Short films have been marginalized for many years, considered easy to make and ‘‘primitive.’’ However, short films were the start of cinema and were respected during the early 20th century when visionaries such as Méliès were making short masterpieces. Over time, films have grown in length (but not always in quality), and these short forms were left aside. Lucky for us, the technique has been ‘‘rediscovered,’’ and many festivals are including them in their programs.
The Santa Barbara Independent Film Festival divided the Short Films program into subcategories, just as they do with the full-length features, emphasizing the range of diversity amongst films. Audience members could choose to see short live-action, short animation, short documentaries and locally made short films by UCSB students and Santa Barbarians.
The first short that deserves a mention is “L Train” (directed by Anna Musso, 2011, USA). This obviously caught the jury’s attention, as it was rewarded with the Bruce Corwin Award for Best Live Action Short Film Under 30 Minutes. In 10 minutes, we follow Sunny in her daily routine. Each morning and evening, she has to go through thick snow to get to the subway station. But on this particular morning, she encounters a handicapped girl who struggles to make it to the platform. Without a word, Sunny will help the young girl, thus creating a short but intense relationship with this stranger. The whole film is wordless, and the sounds of trains are used as an echoing leitmotiv. Filmed with poesy, this short definitely deserved the award.
Many of the films dealt with social topics such as poverty and oppression. From portraying a family that dumpster dives for cans to sell (“Cans at Dawn” Nikki Roberts, 2011, USA), to the daily life of a Somali boy (“Asad” Bryan Buckley, 2011, South Africa), the shorts program brought together works from various parts of the globe, thus presenting a range of socially engaged films.
On a ‘‘lighter’’ tone, the program also included some interesting comedies. In the style of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” American director Ethan Kuperberg presented “The Dining,” a social satire that depicts a family reaching breaking point when trying to decide what to eat. “Odette” (Nicolas Bacon, 2011, Canada), another meal related short, takes us into the home of a dysfunctional family that keeps complaining about their lives. Blaming the grandmother for making a bad meal, the old lady decides to shut her relatives up, once and for all.
But a personal favorite in the ‘‘comedy club’’ has to be the British “Lunch Date” (Sasha Collington), in which a young lady gets dumped in a restaurant by her boyfriend’s little brother.
The documentaries category also varied in its light and dark tones. “The Little Team” (Roger Gomez, Spain) brought a touch of positivity and inspiration. The film follows kids on a football team that always loses as they try their best and have fun. In another genre, Denmark’s “5 Pictures of a Father” (Nadia Josefine) is a poignant confession of a handful of women talking about their father/daughter relationship. The originality resides in the style that mixes different graphic techniques.
Finally, a mention must go to the animation program that included a short by Don Hertzfeldt — who graduated from UCSB — “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” Having been nominated for an Oscar for his previous short animation “Rejected,” Don decided to change his approach and technique, to deliver a short reflection about life, tinted with some of his legendary black humor.
Overall, the SBIFF short programs were a delightful experience, filled with short masterpieces from around the world that are waiting to be discovered.