Attending the Short Shorts Film Festival in Hollywood was like diving into a hidden ocean with a deep dept of history and just amazing experiences.
For the past 20 years, this film festival showcased short films in Asia and in Mexico. The festival founded in 1999 by Tetsuya Bessho to bring short films to Japan. Through time, this idea involved George Lucas helping to launch the festival with the following words expressed in Japan:
“Everyone has a beginning. We will always support those beginnings.”
In 2004, the festival was accredited by the Academy Awards and those films chosen as Grand Prix winner are eligible for nominations. The festival now receives over 10,000 submissions from all over the world and the selected films have been viewed by over 400,000 audience members. The festival has continually evolved with new submissions to reflect the times such as adding Book Shorts (a project that creates short films from novels) and VR theater.
The festival has an instrumental stepping stone for many filmmakers such as Jason Reitman (Juno). Reitman was invited and granted an award as being an alumni of the festival. As the founders beamed and regaled the audience with anecdotes, it was easy to see that “community” connection between creators and festival organizes. The overall vibe of the festival was a pretty relaxed and full of camaraderie but very passionate. Everyone had a passion, a cause, a story and the short film format was a means to tell share this. It was really invigorating to see such energy being channeled into these projects and then to hear that decades later that they still support one one another.
For the LA festival, audience members were able to attend this free night of short film screenings. Before the screenings, there was red carpet walked by filmmakers and J-pop idols. The most notable presence were from a couple of members from the mega famous J-pop group EXILE and J Soul Brothers II. Whom I have never heard of until last night as my current pop culture music library consists mainly of K-pop and movie soundtracks. EXILE And J Soul Brothers II are big. Mega-mega-mega international J-pop super stars. This 19 member J-pop band has sold over 20 million records and have had several “generations” of members. Their music videos are heavy into stunning CGI fantasy visuals with gorgeous melodies.
There were four films screened at the festival shown one right after another. The first film was CANARIA directed by Daishi Matsunaga (Japan). The film was a Cinema Fighters Project where the films are based off the lyrics of a song but are not music videos. CANARIA stars EXILE Takahiro whose character is grieving the passing of his girlfriend. In the short film, his character helps out his late girlfriend’s father on the cow farm. Despite the urging of the father for him to stop coming, he shows everyday to help clean and care for the facility. Except he is just a lost soul wandering the same places where she was and the grief manifests his memories of her everywhere.
Of all four films showcased, this was a really powerful short in showcasing a debilitating mental state and the struggles of just to maintain a routine of everyday life. There is a particular moment where it all swells to reveal the cause of her death. This turns the places he just walked through into a haunting and painful realization.
Benjamin’s Last Day at Katong Swimming Complex was a bright counter after the first film. This short is directed by Yee-Wei Chai (Singapore). Yee-Wei Chai has won several awards of this short which centers around the sexual awakening of a young boy as he looks upon his swimming instructor in a different way. The film is bright and beautifully filmed but it was very uncomfortable. There is a one scene where the young boy (who looks to be between the ages of 10-12) take a small lick of the instructors. It definitely made me cringe as it was a very young boy and an older man acting alongside each other. If there was a deeper message to that film, it has been entirely lost as I cannot get over that scene.
The third film in the series was an interesting “documentary”, The Human Face directed Aline Pomental (USA), highlighting the talents of special effects and hyper-realistic sculpture artist, Kazuhiro Tsuji. Kazuhiro Tsuji who won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for his work on the Darkest Hour. The film briefly follows Tsuji as he works on a gigantic sculpture and recounts his past works. There are interviews with Guillermo Del Toro and Gary Oldman.
The subject of the documentary is beyond intriguing. His works are phenomenal and slightly scary in their gigantic real-ness. It does spark an interest in following his artistic journey as he focuses on his sculptures. The film just laid it too heavily on his praises. The short film felt more like a devoted fan letter than of a documentary. There was a lot of scenes where Tsuji is walking in slow motion somewhere. I would loved to see more of his techniques or hear his stories than watching him walk upstairs. However, the film did successfully share a story of an artist I have never heard of and did convey the passion of his work in the minuscule details that he applies to the sculptures.
The final film was the US premiere of Lies directed by Naomi Kawase (JAPAN). Naomi Kawase is a prestigious filmmaker as she has won awards such as the Grand Prix at the Festival de Cannes. She is also the first Japanese member to be on the jury at Cannes.
Lies felt a bit too close to home for me. An English speaking media person asks a woman to be a translator of a Japanese clothing designer. As the interviewer asks questions, the designer would answer, and the translator would translate. In the short film, there were no English subtitles. So those who understood Japanese knew what the designer was saying and would know right away if the translator was correct. For the rest of us, we were at the mercy of the translator. However, it didn’t matter which language you understood for it became clear that there was something between the designer and the translator. With each question, her body becomes less relaxed, her words become more strained, and she becomes visually more distraught. Especially when the questions begin to center around the designers home life.
It was an interesting experience of a film. As an English speaker, you are bored at the interview and slightly amused by the designers artistic answers. Then the whole tone of the film changes as you pay more attention to the translator. A very interactive experience from such a short film.
In the Q&A that followed the film, Kawase mentioned that she did not hand the actor who played the designer a script. Just three books to read. The actor would actually answer answer at some of the questions as some of it was improved!
All of the films in the festival were interesting pieces in their own flavor. Condensing so much story and emotion into such a short film is already an interesting feat but to translate across cultural lines is even harder.
I hope that the Short Shorts Film Festival return back to LA so that we have even more of a chance to see what other stars walk the red carpet and what short films we can experience!