2023 marks my third year covering the National Film Festival For Talented Youth for Directors Notes and it may just be my favourite edition so far. It’s a festival built on celebrating the best in young filmmaking from around the globe and the work on show has impressed me time and time again. I think the most surprising aspect of the shorts this year is how assured they are, the filmmakers are all under the age of 24 but the work has an air of seasoned confidence to it. This may speak to the confluence of both the growing opportunities afforded to young filmmakers and also how accessible the tools of filmmaking have become. Below you can find our usual bumper list of recommendations of the films to catch at the festival this year (running in-person from the 27th – 30th April, with the online component continuing through to the 7th May) which range from deeply personal documentaries through to stoner comedies about a ramen chef facing off against the grim reaper.
A Slice of Paradise – Liam Tangum
Tangum’s previous short Toomsboro, which DN premiered back in 2021, was a crime drama capturing the isolating sensibility that permeates throughout the American Deep South. It’s interesting then that his next short, and first documentary, A Slice of Paradise similarly encapsulates that feeling albeit in a more optimistic manner as the filmmaker speaks with the residents of small towns in Kansas, learning about the sense of community they foster through the rare sand green golf courses they all share.
Noodles Forever – McKinley Carlin
Being an absent father in a broken family isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t made any easier if you accidentally run over your daughter’s brand new dog. Premiering here on Directors Notes and in person at NFFTY tomorrow, McKinley Carlin’s comedy of manners begins with this inciting incident as protagonist Phil is on his way to his daughter’s birthday but it’s only the beginning of the afternoon’s chaos. Phil, who is portrayed by Clayton Farris, is a broken man but he’s trying his best and Carlin showcases that through a vivid colour palette and playful camera tricks that convey his endearing awkwardness making the short a colourful depiction of one man’s failing fatherhood.
Obtusion – Nathan Cowles
Nathan Cowles’ intimate documentary takes a look at the relationship between the filmmaker and his younger sister Natalie who suffers from anorexia, body dysmorphia and an eating disorder. The film comprises of a direct one to one interview between Cowles and Natalie shot in black and white with a 4:3 aspect ratio that captures the raw intensity of the siblings’ relationship during a time of psychological hardship. Cowles then juxtaposes that conversation with still images of nature and the outdoors. It’s a difficult yet powerful and poignant watch that is wholly worth your time.
Death & Ramen – Tiger Ji
Tiger Ji’s short Death & Ramen plays like a contemporary stoner version of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. It’s about a man who tries to commit suicide before eating a bowl of ramen, which may or may not have contained the components needed to save him. When the grim reaper turns up to take him into his next life, the pair end up on a strange late-night odyssey. Funny, vibrant and subtly philosophical.
As You Are – Daisy Friedman
Presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio and gorgeous black and white cinematography, Daisy Friedman’s film tells the story of an interabled couple talking through the anxieties they have surrounding their potential first night together. The joy of Friedman’s approach lies in the combination of her empathetic camerawork that presents her characters with a real sense of warmth and the beautiful and moving piano-led score from Composer Joseph Magee.
2166 – Anna Phuong Nguyen, Winston Liu & Lilian Yu Wen Cao
An experimental animated short which renders the everyday idiosyncrasies of life in the Australian suburbs of Cabramatta and Canley Vale. The hand drawn art style of Co-Directors Anna Phuong Nguyen, Winston Liu and Lilian Yu Wen Cao combined with their acute ear for sound design brings the hustle and bustle of the quotidian to life in wonderful fashion.
The River – Janay Kelley
I wanted to highlight a film from the plethora of excellent experimental shorts on offer at NFFTY this year and Janay Kelley’s lyrical southern gothic portrayal of sexual violence, grief and trauma was the one that left an indelible mark on me. It’s a film constructed entirely through voiceover and composed stately imagery that channels the repression of those marginalised in our society into a powerful emotional evocation.
Taming A Seahorse – Raza Tariq
As he begins his night shift driving a taxi, a man’s spirit is tested upon the arrival of an unsettling customer. Tariq’s late-night thriller is a tense journey following two men of vastly different backgrounds as they converge over a brief yet unnerving car journey. It’s criminal that Tariq was only 19 when he completed the film because the direction is so assured and his screenplay is airtight. Certainly one to watch for the future.
Half-Light – Lauren Jevnikar
What’s so impressive about Jevnikar’s film is how she presents the micro-tensions of a young relationship and the way intimacy is expressed both physically and emotionally. It follows a couple in the backseat of a car who are getting intimate with one another, the camera follows them tightly, not showing their faces, instead focusing on their bodies and the palpable awkwardness of the conversation they’re having about their encounter. It feels genuinely real, raw and importantly highlights the subtle power dynamics and guilt trips that can arise in such vulnerable scenarios.
Onán– Diego Toussaint Ortiz
A darkly humorous tale of sexual repression. Diego Toussaint Ortiz’s short film tells the story of a nun who finds a dildo on her doorstep one day but what initially seems like a silly gift quickly evolves into a question of faith. Ortiz’s concise and effective film, which features a playful use of shifting aspect ratios, is a comical celebration of the power of pleasure from a female perspective.
You can find more unmissable films, like the ones featured at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, in our Best of Fest collections.