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The Art of The Short Film (Plus 6 Short Films to Watch)

The feature film has long stolen the thunder of all forms of film within pop culture, largely due to theaters, streaming services, and award shows. If someone wants to have a good time, either alone or with their friends and family, one of the most common things to do is to pop on a movie, sit back, and share an experience together. 

Alternatively, this isn’t necessarily the case with short films. Short films experiment with style and develop interesting and complex stories in a significantly shorter length of time than in a feature film. They can act as snapshots into the soul of a filmmaker, and sometimes, they can be even more profound than an hour and a half or more of content. 

Yet why does it seem that society tends to neglect the short film? Why are they not as widely talked about as the latest blockbuster hit to come out on Netflix? The truth is, short films are all around us — we just don’t acknowledge them as such. We appreciate the BuzzFeed clips of everyday interactions, Super Bowl commercials, and Pixar animated shorts — all extremely condensed versions of narratives and ideas that can make us laugh, make us roll our eyes, and make us want to share them with others. But most of us don’t tend to value the more “cinematic” short film — the one that is crafted with as much care and thought as a Tarantino or Scorsese feature, the one that urges to share stories of pain and hope and love and loss. 

In an effort to familiarize myself more with screenwriting and filmmaking, I have taken some time out of quarantine to watch some of the most acclaimed short films from the past decade, as well as a few short films from friends who aspire to be amazing filmmakers someday. As a fellow film lover, I think it’s important to circulate as many of these short films as possible, especially since they aren’t as accessible or widely talked about in mainstream media. In order to do that, here’s a list of some short films to check out tonight and this week, in no particular order.

“Last Dates” (Directed by Ben Mallaby)

Everyone knows more or less what a first date looks like. But what do the last dates in a relationship look like? What are the signs that the relationship is over? In this humorous and heartbreaking short film, the last dates of three different English couples are explored, all of them giving a glimpse into the wild rollercoaster that is romance. If you love romantic comedies or want to start getting comfortable with the transition from full-length movies to short films, this is a great place to start.

“When I Saw Him Again” (Directed by Ali Vingiano and Steven Kanter)

*TW: Mention of sexual assault.

This short film is a raw and insightful account of a woman’s experience with sexual assault. After running into her aggressor at a coffee shop, she becomes obsessed with thinking about how to confront him, along with how to navigate her current relationship. This film generated over 10 million views on YouTube, and it was written and directed by Ali Vingiano, who is now a writer for The Morning Show on Apple TV+ (and recently spoke with Columbia Undergraduate Film Productions!). If you’re interested in her work, this is one of her best pieces, so check it out if you feel up to it. Also, the gaslighting is incredibly realistic in this short film.

“Hair Love” (Directed by Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr., and Bruce W. Smith)

Hair Love is a remarkable animated film based on a Black girl who needs a little help with her hair from her dad. She follows a YouTube-like channel of the titular name, where she finds the perfect hairstyle for her upcoming event at school. This adorable and charming short film gives an appreciation for Black hair, and it also won the Academy Award last year for Best Animated Short Film. Its creators include animators like Bruce W. Smith, who has worked on everything from The Proud Family and The Princess and the Frog to Winnie the Pooh, and it also features Issa Rae as the mother of the family. If you’re up for a cute animated short, this one should be your go-to if you haven’t watched it already.

“Thunder Road” (Directed by Jim Cummings)

Thunder Road is quite possibly my favorite short film out of this list. Written, produced, and directed by Jim Cummings, this film takes a look at a young sheriff from a small town at his stepmother’s funeral and how he copes with her loss through a Bruce Springsteen song. Without giving too much away, it’s both wildly hilarious and moving, and you can only really understand its true genius by watching the film. If you want a real inspiration to get into short films, this is probably one of the best to check out first. To see the whole film, you can find Thunder Road for free on Vimeo.

“Caroline” (Directed by Logan George and Celine Held)

I have a soft spot for this film since I share a name with it, but Caroline has definitely had enough acclaim to make it a justifiable addition to this list. The film follows a young girl named Caroline with her mother and siblings as her mother goes on an interview for a new job. When her mother gives her the responsibility to look over her siblings in the car during her interview, things go a bit awry, and not in a comedic way. If you want a bit of suspense and drama, this is a great option. If you’re interested in watching Caroline, you can also find the film for free on Vimeo.

“Whiplash” (Directed by Damien Chazelle)

Last but not least, this short film is actually related to the Oscar-winning feature film Whiplash, which starred J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller. Damien Chazelle (my favorite director at the moment) based the feature film off of this short film he directed, which also stars J.K. Simmons. The short film features the infamous moment where Simmons’s character hurls a chair at Andrew Neiman (the character played by Teller in the feature-length film) during his first rehearsal. If you want to relieve this amazing dramatic scene, then this short film will not disappoint.

I hope these recommendations get you started on your journey through the world of short films. If you ever want to watch more, you can type “best short films of the last decade” or simply “best short films” into Google and get some amazing options in return. Most short films can be found and watched for free on Vimeo or YouTube, which is especially great if you want to watch amazing content on a college student’s budget. Have fun!

Caroline Val

Columbia Barnard '24

Caroline is a first-year at Barnard hoping to major in Psychology and English with a concentration in Film Studies. When not advocating for mental health awareness, she's also extremely involved in all things theatre, film, and writing (especially poetry). She can be reached on Instagram @cxrol.v!
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