Earlier this month say the Grand Finale of the 9th annual Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series.
Let us set it up for you. This past year, we received over 1,000 submissions from 80 countries. The Series’ screening committee whittled down this list to 54 films, which were screened across the summer. Every Thursday night in June, July, and August, hundreds of visitors came to the Henry Miller Memorial Library to watch four of five of these films. You probably knew this.
These 54 films were subsequently sent to the Series Jury who then selected the “best of the best.” The Jury consists of composer Philip Glass, musician and artist Laurie Anderson, actress Kirsten Dunst, Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, producer/film director Michael Polish, film editor Susan Littenberg, and film producer Lawrence Inglee.
3rd place: Baghdad Messi (UAE/Belgium) by Sahim Omar Kalifa.
2nd place: Helium (Denmark) by Anders Walter
1st place: Zela Trovke (Spain/Netherlands) by Asier Altuna
Baghdad Messi was about a one-legged boy, his love of soccer, and living in the warzone that is Baghdad.
Helium was about (another) boy, this one terminally ill, and how a wise and sagacious janitor eased his transition into the next world with a fantastical depiction of a land called Helium.
Zela Trovke was a documentary capturing a Slavic gypsy/chamber troupe performing a fierce folk tale whereby a woman murders her husband.
Now the film savant/sociologist/cultural critic in all of us would like to step back and make some sweeping generalization about how these three films captured the zeitgeist of the times and spoke to our collective unease in this, an ever-confusing and messed up world.
So let us first talk about what the films had in common. All were, as one could imagine, incredibly produced. Baghdad Messi, though not a documentary, had a hyper-realistic vibe, while the camera work in Zela Trovke, especially during the musical performance scenes, was stunning.
Helium can be analyzed separately; it certainly had a more cinematic and, dare we say, an almost Spielbergian quality in terms of its embrace of childhood, innocence, fantasy, and the idea of escape. The special effects weren’t tacky and the actor who portrayed the janitor was pitch-perfect, straddling the line between his befuddled-professor and, essentially, an end-of-life counselor personas.
Perhaps its no surprise that Helium won an Oscar and was also voted the Audience Winner of the night.
Bottom line here? All three films addressed death, each in a unique way: the gritty, urban hellscape of Iraq; the surrealist whimsy in Helium (which, in a way, made it the saddest movie EVER); and the macabre folk menace of Zela Trovke.
It would be foolish, once again, to draw anything more from these selections, because last we checked, movies have addressed the topic of death prior to 2014.
See you next year!