Once again, Vimeo have announced the winners of their annual Staff Picks Best of the Year Awards. The awards celebrate the best that has graced Vimeo’s platform throughout 2019 and it’s clear from the winners that they’ve maintained their exceptionally high standard. The featured categories this year were: Animation, Action Sports, Brand Story: Small Business, Brand Story: Large Business, Branded Content, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Experimental and Travel. DN was fortunate enough to speak with each of this year’s winners for a peek behind the creation of their award-winning art.
Snowciety – Kris Lüdi
What was the origin of Snowciety?
The idea of making this short film came together naturally. I love observing people and knew St. Moritz from the well-known cliché side of it. The Swiss winter resort with countless 5 star hotels, private jets flying in and out and horse races on the frozen lake – the pilgrimage town of the international jet set, so to say. Through my involvement in snowboard filmmaking, I slowly got to know a clique of local snowboarders and understood that they aim for a totally different and simple life plan, although living in the same town that seems to only have room for people with money and influence. By understanding the dichotomy, I figured it was worth trying to portray this special little place amidst the mountains of the Engadine Valley.
The narration provides a great humour and totally shifts the tone of your footage, was this always the intention? And what drew you to use Ivo Flurin specifically?
The intention was to create a film that on one hand is profound in social context, on the other hand fun to watch and not judgemental. We tried to achieve that by juxtaposing visuals with narration, music and typography. After interviewing all the involved guys from the snowboard clique, we decided to use Ivo’s statements because they were expressed so pointedly. Seemingly simple and somewhat unexpected but also really true, even if looking at it from a bigger perspective.
What’s next for you?
I recently got into photography a bit more – next to other personal stills projects I am working on, I’m going back to St.Moritz this winter to shoot a photo series that is conceptually evolving from Snowciety. Also, for some reason I am getting drawn to St.Moritz and the Engadin Valley again and again – there is so much to observe and maybe one day, I’ll have observed enough fascinating things to make a feature film out of it.
Albatross Soup – Winnie Cheung
We’ve already spoken at length about the creation of Albatross Soup but remind us where did the idea came from?
It was a riddle that we kept playing at a bar. It became pretty infectious. As soon as I solved the riddle myself, I wanted to be the riddler amongst my friends and I had pretty funny and imaginative friends! Everybody really throws themselves into these questions, projecting their own stories onto the main character. That’s something that we do already when we watch films and I liked that the voices gave it an extra level of interactivity.
What was the creative decision behind the constantly evolving animation style?
I initially considered visualising this in live action at first, but soon quickly realised that the questions and jokes were moving way too fast and in too many different directions. Animation allowed us to explore the stream of consciousness quality of the voices. Working with Masa was a dream. His aesthetic is very dreamy and playful. The story and his style of art direction was the perfect match.
What’re you making at the moment?
I’m currently writing my first feature film! It’s about a Chinese manicurist with a traumatic past who hides a menacing swamp monster from the ones she loves. We’ll be shooting a short as a proof of concept in the spring. You can learn more about the short at lastcall.monster.
Read our extended Albatross Soup interview with Cheung https://directorsnotes.com/2019/05/01/winnie-cheung-albatross-soup/here.
Exit 12: Moved by War – Mohammad Gorjestani
How did you discover the story of Roman’s dance company?
Exit 12 was the fifth film in the ‘For Every Dream’ film series that was created by Even/Odd in collaboration with Square. We had a deep conviction to tell stories about the contemporary American Dream from a point of view of class struggle, and the need to provide economic access and empowerment to disenfranchised individuals and communities. This includes the Veteran community. I feel like they have been marginalized by both sides of our country and suffer so much when they return at home from failed policies and reckless politicians who send people into harm’s way without care of the consequences. And progressive America isn’t very accepting of Veterans, even though so many Veterans are outspoken about progressive issues. So, you kind of have this severe isolation that happens with many of our Veterans who either served due to the class they were born into and wanting to gain access to resources after service to improve their lives, and/or because they genuinely wanted to make a positive impact in the world. Then they serve and realize that neither of those things actually happened. They still struggle socioeconomically and now mentally, and they are conflicted about the policies that led to their service and deployments.
We wanted to find a group of Veterans who had an unexpected point of view of how they were dealing with the effects of war. Our research team at Even/Odd led by Emily Thomas and Allison Keeley canvased the whole country and found many incredible stories, but when we found Exit 12 it was instantly clear that this was the story to tell.
When choosing how to present Roman’s story, how important was it for you to convey his honest representation of the military?
Critical, especially with what is at stake right now, which is America herself. Patriotism and our Veterans have been hijacked by one side of the political system and used as props to progress non-American values. They are trying to trick us to believe that if we don’t support what they think, that we are not American and not patriotic. They peddle values of intolerance, disrespect of other cultures, and not welcoming those who are simply trying to find freedom and prosperity. It’s one thing for affluent academia and liberal America to resist this version of American revisionism, but it’s another thing when it comes from the Veteran community itself. To know that there are Veterans who advocate for tolerance, acceptance, and love reminds us that these are actually the true American values we must always demand our country uphold. And by demanding that, we are being true patriots.
Are you looking to tell any similar stories in the future?
In 2014, I wrote and directed a short called REFUGE that was about Iranians in the US being detained and deported because of a war, and specifically cyber-war, between the US and Iran. Since then I have been developing it into a feature and hoping to shoot it early next year. Unfortunately, 2020 has caught up to us and a lot of what is in the film, that six years ago seemed like science fiction is becoming very real. The feature film will look even further ahead at what some of the consequences of the Iran and USA conflict could be unless we correct course. Aside from that, Even/Odd are also working with the Office of the Public Defender in San Francisco on an exciting and important project we are announcing in February.
Brand Story: Small
The SB140 Already Knows – Yeti Cycles
When creating this content, what were the key factors about the brand you wanted to express?
Kyle Rajaniemi: Our content is an extension of who we are. We race, rip and ride the best trails on the planet and we like to share our experiences with fellow riders. We approach our creative with the same level of attention we put into developing our products and are stoked when our videos are well received. Shout out to our riders and creative team who made the magic. And, big thanks to Vimeo for choosing Yeti Cycles for the BOTY award.
Brand Story: Large
The Future of Art According to Trevor Paglen – Artsy
How were Artsy looking to expand their identity through this film?
Marina Cashdan: We’ve used our video content as a view into the living, breathing ecosystem Artsy is for art and the art world, not only as a marketplace but as a source of information, inspiration, and cultural definition. We’ve explored the artists’ worlds and practices. We’ve also used video content to provide resources to our gallery partners and industry colleagues.
Video allows us to show the deeper layers, of an artist’s practice or our own business, in an accessible way that shows the human behind the artwork or technology. Ultimately it’s that human element that makes it a powerful medium for us, particularly as a tech company.
Welcome Home – Armita Keyani
What made you want to tell this story of a couple from Iran being visited by Jehovah’s witnesses?
The film is inspired by a true story of what happened when my parents came to Norway from Iran in the late 1980s. When they told me this story I felt it was so interesting and bizarre that I wanted to make it into a film. Growing up I was used to people making certain assumptions about others and me for having an ‘ethnic minority background’, as I got a bit older I started seeing the absurdity and humour in it. I wanted to make a film where, hopefully, even the people who make those kinds of statements and questions can laugh too. There’s a lot of fear and assumptions regarding people from the Middle East today. However, I didn’t want to make a film with a sob story where we pity ‘them’, the Iranian refugees. I didn’t want the Iranian refugees to be a ‘them’. I wanted them to be ‘us’ in the film, the audience. With this film I hoped to challenge the expectations and judgements we have of each other through humor and to do it through a different context than I’m used to seeing.
Could you talk about constructing your comedy, how much was on the page and how much did your actors bring to it?
I love having a finished script on set that I’ve worked with for a long time, but I also think it’s important to be open for suggestions and ideas actors bring on set. So, I did takes which were scripted, but also some where it was more open for improv. Whether a take is scripted or improvised, I enjoy working with ‘secret directions’, so the actors only know what their character knows. I feel like the unexpected in the scenes can create more interesting reactions, and can give another level of authenticity and can therefore also add to the ‘humorous’ aspect. There’s almost something magical when you’re on set, you’ve given directions to each actor and you don’t know exactly what could suddenly happen in front of the camera. An example of this in the script is that the lines which the Iranians speak to each other were not translated or available to the actors who were playing the JW, that way they didn’t know what those characters’ true intentions were, or what they were actually saying, during the fight scene for instance.
Will you be working in comedy again soon?
Absolutely, I love comedy, and it feels like the most natural language to me, it’s the genre I have the most fun directing and writing. I recently shot a new short which I think will end up being somewhere between comedy and drama. At the same time I try to be open for the fact that a film might end up being a different genre than initially planned. I think it’s all about what feels right throughout the process for the story and characters, and not forcing anything if it doesn’t feel right in a scene, on set or even during editing.
Accident, MD – Dan Rybicky
What made you want to tell a story of the healthcare crisis from the perspective of the people in Accident, Maryland?
The complicated responses to my previous feature documentary Almost There, about an 83-year-old ‘outsider’ artist living in at-risk conditions, inspired me to want to further investigate Americans’ moral and philosophical approaches to concepts of ‘health’ and ‘care’, including the possible ways in which American exceptionalism, or whatever it is that makes us American, influences how we think and feel about these concepts.
I grew up in a small town about the same size as Accident, and making this film felt like coming home. Many of the participants reminded me of neighbours and relatives, and their sense of fairness and justice, based on their allegiances to changing local identities and economic prospects, helps shed light on the paradoxical situation we’re in today – one in which Republicans can promise to expand health coverage by dismantling the Affordable Care Act. I learned a lot of people in Accident are as bewildered by their medical bills as I am, and several of my most conservative interviewees sounded more like my liberal city friends than I expected when expressing their upset about the cost of and confusion surrounding affordable healthcare in our country.
What does your creative approach look like? How much of Accident, MD was planned in pre-production and how much is decided during the shoot?
Accident, MD was the result of fun collaboration between myself and my good friend Brian Ashby, who both shot and edited the film. We knew we wanted to make something in the spirit of Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida with the look of Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl’s Jesus, You Know and In the Basement. I had an instinct that Accident, Maryland just might be the right place to film so I drove there myself, got out of the car, walked from one side of town to the other, met some people, explained to them what I wanted to do, and before the day was over I knew I could return with a crew because healthcare was a subject everyone wanted (and needed) to talk about. So, I returned to Accident with Brian and our sound guy Michael for five days of interviews. Some were planned on my previous trip, but others, like the audio interview I did with the Amish elder, were more spontaneous. We heard about the Amish auction, an enormous event which happens once a year to raise money for their community’s heathcare costs, while interviewing at Shear Delight and were lucky enough to film there before leaving town.
Do you have any plans for your next story?
I have two new short documentaries premiering in 2020: Larry from Gary, about a dance teacher in Gary, Indiana; and Stormy and the Admirals, about a group of elderly feminists from Chicago who go see Stormy Daniels strip.
Brotherhood – Meryam Joobeur
Where did the idea for Brotherhood begin?
Brotherhood began with a chance encounter. Both my parents are Tunisian but before 2016 my knowledge of the country was limited to the village where we are from. In winter 2016, I decided to take a road trip in the north of Tunisia with Cinematographer Vincent Gonneville in order to discover more of my roots. On the third day of the trip I spotted two redheaded brothers, Malek and Chaker, leading a flock of sheep across a lush green hillside. The contrast of their unique faces filled with freckles against the green landscape immediately struck me and I stopped the car to see if I could take their photograph but they refused. I continued on my trip but was deeply marked by their faces and the mystery of their lives.
During this trip I also learned that a neighbouring town Sejnan had experienced a surge of radicalisation after the Tunisian revolution in 2011 that ousted the dictator Ben Ali. A higher than average percentage of men from the Sejnan region had gone to Syria. This knowledge and the encounter with the brothers became the basis for the narrative of Brotherhood; a story where the eldest son of a rural family returns home from Syria and the consequences that his return has on the family. I knew I wanted to address this social issue through the intimate lens of one family and I also knew that I wanted Malek and Chaker to act in the film.
So, a year later I went searching for them with Vincent without knowing their names and where we had found them. We searched from village to village asking random strangers about the two redheaded brothers but were met with puzzled expressions or no leads. Then miraculously, with hope almost fading, we managed to come across the exact location where we met and found a shepherd who pointed out their house. Excitement and nerves built as I landed on their doorstep with the script for Brotherhood. In my script I had written a role for a third, much younger brother and to my surprise, the first person to emerge from the house was their youngest brother, the eight-year-old Rayene, with the same red hair and freckles. At first they were baffled by my sudden appearance and acting request but I never doubted my instinct that there was something special about them and the bond between us deepened in the weeks leading to the shoot, which took place in March 2018.
Could you talk about working with the brothers and their parents to create the core tension at the heart of Brotherhood?
Tunisian actors Mohamed Grayaa and Salha Nasraoui, who beautifully portrayed the parents in Brotherhood, were invaluable in helping to shape the film. They helped me translate the script into Arabic and in that collaborative process we were able to weigh what needed to be said and what could be understood in the silence. Most of the time we chose to work with silence which added to the tension within the family. The first actors and brothers Malek, Chaker and Rayaan helped us maintain an authenticity to the regional dialect and way of life.
What will you be working on next?
Currently I’m developing a few feature projects including a feature adaptation of Brotherhood.
Idle, Torrent – Alex Moy
How did Idle, Torrent begin?
After graduation I moved from Chicago to New York, and I found it to be very overwhelming; there was a lot happening and I needed a way to slow down. Coming out of school there was a large sense of aimlessness that accompanied a feeling of imposter syndrome, and I think I needed a way to process all of it. As a response, Idle, Torrent really began as an exercise in which I would sit and breathe and allow my mind to freely create. It was first a tool to find perspective and open myself up to embracing the change.
What did the minimalistic animation style allow you to explore?
The minimalistic animation style came out of this idea I had to allow the content of the film act as the form of the film, at the same time. Rather than creating a narrative driven by characters or plot, the film is purely visual. I think the sense of ease that people feel when watching the piece is a result of allowing the art of animation to speak for itself. I approached the style first by breaking down my own posture into geometric line drawings, that resemble glyphs. From there, it was an exercise of creating a grid that I could animate within, and by doing so it allowed me to create restraints that I could allow myself to wander and play within.
How long did it take you to create? And do you think you’ll revisit another animation in a similar style?
The full film took me three months to animate, and about a month to work with Bryan Natalio on the sound design. It’s hard to say whether or not I will revisit the same style for another film like Idle, Torrent. I never want to repeat myself as an artist, and my favorite part of creating work is designing a visual language that is specific to the needs of the project. I approach animation as a designer in that way, so if the opportunity arises where I can revisit the style I would love to make another film like it, but I would want it to be free to any expectations from viewers that Idle, Torrent may have established.
multiverse – Hiroshi Kondo
What initially inspired you to create multiverse?
I was inspired to create Multiverse because I saw the photos of something. I felt that I was attracted to something and I had to go.
How long were each of your time-lapses? What did you do whilst you waited?
The shooting was done during a limited time. So, during the shooting, I was searching for the route to the next shooting point. Depending on the cut, I took about 30 minutes to 3 hours for each time lapse.
I really loved the shots where you have an evolving central figure amongst these waves of people riding bikes, how much planning went into constructing those shots?
There was a plan for the central person to advance before shooting. The production time of multiverse was about 3 months because I was making it between client work.
For some inside advice on maximising your film’s chances of being awarded the coveted Staff Pick badge, check out our How to Get a Vimeo Staff Pick article.