Phew! After watching 1163 minutes of short films over the course of 7 evenings last week, I am happy to report that my fellow jurors and I were able to choose three winners (and two runners up) for SIFF's ShortsFest... without too much fist fighting. We began our deliberations last night at 9pm, after the final short film showcase. By that point we had all watched alllllll the films and had our personal Top 10 lists in each of the three categories (Documentary, Animation, Narrative) at the ready.
The Documentary category was the easiest to decide, primarily because it held the fewest number of entries, but also because one really stood out for all of us... It's called The Herd, by Irish filmmaker Ken Wardrop, and it's about a mother and son (Wardrop's mother and brother) and how they each deal with a deer who has made itself part of the cow herd on their farm. It is truly the definition of short and sweet—not to mention extremely well shot, funny and remarkably multi-layered, given its 4-minute running time.
The Animation category was a bit tougher, since we all had personal faves in that category that we wanted to fight for. But the one whose excellence we all agreed on is called Photograph of Jesus, by UK filmmaker Laurie Hill. It's kind of an animated documentary, based on the ridiculous (yet serious) requests made of a British archivist agency (such as, "I'm looking for a photograph of Jesus"). The animation is so lively and creative and funny and exquisitely executed—we were all wowed and delighted.
Then came the Narrative category, which took us a couple hours to sift out. There were just so many high quality narrative shorts—and all so different, it was tough to stand them up against each other. Which is why we decided to give two runners up awards ("Special Mention" by the jury). The first went to Lowland Fell, by Irish director Michael Kinirons, a beautifully shot, memorable tale of a girl who comes across two handsome boys and a bog man in a peat field, all of which leads to a kind of freaky coming of age menage-a-trois-plus-a-bog-man... well, you really have to see it to get it. But trust me, it works wondrously. We gave the second Special Mention to Next Floor, by Canadian director Denis Villeuneuve. This is kind of a see-it-to-believe-it film—a richly staged sort of morality tale in meat-eating, featuring amazing production quality, a haunting set, and a pretty repulsive premise. It crosses the horror, humor, and sci-fi boundaries and we had a great time re-living its many merits.
But the Grand Jury Prize went to an underdog of sorts—a small, mumblecore-ish film by American director Destin Daniel Cretton called Short Term 12. While it didn't have the luxe production quality of some of the other contenders, it made up for that with it's incredible character development and the immediacy of its story. It is so realistic, and so surprisingly appealing, it drew all of us into its grip—and we didn't want to leave. The story is about the people who work at a teen detention center (one in particular), and it blurs the line between caretaker and patient in a subtle, uncheesy way. I have never in my life had an inclination to work at that sort of facility, but while watching the movie I kept finding myself thinking, I want to work there, with those people