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Celebrating Short Film Day: 21 Must-See Shorts

picked by our frequent collaborators, writers and programmers

notes by Émilie Poirier, Savina Petkova, Līga Požarska, Jason Todd, Matthew Chan, Aleksandra Ławska, Anna Feistel, Jip Branten, Julie Rousson, Olha Raiter, Sanne Jehoul, Christoffer Ode, Ren Scateni, Jasper Hokken, Mariana Hristova, Vladan Petković, Sabrina Vetter, Michiel Philippaerts, Niv Fux, Laurence Boyce, John Canciani

Celebrating Short Film Day: 21 Must-See Shorts

On the occasion of International Short Film Day, we do what we do best: talking about shorts. We invited some of our frequent collaborators, writers and partners to open up about their all-time favourite short films. The result is a wonderful list of twenty-one short films celebrating world cinema, all available to stream worldwide. Films from Hong Kong, Latvia, Sierra Leone over Mexico, Ethiopia and Montenegro to France, Armenia, Israel and other countries. An extensive playlist that lasts for no less than 290 minutes.

Serial Parallels’ (2019) by Max Hattler (Hong Kong & Germany, 9 minutes) — picked by Émilie Poirier, head of short film programming at Festival du nouveau cinéma (FNC)

“This film is the perfect mix between a conceptual essay and a rigorous mastering of craft and artistry. This experimental animation renders the overwhelming feelings of missing horizon views within megalopoles subjected to densification, while using a photographic technique to reveal the continuity in the buildings' facades. Sometimes the eyes are focusing on the pastel housing estates, sometimes they are glancing at the technical way of showing them as film strips. The meditative and anxiety-provoking trance is taking shape with the colours and windows that are creating a hypnotic pattern. It forces us to question our relationship to space and to our own way of living, whether it’s in a city, a suburb or the countryside. We never access the anchors of the buildings, so the only way to situate ourselves is when the sky is appearing quickly on screen, so we can finally breathe. In only nine minutes, ‘Serial Parallels’ is showing Hong Kong in a whole new and disorienting way.”

Bébé Colère’ (2020) by Caroline Poggi & Jonathan Vinel (France, 13 minutes) — picked by Savina Petkova, film critic

“‘Bébé Colère’ is a champion of non-ressemblance, a hard-boiled revolt, and a delightfully sweet little human baby. With this transfixing short, Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel perform again and again the subversive gesture of dressing the wounds of discontent with the help of CGI animation and personified narratives dipped in melancholy. Hope is within reach, but always where we'd least expect it.”

Ten Minutes Older’ (1978) by Herz Frank (Latvia, 10 minutes) — picked by Līga Požarska, film journalist

“This seemingly simple one-take film has an immense psychological depth sensitively to it, capturing the wide range of emotions of a three-year-old boy — a spectator at a puppet theatre. The boy’s facial expressions convey a plethora of reactions, varying from boredom to fear, from sheer joy to teary empathy. His eyes incarnate a pure sense of wonder. HerzFrank, one of the pioneers of the so-called Riga School of Poetic Documentary, spent four years watching every puppet show available. Armed with a chronometer, the filmmaker searched for the most dramatically intense ten continuous minutes and the most responsive young spectators. Back then, film reels allowed recording precisely up to ten minutes, demanding the utmost efficiency and accuracy. For the director of photography Juris Podnieks this also meant figuring out the best filming approach that wouldn’t disrupt the children. This short film inspired numerous acclaimed directors such as Ari Kaurismäki, Werner Herzog and Claire Denis — resulting in a compilation of shorts, titled Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet & The Cello (2002).”

Awoko’ (2021) by Joshua Hughes & Felix Bazalgette (United Kingdom & Sierra Leone, 8 minutes) — picked by Jason Todd, filmmaker and writer

“Lying at the heart of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, AWOKO is the country's oldest remaining newspaper. Shot over the course of one night, this fly-on-the-wall short doc shines light on the men working in the company's roaring printing press, overseeing the printing and delivery of the next day's issue. Filmmakers Felix Bazalgette and Joshua Hughes' editing is honest and their camerawork refreshingly unpretentious. Clocking at a little over eight minutes, their film acts as a simple witness of the camaraderie and the sense of shared purpose bonding the workers together as they hustle their way across obstacles, like a power outage, in order to meet their deadline. Their smiles, their quietness and the occasional jokes here and there are a testament of their humanity, all the while making us forget that, after all, Sierra Leones is still ranked 75th on the World's Freedom of Speech Index: their job is no piece of cake.”

Blue’ (2018) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (France, 12 minutes) — picked by Matthew Chan, film journalist and critic

“Short films are an often misunderstood art form, dismissed as an amateur’s stomping ground or minor entries in a filmmaker's oeuvre. However, they can be essential as any feature and form distinct spaces to experiment and dream. Perhaps there is no current filmmaker better at articulating the language of dreams than Apichatpong Weerasethakul. ‘Blue’ follows a deceptively simple setup, alternating between shots of a woman sleeping and a cyclorama rotating painted backdrops. Its languid images draw parallels from the thin barrier between dreams and reality and fact and fiction in cinema. The paintings, a flimsy simulacrum, suggest both a dream state’s fragility and the artificial, manipulated nature of film. Fire aptly becomes a core element, an unpredictable entity beyond the filmmaker’s control, shifting from a superimposed image to a destructive corporeal force. In just twelve minutes, Weerasethakul raises endless questions on the nature of images and the impact fiction can have on reality.”

Mundanza Contemporánea’ (2018) by Teo Guillem (Spain, 18 minutes) — picked by Aleksandra Ławska, Head of Programming at Short Waves Festival

“Teo Guillem in his film ‘Mudanza Contemporánea’ invites us to witness a mourning craziness of the split-up that awed me and made me cry in Stadtkino at Vienna Shorts 2019. Through his performative actions he opens new doors to understanding the materiality of suffering, as we can almost sense the palpable layers of emotions in his movements. Chairs, mops, bedsheets, buckets become the representation of the inner sensational battle in the suffocating space of his apartment. The way he deals with his sadness that he passes onto objects around him, treating them as an emotional prosthetics, making us realise the presence of our own weaknesses, is immensely touching. Through his self-therapeutic approach he allows us to reach to our emotional cracks, painful crackles and still not healed wounds. The camera meticulously documents the rough process of dealing with a break-up, as it gets under your skin, itches your body and burns the inside of it. The funny elements of this film create little laughs that surprise us with a bitter-sweet aftertaste. Although he engages us into the ups and downs of the whole process, we do not feel overwhelmed by it, but warmly embraced in an alleviating dance enhanced with a hopeful yet not cheesy ending — or beginning?”

Deine Straße’ (2020) by Güzin Kar (Switzerland, 7 minutes) — picked by Anna Feistel, programme coordinator of Kurzfilm Festival Hamburg

“Your Street: 566 metres long, 6.6 metres wide, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in a decentralised industrial area in West Germany. Güzin Kars short film recalls the tragic story of a young girl named Saime Genç who died along with four others after a racist arson attack in Solingen, Germany in 1996. Kar throws the viewer in a grey setting that is enriched during the course of the film, taking a visual inventory of the area. The voice of Sibylle Berg guides us through this street, directly addressing Saime. She confronts us with the German culture of commemoration and displacement. This touching approach stimulates questions: How do we deal with racism in our society and how can we fight against forgetting the victims of racist acts? Why not locate the remembering in the heart of our cities and therefore banish the street names that honour the brutal colonial past like e.g. Bismarckstraße? In Germany right wing tendencies and inhuman statements are quite present. Güzin Kar’s film is a strong statement — a visual sculpture. Let’s #saytheirnames, so that tomorrow does not remain the same.”

Winter in the Rainforest’ (2019) by Anu-Laura Tuttelberg (Estonia, Mexico & Lithuania, 9 minutes) — picked by Jip Branten, programmer at Go Short - International Short Film Festival

“Anu-Laura Tuttelberg’s use of 16mm camera and on-location animation reminds us of traditional nature documentaries. The shifting backgrounds enhance this feeling, contrasting the smoothly animated puppets. This contrast doesn’t distract from either quality. Having extensively prepared her production and shooting, Tuttelberg has managed to film in such a careful and well-thought way that the contrasting features become complimentary. Even in the design of the porcelain puppets, Tuttelberg makes no attempts at hyperrealism. You can see that they are models, and how the models go together. The handcrafted porcelain puppets are beautiful yet grotesque, reminding of flesh and skin, and are acting hostile and predatory towards each other. To me, they speak of a darker, more realistic, fairy-tale world. In this world, the tiny fairy gets trapped and eaten. In this world, you’re not safe. We should thank Tuttelberg for venturing there instead of us, and showing us the secrets of the jungle, all the while not attempting to hide the secrets of her filmmaking.”

Bonobo’ (2018) by Zoel Aeschbacher (Switzerland & Germany, 19 minutes) — picked by Julie Rousson, programmer and industry coordinator at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival

“‘Bonobo’ by Zoel Aeschbacher was selected for the International Competition at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in 2019, and received the Audience Award. It pictures the lives of several people living in the same suburban neighbourhood and how they struggle with everyday inequalities. An ensemble film, following three different stories around a broken elevator. Or how to tell a story with a specific work on the editing and the use of classical music that makes this very social story an urban tale. The film is a perfect example of what Clermont-Ferrand programming stands for: to make people, stories and political statements heard and seen through cinematographic experimentation and scriptwriting emulation. After its selection at Clermont, the film had an amazing diffusion path, crowned by a Best Narrative Student Academy Award.”

Deep Love’ (2019) by Mykyta Lyskov (Ukraine, 14 minutes) — picked by Olha Raiter, curator, producer and artistic director of Lviv International Short Film Festival Wiz-Art

“Despite its surreal animation this film is so close to reality. It has all the trends of the political and cultural situation in contemporary Ukraine. It’s also a funny and ironic view at what is going on out of my own personal bubble. The film has been selected to dozens of festivals worldwide from the United States to Japan. Its secret is in its unique style, creativity and non-predictable plot. I always enjoy rewatching it!”

Hairat’ (2016) by Jessica Beshir (Ethiopia, Mexico & USA, 7 minutes) — picked by Sanne Jehoul, curator, writer and programme director of Glasgow Short Film Festival

“This was my contribution to the Short Waves Festival’s 2018 Best of Ten programme. It's a work that has never left me, and I felt it’d be relevant to profile again now that Jessica Beshir’s debut feature ‘Faya Dayi’ has been making waves at festivals. ‘Hairat’ is visually stark, stunning and mesmerising, with astounding access to its extraordinary subject. It gorgeously balances the contrast between threat and tenderness, strength and fragility, and, while those who know me know a poetic voice-over tends to turn me off, here it’s transfixingly effective. There’s magic in how this ritual and union feel so unequivocally of this earth and yet so otherworldly, and Beshir captures both with equal intensity.”

Asymptomatic Carrier’ (2013) by Frank Heath (USA, 14 minutes) — picked by Christoffer Ode, programme director of Uppsala International Short Film Festival

“Yellow flag (contagion). The Quebec signal flag, called the ‘Yellow Jack’, is a simple yellow flag that was historically used to signify a vessel that was, or might be, harbouring a dangerous disease and needed to be quarantined (it stands for ‘Q’). However, in modern usage, the flag indicates the opposite, signalling: My vessel is healthy and I request free pratique,” writes Wikipedia. ‘Asymptomatic Carrier’ focuses on an abandoned island in East River, New York City and its now defunct quarantine hospital. Blurring the line between a prank call and a call for help, this languid conversation straddles fact and fiction, digressing into a discussion encompassing time, isolation, and disease. It's the short film I've seen the most times in 2021.”

Uprising 2020’ (2020) by Cargo Movement (United Kingdom, 8 minutes) — picked by Ren Scateni, writer, curator and head of programme at Encounters Film Festival

“2020 marked the anniversary of a pivotal event in Bristol's recent history. The St Pauls riots were a large-scale protest in response to the raid of the Black and White Cafe carried out by the police on the 2nd of April 1980. By combining archive material and digital animation with interviews with people who lived in St Pauls and witnessed the insurrection, CARGO’s ‘Uprising 2020’ is an important document of overlooked history. One that gives voice to the marginalised Black community in Bristol and ponders structural inequality and institutionalised racism, similarly to David Horsefield’s ‘They Haven’t Done Nothing’, a 1985 TV documentary observing the social conditions of the people of Toxteth (Liverpool) four years after the Toxteth riots took place.”

The Same’ (2017) by Dejan Petrović (Serbia, 17 minutes) — picked by Jasper Hokken, programmer at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

“Exactly a month ago, we were honoured to celebrate the World Premiere of Dejan Petrović’s wonderful short film ‘Adjusting’ at IDFA 2021. We were very happy to welcome Dejan back to Amsterdam after four years. In 2017, we had the privilege to premiere his impressive short film ‘The Same’, which can now be watched through IDFA’s online collection. It’s a carefully constructed and stunningly beautiful observational film that does not need any words to tell us about incarceration and the prison system. With exquisite lighting, beautiful camerawork and rhythmic editing this great work of short documentary cinema raises questions about the relativity of human freedom. Through pure visual storytelling the film presents a powerful metaphor that invites us to reflect on the restrictions, repetitions and loss of personal identity in our own lives and societies.”

Firdus 2020 s’ (2020) by Naira Muradyan (Armenia, 6 minutes) — picked by Mariana Hristova, film critic and programmer

“I discovered Naira Muradyan’s magical animation by watching first her latest film ‘Winged’, shown within the 18th Golden Apricot Film Festival. Enchanted by her substantive drawing style, I searched for her work online and thus I came upon her earlier film ‘Firdus’, inspired by the emblematic and picturesque Firdus street, located in the last vernacular district of central Yerevan and named after Ferdowsi, the great Persian poet of 10th century. What I love about the film is that it immediately absorbs the viewer within its cosy and welcoming world of sweet nostalgia, where the plot is of a secondary importance. What matters more is the captured current mood and atmosphere of timelessness, the act of tracing the ephemeral memories soaked up in the aureole of the street, although “the smells of fried potato, oil stove and morning sun” cannot be painted, as the narrator and author admits.”

A Matter of Will’ (2015) by Dušan Kasalica, (Montenegro, 23 minutes) — picked by Vladan Petković, film journalist, critic and festival programmer

“One of the best reviewed films of this year's Sarajevo Film Festival, ‘Elegy of the Laurel’, comes from Montenegrin director Dušan Kasalica who in 2015 won the top award for shorts at the same festival with this title. Seeds of his first feature are evident in this immaculately controlled, meticulously framed short, set at a seaside resort and centering on a fitness instructor for overweight kids. In both films, the setting and its architecture make for a weird clash between the aseptical and the nostalgic, stories and legends are nested within the film's narrative proper, and emotions are treated in a Bergmanesque manner. Diegetic pop songs and a dry sense of humour, coupled with a matter-of-factly imposed detachment of an archetypal protagonist (in the feature, a professor) from his surroundings, create worlds of their own.”

Junior’ (2011) by Julia Ducournau (France, 21 minutes) — picked by Sabrina Vetter, writer and film critic

“After its history-making win at the Cannes Film Festival 2021, Julia Ducournau’s ‘Titane’ was released to international cinema screens throughout the year. It was noted for challenging audiences’ expectations in regards to genre film as well as due to graphic violent and sexual content to examine states of existence. In ‘Titane’, director Julia Ducournau brings to head themes, aesthetics and narrative techniques which have governed her film projects from the very start of her career. Already her first work, the short film ‘Junior’, gives a glimpse into how the director is interested in making use of the body horror genre to dismantle normative expectations of not only what it means to be a woman but human in the first place. In the short film, Ducournau approaches themes such as identity, coming-of-age, trauma and angst while centering a young female character — all aspects which are further developed in her two follow-up feature films.”

Inventário de Natal’ (2000) by Miguel Gomes (Portugal, 23 minutes) — picked by Michiel Philippaerts, programmer at Film Fest Gent

“With Christmas festivities and its accompanying, obligatory family dinners right around the corner, what better film to tip than Miguel Gomes’ second short ‘Inventário de Natal’? Those unfamiliar with the man’s criminally underseen oeuvre shouldn’t worry: I didn’t set out to depress our wonderful readership with holiday desolation and intrigue à la ‘Festen’. On the contrary, Gomes’ 2000 short is a portrait of a lively family gathering in a cramped apartment that plays out in frivolous vignettes and montages of romping children and toys. Scattered throughout different rooms, we find life. With a great feeling for musicality the Portuguese trickster — whose sense of childlike wonder and playfulness seems strangely undervalued in these dark times — puts on a masterclass in evoking the spirit of a Christmas Past. While speeches by Portugal’s Prime Minister seep in via radio, kids drown out intruding political and social realities with fart-jokes and epic Spider-Man battles. Lost in this ‘The Wizard of Oz’-colored wonderland of childhood memories and fantasies, you almost start looking forward to December 25th.”

Mission: Hebron’ (2020) by Rona Segal (Israel, 22 minutes) — picked by Niv Fux, curator, programmer and Managing Director of T-Port

“”Shoot the first thing you see", is one of the orders an ex Israeli soldier tells he was given during his service in the occupied city Hebron in the West Bank. ‘Mission: Hebron’, the acclaimed documentary by Israeli filmmaker Rona Segal, eloquently exposes some of the underlying mechanisms of the Israeli occupation. Through testimonials of ex-combat soldiers in IDF, it depicts the ways in which control is gained, and fear is spread among Palestinian civilians. But also, how horrific abusive tactics become part of a common routine for the soldiers. How occupation becomes mundane.

Being originally from Israel, I feel compelled to discuss and address the continuing immoral acts of its regime. Among Israeli society, the army’s tainted methods are often silenced and deemed as a necessity for Israel’s safety. Speaking against the wrongdoings of the army can have a hard toll. However, in this film the soldiers confront their moral injury and face the over-reaching repercussions of their actions. Now, it is our responsibility to look into their eyes and listen.”

Soft’ (2008) by Simon Ellis (United Kingdom, 14 minutes) — picked by Laurence Boyce, film journalist and programmer at PÖFF Shorts

“Having written on this film extensively (and, in the interests of full disclosure, considering director Simon Ellis a friend), ‘Soft’ still remains one of my favourite British films (whether feature or short) of all time. While I have some fond personal memories surrounding the film (especially its screening at Hamburg), it remains an almost perfect example of the short form. While Ellis expertly ramps up tension and plays with genre tropes as well as exploring important issues of the UK at the time (‘Happy Slapping’, gang culture), the biggest triumph of the film is how it works as a searing examination of generational divide and the fragility of masculinity. Replete with wonderful performances from Johnny Phillips and Matthew O’Shea as the father and son and Michael Socha as their rat-like antagonist, it remains a cinematic slap across the face that improves on viewing. Still, I bet no-one has asked Ellis why the main characters don’t call the police…”

'The Voyagers' (2010) by Penny Lane (USA, 16 minutes) — picked by John Canciani, artistic director of Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur

"I choose this film because I believe we are sometimes lacking just good love stories, which touch us... or at least me. This film starts as a found footage space documentary where we follow the story of the two golden records that were sent into space, but it turns into an ode to love with existential questions on life and humanity. I love this film because it uses a historical event to get very personal, then opens to something so much bigger and at the end it’s about love and us humans."

Talking Shorts wants to thank everybody who contributed to this selection. Learn more about them by clicking on their names.