In the mood to be inspired? With video’s ascendancy, there are so many artistic and powerful short documentaries being made these days. Just peruse Short of the Week for countless examples, or check out these recommendations by our graduate students currently taking a class in Digital Storytelling. Each of these short films tells a touching story by using experimental techniques that challenge conventional storytelling. Each one of them is worth watching and may inspire new methods of communication in your own projects.
Alexandria Love: Review of Elizabeth Lo and R.J. Lozada’s 9-minute Observational Documentary Mother’s Day
The short film Mother’s Day immediately grabbed my attention from the beginning. The subject matter of the documentary, which focuses on an annual event in which Californian children are taken to visit their mothers in prison, is as underrepresented as it is heart-wrenching. I’ve yet to see another piece of media that discusses what the lives of these families might be like, and the pain they must be going through. However, there was another element of the film that resonated with me.
From the initial shots of the film all the way to the bus ride to the prisons, the film had a familiar feel – it felt more like I was going on the journey myself instead of simply watching it through a screen. In the first scene, where the young man was reading the letter that his mother wrote him, and in the shots where the bus is on the road, it just feels like a normal trip – children are singing, adults are sleeping, and all is peaceful. When it is revealed where the bus is going, I surprised myself by feeling fear for the subjects of the story, wondering why they were going to jail, and what terrible things they would see. However, watching the children and families interacting with their mothers made it difficult to hold back tears. Through the soft lighting, gentle words, and a surprisingly nurturing setting, the movie maintained the comforting aesthetic from the beginning of the movie to the end, bringing to mind the soothing peace of a mother’s love.
Adriana Bernasconi: Review of Kamau Bilal and David Wilson’s 10-minute Portrait Documentary Crown Candy
The short doc Crown Candy by Kamau Bilal and David Wilson follows the story of a 100-year old candy store and lunch counter in North St. Louis during the week leading up to Easter, which is one of their busiest weeks of the year. Crown Candy has been owned and operated by the same family for 100 years and employees who aren’t family eventually become like family because they have been working there for 20+ years. The location of the shop isn’t in the best neighborhood and because of that, people are uneasy and hesitant to go there sometimes. Some have even called the store and ask, “Is it safe to go down there?”, which really frustrates and upsets Andy, the owner.
This short doc surprised me because I didn’t expect it to be as deep as it was. In the beginning, I merely thought that it was going to be about a candy store and nothing more. Except it was so much more than that. Andy mention’s how he’s gotten a few bad reviews, simply because of the location of his shop, not even because the food or service was bad. He called out people’s irrational fears of African Americans and mentions how after Ferguson, “no one felt safe in their own home” and how other shops had mentioned boarding up and closing. Andy and his family have seen that neighborhood change completely and the fact that he still loves his neighborhood and is proud of where he comes from is very inspiring. Andy says, “I realized the neighborhood is going to take care of me and I’m going to take care of the neighborhood, just like we have for the last 102 years.” Crown Candy is more than just a candy shop and lunch counter, it is a central part of that neighborhood, as well as to North St. Louis’ history. Andy could’ve tried to move the store location or sell the shop to someone else, but he didn’t because he feels a strong desire and need to serve his community, and that is very inspiring.
Valerie Devoy: Review of Vincent DeLuca’s 10-minute Portrait Documentary Mile 19
Mile 19 (a ten-minute documentary directed by Vincent DeLuca) profiles the Los Angeles postal worker, Vietnam veteran and legacy marathon runner––Johnnie Jameson. Jameson, in 1986, ran his first marathon backwards (for the entire 26.2 miles) and for the next, he dribbled a basketball. Now, having completed 31 consecutive marathons, Jameson humbly tells his story of vitality, trauma, and originality.
The film’s backstory goes something like this: Jameson was DeLuca’s postman. He would deliver mail with a unique enthusiasm that sparked DeLuca’s curiosity. One day, DeLuca asked him about the tattoos on the back of his calves and at that moment a great friendship began (Lupkin, 2016) (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..
The film was shot using a variety of dynamic techniques. Roughly 30 percent was shot interview style––contrasted and simple, up against an off-white wall. The other 70 percent used narration and dramatic close-ups of his face and hands while delivering mail. Other narration techniques included old photos hung with safety pins like laundry, as the camera panned across; there was a sunrise time-lapse and slow-motion marathon shots. At one point, war footage was projected over stills in his bedroom, where he talked about having flashbacks and violently fighting in his sleep.
After watching Mile 19, one can’t help but have an empathetic connection and deep admiration for Mr. Johnnie Jameson. It’s a story of virtue and hardship, so powerful that it seeps into your dreams and manifests unexpectedly throughout the day. Mr. Johnnie Jameson is a truly special character. His humbleness and sincerity is the essence of his strength and determination. He’s someone we should all get to know.
Rene Arrillaga: Review of Leigh Burmesch’s 6-minute Portrait Documentary Superfan
“Who knows how long ‘eventually’ is?”
These are the words that close Superfan as the image fades out. The mini-doc basically tells the story of Kris Brannon, a fan of the Seattle Supersonics, even though the team left the Emerald City for Oklahoma City during the 08-09 season. In recent times, Brannon has become a sort of cult figure in the city because he dresses up every day with Sonics gear, goes to events with a cardboard poster asking for someone to bring the team back. People cheer for him, talk to him and take pictures with him which motivates him to keep going.
What I like most about the mini-doc is the passion Brannon has for his sports team. As a big sports fan, I understand where he’s coming from. We live vicariously through the players because we don’t have the height, the weight and/or the ability to play the game. We have memories of being at the ballpark with our parents, siblings, friends, neighbors and others celebrating the victories and lamenting the losses.