In these unprecedented times and the traditional cinema-going experience on hold for the foreseeable future major film festivals including Cannes, TIFF, NYFF, Tribeca, and more banded together to form the We Are One Film Festival in support of COVID-19 relief efforts.
Film Festivals are a major part of our site’s coverage and also an important platform for emerging and established filmmakers alike to share their work with a wider audience. In the wake of all that has happened in recent months however, we felt it was more appropriate to delay coverage till now so as to not distract from the far more pressing matters impacting the world.
Though film pales in importance compared to these ongoing efforts for equality and safety for all, Through film, we are offered glimpses into the human experience that connect us in these socially distant/divided times. Our selections highlight this need for empathy, connection, empowerment, and unity in times of distress.
Bilby (Directed by Liron Topaz, Pierre Perifel, and JP Sans)
Bilby is a CG animated short from Dreamworks Animation in which a bilby (an Australian marsupial which resembles a rabbit) must protect a helpless baby bird from vicious predators and hazardous environments across the Australian outback. The designs for these fuzzy creatures are highly textured and filled with expression and character with the bilby being an anxious wreck and the baby bird being oblivious and doe-eyed.
For as short as it is, the film has a non-stop, frenetic pace, especially during a rapidly edited 30-second long sequence where the bilby has to juggle the bird through a never-ending onslaught of danger, with some shots lasting less than one second as they find themselves jumping from one life-threatening situation to another in the blink of an eye. The fearful and frustrated expressions on the bilby’s face from shot to shot while the bird’s clueless expression remains consistently unchanged throughout all these various nightmare scenarios is both a hilarious character dynamic and a mesmerizing display of high-tension animated storytelling. It is, however, an extremely simple concept, which is entertaining enough on its own, though maybe not on the same level of creativity or imagination as many of Pixar’s shorts. –Mike Pisacano
Blood Rider (Directed by Jon Kasbe)
“Blood is in short supply in Lagos, Nigeria” reads the opening line of “Blood Rider”, a short subject documentary about those tasked with delivering blood to hospitals in need across the city. Due to the high amounts of gridlocked traffic that the city experiences regularly, delivery drivers on motorcycles are relied on as the main source of blood delivery, where the difference of just a couple of minutes could be a matter of life or death for patients in need. The documentary observes the worries and anxieties surrounding this position from the perspectives of both the driver and a patient in labor in need of blood.
The scope and importance of the subject at hand are worthy enough of being expanded into a full feature using more varied accounts from both drivers and recipients. As it stands as a short, the amount of screentime dedicated to both the driver and the patients is unfortunately lopsided due to its length and doesn’t allow for enough time to fully expand on the world of a blood rider, or enough time spent with the pregnant couple to get to know them beyond just knowing that they will eventually need a blood delivery. Once the delivery is underway, the film creates a suspenseful race against the clock as the rider rushes to make it to the hospital in time. The impressive smoothness of the camerawork as we follow the rider through the busy streets on his motorcycle is on the professional quality of what should be expected of a Hollywood action movie, elegantly balancing the excitement of the chase with the severity and tension of the stakes. Blood Rider brings to light a crisis that most people are entirely unaware of and highlights the everyday heroism that comes with providing essential healthcare service, a powerful notion to be part of a film festival for coronavirus relief. – Mike Pisacano
Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight (Directed By Eliza Hittman)
Sonya is a 17-year-old Russian Immigrant living in Brooklyn with her father, both of whom are on the cusp of being kicked out of their home by their Landlady. Pushing Sonya to make a tough decision in the face of an impending eviction.
Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight is all very familiar, but it does just enough and has a thoughtful ending to be effective. What’s most noticeable is the camerawork closing in on Sonya when she arrives at home after her trip to the market. The tight, winding staircase of her Brooklyn apartment creates a sense of being trapped in an uncomfortable place. After getting ready for a night out with her friend, Sveta, the lens opens up and creates a feeling of freedom and escape. It isn’t until long where Sonya finds herself in an uncomfortable situation in Alexei’s bedroom on the night of his birthday. The camera once again creates tight angles and uncomfortably, mirroring the setting of her home, but vastly different circumstances. When it comes to the film’s conclusion, there is a sense of inevitability to the hardships life will offer. No matter if it’s another day of enduring the pressures of financial instability or another night that opens with the promises of escape, the harsh reality will always find a way to settle back in. – Roman Arbisi
Lonely Encounter (Directed By Jenny Wan)
A taxi driver mourning the loss of his wife picks up a foreign student during the Winter Solstice. Bonding over their mutual loneliness over the Chinese holiday, the two share a fleeting connection. Brought together at a life crossroad for each of them, the driver as he moves forward from a tragic loss the student as he faces the uncertainty of his impending graduation into the real world, the two are able to offer solace for one another and perhaps the courage to take on the next stage of life.
Simplistic in its execution Lonely Encounter is a short rife with sentimentality aimed directly at the heartstrings. The approach is blatantly overt maybe to a fault with its lingering shots and swelling music but one cannot deny its relevance into this suddenly isolated world. As we all strive to (re)connect to our surroundings and grapple with the overwhelming bombardment of despair that seems to populate the 24-hour news cycle, Lonely Encounter reminds of the power even the smallest gesture such as a simple conversation can have on those around us – Nate Lam
Toto (Directed by Marco Baldonado)
Set in a cozy home with Marco’s Nonna, Rosa Forlano, Toto takes a sincere and personal approach to the technology that has become a part of our homes every day. With the titular Toto serving as an eerily similar reflection to Baymax of Disney’s, Big Hero 6, we see the friendly, towering assistant to Rosa assist in making an afternoon lunch for Rosa and her niece, Santina. After this point, Marco takes a look at the importance of being involved with your extended family. How being engrossed in the technology of the world and reliant on its benefits can distance us from the ones we should hold close. There’s an honesty to it that reminds us of the dangers of technological updates. How technology can advance, but it can lose its importance and value to the person it was meant for. Toto becomes a piece of technology that can’t relate to Rosa in a way that helps her with cooking, it exists to satisfy the needs of Santina, who is never around, nor gives her Nonna the attention, love, and warmth she needs. – Roman Arbisi
White Echo (Directed by Chloë Sevigny)
Coming from Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry, Gummo) White Echo marks a move behind the camera for the long time indie actress. Following a group of young women who vacation in a remote country house, they soon discover that the location is inhabited by a spirit who shares a mysterious connection to one of the women Carla (played by Kate Lyn Sheil). Occupying that space of “elevated horror” popularized in recent years by Robert Eggers (The Witch), Jordan Peele (Us), Ari Aster (Midsommar), etc. White Echo structures itself around the eerie ambiance of its setting rather than on traditional gore and jump scares.
While Sevigny is able to create that environment effectively, the limited runtime of the short film severely limits the ability for any of that atmosphere to manifest itself into anything more substantial than just an eerie feeling. There are attempts at crafting metaphors to female empowerment and how power is used but these feel rushed within the strict restrictions of time thus conclusions are left in broad largely unsatisfying strokes. It’s a shame because Sevigny demonstrates a distinct aptitude for the visual elements while carrying over the same unconventional flairs that mark many of her on-screen roles. As one of the more high profile projects on the festival’s slate thanks to the weight Sevigny carries, White Echo does not necessarily detract from the promise that she possesses as a filmmaker so much as it suggests she should aim for more expansive projects that afford her more space to create. – Nate Lam