Don Hertzfeldt is an impressive artist. Hertzfeldt is a two-time Oscar nominee, and a 2012 Indiewire Best Director poll placed Hertzfeldt above filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Steven Spielberg. While the short film genre has always been an artistic platform for profound ideas, few short films have captured the public’s attention more than Hertzfeldt’s. Rejected, for example, has gained a cult following. Rejected was first screened at the San Diego Comic Con and has since been viewed by Cartoon Network audiences and Sundance Film Festival attendees. Rejected is a simple, absurd animated short film that tackles big concepts. In about nine minutes, Hertzfeldt introduces audiences to an assortment of supposedly rejected cartoon clips. Though the characters seem basic and the narrative seems fractured, the short film as a whole shines a somber light on the plights of the forgotten.
Hertzfeldt’s latest short film, World of Tomorrow, is now on Netflix. Of World of Tomorrow, culture commentator David Sims writes:
The idea of the copy-pasted brain, and the moral quandaries that could stem from it, has enjoyed a quiet revival in sci-fi recently, with World of Tomorrow as the must-see standard-bearer. Hertzfeldt, whose work always tends towards the absurd, had never experimented with the genre before making this short, which was his first digitally produced film. As Emily and her clone drift through the “outernet,” the virtual reality through which all people in the future apparently communicate, the environment pops and crackles around them. But for all of his fantastical imagery, Hertzfeldt triumphs by focusing tightly on his protagonist’s emotions, which are seemingly haywire thanks to their being a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. “I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive,” the clone proclaims, while acknowledging that she has occasionally fallen in love with inanimate objects in the past.
As World of Tomorrow proves, short films can wrinkle your brain as much as feature films can. Below are some short films (some by Hertzfeldt) that you can watch right now. Enjoy!
Everything Will Be Ok (2006) dir. Don Hertzfeldt
Created after Rejected and before World of Tomorrow, this animated short film is the first portion of a three-part story about Bill, a passive, thoughtful stick-figure man. Everything Will Be Ok is seventeen minutes of social commentary that slowly transitions from amusing and relatable to unsettling and poignant.
Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? (2005) dir. Miguel Arteta
Written by Miranda July (The Future) and starring John C. Reilly (Step Brothers), this short film features three different responses to a seemingly simple question. Bob Davidson calls it a “profoundly simple short.” (Warning: Film may be a trigger for those with depression.)
Rejected (2000) dir. Don Hertzfeld
As David Jenkins writes, “It’s perhaps the only ever Oscar-nominated film to feature a dancing popcorn kernel who suffers from a bout of cascading rectal bleeding.”
Father and Daughter (2000) dir. Michael Dudok de Wit
This Oscar-winning Dutch film is a nine-minute exploration of familial love that is both visually compelling and emotionally engaging. Michael Dudok de Wit’s narrative justifies the hope of those who remain connected to lost loved ones.
Manipulation (1991) dir. Daniel Greaves
If Rejected and Everything Will Be Ok are derivative, they draw from works like Manipulation. This Oscar-winning short film features the interplay between an artist and his art. Though initially the interactions seem playful, the story quickly becomes sinister, revealing the slippery slope from friskiness to abuse. There is a reason this film is titled as it is.
Stairway to Light (1945) dir. Sammy Lee
This Oscar-winning short film tells the story of Philippe Pinel‘s fight for more humane treatment of psychiatric conditions. Considering that, today, we are still struggling to eliminate the detrimental stigmas associated with mental illness, Sammy Lee’s 1945 film remains relevant.
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