It's been a couple of months since filmmakers around the world descended on the south of France for the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. While feature films debuts for Dexter Fletcher's Rocketman and Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood set tongues wagging, there were making their debuts, a host of short films were generating some buzz of their own.
To be invited to the Cannes Film Festival alone is a big deal for filmmakers and anyone involved in the industry. Indeed, to be part of the official selection is one of the biggest honors you can receive. It is also a huge opportunity to showcase your work to highly influential critics and a worldwide audience all at once. This is especially true for short films, given that they don't tend to get as much attention elsewhere, despite the exceptional filmmaking they so often exhibit.
There were 11 official entries to the 2019 Short Films Competition, and 17 films chosen for Cinéfondation Selection. Among these films were works from South America, Asia, the United States, and Europe, and included entries from schools participating for the first time. Aside from the dominant category of live-action fiction, there were also a few animated films, and one documentary chosen. All in all, it was a good event for short films (as it so often is).
Among the selections though, these were some that stood out to us as having potential staying power throughout the year and into the awards season.
The Distance Between Us and the Sky
Vasilis Kekatos became the first Greek director to receive a Palme d'Or for a short film at Cannes this year. His work, The Distance Between Us and the Sky, was also awarded the Queer Palm Best Short Film Award. Without giving too much of the nine-minute film away, it tells the simple story of a chance encounter between two male strangers at a gas station. It's still early for Oscar buzz, but if short films interest you do keep an eye on the highly regarded betting sites out of the UK as the year wears on. They've posted Oscars odds and analysis in recent years, and we'd bet that when they start doing so later in 2019, The Distance Between Us and the Sky will be a favorite for Best Short Film.
Mano a Mano
Out of over 2,000 entries, French director Louise Courvoisier eventually took home the biggest prize of the Cinéfondation Selection. Courvoisier's Mano a Mano is a tale of two acrobats who, after a tumultuous relationship, must learn how to trust each other again in order to catch on with a traveling circus. Claire Denis, head of the competition's jury, praised Courvoisier for introducing a whole new side of the circus - one that is often left unseen and unspoken of - all within a span of 23 minutes.
In Hiêu, director Richard Van tells the story of a Vietnamese-American household shocked by the return of its failed patriarch. Compared to most of the featured shorts, Hiêu expertly walks the line between humor and tenderness, which are two things that stories of families often gift us with. If nothing else, the eponymous character’s ridiculous suit-and-wig ensemble evokes laughter and pity simultaneously, and is truly an unforgettable sight.
Stay Awake, Be Ready
If you've ever visited the urban areas of Vietnam, you'll know how busy the streets can be. This is what makes the one-take short Stay Awake, Be Ready from director Pham Thien An so impressive. All of the moving pieces - which included a motorcycle crash - create a realistic representation of everyday experience. It's a message on how infinitesimal humans truly are in this grand unknowable universe - or even in a single, crowded city.
Wisam al-Jafari brought honor to Palestine's Dar Al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture by sharing third place with Polish film Duszyczka. Al-Jafari's black and white picture, Ambience, looks into the lives of two young men trying to break into the music industry amidst an ongoing war. It’s a bleak but powerful commentary on how sounds of explosion eventually become ambient noise to citizens of a war-torn country. And though it wasn’t the biggest winner of the day, its overall message is highly likely to resonate with critics throughout the year, and potentially at the Academy Awards as well.
Anna Chastain is a freelance writer and aspiring film and culture critic. Her work revolves primarily around independent and short films, as well as Hollywood writ large.