Fleeting Flicks
Previewing the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2012
By: David Labi | Jun 5, 2012 | Issue: 950 | No Comments | 2,863 views

Kohji Shiiki

For the second year, Metropolis is the English-language media supporter for the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia. To prime you for the celluloid extravaganza, taking place in central Tokyo and Yokohama from June 15-30, here is a guide to some of the programs. See our dedicated page at http://metropolis.co.jp/ss12 for more info.

Listen to interview with festival compere DJ John Haggarty

Actor Tetsuya Bessho started the Short Shorts Film Festival back in 1999, to target what he saw as a hole in the market. The Japanese industry wasn’t producing many works in that format, and he was enchanted by those he’d seen in the holy land of Hollywood. Things have changed. With filmmaking democratized through the proliferation of cheap and easy-to-use tools, bedroom auteurs around the world have burgeoned. Short films are the logical way to hone one’s skills, and festivals seen as pretty much the only route to recognition.

In this thriving climate, SSFF has established itself as a big hitter. As a registered Oscar-qualifying festival, its top prize offers consideration in the short film categories of the Academy Awards. The festival’s second selling point is its submission price: free. Many film festivals—especially in the US—charge upwards of $30 a submission, and prestigious ones can cost much more. If filmmakers want to attend festivals—often in far-flung locations—they’re expected to travel on their own dime or not at all. Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia, however, is not only free to enter, but many competing directors are flown into Tokyo and put up in a hotel for the duration.

The free entry, Oscar association, and free trip to Tokyo have ensured SSFF’s popularity, leading to over 4,400 submissions this year. Of these, some 200 works have been painstakingly chosen and arranged into different programs. The three main sections are the International Competition (45 shorts from 19 countries), the Asia International Competition (16 shorts from 9 countries), and the Japan Competition (18 shorts). Winners of each will receive ¥600,000, with the best one of all sent Hollywood’s way for next year’s red carpet.

Awards are also given for entries in the Let’s Travel! Project, the Stop! Global Warming Competition, the Music Shorts Competition [see sidebar], and the CG (computer-generated) Competition. There is a gong for the best actor/actress, and for the number-one film chosen by the audience, plus a number of other prizes. Non-competitive categories include the Football Program presented by J. League soccer [see sidebar], as well as a collection of French shorts, among a number of other diverse programs.

The festival—which received 13,000 visitors last year—aims at a pretty trendy audience, with the main venues in Harajuku’s Laforet, and Omotesando Space O. All-night screenings take place at Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills on June 15-16, and Yokohama will also see a barrage of screenings, at the dedicated Brillia Short Shorts Theater, a stately and luxurious movie house that shows short film programs all year round.


Focus on the Arab World

This program, presented in collaboration with Doha Film Institute, brings films from various Middle Eastern countries in the wake of an immense couple of years of regional upheaval. The films show a fascinating selection of worlds, from a lonely mountain of Morocco, to the hyper urbanity of Kuwait. Most works eschew rapid cutting and special effects, and the pace is meditative and poetic. Often a rich vein of allusions lies beneath the surface, drawing here on Islamic folklore, there on historical storytelling traditions. Daily lives are emphasized, providing stimulating viewing for those unfamiliar with the region.

Photos: © Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2012

Our top pick is Bahiya & Mahmoud, a Lebanese-UAE-Jordanian co-production. Jordanian director Zaid Abu Hamdan received an MFA from the New York Film Academy, and has produced five short films to date. The experience shows in his tender portrayal of an aging bickering couple, who find out how much they love each other only when something goes wrong. The film humorously plays on old age, daily routine, and the way nobody can see your flaws quite like a partner. Hamdan is now developing his debut feature with the Doha Film Institute in Hollywood.
Raneen, from Oman, is a simple, crisply shot story of two children in a hospital who make friends. The mischievous smile of the titular protagonist warms you to his childish affection, only for the film to take a mysterious turn that leaves you perplexed about what exactly you’ve just witnessed. Director Maitham Al Musawi makes films in his time off from working as a doctor.
In the ambitious Kuwaiti production Heaven’s Water the story of ducker and diver Tawfeeq is intertwined with that of Latifa, a well-to-do girl in a sticky situation. Their journey is told episodically, with director Abdullah Boushahri’s masterly use of sound and repeated motifs of water giving a thick, portentous feeling to the film.
Female director Halima Ouardiri’s directorial debut, Mokhtar, introduces you to remote Morocco with its opening shot of mountain goats climbing up a tree to munch leaves. A little shepherd boy finds an injured owl, which his pious father takes to be a bad omen, and we are inducted into an intense journey, soaked with symbolism.
Grandma, A Thousand Times, a UAE/Qatar/Lebanon production, presents an 83-year-old matriarch, and her relationship with her family and dead violinist husband. Director Mahmous Kaabour deftly uses the assumptions of the documentary format to create a more complex picture of the larger-than-life character. Kaabour is of Lebanese origin, and studied at the Mel Oppenheim School of Cinema in Montreal.

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