Who are you really?

Mark Duplass is an American film director, film producer, actor, musician, and screenwriter. He wrote, directed and produced the short film, ‘This is John’ (2003).


Some of the best short films focus on the plight of one truly great character. They don’t need to be saving the world or falling into the greatest love story of all time. They might just be going about their day of auditions or trying to record an answer phone message that encapsulates their personality. Done well, this can be mesmerizing. In our latest Screening Room post, Kiwi filmmaker Allan George demonstrates the importance of identity with three truly great shorts.

When the team at Show Me Shorts asked me to pick three short films for the Screening Room, I started to think about what I find most moving or interesting in films. For me that is watching a well-crafted character searching desperately for where they fit in. This is why my theme is ‘identity’. The films I have picked for you range from absurd comedy to heartfelt drama, but they all have something to say about looking for your identity.


This is John is an early short film from Jay and Mark Duplass, who have gone on to become role models in the US independent filmmaking scene. This film was shot on a $3 DV tape, filmed in an afternoon and yet somehow went on to play at Sundance as well as many other amazing festivals.

In this quirky short, Mark Duplass (John) arrives home with a sudden mission to record an answering machine message for his home phone. By taking something so simple, and making the character really ‘need’ it, the filmmakers not only create great comedy, but great jeopardy from something most of us would call insignificant.

This film is inspiring to emerging filmmakers for two reasons. Firstly, because it is super low fi – no big flashy lights and no sound equipment other than the on-camera mic. Secondly, the film demonstrates why narrative and character are the two most important things for a story. The Duplass brothers went on to create film-worlds inhabited by complex characters, and you can see the early sparks for that here.


Multi-Facial is a personal favourite of mine. Surprisingly this short was written, directed and stars a young Vin Diesel. Now before you roll your eyes, this short is nothing short of a masterpiece. Hear me out.

As an aspiring actor in the early 90’s, Vin Diesel struggled to get jobs because of his mixed ethnicity. An American with an Italian/Black ethnic background, Diesel was told he was not ‘Black enough,’ ‘Latin enough’ or even ‘Hispanic enough.’ So he decided to make this autobiographical short film, which documents his attempt to make it in the business. Multi-Facial delves deep into the theme of identity carried by an honest and powerful performance.

The film screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995 where it made a huge impression upon Steven Spielberg, who cast Diesel in Saving Private Ryan. The film is 20-minutes long, and I’d say the final scene would be my favourite. So hang around until the end!

APRICOT (2009)

Memories are often all we have of past times, but what if we lost them? Who are we without our memories? Apricot asks you to consider how you would cope if you no longer knew what you’d experienced, or how you felt when those lost memories took place. This short film becomes more emotionally engaging as the film continues. It puts you in the moment and makes you forget where you’re sitting until the credits roll.

Apricot has been mimicked and copied in every way possible – it’s become a benchmark in low budget filmmaking. It also became one of the first films to really showcase the perfect blend of narrative and DSLR cinematography.

As a filmmaker, filmgoer and someone that wants to be entertained, I believe I become most engrossed in stories that are told through complex characters. When a character wants to achieve something that gives them a place or purpose in this crazy mixed up world we live in, it gives us a reason to root for them. Whether or not the character willingly or reluctantly ventures upon their mission, the result will be the same – their growth as a person – and identity plays a huge part in this.