SFIFF Short Film Program: The High Line

One of the most important roles of a film festival is providing a platform for the artists behind short films to show their work to an audience. Without events like the San Francisco International Film Festival, most great short films would never have the chance to be seen. For the filmmakers lucky enough to have their short included among the 80 showing at this year’s festival, there is an added bonus:  if they win the top prize (the Golden Gate Award) in their category (animated or narrative live-action), they become eligible for Academy Award consideration.

This year, the San Francisco International Film Festival includes seven short film programs, each with a unifying theme.

One such program, The High Line, showcases nine animated short films. A blend of narrative and experimental shorts, The High Line features a variety of animation techniques, including hand-drawn, computer-generated, cut-out, stop-motion and rotoscope.

Four of the nine films are best described as artistic experiments. “Afterimage,” “Vive la Rose,” “Electric Literature” & “Wednesday Morning TWO AM” each implement a different method for delivering their jarring, often mysterious images. Accompanied by equally diverse soundtracks, these films can act as a great introduction to expressionist cinema.

The High Line also presents two animated “documentaries.” “Voice on the Line” delivers a monologue, set to cut-out animation, educating audiences about a super-secret CIA eavesdropping operation. The psychedelic imagery injects a sense of fantasy, perfect for the factual ambiguity of the conspiratorial subject. “Tussilago” displays shadow-like animation over an audio interview with a suspected terrorist. I viewed this short without subtitles available for the Swedish dialogue, which I think made the animation more poignant. The story exists in the imagery, why dilute it with words?

The three narratives each tell a unique story. While much less challenging, they are nonetheless enjoyable. Academy Award winner “Logorama” is a typical heist story animated entirely using corporate logos and familiar mascots. It’s an interesting visual exercise, but thematically presents nothing new. “Alma” is the quick tale of a little girl, intrigued by the figure displayed in the window of a doll shop. A simple film with an interesting twist, this is the most mainstream piece in the program. My personal favorite short is “Incident at Tower 37.” This seemingly simple story is loaded with political and moral undertones, making it far more challenging than many viewers may realize. This particular short alone makes the entire program worth it.

Overall, The High Line, like most shorts programs, has its hits and misses. When viewed as a single collection, they don’t necessarily feel like they belong together, but it still works. The varying animation styles and story-telling techniques make this a worthwhile lesson in non-traditional filmmaking.

The San Francisco International Film Festival takes place this year from April 22 to May 6.

The High Line screens again Thursday, May 6 at 5:00pm. Please visit the official SFIFF website for more information on specific screenings.