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  • Brandon MacMurray

Five Favourites from the New Orleans Film Festival

Over the past week we loved virtually attending the 34th New Orleans Film Festival. Here are five reviews from some of our favourite short films we saw!

Addresses, dirs. María Luisa Santos, Carlo Nasisse

Addresses invites viewers into its richly detailed world with a voiceover narration by co-director María Luisa Santos telling a story about an American film where a boy gets lost and gives a stranger his address to help him find his way home. When Santos asks her mother for their address, she instead gives a long list of directions—and all depending on where you are coming from. From then on, Santos explains, she did her best not to get lost, as this complexity of Costa Rican addresses and directions stresses her out. She begins to wonder: how did this system survive? This leads to a very funny, enlightening, and ultimately incredibly touching look at the system of addresses used in Costa Rica, full of twists and turns and worth following to its destination.

Since there are only street signs in some parts of the capital city of San Jose, the locals use reference points for addresses, but some are of places that no longer exist. People give directions “from the old Cristal Hotel” that was closed before many residents were born, or “from the obelisk’s scar,” years after the obelisk was demolished. These old addresses are like the mangrove trees that line the coasts of Costa Rica, they only work in connection with everything else. This poetic method is used by Costa Ricans because it keeps these old places alive in their memories and in their hearts. It drives many of them crazy, but they hold a certain affection for the old system.

Addresses introduces the idea of Hiraeth, a feeling of nostalgia for the landscape one was raised in, and a love for a landscape that has forever changed. Santos and Nasisse illustrate the concept in a genuinely moving way, by juxtaposing a drive through modern-day San Jose with archival 8mm and 16mm footage of the city from decades before, overlaid with Google Earth renderings of the landscape, showing what used to be overlaid with what is. So much has changed in the city, including the system of addresses. Now directions are being substituted with GPS coordinates, and when the older generation of Costa Ricans are gone, these addresses will disappear as well.

The Hippocampus in the brain is the area that houses memories. It is also responsible for the ability to navigate—the ability to find and remember paths allowed us to develop the neurological complexity required for memory. Santos and Nasisse use this intertwining of memory and direction to bring home their short with a series of beautifully profound insights. Addresses is structured like directions given in Costa Rica—"Start at the postal service, veer right at nostalgia, and then take a hard left at butterfly migration patterns”—but despite the variety of tones and topics covered in its brief runtime, it never loses its way.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Puffling, dir. Jessica Bishopp

“We are helping the pufflings to “go home””

Daring rescue missions and long late-night drives compose the lives of teenagers Selma and Britta. They live in Vestmannaeyjar, an island 11 km off the south coast of Iceland. The two spend their free time rescuing baby puffins, known as pufflings.

Visually, Puffling's cinematography is impressive. It captures the yellow glow of street lights in the fog and raindrop-covered windshields as Selma and Britta spend their nights searching for the lost baby birds. Pufflings get confused by the lights from the nearby harbour and can't see the ocean, often flying in the wrong direction. Selma and Britta's goal, as well as those like them who spend their nights rescuing pufflings, is to help the lost birds reach their final destination of the ocean.

The parallels between the pufflings and teenagers are undeniable.

Puffling is a stunning coming-of-age short - not only for the pufflings, but also for the humans that rescue them, as both birds and humans alike prepare to spread their wings and take flight towards all the world has to offer.

“There are stereotypes everywhere, but a lot more here. If you’re not like this, you don’t fit into that group and so on.”

“I’m kinda stuck, that’s the problem with this island”

Just like the pufflings, the teenagers rescuing them at times seem stuck, lost and misdirected. The pufflings are misdirected by the city lights, whereas the teenagers feel the weight, expectations and opinions of others pushing them each and every way.

Puffling shows that human impact on the environment can be felt even in the most remote places. Whether it is the man-made lighting disrupting the pufflings' flightpath, or in the case of Britta's father's job as a fisherman, where mackarel are becoming more difficult to find at sea.

The uncertainty of the future can be felt in both the lives of the teenagers and their puffling counterparts. The question as to what would happen to the puffin population without the help of the rescuers who guide them is raised. Equally, the teenagers ponder what is next for them, wondering whether they might stay on the island or go abroad in hopes of education and careers.

“I have no idea what is going to happen in the future”

“I’d rather just see how things unravel”

These two quotes reflect the emotions of many teenagers about the future (including myself at their age), as we can't ever really know what life will bring. We can only try our best as time moves on and life unravels.

Puffling is Oscar-qualified after winning Aspen Shortfest and can now be watched on The New Yorker's site here:

Review by: Brandon MacMurray

Sèt Lam, dir. Vincent Fontano

The eerie and evocative Sèt Lam’s first image is of a strobe-lit man running away from the camera in slow motion, while an atonal pinging sound fills the soundtrack. This arresting first shot establishes the film in the city of Saint-Denis on the small volcanic island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Then, a young girl watches a crowd of people dancing in a frenzy. The audience cannot hear the music that they dance to, but the asynchronous sound of clattering drums, as limbs flail and hair is tossed back and forth in luminous black and white. The young girl flees from the overwhelming scene, worried that “someone will die again.” The girl’s grandmother (Françoise Guimbert) calms her, and promises that if she stops crying, she’ll tell her a story.

The story, shown in flashback, is about Edwardo (Nicolas Moucazambo) a local fisherman. Edwardo doesn’t have a fishing licence, but he complains to his wife that if they take fishing away from him, he won’t live. He still goes fishing, because he can’t say no to the sea, but he fishes at night in the cover of darkness. One night when he was in the sea, he saw his own death, depicted in a long underwater shot of astounding beauty. Edwardo knows the sea, but the God of Death is everywhere, and so Edwardo begins his journey to become the first man to rewrite his destiny, to avoid abandoning his kin.

There are men who flee their deaths and those who rush into it. And then there’s Edwardo—he wants to kill death. The God of Death is personified by the striking actress Nadjani Bullin as a sensual but ominous figure with a face dotted with jewels and smeared with war paint. Edwardo challenges the fate that Death wrote for him, and challenges Death herself. The two figures face off in an incredibly beautiful tableau of black-on-black-on-black skin, sand and sky. Director of Photography Vadim Alsayed nocturnal compositions are among the most beautiful of any film this year, and the music by Jako Maron and editing by Élodie Fouqueau keep the enchanting story moving propulsively through its climactic showdown.

Fontano has said that he wanted to tell the story of Sèt Lam, and to set it in his native Saint-Denis because the neighbourhood is disappearing and taking with it the city’s and the island’s history. “Since that day, we do not die anymore, we speak with Death,” the grandmother’s story concludes, “Death is not the end, it is the way towards memory.” In weaving together the past and present of the island, the film itself and the story that it contains continues a tradition of myth-making and Sèt Lam is a potent example of the importance and power that storytelling can have through generations.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

A Summer Job dirs. Joie Estrella Horwitz, Sergi Castella

A Summer Job provides a look at two Mexican-American teenagers with an atypical summer job: transporting migrants who have just crossed the border.

Set in a border town where border patrol and police officers could be around any corner, A Summer Job excels at mixing the care-free spirit of youth with the tension of the dangerous mission its teenage leads regularly embark on. Most of the short takes place in and around the teens' car, which is brilliantly used as a prop to both move the story along and provide unique camera angles. This essential car is visualized from nearly every angle: from the perspective of the person driving, to black and white views from the front of the car and out the rear window, to shots from the side mirrors into the passenger seat.

A Summer Job has the authentic feeling of a teenager just trying to make money in the summer. As the two young men wait for a call with instructions, the viewer watches them fool around in a classically teenage way: laughing at each other as they try to jump over a giant puddle, standing on their car, getting high and making fun of each other in a way that only close friends can.

Everything seems to go awry in their friendship once the young men pick up two migrant children with the intent to deliver them to the United States. The two teenagers take very different approaches: one acts tough, yelling out curse words at the children and at his friend, urging him to drive faster. He acts unconcerned with the presence of cops calling out and commands to his friend to play it cool. The other teenager, rather, seems scared, in over his head and genuinely concerned with the well-being of the children. The grainy black and white footage from inside the car is used perfectly to build the tension during the stressful journey as it gives the feel of a raw night-time covert operation.

A Summer Job shows how a friendship can be tested to its limits and the way two people can react to a situation very differently. It looks at the border crisis from a unique perspective, inserting the serious issue - migrants trying to find a safe place to call home - into the lives of these teenagers passing time in the summer and trying to make money. A Summer Job is Oscar-qualified after winning the Jury Award for live action at this year's New Orleans Film Festival.

Review by: Brandon MacMurray

Skinned, dir. Joachim Hérissé

The year’s grimmest animated short, Skinned, opens on an empty boat drifting down a foggy river. It floats past two women standing beside each other. They look like they are sewn together from burlap sacks, like they have been made of leftover parts and abandoned to face the elements. One is fat and fair while the other one is dark and thin. The camera pans down to reveal their misshapen bodies and reveals—it is not two women at all, they are conjoined, with a shared central leg holding them together.

This is just the first of many frightening reveals in director Joachim Hérissé’s violently grotesque fairy tale, and the Gothic horrors only become more upsetting as the film grinds from one spooky image to the next. A series of ominous growls and murmurs soundtrack the scenes of the women together in their dimly lit home, going about their nighttime routine: they eat together, sew skins of flayed rabbits, and have an unnerving slow-motion dance before bed.

One sister begins having murderous dreams, and it becomes impossible to tell reality apart from nightmares. Do the women cut their legs off to live separately? Is one sister turning into the other one? Whose body is in that coffin? The soundtrack swarms with ticking clocks while the woman hallucinates about her sister, the grief and terror of her guilty conscience bringing to mind Poe’s tale of the Telltale Heart.

The terrifying marionettes constructed by Aline Bordereau and the detailed production design created by Hérissé and Sonia Grandame give everything on screen an incredibly tactile sensation not often seen in animation. The textures of the women make an ingenious use of the nature of the characters being “skinned” and put back together: with flesh made of coarse fabric held together with visible stitching, stuffing squishing out from their insides, real fur and hair, and red yarn for the blood that spills across the screen in one of the most viscerally upsetting images put on screen this year.

Review by: Joshua Hunt



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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