As we gratefully bid adieu to the year that was (insert jokey “2020 was a clusterf*ck” reference) it is a perfect time to take stock and praise some of the amazing short films (254 in total) we had the pleasure to share with you these past 12 months. While our official “Short Awards” will arrive in a few weeks, this is an opportunity to shine a light on the personalities and tastes of the team that make Short of the Week what it is. So, we asked each member to pick their personal favorite and explain why. Enjoy all of our picks and see you next year!
When this film popped up in our submissions back in September, Chelsea and Rob were first on the scene. “We better get Jason to watch this.” Ah, the team know me so well! My verbatim response: “no-brainer for me. want want want”. What makes Avarya a no-brainer for me is its polish—it’s essentially a great Twilight Zone episode with a classical sci-fi premise/twist but instead of shadowy b&w photography, sub in 20min of gorgeous CG. As I mention in the review, sci-fi shorts that marry beauty and brains don’t come along every day, so this Turkish short was the year’s most pleasant and unexpected discovery for me.
With an abundance of talent, originality and immersive storytelling to choose from, settling on my favourite short of 2020 hasn’t been an easy task. But Bloeistraat 11, directed by Nienke Deutz, is a special film that’s dear to my heart, so it snagged the top spot. It’s a visually mesmerising exploration of the inevitable passing of childhood, as puberty bulldozes in and wrecks our bodies and our innocence. It is also an astute portrait of female friendship and watching the story unfold is a profoundly emotional and deeply personal experience. The animation combines an eclectic mix of techniques and painstaking processes to achieve a look that is nothing short of spellbinding, and the themes at its core bring back memories of a long lost time in electrifying clarity.
This is not the first time that one of Matthew Puccini’s shorts is featured on S/W, but this one felt to me like a turning point in his filmmaking career, confirming his talent as both a writer and director. I have a soft spot for coming-of-age stories, and this one has it all: awkward teens, skipping school, planning on “doing it” for the first time. Puccini explores this very mundane premise through a genuine and touching lens, with two fleshed out protagonists that are impossible not to like. He navigates the situation with impressive authenticity, honesty and nuances that assert (not that it needed to be) that the specificities of the context do not alter the fact that this is a universal story that anyone can relate to.
For every shitty media man brought down by the #metoo movement, there are surely a hundred more that weaseled their way out of the consequences they deserve, and Doublespeak – a heartbreakingly realistic short – shows us how soul-destroying it must feel to have your experiences with workplace harassment dismissed as not legally valid by a team of manager types who care more about protecting the company’s image than keeping the young women it employs safe. Director Hazel McKibbin’s film – partially based on her own experiences – sucks the air out of your lungs, and a muted color palette and claustrophobic framing from DP Allison Anderson adds an air of inescapable dread to the main character’s predicament. Last but not least is a poignant performance by Angela Wong Carbone, whose eyes tell us what her words can’t about the deep disappointment and sadness of a victim whose truths go unheard.
As an online platform devoted to short film, although the S/W team spends a lot of its time immersed in the festival scene, we absolutely love it when a film comes completely out of leftfield and hits the internet before we knew anything about it. Kajika Aki’s MOM did just this in 2020. Featuring a jaw-dropping aesthetic (that palette…swoon!), an emotive storyline and some impressive world-building MOM has it all and we’re expecting big things from its creator in the future.
I know that comparisons between works of art and the hardships of 2020 have become a tiresome staple. In the case of Missing though I found it hard not to point out the parallels between the inward journey many of us faced during various stages of lockdown and the introspective journey to the heart of darkness within the protagonist’s soul. We all lost something valuable this year, either in actual personal terms and human lives or as a loss of naive jauntiness. In times like these, it’s easy to forget our appreciation for what we have, while on the other hand, it created an opportunity to find a new or better focus for what is important. Make no mistake: it is still necessary to socially distance, but Missing reminds us that the emotional distance from the people who care about us can lead to a dark path when one doesn’t pay attention. Let the film be a helpful counterexample that as we go into 2021, we shall conquer loss, detachment and loneliness if we rely on other people and not only on ourselves. Let 2020 be a lesson in the value of solidarity and togetherness instead of division and encapsulation.
After staring endlessly at the ‘This is Fine’ meme, trying to get through the colossal cluster f*ck that was 2020, it was but a tiny miracle in the form of a quirky documentary from Olivia Loomis Merrion that gave me a short but glorious reprieve. What starts with a prosaic premise of a quilting convention in Paducah, Kentucky quickly turns into a charming and heartfelt profile on the people who attend this ‘Academy Awards’ of quilting conventions. From ‘strippers’ (which is what strip quilters are called so get your mind out of the gutter!) to first-time quilters who won big, this short doc has everything to melt even the furthest cockles of your frozen dead heart. For optimal viewing, I recommend watching repeatedly while crying into your 8th helping of soggy banana bread.
Considering the misery that was 2020, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that the film I liked best this year felt like an escape—a sumptuous 16mm, sun-tinted tour of Munich as navigated by “will they or won’t they” attractive college students. Berthold Wahjudi’s film was everything I can’t have right now (travel, touch, spontaneity) and, as such, I ate it up with a spoon. But, the real magic here is that it’s not just froth. Underneath its meet-cute exterior, there’s an authentic look at modern intimacy and relationships in a self-aware, earnest-free world. It’s as sharp and funny as it is tender and romantic, and thus, the best 20 minutes you can spend while stuck in a reality you want to avoid thinking about.
Graham Parkes dark comedy feels like the perfect allusion to this crazy year and its attack on our collective psyche. It’s a great reminder that we rely on the support and sanity of each other to break through our own illusions and finally see things clearly.
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for science fiction. It’s, therefore, no wonder that this gender-bending SXSW award-winning short was my favorite of the year – and for good reason! Using the genre as a way to explore gender identity, Vert stars Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Attack the Block) and BAFTA nominee Nikki Amuka-Bird, in a spellbinding film that subverts all expectations and hits you in the feels. Visually lush and stylistic, writer and director Kate Cox tells a story that will cause all sorts of butterflies in your gut thanks to the emotionally charged performances by its star-studded leads. Following an open-minded couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary, they venture into the virtual reality world of ‘Vert’, where people are presented as their ‘ideal selves’. As with all science fiction, anything is possible and Cox tells a story so human and profoundly touching that reality is all but blurred.