The Short Film Category of the our 2nd edition showcases films ranging from post-apocalyptic to darkly comedic romance, providing a refreshing, if dark, look at the past year. This slate of films certainly reminds the audiences that we are never alone in struggle.

RESTART, Xiao Ting Zhong, embodies this message by introducing us to a post apocalyptic Earth, 23 years after a devastating war. We open on a gruesome scene, as a lone survivor pats down a corpse in search of valuables. And while the survivor may at first seem to be alone, they soon stumble upon a remnant of civilization — a military grade robot. RESTART is a story of peculiar friendship, as the survivor listens to poems recited by the robot, perhaps as a means of maintaining some grip on a past long gone. The story is told through the poetry of the likes of Shakespeare and Pessoa, often love poems in contrast with the devastation of the world we are presented with. The film poses the question of whether poetry is of use to human survival, a lovely message that will leave audiences wondering about the impact and purpose of art during the darkest of times.

Similarly, WELLSPRING, directed by Jeffrey Smith Quizon, takes audiences on a dark journey with thematic references to the human condition and society. Two opposing factions of soldiers converging in search for a wellspring, the last source of clean water, knowing that whoever controls it controls the territory. Similarly to RESTART, WELLSPRING touches on the devastation caused by war and violence. However, rather than focus on the connection between two individuals, WELLSPRING shows us the connections that are far too often lost and destroyed due to a cycle of violence. A beautifully-shot film with deeply religious undertones, WELLSPRING is a story of humanity at its worst, and a reminder of how war tears us apart.

RESTART, dir. Xiao Ting Zhong
WELLSPRING, dir. Jeffrey Smith Quizon

While this repertoire of shorts may not seem to be able to get any grittier, LOW END POPULATION, directed by Jianjiang Sun, may just be one of the most hard-hitting films in this selection. Unlike RESTART and WELLSPRING, LOW END POPULATION dives head-first into presenting audiences with a very realistically present reality. Harbin, a city in north-eastern China, suffered from three outbreaks of COVID-19 in the span of two years, having a devastating impact on the economy and leaving many citizens scrambling to find decent work. Shot almost entirely in black and white, LOW END POPULATION ironically tells a story that is far from being forgotten as part of the past. But the disturbedness of the film does not only come from its themes of wealth disparity and survival, but also from its often vulgarly voyeuristic camerawork. The amoral protagonist provokes audiences to both sympathy and disgust — a perfect summary of the mood LOW END POPULATION will undoubtedly leave viewers with. 

Moving away from the more visually grotesque aspects seen in the last three shorts films, MY BELOVED, directed by Youshi Xu, and our winner for Asia’s Best Independent Short Film, tells a tender story through the eyes of a child mourning for their mother. Akin to LOW END POPULATION, MY BELOVED is shot entirely in black and white. But for MY BELOVED, this stylistic choice serves to convey a feeling of lost time and simplicity, even with the complicated nature of the situation. The story is told with little to no dialogue, relying solely on the emotions conveyed by the child in response to those around them. While still keeping pace with the darker themes presented in the short film category, Xu Youshi presents that darkness through more subdued and less action heavy tones. Just over nine minutes long, MY BELOVED effectively ensures that audiences will never forget the often forgotten story of a child left behind.

LOW-END POPULATION, dir. Jianjiang Sun
MY BELOVED, dir. Youshi Xu

If audiences thought love and darkness could not go hand in hand, FELINITY, directed by Guolin Pang will prove them wrong. Guolin Pang, who also has a film in contention for the experimental film category, plays with the darker aspect of comedy and the supernatural in FELINITY. Soon after taking in a stray cat he finds while out on a walk, a man’s home is frequented by a strange female visitor every night for dinner. Her beauty transfixes him, yet he is frustrated that she refuses everything he attempts to feed her. A seemingly light story, FELINITY will leave audiences questioning their laughter after a hastily made decision proves fatal to this budding romance.

Another semi love story in this short film category, A GIRL IN THE ELEVATOR teases audiences with the possibility of romance, much like FELINITY. But beyond a simple romance, the film beckons audiences to long for life and meaning beyond the confines of one’s home. Beautifully directed by Takuma Matsuda, A GIRL IN THE ELEVATOR relates to audiences through acknowledging the often repetitive nature of daily life. A lonely woman takes the elevator up to her apartment, day after day. A young man frequents the elevator as well, and the woman comes to look forward to their meetings, although they never speak to one another. Shot entirely in the confined space of an elevator over the course of a week, the film’s claustrophobia allows audiences to enter into the world of the girl in the elevator, perhaps reminding viewing of a time not so long ago when they, too, were confined to small spaces during the height of the pandemic. And yet, the film leaves viewers wondering if perhaps life isn’t so bad after all.

FELINITY, dir. Guolin Pang
A GIRL IN THE ELEVATOR, dir. Takuma Matsuda

Director Emi Yasumura specializes in endearing and friendly films, and their short film, WAO is no exception. While notably the most lighthearted of the films accepted into the short film category of the festival, WAO still leaves audiences questioning the peculiar tendencies of humanity. Wao, a young boy living with parents on the verge of a divorce, discovers that he is actually an alien from the planet Palnas. He and three other children are to return to the planet, leaving their earthly lives behind. But Wao has different plans, and says he will not return home until he is certain that his parents will stay together. Unlike many other films in this category, WAO explores the human condition from the fresh perspective of very non-human characters. Unique visual effects, ranging from VFX to animation, are testaments to the power of visual storytelling in WAO. And as Wao and his alien friends play matchmaker, audiences will be treated to a feel-good story of love, family, and the importance of honesty.

WAO, dir. Emi Yasumura

These brilliant films competing in this 2nd edition of AAIFF put our bravery to the test, by having us look back at the past year with something akin to both acceptance and resolve. We are reminded of struggle, loneliness, mistakes made, and lessons learned. And while mostly on the more somber side, this selection of shorts serve to remind us all that, while struggle can be suffocating, there is always hope — if only we choose to find it.Search for…