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  • Brandon MacMurray

Short Shorts Animation Program

Over the last week we have been busy attending Short Shorts Film Festival. There were lots of impressive short films playing but we came out especially impressed by two shorts in the animation program. Check out our reviews for The Bridge and Epicenter below.

Short Shorts Review: The Bridge

Written and directed by Izumi Yoshida, The Bridge is set in 1919, Siberia Russia and tells the story of the outbreak of the October Revolution and Civil War in Russia which compounded the fate of Polish prisoners and settlers living there. War, hunger and disease have increased the number of abandoned orphans following the Revolution and The Bridge shows the little-known aftermath, in which the Government of Japan and the Japanese Red Cross offered to help; offering the first Japanese international aid in history, which ended up saving many of these “Siberian Children.” The incredibly moving story of The Bridge is told from a 10-year-old boy’s perspective, and the film opens to see him crossing a snowy field to a group of children shivering in a cold shack. The scene quickly shifts from Siberia to Japan, and the contrast is striking: the children feel warmth, are welcomed by their Japanese hosts, and see the sun and green trees when they had only known loneliness and cold.

The puppets that Yoshida uses in the stop-motion animation of The Bridge allow for a level of hyper-reality that make the Siberian Children seem human. The attention to detail on each character is so breathtaking that when one of the children takes a bath upon his arrival in Japan, it is possible to count his ribs as he sits in the tub, an image as heartbreaking as it is astonishing in its verisimilitude. The facial expressions, likewise, are able to display such a wide range, as the children experience happiness on their first friendships, confusion on adapting to using chopsticks and wearing yukata, and heartbreak over their first love and loss.

This incredible attention to detail carries over to the incredibly precise and specific production design of the tatami rooms and their period wall hangings, to the blossoms falling from the cherry trees in outdoor scenes, to the specks of dust that filter through a beam of sunlight. The sheer number of tiny, exquisite costumes that were necessary for the production of the film is extraordinary, and each character is distinguished by what they wear; whether it is a beautiful bright kimono, or hand-me-down rags, the film is never less than incredible to look at, even if the viewer wants to avert their eyes from the pain the orphans are feeling on screen.

The Bridge is beginning what is sure to be a successful festival run, winning two prizes at Short Shorts, the George Lucas Award (Grand Prix) and the Animation Competition Best Short Award, which qualify the film for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The Academy often nominates short films about children and those about war; this preference along with the extraordinary quality of the film all but ensure The Bridge a place on the nomination shortlist.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Short Shorts Review: Epicenter

Hee-yoon Hahm’s animated short film Epicenter lives in a world where, little by little, fine cracks appear on the wall that divide the world of fantasy and reality, as someone begins to notice the existence of an invisible world. Hahm delivers a film of exquisitely rendered tableaux that shimmer in a ghostly monochrome. Written, animated, directed (and sound designed and mixed!) entirely by Hahm, the film is an extraordinary vision of reality meeting fantasy. The details in Epicenter are so precise that even though the film is animated, the end credits actually list a specific location (Bukhansan Mountain National Park), but the gauzy fantasy is so open-ended that the viewer is still left with as many questions as answers (Didn’t everyone feel that earthquake? Is Bukhansan Mountain…growing?)

The long, mostly still scenes in Epicenter are reminiscent of the photographic techniques of the late Abbas Kiarostami, as seen in the film 24 Frames (2017). Kiarostami used incredibly detailed black-and-white photos as the basis of his film, and over the duration of each four-and-a-half-minute shot, slowly added movement to the frames, beginning with subtle background movements before the entire shot became buzzy with movement. Hahm’s technique is similar: a patient outdoor scene unfolds and seems to be still before traffic begins to zip by in the background. Hahm manages to capture an incredible amount of detail in images like this—each leaf on an enormous tree seems to be reflected in the water that it stands by—and that each image is not a photograph but is entirely drawn with pencil on paper is mind-boggling. Epicenter ends with an enigmatic long shot of the sun shifting over Bukhansan Mountain, which is truly one of the most beautiful images ever seen in an animated film.

That Epicenter is Hahm’s second film (she only started studying animation at Korea National University of Arts in 2020!) bodes well for a long career of singular animated vision. Epicenter has already won several awards on the festival circuit, including Fantoche International Animation Film Festival: High Risk award for visionary originality and the uncompromising exploration of the art of animation, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Bruce Corwin Award for Best Animated Short Film, which qualifies Epicenter for submission to the Academy Awards.

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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