My Fantasia Top Ten Shorts!

Watching the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival’s packed selection of short films was a major priority for MMC! and nearly 150 short films got screened over the Festival’s 21 day run. And while there were some really fun, creative, and moving short films programmed at this year’s FIFF, only ten could make this list of MMC!’s absolute favourites!

And here they are! Right now!

Vanille (Guillaume Lorin, 2020)

Conceived as a half-hour TV special, Guillaume Lorin’s animated adventure concerns Vanille, a nine-year-old Parisian girl with hair issues sent to visit her aunt in Guadaloupe. There, she embarks on a magical adventure involving a hair-stealing spirit, a half-boy/half-shrub companion, and a mysterious flower. Lorin’s film is nimble and playful throughout, full of movement and expression, and it is wonderfully specific in how it draws on the director’s childhood in Guadeloupe, celebrating its natural beauty and Creole heritage. While strongly representing the art style of European bande dessinées, Vanille brings real Studio Ghibli vibes by capturing the movement and wonder of Hayao Miyazaki and the quirk and caricature of Isao Takahata. The incorporation of photographic backgrounds into animated work often feels conspicuously dissonant, but Lorin makes it feel eminently natural here, deepening the short’s connection to its tropical setting. Someone bring me a Vanille series now!

Sunbelly (Jordan Speer, 2021)

A canine astronaut arrives on a dusty planet to colourfully terraform it for his species’ arrival. It’s an unusual concept that doesn’t come close to suggesting the stunning array of visuals offered over Sunbelly’s 16-minute runtime. Through a haze of CRT softness, Jordan Speer’s short is loaded with colour, movement, and creativity, whether that be a dog-shaped mothership orbiting in space or a space-pod shaped like a dog’s head whizzing over a desert and chasing a robotic flea. Imagine a sci-fi-infused acid trip inspired by a dog’s lover’s appreciation of Arizona Iced Tea can designs and you begin to approach the wonder of Sunbelly. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s mesmerizing score is a triumph and a perfect backdrop to this day-glo spectacle. This may be the most dazzling thing I see all year!

Cuckoo! (Jörgen Scholtens, 2019)

Scholtens’ fantastically wacky short film boasts a delightfully nutty premise that MMC! simply cannot spoil. Let’s just acknowledge that Cuckoo! is impeccably designed and goes beyond its goofy gag to present a self-contained world full of hilarious personal stakes. Go in blind and be … alarmed.

You’re Dead Helen (Michiel Blanchart, 2021)

Maxime is haunted by his dead girlfriend and, needless to say, it’s making it hard for him to move on. It’s a funny dilemma rooted in deeper conflicts and director Michiel Blanchart doesn’t shy away from these thornier questions. You’re Dead Helen shifts from supernatural comedy to true horror to emotional catharsis in less than a half hour and it does so with absolute aplomb, neatly skipping from laughs and absurdity to moments of genuine horror without ever losing its narrative thread or dislodging its carefully flowing tone. Blanchart manages to work out feelings of intimacy, jealousy, and grief without becoming ponderously didactic or sacrificing the short’s horror-comedy identity. M. Blachart seems to have been making shorts for the last five years. Based on You’re Dead Helen, it may be time for him to graduate to a full feature.

Vulnerability (Eiji Tanigawa, 2021)

Themes of conformity and surveillance were quite prevalent among Fantasia’s short films this year and Vulnerability stands out among them by finding the danger within ourselves rather than in the technology. Telling the near-future story of two police detectives investigating crimes in households where AI caregivers are present, Vulnerability’s intersection between technology, psychosis, and our warped perception of reality all converge to pleasantly evoke Satoshi Kon-vibes (and a bit of Se7en in its final sunset negotiation). Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s short film jury awarded the Best Film prize to Eiji Tanigawa’s short and they have MMC!’s full support given the happy creeps Vulnerability inspired.

A Puff Before Dying (Michael Reich and Mike Pinkney, 2021)

Team America: Highway PatrolA Puff Before Dying is a truly hilarious road safety-scare film about the evils of marijuana and mean girl peer pressure. Michael Reich and Mike Pinkney create something irrepressibly funny, stunningly gory, and jankily nostalgic, full of questionable teen-speak and stiffly acted marionette performances. Highly recommended with no strings attached.

Rachels Don’t Run (Joanny Causse, 2021)

Rachels Don't RunRachel Don’t Run explores the process of grieving in an unlikely setting – in a help-line call centre to an AI companionship service. Sera Barbieri is riveting playing Leah, a lonely customer service agent who intervenes on a session with a regular caller, impersonating the client’s artificial dream girl. Smart, emotional, and quietly gripping, the short ties an impressive knot between our desire for connection and our increasing inflexibility to have it on anything other than our own easy terms. Cattet and Forzani’s short film jury awarded Rachels Don’t Run a Best Screenplay prize – “A beautifully paced script that taps into our need for connection whilst gracefully allowing us into the character, painting her needs, desires and vulnerabilities through the action, story and behaviour of others. This is a really smart and neat concept, skillfully executed, which builds us up only to crush us emotionally.”

viewers:1 (Daigo Hariya and Yôsuke Kobayashi, 2021)

Daigo Hariya and Yôsuke Kobayashi’s post-apocalyptic livestream by the last man on Earth is a cheerfully bleak portrait of one man’s sincere effort to put on a happy face. Yuki Hashiguchi’s charming wanderer and the wonderfully lived-in production design of viewers:1 makes this five-minute short a Fantasia high point.

Please Hold (K.D. Dávila, 2020)

Please Hold lampshades some canny criticisms of the legal system through a young man’s wrongful arrest and incarceration in a near-future justice system fully automated by apps, drones, and gig economy piecework. K.D. Dávila’s tech satire takes on the present realities of the plea bargain process, the penal process, and the growing role of AI in lawyering. Erick Lopez is excellent in processing his confusion, anger, desperation, and resignation over the short’s 19-minute run. Hilariously grim.

You Sold My Rollerskates? (Margaux Cazal, Jeanne Hamel, Louis Holmes, Sandy Lachkar, Agathe Leroux, and Léa Rey-Mauzaize, 2020)

It is always exciting to see the latest selection of graduation films from French animation school Gobelins and You Sold My Rollerskates? is an enthusiastic treat. Lou, crushed at discovering that his mother has sold his old rollerskates at her swap meet booth, sets out on an epic quest to recover them, meeting various eccentric figures along the way. The short is simple in its concept but amazingly creative and slickly smooth in its execution. Utilizing chibi-style character designs, isometric gaming views, vibrant flattened colours, and frames in frames in frames (usually played with by brash and irrepressible Lou), the short is absolutely eye-catching and ceaselessly propulsive. And it’s here to watch in full!

Honourable mentions:

  • Ghost Dogs (Joe Cappa, 2020): A wonderfully dark, weird, and perverse haunted house story told from a perfectly canine perspective. Give this pup a belly scratch in addition to its Best Animated Short Film – Silver award.
  • Hakkori (Aya Yamasaki and Jason Brown, 2021): Some unusual forest creatures bring food offerings to a harvest spirit and bungle the task a bit. Brown and Yamasaki’s mixed media efforts are stunning, creating something twee, trippy, and psychedelically kawaii!
  • Incarnation (Noboru Suzuki, 2020): An enthralling riff on the vampire interview trope with even more monstrous turns than expected. A sneaky surprise.
  • La Oscuridad (Jorge Sistos Moreno, 2020): Female revenge done right. Beautifully shot, enigmatically acted, and simply, effectively drawn. A minor masterpiece.
  • Ménage à Trois: Flour, Eggs and Sugar (Choi Michelle Yun-jeong, 2020): Strata-cut and zeotrope animation told through dough, raw and cooked. Has this been done before? A colourful treat with magic baked right in.
  • Night Bus (Joe Hsieh, 2020): Indie comic grotesquerie stars in this tale of unpleasant people on a nightmarish (and gory) late night bus ride. Plenty of negative charisma to go around.
  • Seen It (Adithi Krishnadas, 2021): An engagingly told survey of the Indian monster manual. A very fun field guide and Fantasia’s Best Animated Short Film – Gold.
  • Self Scratch (Chenghua Yang, 2020): Anxiety, self-harm, tiny positivities, and red caresses. A highly imaginative and insightfully thoughtful animated short.
  • Swipe (Anthony Sneed, 2020): Pre-internet teenage hormones, petty crime and a brilliant pay-off. Very, very fun.
  • Treasure (Guillaume Cosenza, Alexandre Manzanares, Philipp Merten, Silvan Moutte-Roullet, 2020): Undersea love between an octopus and a figurehead. Surface level greed and comedy. A lot of fun!

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