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  • Brandon MacMurray

Hollyshorts Film Festival Review Roundup

Hollyshorts Film Festival wrapped up last weekend, and awards were given out to some amazing short films. We at ShortStick were lucky enough to catch the winners and many more! Here are some reviews of the winners and other qualified shorts from the festival that we loved!

Every Day After, Directed by Elisa Gambino

Short documentary film Every Day After follows young Jary and his older sister Jessa as they undertake the long process of having Jary’s cleft palate repaired. Director Elisa Gambino and cinematographer Neal Broffman shoot the Manila suburb where the siblings live like the Filipino master Lav Diaz, in a luminous black and white that showcase the radiant beauty of the Philippines and of the faces that live there. The unexpected stylistic choices extend to a brightly colored animated sequence that show the heartbreaking circumstances of Jary’s birth and abandonment by his parents because of his facial disfigurement. The paper cutouts of the figures belie a tragic story, despite their bright and graphic style—Jessa’s repeated refrain of “at least the baby is alive” bridging the past and bringing us back to the present. Now 13 years old, Jary awaits a surgery that should have been done as a baby. He needs orthodontics, speech therapy, dental work, but because their father died in an operating room, Jessa is nervous about Jary having surgery. While the film could have shown Jary as a tragic figure, concentrating on his disfigurement and abandonment, it instead focuses on the joy that Jary and Jessa find in life. Even though we watch his life in a ravishing monochrome, Jary sees a bright future, and the film ends on a joyous scene of Jary dancing and celebrating his successful surgery and the life he has ahead. Every Day After won the Hollyshorts Best Documentary Short award, which qualifies it for the Academy Awards.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

We Were Meant To, Directed by Tari Wariebi

Writer-director Tari Wariebi has crafted a fantasy world where, when black men come of age, they grow wings! Young Akil wakes up one morning to find feathers sprouting from his arms, and we follow him as he learns what it takes to do what he is meant to do—fly. On his way to school for flying lessons, Akil is surveilled by a police drone that thinks he’s illegally flying, while white politicians make new no-fly zones to keep black boys down. The message of Wriebi’s short film may not be subtle, but the creativity and energy with which the story is told (a jazzy slow-motion montage hilariously shows Akil trying to find the best time to “do it” for the first time) keep the viewer engaged. “Maybe they couldn’t stand to look up at a black man flying,” Akil’s dad says, and when the film appears about to take a dark turn into police brutality—no-fly signs and drone violence recorded on cellphones—Akil surprises everyone in the fantastic final shot and overcomes what black men have to overcome for generations. The imaginative and lively We Were Meant To won the Grand Prix Best Short at Hollyshorts, and had already won the Grand Prize – Narrative Short category at IndyShorts, both of which qualify it to submit for the Oscar Live Action Short. The high quality and important subject matter of We Were Meant To should ensure it a place on the shortlist and a probable nomination.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

The After, Directed by Misan Harriman

Misan Harriman wows with his directorial debut in The After. The story follows a father named Dayo, played by David Oyelowo (Selma, Queen of Katwe, A United Kingdom) as he spends his day with his daughter. Heartfelt scenes of quality father-daughter time are interrupted by Dayo’s all-consuming job as the two make their way to meet with Dayo’s wife. This distraction compounds with a devastating climatic scene. Dayo is then left to deal with the aftermath as he sees pieces of his past in the world around him, imagining what was and what could have been. This all leads to Dayo’s heartwrenching yet cathartic final breaking point. The After won the Hollyshorts award for Best Live Action which qualifies it for the Live Action Oscar at the 96th Academy Awards. It will also be released on Netflix later on this year.

Review by: Brandon MacMurray

Humo (Smoke), Directed by Rita Basulto

Humo is a short film that takes place during the Holocaust, specifically centering on the journey of a young Jewish child named Daniel. The short is guided by a strong emotional musical score and told from Daniel’s perspective. Humo begins with Daniel being tragically taken from his father and put on a train with his mother en route to a concentration camp. The story takes the viewer through Daniel’s tragic trials and the everyday fight for survival, a task no human, let alone child, should have to endure. The short also offers an additional perspective, as Daniel views his mother processing the events around them and attempts to comfort him through them. As the strings in the score ebb and flow throughout the story they gradually build to a harrowing conclusion. Directed by Rita Basulto, Humo excels in its ability to beautifully blend a unique mix of animation styles including 3D stop-motion, 2D cutout and even some popup book styled animation. The director’s talent in technical aspects such as production design, lighting photography and character design are on full display. After winning Hollyshorts Best Animated Short award, it qualifies for the 2024 Academy Awards.

Review by: Brandon MacMurray

Motherland, Directed by Christina Yoon

Leah, a young Korean adoptee raised in America has returned to Korea on a search to find her birth parents. Writer-director Christina Yoon’s radiant short film tells a story that on the surface may seem similar to last year’s Return to Seoul, but manages to pack its full, intensely emotional story into a tight seventeen-minute film. From Leah’s initial inquiry at the secretive adoption agency, to the other people she meets along the way (to say who she meets would spoil the discoveries and surprises Leah encounters on her journey), Motherland’s star, newcomer Tiffany Chu, gives a generous and openhearted portrayal of a woman trying to find herself, and the relentless lengths she would go to discover just who she is and where she came from. The other performances—the three important people that Leah meet—all work together in harmony to create an emotional story. The cinematography is another highlight (one shot of Leah biking across the Korean countryside will take your breath away) and Yoon uses a narrower-than-usual aspect ratio and tightly composed frames to show the viewer the smallness that Leah feels in her world, that she wants to expand by finding out about her mother, and her motherland. Yoon won a well-deserved Best Director award at Hollyshorts, and Motherland had already won the Best Narrative Short award at Provincetown International Film Festival, qualifying it for submission to the Academy Awards.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

The Brave Locomotive, Directed by Andrew Chesworth

The Brave Locomotive is an animated short film directed by Andrew Chesworth. Through song it tells the story of a locomotive named Linus that works as a passenger train. When suddenly Linus is replaced by a newer and faster train, he is forced to work as a mining train instead. Eventually he is presented with an opportunity to save the day and his old friends.

Championing an old-fashioned cartoonish style that feels nostalgic and fresh at the same, The Brave Locomotive conquers the audience with its authentic music, beautiful animation, and heart. Though simple, this short conveys poignant messages like the dangers of greed and to never give up on your friends. Even the idea of heaven and the afterlife is shown in a way that is light-hearted and endearing.

Overall, The Brave Locomotive is fun ride for both adults and kids with a timeless feel. After a win at LA Shorts, it is qualified for the 2024 Oscar’s Animated Short Film Category.

Review by: Pedro Lima

Fairplay, Directed by Zoel Aeschbacher

Fairplay is a French/Swiss short film directed by Zoel Aeschbacher. It features three independent storylines that have no connection other than a shared emotional concept. The first story features an endurance competition, where competitors must keep their mouths on a car’s surface the longest. A cheater within the group is noticed and does not accept their disqualification. The second storyline features a bunch of teenagers trying to garner the most views during a livestreamed game; the goal of which is use a knife to stab between each finger to the rhythm of a song as quickly as possible without stabbing your own hand. The third and final one is about an underestimated employee who tries to prove his potential during a musical chairs competition at work.

Even though they are different thematically, the narrative structure of this short is reminiscent of Alejandro G. Iniarritu’s Trilogy of Death: Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel. The projects share a triptych, where in Fairplay’s case, the three stories are connected by the characters’ emotional states. The protagonists are trying to prove that they can achieve whatever task they’re attempting in the direct face of adversity and pressure.

The high-octane direction and the quick pacing of the montages make this short thrilling and keep the audience at the edge of their seat. With acid humour, FairPlay achieves all the propositions it makes at the start and is reflective while having scenes with incredible shock value. FairPlay has been on a long festival circuit since last year (playing Locarno, MIFF, Hollyshorts, Karlovy Vary, AODR Film Festival), and it has qualified for the 2024 Oscar’s Live Action Short-Film Category at Leuven International Short Film Festival.

Review by: Pedro Lima



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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