balloonfest 2

True stories make top shorts for 2017

It’s time to look back and make our lists of top films from 2017. Thanks to my programming gig at Show Me Shorts I’ve seen hundreds of films and can report that 2017 was a bumper year for both fiction and non-fiction shorts.

My highlights from around the world this year include: captivating Chinese short A Gentle Night, which won at Cannes; Pixar’s photo-realistic Piper, which plucked an Oscar for Best Animated Short; and Belgium’s Downside Up, which is my top favourite short of the year, and also nabbed the Best International Film at Show Me Shorts. At home in New Zealand Phil Brough’s high-octane tribute to 80’s action films, Fire in Cardboard City, is now Oscar-accredited thanks to winning Best New Zealand Short Film at Show Me Shorts.

While these films are still touring and aren’t available yet online, I’ve selected three festival favourites that are. True stories are always special, and they stood tall this year. Take a break from the Christmas madness and unwrap these shorts.

Balloonfest

 

True stories are often stranger than fiction, and this documentary uncovers a great one. Balloonfest uses archival news footage from the 1980s to recreate Cleveland’s seemingly innocent attempt to break the Guinness World Record for number of balloons released. What happens next is crazier than you could imagine.

It takes skill to put together a period documentary from only existing footage, take Senna or Whitney, Can I Be Me for example. Filmmaker Nathan Truesdall pulls this off in gripping VHS-style. Some of the extended news footage – like a reporter’s awkward smile as the camera keeps rolling – work to create the palpable sense of impending doom.

The story of how Truesdall found out about the event is even crazier. Apparently he broke both his arms while applying to Clown College, and while recovering the nurse at the hospital told him the tale. His lucky break has resulted in nominations at AFI Fest and San Francisco Film Festival.

The Rabbit Hunt

 

A real eye-opener in more ways than one – some content will make you squirm – this cinéma vérité style doco offers a fascinating glimpse into a unique family outing in the sleepy Florida town of Pahokee.

Producer/director Patrick Bresnan follows 17-year-old Chris and his relatives into the Florida Everglades as they hunt rabbits in the harvest season – a rite of passage for young men dating back to the 1900s. Quite different from how Kiwi’s hunt hares!

This gripping farm-to-table tale has garnered 18 gongs around the world for Bresnan and his producing (and real-life) partner Ivete Lucas. The pair have a soft spot for the rundown town, their previous Pahokee-based The Send-Off – a look at Pahokee proms – was another festival fave and there’s a feature length doco on the town due in 2019.

And So We Put Goldfish In The Pool

They say youth is wasted on the young, but it’s not true if we get to enjoy their story vicariously. Four rebellious Japanese school girls make the most of one boring summer in this based-on-a-true-story tale.

It’s no surprise this short made a splash at festivals – music video maestro Makoto Nagahisa is an autuer packing some arsenal. His hyper-stylised vision of teenage angst is full of offbeat editing, fourth-wall breaking, frenetic time lapses, stunning sound design and madcap text animation. The creative mind of cinematographer Hiroaki Takeda mixes slo-mo, go-pro and cell phone footage to delightful effect.

Sundance knew this was the arrival of a creatively charged new talent and duly awarded Makoto the Grand Jury Prize for this fresh, furious and funny film.