design allows for more  identification through its abstraction. 

    The more specific a representation, the more narrow and situated its reception is, as it becomes a story about particular people. Cribbing a bit from Scott McCloud and his theory of iconic abstraction however, the less detailed a cartoon, the more drawn we are to identifying with it. The inherent “thisness” or subjectivity of the character is dissolved somehwhat, thus i think we’re lured into contemplating this dramatization of 9/11 suffering as more easily standing in for the experiences of hundreds or thousands of others who experienced similar tragedy. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasondhi Jason Sondhi

    Thanks for the thoughts Pascoe. No, I don’t believe there to be any relation. 

    In clarification of what I wrote—which is good of you to object to because I think it is unclear—while an  individual story cannot be a good stand-in for the enormity of the event itself, the simplistic design allows for more  identification through its abstraction. 

    The more specific a representation, the more narrow and situated its reception is, as it becomes a story about particular people. Cribbing a bit from Scott McCloud and his theory of iconic abstraction however, the less detailed a cartoon, the more drawn we are to identifying with it. The inherent “thisness” or subjectivity of the character is dissolved somehwhat, thus i think we’re lured into contemplating this dramatization of 9/11 suffering as more easily standing in for the experiences of hundreds or thousands of others who experienced similar tragedy. 

  • Pascoe Foxell

    Which I agree with up to a point- I did feel for the characters in the film, to an extent which could probably only have been achieved with less abstract characters (in live action, say) in a longer film. I guess my problem is more that somehow the event itself, as well as the people involved, got abstracted by the animation, and something important was lost.

  • Sindhu Reddy

    Oh, I really loved this. It was so purposeful and thematic, and I was initially turned off by the fact that it was about 9/11 but the writing was perfect. It was a film about loss, and about wishing it hadn’t happened. For me the sound was the best part of this.

  • Park

    This film is just so disturbingly sad, especially the scene where he’s falling from the window when she lets the YoYo down, and when she pulls the YoYo back up, he comes back up with it.

    It feels so horrible to think of what someone would go through having their father die in a situation like that, and not even being able to hear his final words as he spoke them. Usually, 9/11 popping up at random times annoys me.. but this feels so different. Like, it’s not exactly meant to be about 9/11, but the father-daughter bond. I can barely put my emotions into words.I have also heard this was based off of a true story and that the recording of the father we hear was a recording of an actual deceased 9/11 victim, however, I’m not sure how valid that is.

  • Parker

    I think this film captures perfectly how so many of us feel about 9/11. How many of us wish we could just go back before this madness came into our lives? I wish everyday that I could remember what life was like before this fear came into my life and destroyed whatever childhood innocence. I wish I could remember what life was like before my dad went on endless deployments, and I was scared every time he left I was never going to see him again. Like her I guess I’m just wishing for the impossible.

  • Parker

    I think this film captures perfectly how so many of us feel about 9/11. How many of us wish we could just go back before this madness came into our lives? I wish everyday that I could remember what life was like before this fear came into my life and destroyed whatever childhood innocence. I wish I could remember what life was like before my dad went on endless deployments, and I was scared every time he left I was never going to see him again. Like her I guess I’m just wishing for the impossible.

  • Lucy Wang

    Love this video! 911 was not just an traumatic event. Rather each individual has its own story… The girl wishes time can reverse so she can meet his dad agagin. I like the analogy of yoyo. Touching. We never know what will happen, so always say “I love you” to our family and loved one.