As filmmakers we love to be inspired by films while we begin to make them ourselves. We start with short films and documentaries, because let's face it, they are easier and cheaper to make than feature films. But, to be honest, when I first started watching short films for inspiration, I was quickly frustrated with a flood of bad films! Why are there so many awful short films/docs?
On one hand, I was happy that I felt my competition would be easy to dominate, but on the other hand, I wanted to be excited by these genres, because I was interested in making short films. Even award-winning films were disappointing. I bought short film apps, and paid for subscriptions in search of inspiring work. I was on the hunt for something good! Let me find just a couple! I realized that a lot of these subscription channels, etc., were only featuring films that they backed, thus they were bias to the films they would release on their channel. This made me seek out more ways to watch, sifting through endless websites, and Youtube searches.
For every 30 films I watched, I would enjoy one. It was exhausting. To take the pain out of this process, we have put together a Top Ten all time favorite Short Film and Documentary List to help you get started on finding worth-your-time watches. Of course, this is forever-changing, because even as I write this, the festival season is among us and new films are being released that we may want to add to this list later on! But these ten films, in no particular order, we enjoyed, and we hope you will too.
1. Curfew (2013)
Director & Writer: Shawn Christensen
Cinematographer: Daniel Katz
This Academy Award winning short film tells a heart felt story about Richie, who at his lowest point of his life gets a call from his estranged sister asking him to look after his nine year old niece for a few hours. The characters and the storyline is what got us.
2. Where There's Smoke (2017)
Director & Writer: Evan Ari Kelman
Cinematographer: Conor Murphy
Official Selection of 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Winner Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film (Live Action) at 2017 Edmonton International Film Festival. Story of a firefighter who must convince the Commissioner that he is able to return to the line of duty after a tragic incident. Based on true events. Breathtaking Cinematography and Sound.
3. Zero (2010)
Director & Writer: Christopher Kezelos
Cinematographer: Matthew Horrex
Animator: David Cox
Won Best Animation at LA Shorts Fest. Screened at over 50 festivals and translated into over 40 different languages, the yarn-imation tale of Zero proves that through determination, courage and love, even a "zero" can become truly something.
4. The Silent Child (2018)
Director: Chris Overton
Writer: Rachel Shenton
Cinematographer: Ali Farahani
2018 Academy Award winning story of a 4-year-old girl named Libby, who lives in a world of silence until a caring social worker teaches her to use sign language to communicate. Stunning Cinematography and the heartfelt journey of this young girl made this film one that needed to be on this list!
5. The Robbery (2017)
Director & Writer: Jim Cummings
Cinematographer: Lowell A. Meyer
2017 Official Selection at Sundance and SXSW. Cummings' gritty work is both annoying and hilarious, but I could not complain after watching the orchestra that was this one shot film. You have to appreciate the flow and the dark humor that meshes together seamlessly.
6. Pioneer (2011)
Director & Writer: David Lowrey
Cinematographer: David Blood
SXSW 2011 Grand Jury Winner Pioneer became a sensation on the festival circuit in 2011. Lowery cites the film as helping to bring him the industry recognition that led him to make his 2013 follow-up feature Ain’t them Bodies Saints (starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara). It’s a perfect example of a short film consisting entirely of dialogue, that was able to rise to critical acclaim, without ever leaving the space of a single room.
7. Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 (2018)
Director & Writer: Frank Stiefel
Cinematographer: Frank Stiefel
This 2018 Academy Award Winning Documentary Short takes a look behind Mindy Alper's life, which has been consumed by severe depression, anxiety and art. Not sure if it was my true love of art, or my similar anxiety diagnoses that made me connect with this film. Either way, advocating for mental health is kick ass, especially when it includes art.
8. The Nostalgist (2014)
Director & Writer: Giacomo Cimini
Cinematographer: Gareth Munden
Aesthetically stunning. This 2016 festival favorite is the film adaption of the short story by Daniel H. Wilson, revealing the love of a father, trying to relive his old life, in a very different world.
9. ReMoved Part 1 and Part 2 (2014/2015)
Director & Writer: Nathanael Matanick
Cinematographer: Tony Cruz
The emotional journey of a girl removed from her home, narrated by the child herself. Focusing on the foster care system, this tear-jerker is beautifully constructed and achieves it purpose of advocating for children in need of safe and loving care.
10. Extremis (2016)
Director: Dan Krauss
Cinematographer: Dan Krauss
Another tear-jerker! But this one is a short doc focusing on the thin line between science and faith, with loved ones on life support. The decision to keep them on hanging by a cord (literally) or take them off to pass in peace. What would you do? Winner of Best Short Documentary of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and San Francisco Bay Area International Film Festival winner, this doc was picked up by Netflix.