The Short Competition Explored Society's Inhumane Indifference

in 17th Vladivostok International Film Festival "Pacific Meridian"

by Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

During the 17th edition of the Pacific Meridian International Film Festival in Vladivostok, the FIPRESCI jury — represented by Aliona Sychiova, René Marx, and Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi — awarded the Prize for Best Short Film to ChiChi directed by David Nessl (USA). The motivation of this accolade was for “the poignant irony, the original visual style and entertaining spirit.”

The International Federation of Film Critics was highly impressed by the hypnagogic and amusing jabberwocky created by the California filmmaker, who depicts how the dreams of his four-legged friend would appear through animation. David Nessl previously gained notoriety in this film genre by winning the Best in Show Award in 2013 at the UC Davis Film Fest, with his movie The Cave.

Through his surrealist ChiChi, an unconventional animal movie, Nessl awakens the audiences’ need for the oneiric, creating nonsensical stories that trigger both comic relief and turmoil. The dry, cringe-worthy humour doesn’t play by the book of the comedy genre, but rather focuses on dark situations that allow viewers to draw their own conclusions on the entire unfolding of the narrative. ChiChi undoubtably challenges the point of view of cinema-goers, stepping into the shoes (or one should say into the paws) of our pets. This canine stream of consciousness powerfully mirrors the paradoxes of human society through a uniquely stylised animation, shaped by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

The Short Competition widely explored the themes of urban malaise and the way society has become non-inclusive, with a selection of globe-spanning motion pictures that tackled these issues from multiple angles. For instance, Brotherhood, directed by Meryam Joobeur, chronicles the life of a hardened shepherd living in rural Tunisia with his wife and two sons, and the way his life is thrown into strife when oldest son Malik returns home from Syria with a new wife named Reem. The film won the Award for Best Short from the Official Jury at Pacific Meridian, accepted by Assistant Director and Casting Director Balsem Errouh Oukhay, who praised the cinematic craft of Meryam Jooebeur, which she considers a source of inspiration.

East Asia was just as potent in channeling nuanced representations of unsympathetic societies. Stay Awake, Be Ready, directed by Pham Thien An, is a fascinating snapshot, taken at a hyperkinetic pace, of the streets and shambles of a city in Vietnam. Parterre, directed by Lee Sangwhan, brings to the silver screen the story of an adolescent Mongolian immigrant who is a member of a wrestling team in a Korean high school and talented enough to compete in the National Sports Festival, but encounters bureaucratic impediments in pursuing his dream because he is a stateless person. The Last Post Office, directed by Aung Rakhine, beautifully presents a supernatural love story between two postmen who live in utter isolation, enveloped by the enchantment of Bangladesh’s mountains and waters. The Field, directed by Sandy Suri, poetically reveals a secret love affair between two poor agricultural labourers, who conceal their romance in the tall vegetation of the cornfield.

Also, the country that hosted the festival did not fail in featuring a striking film about mankind’s greedy  and materialistic compulsions. The Russian film Fuel (ТОПЛИВО), directed by Mikhail Arkhipov, is visually stunning in portraying, through entrancing shots, a man’s obsessive hunt for oil, as he starts an ill-fated fight with indifferent nature. Finally, the unusual interior monologue 27 Thoughts About My Father, directed by Mike Hoolboom, is a reflection made by the filmmaker about his dad, as he weaves in historical monstrosities, personal experiences, and aspirations.

The selection of Shorts at the 2019 edition of the Pacific Meridian International Film Festival in Vladivostok utterly grasped — through a variety of genres and diversified styles — the most heinous issues of our time. They allowed viewers to confront current affairs that plunge us back into an era of xenophobia, and at the same time raise our consciousness to a level of cultural and emotional redemption.

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Edited by Robert Horton