Student films will never escape the stigma of being incompetent and/or pretentious. After all, they are made by people that are at a point in their lives where their experience is least likely to match their ambition. They have little money, cliches are less grating to them, and there’s the least possible awareness of how esoteric their ideas are. These short films listed below, however, transcend your expectations and would have done major studios proud.
10. Skip (2012)
Sarah Jolley’s genre-jumping animation for the Vancouver Film School, of a silent film-era man and an evidently 1970’s-era lady going on bizarre adventures through time, space, and format is very clever, sweet without being cloying, and in possession of some excellently timed and original gags. All that in only three minutes and twenty-eight seconds. You can see more of her delightful and diverse artwork here at Deviantart.com.
9. Tick Tock (2011)
Made while director Ien Chi was at Atlanta’s Emory University, this video combines the novelty of being a one-take film (it was successfully completed on the thirty-sixth try) with being one shown in reverse, which adds a layer of poignancy to many of the moments in it. It’s a narrative of what happens in the last few minutes of a student’s life and the choices he makes knowing he is going to die. It’s kinetic, scored with great music, and so suspenseful you won’t be able to look away for the entire running time. It also has a very funny reveal at the end. If, after you check it out, you’re curious to see what that would have been like played normally, here you go.
8. Clouds (2008)
This short is simple in design but very easy on the eyes, adorable, funny, and concise. Sam Miller made it for the University of Hertfordshire in Great Britain. The story is about a little girl who discovers powers to manipulate clouds and fly. No sooner do these abilities have her and the audience enchanted then it starts to go bad. Fortunately, things don’t go so bad that it ruins the pleasant atmosphere, and a potentially disappointing reveal at the end is nicely subverted. It’s a shame Miller has only released one other film since (Poy), and that was back in 2009.
7. XXXY (2000)
The oldest and most obscure entry on this list, this video from Stanford University in California, by Laleh Soomekh and Porter Gale, is about the issue of the 1 in 2000 people born with ambiguously-formed reproductive organs, and the question of which gender these people will decide to be. That is, if the decision is not made for them. There are two main interview subjects featured in it, Howard Devore and “Kristi,” and both their stories are told in a very matter-of-fact and evocative manner. Particularly the way that Howard Devore describes how “playing the part of being a boy” was like a joke for him, and Kristi’s description of how she came to forgive her family. Be warned: there is some coarse language in it, but it is not gratuitous.
6. Memories (2010)
Radoslaw Sienski’s film is a two minute windup to an emotional gut punch. It starts off nostalgic, and pleasantly atmospheric, then takes a very hard turn without any reassurances in the resolution. An aged man is visiting familiar spaces, and then begins finding strips of film. These are memories from significant moments in his life. This story from Bucks New University in London gains extra resonance when you learn that all the performers featured in it actually are related in real life.
5. R’Ha (2013)
A machine tortures an alien for information to help the machines find the others. It’s a cold, dark story, but it’s told and rendered beautifully. The texture work on the alien’s skin is especially impressive, as anyone who works in CGI will tell you. Aside from the voice acting and music, this film was made (and needed to be remade due to a rendering problem) entirely by one person, one Kaleb Lechowski, while he was at Berlin Mediadesign Hochschule. And what’s more, he was just a first year student at the time. He claims that, as of February 2013, he is pitching a feature-length version of the movie in Los Angeles. While it’s difficult to imagine such a dark premise being expanded to such a level by any Hollywood studio, it’s tempting to hope it will one day, and he’s gotten coverage from publications like Hollywood Reporter, which is as good a start as any.
4. Too Shy (2011)
This film, made by Ryan Hutchins for Hofstra University in New York, is told as a poem at an open mic reading, but don’t hold that against it. This story of a man too shy to express his feelings for one of his close friends and his later regrets is photographed beautifully, thoughtfully paced, well-acted (especially by James Duncan,) and unpretentious. Plus, it’s got a lovely twist in it that avoids Memories’s downer note, while not going too far the other way. Ryan Hutchins’s next film, One Way, is currently due for the Summer of 2013, and is eagerly anticipated.
3. A Virus Called Fear (2012)
The process by which humans have gone from fears of a feral nature (“rational fears” as director Ben Fama Jr. says onscreen during a Q&A with Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss) to modern fears, is explored in this short documentary made for the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Film. It’s very stylish in execution, due to the perceived dryness of the subject matter, but its far more than just pretty, especially in the sections relating to behavioral experimentation. It has an atheistic slant, but still has something to offer viewers regardless of creed.
2. Downhill Madness (2009)
The exciting/reckless new sport of drift triking (riding a usually custom-made tricycle with a low seat that makes it look like your pedaling a child’s “big wheels” down the steepest hills available) gets a surprisingly good presentation in this New Zealand video. Surprisingly, considering the polished presentation, perfect pacing and editing, professional-level narration, and all its many other merits, this was only a high school video project for the Auckland students. Even the makers of the video, James Southorn and Kenny Ruddell, admitted that they were surprised that the video has gotten more than 1.2 million views to date, and their successful follow-ups indicate they’ve made a career out of covering this sport.
1. Kiwi (2006)
This was one of the first viral 3-D animations on YouTube and, for a time, the top-rated video in the “arts and animation” category. Dony Permedi’s Kiwi, from the New York City School of Visual Arts, is often dubiously identified as “cute.” That’s an understandable feeling the first time you watch it until you reach the ending. Then you realize just what this story of a kiwi nailing trees to the face of a cliff is about. Four months in the making, but ten months in the planning, the short won a slew of international awards and got coverage from the likes of ABC and CNN. Most importantly, it helped promote the non-profit organization Kiwis for Kiwis, by posting a link in the uploader comment.
Dustin Koski is the author of Six Dances To End The World, the story of a ballerina who sees a bleeding audition notice.