Locarno Film Festival’s decision this year to pull its traditional completed feature film sections — with its top Golden Leopard prizes — has thrust into the limelight its short film lineup, Pardi di Domani (Leopards of Tomorrow). This year’s contest certainly lives up to its name — with many filmmakers already delivering titles that feel like short feature films.
“Several themes stand out, such as issues of family ties, friendships, while some films underpin more political and topical issues,” says Charlotte Corchète, head of the selection committee.
Selected from the 43-title lineup, here are some of the films worth catching.
“Black Hole” (“Trou Noir,” Tristan Aymon, Terrain Vague, Switzerland)
The most buzzed of Swiss shorts, capturing Vincent and his teen friends during a long summer in his home Swiss valley, skateboarding, lazing by the lake, driving around in Vitara convertible or sharing a joint. For Vincent, however, this summer will be his last: He’ll soon leave to study abroad. Laid-back, low key but heartfelt, inspired by director’s own adolescence.
“The Chicken” (Neo Sora, Zakkubalan, U.S.)
Set on a steamy New York afternoon, “The Chicken” turns on Hiro, a young Japanese immigrant living in New York who is visited by a friend from back home. While out, he buys a live chicken to cook for dinner, but finds himself shaken and unable to slaughter the bird, leaving the duty to his pregnant partner. Sora is preparing his first feature “Earthquake,” a near-future coming-of-age story set in a Tokyo anxiously awaiting an imminent natural disaster.
“The De Facto Martyr Suite” (Justine de Gasquet, Haute École d’Art et de Design, Switzerland)
In the normal run of things, Ibn Kenyatta, poet, ecologist, teacher, should have been released from U.S. jail in 1989. He’s still there, however. De Gasquet’s thought-provoking short tells his remarkable story – how he’s refused to accept the parole board system – in inter-titles. Star of the show is Kenyatta’s own reflections, made in 2019 and read by Born Hadithi, on the parole system and life at large. Meanwhile, documentary footage, mostly in black and white, play on screen, evoking some elements of the Black experience in history: Bobby Seale, Vietnam, cotton workers, street protests.
“Fish Bowl” (Ngabo Emmanuel, Imitana Productions, Rwanda)
The mother of introverted artist Emmanuel has died. At her wake, he’s told by his uncle to cut his hair, and discovers that one of his best friends, Sheja, has feelings for him as he does for her. A tender and remarkably mature title, considering its the director’s first short, capturing Emmanuel’s quiet maelstrom of feelings, bulwarked by strong central performances.
“Gramercy” (Pat Heywood, Jamil McGinnis, Seneca Village Pictures, U.S.)
A crafted mood-piece shot largely in black and white from Brooklyn-based director-producer duo Heywood and McGinnis following Shaq as he returns to his hometown, Gramercy, and hangs out with his childhood friends as he battles depression and grief at the death of his sister. A movie that says a lot about the traditional male mindset: Its delight at brotherhood, shame at mental illness.
“I Ran From It and Was Still in It,” (Darol Olu Kae, U.S.)
L.A.-based filmmaker Kae examines the loss of his father and relocation of his children while painting a broader picture of race and family in the U.S. Photos and home movies are juxtaposed with mid-century footage, audio recordings from Malcolm X and James Baldwin, and internet videos with hip hop and jazz accompaniment. Although the story is Kae’s, the multi-generational footage makes his experiences universal and timeless. According to Corchète, the committee was moved by “above all, the outstanding emotional force the film contains, underlined by a beautiful J. Cole song.”
“Life on the Horn,” (Mo Harawe, Polar Bear Films, Somalia, Austria, Germany)
Mo Harawe’s “Life on the Horn” begs comparisons, intentional or not, to John Ford’s 1940 classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” Shot in black and white on the Somali coastline, the short revolves around a mass migration across a barren landscape after effects of a decade of toxic waste dumping has forced many to pack their belongings on top of their cars and relocate, while others chose to stay and live with the often-mortal consequences of someone else’s actions.
“Nour” (“Noor,” Rim Nakhli, Inside Production, Tunisia)
Noor and younger brother Adem cross a sprawling city, by bus, motor-bike, on foot, to meet their father, whom they haven’t seen in a long time. He fails to turn up. The film’s landscapes, detailing a soiled, rubbish-strewn post-industrial sprawl hint at why – the class gulf separating father and children. The film’s heart, however, revolves around the children, indifferent to social context, caught in the bubble of their own emotions.
“Oh Black Hole!” (Renee Zhan, NFTS, U.K.)
Backed by the U.K.’s prestigious National Film and Television School, “Oh Black Hole!” is perhaps the section’s most dramatic short, featuring both 2D hand-drawn and stop motion animation techniques, an operatic score, fantastic creatures and a woman who, unable to endure the passing of time, turns herself into a black hole. Thousands of years later, the singularity awakens inside of her. This is Zhan’s second animated short to feature at Locarno, repeating the achievement of 2016’s “Hold Me (Ca Caw Ca Caw).”
“Peel” (“Ecorce,” Samuel Patthey, Silvain Monney, Dok Mobile, Switzerland)
An evocative slice-of-life animated doc short from Patthey and Monney, recorded in black and white pencil-drawn vignettes, the daily grind at a nursing home: Aged patients sagging faces, claw-like hands, frequent arm-chair slumbers, rows of Zimmer frames, the clutter of the home’s office. A meticulous real-life soundtrack endows the film with added authenticity.