Located in the very heart of Tinseltown itself, Hollyshorts is a key event in the short film awards calendar. As an Oscar-qualifying event, the Hollywood-based short film festival often acts as a bellwether for the awards season to come. With a wide plethora of shorts and plenty of prizes up for grabs, it was a programme that I simply couldn’t wait to dive right into. Split between American films that show off the diversity of the grand, complex melting pot of a nation and international efforts, from Italy, Israel, Malaysia and Sweden, varying wildly in tone, style and intention, the following selection of ten shorts is a testament to the very strong curatorial focus of the programming team. While often skewing more conventional than other short film festivals, the stories on show here are sure to provoke strong, visceral emotions, from real tearjerkers to laugh-out-loud comedies to tense thrillers. Although not included below due to the fact that they’ve been celebrated on our pages previously, special mention must go to DN alum screening films A Dishonourable Death, All-Inclusive, Drone, Ivalu, Snowfalls in the Summer, The Möbius Trip, TITS and Yellowbird. Read on now to see which films you need to put on your radar for this year’s Hollyshorts.

// American Shorts //

Closing Dynasty – Lloyd Lee Choi

Milinka Winata shines with precociousness and vulnerability as the seven-year-old Queenie in Closing Dynasty, scouring the lovingly-photographed streets of New York for cash. Whether it’s scamming people on the subway, recycling cans or re-selling stolen flowers, Queenie’s exploits are joyful to watch, imbued with great tenderness by director Lloyd Lee Choi. Appearing picaresque before carefully pulling back the tragic motivation to save the family restaurant, this romantic ode to the naivety of youth is smartly refracted through the specificities of the Chinese-American experience. A deserved winner of the Crystal Bear for Best Short Film in this year’s Berlinale Generation Section.

The Roof – Alexander Bocchieri

While food is a love language for those who’d rather not express themselves with words in the previous film, The Roof by Alexander Bocchieri finds its love language through land and tradition. When a quiet, shy teen visits his taciturn grandfather at his house on a Cheyenne reservation, he first finds him unwilling to engage in conversation, far more focussed on fixing his roof. But when he tries on a dress, his grandfather welcomes him into the Native American two-spirit community, unlocking a world where gender norms are subverted through ceremony, dance and music. The result is a heartfelt exploration of identity that feels hard-won through careful character work and observation.

We Were Meant To – Tari Wariebi

Where The Roof is rooted in tradition, We Were Meant To reaches for fantasy, using the conceit of Black boys getting their wings as a metaphor for coming-of-age, both emotionally and sexually. Blending science-fiction with young adult tropes, We Were Meant To surveys both the pitfalls and joys of being Black in America, where the infinite possibilities involved with flying meet the harsh reality of living under a police surveillance state. Yet, in refusing to back down in the face of racism, We Were Meant To soars under a hopeful gaze.

Lo-Tech Reality – Guillermo García López

We Were Meant To might imagine a different, fantasy-imbued Black future, but it’s worth considering how these possibilities can quickly recede into the past. Take the African-American-majority city of Detroit — the home of techno and the automobile — which has suffered a 65% population drop in the past 70 years. Discussion of mystery transmissions and the precipitous decline of the city join a hopping, pulsating beat in Garcia Lopez’s satisfying, artistically rigorous survey of Detroit’s mix of futurist skylines and faded industrial centres — providing a rare arthouse film amongst Hollyshorts’ traditional-skewing narratives.

Exit Fee – Emil Gallardo

Exit Fee rounds off the American shorts on a dour note, showing how the degradation of everyday society allows the most vulnerable among us to be exploited. Depicting one girl’s attempt to free her younger sister from being sex trafficked, it is a heartbreaking, realistic portrayal of an industry that treats women like second-class citizens, created by director Emil Gallardo in consultation with survivor Caridad Johnson. A tough watch, yet one lifted but its strong empathy for its two central characters.

// International Shorts //

A Conspiracy Man – Valerio Ferrara

When the lampposts start flickering oddly in Valerio Ferrara’s A Conspiracy Man (Il Barbiere Complottista), an Italian barber believes that this is yet another part of the ultimate globalist plot, which of course, has something to do with Bill Gates, reptiles and the state of Israel. Told with humour and verve, Valerio Ferrara’s comedy film, which debuted at Cannes last year, finds a way to laugh with its conspiracy-addled protagonist, while never endorsing the flimsiness of his arguments.

Please Hold the Line – Tan Ce Ding

The mind boggles as to why certain people are susceptible to conspiracy theories. Perhaps it’s due to the skill of the scammers, as well as a certain desperation for those being told the lie. For example, in Please Hold the Line, director Tan Ce Ding delves deep into the world of scam calls, focussing on one girl working in a professional criminal operation and her conflicted moral feelings. Her marks are simple, working class people, happy to hear about how they won money in the lottery or are due a refund, not knowing they are about to be swindled out of their hard-earned cash. With great empathy for both perpetrator and victim, Please Hold The Line creates a bleak portrait of a world where almost everyone is desperate.

Restraining Order – Tal Granit & Sharon Maymon

While Please Hold The Line is realistic in its portrait of desperation, Restraining Order fully embraces lunacy, culminating in one of the strangest moments of any short you’ll see this year. A woman is enjoying lunch with her family in a high-rise apartment when her estranged husband attempts to make contact. Failing face-to-face contact, he breaks in with a drone, the film’s kitchen-sink realism giving in to pure cartoon logic. At once chilling and weirdly gratifying.

Knight of Fortune – Lasse Lyskjær Noer

A warm palette-cleanser after Restraining Order’s remarkable mean-spiritedness, Lasse Lyskjær Noer’s Scandi short Knight of Fortune (Ridder Lykke) investigates the weirdness of grief with slow character moments and clipped, effective dialogue, showing two very different men coming together over shared sadness. An emotional experience set entirely within a morgue that is bound to build up some awards traction, Knight of Fortune smartly uses humour, including one excruciatingly awkward sequence, in order to break up its more sentimental tendencies.

Zita Sempri – Stefania Spampinato

Knight of Fortune is upstaged in loveliness however by Hollyshorts’ most touching film: Zita Sempri, a mixture of sunshiny-Kodak footage, touching documentation of everyday Sicilian life, and whispering, enchanting voiceover. Told in the form of a letter from a young Italian dancer writing back home to her mother from her new life in London, Zita Sempri, directed by Stefania Spampinato, best known for her recurring role in Grey’s Anatomy, investigates key themes of freedom, nostalgia and feminine independence with a novelistic sense of detail, all leading to a bittersweet, deeply moving conclusion. The perfect end to a fantastic selection of films.

You can find more unmissable films, like the ones featured at the Hollyshorts, in our Best of Fest collections.

3 Responses to Ten Must-See Shorts Screening at the 19th Annual Hollyshorts

  1. ZITA SEMPRI DIRECTED BY STEFANIA SPAMPINATO AND FILMED BY LECO MOURES was the most beautiful short film that I have ever seen. The vulnerability and gentleness along with wholesome and yet powerful childhood of this young girl who’s dreams are being shared with her most exquisite Mama who is giving her a steadfast home and love who and which she knows will already be there for her. A stunning portrayal in following your dreams and how your family, your dedication propells you into your to your next Dream and journey of getting there knowing, she can always look back to the love needed and will have all the support and love in front of her as well xxx A simply exquisite which in so many eyes and so many hearts deserves to win the award.

  2. Sandra says:

    ZITA SEMPRI di STEFANIA SPAMPINATO è il film più bello. Troviamo tutto l’amore di una ragazza per sua madre e tutto l’amore della Sicilia. La frase vivi il tuo sogno assume il suo pieno significato alla fine di questo meraviglioso film.
    GRAZIE STEFANIA per questo film incredibile

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