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Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2021: CINEMADventure

Available online now through June 30, and with a ceremony kicking off on June 11, this year’s festival of short shorts offers new themes, mixes and formats influenced by the pandemic, with offerings for every movie lover.

Mariko Azuma

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As film festivals around the world continue to reconsider the value of cinema amid the pandemic, the Academy Awards® accredited Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia is back again for 2021 with a forward-looking theme, “CINEMADventure.” The theme combines the four words, “cinema,” “venture,” “adventure”, and “ad” to forefront the festival’s originality and variety of cinematic expressions including drama, animation, documentary, and advertising. 

Following last year’s hybrid format, this year’s SSFF & Asia 2021 will begin theater screenings across Tokyo from June 11-21 with expansive online screenings already available from April 27th. With a few tentative paid events, the theater and online screenings are free, making it a perfect opportunity to get a glimpse of what short films are all about. (A short film is a cinematic piece ranging from one minute to approximately 30 minutes.)

While continuing to implement COVID-19 precautions for all participants, the festival offers experimental angles on filmmakers’ current explorations.

Creating Under Lockdown 

After a year of the pandemic, what new insights does SSFF & Asia 2021 showcase? One expected and pertinent theme is effects of the pandemic itself, which continue to reach every corner and crevice of society. 

Despite the obstacles, SSFF & Asia received about the same number of short film submissions this yearーover 6000 submissions from 120 countries and regions. An ultimate 250 films were selected for screenings. 

As Tetsuya Bessho, the founder and President of SSFF & Asia notes, this means that filmmakers were continuing to “create” under lockdown and quarantine situations, limited filming spaces, remote shootings, and many hours of isolation. The films that came into being amid these circumstances highlight a reality that is still heavy with uncertainty, but also hopeful with new opportunities and possibilities of how to shoot, view, and enjoy film. 

This year’s SSFF & Asia includes new competitions that bring films into closer visual proximity and accessibility, despite the social distancing, such as the Smartphone Film Competition supported by Sony, and the Vertical Theater Competition supported by smash. There will also be a 3D venue, DOOR Theater supported by NTT, which is an online space for creators and movie fans to interact virtually. 

Themes of 2021

Along with new methods of creating and enjoying films, the pandemic has seeped into the themes of many submissions to this year’s SSFF & Asia. 

From the Asia International & Japan Program 5, be sure to check out Kita Kyushu, the City of Movies directed by Katsuya Honda. The film portrays the protagonist, Kenichi, as he struggles when forced to close his movie theater due to COVID-19. 

Among Four of Us, from the Asia International & Japan Program 1, directed by Mayu Nakamura, is a story of connection and isolation that takes place over one night. When three people formerly part of a theater club reunite during the pandemic, what do they learn about each other’s missed lives? 

Other films depict current social issues that have been accentuated by the pandemic such as isolation, climate change, and human rights. 

Yu Muraki directed Fly, flow, cease from the NEO Japan Program, which is a selection of films that spotlights young filmmakers. Muraki’s film follows the story of a reclusive teenage boy, Keisuke, and his main form of social interaction which is with his balcony neighbors. What happens when one neighbor decides to move out, breaking apart a friendship that Keisuke believed would last forever?

Music and Dementia also from the NEO Japan Program is a documentary directed by Shota Fujii. It depicts the journey of a husband looking after his pianist wife whose musical abilities continue to be robbed by dementia. 

Picks from the CG Animation Program include The Shut-in directed by Eric Lieu, Maxine Curva & Jira Udomsri, depicting a single mother’s attempts to connect with her withdrawn son, and Migrants directed by Hugo Caby, Antoine Dupriez, Aubin Kubiak, Lucas Lermytte & Zoé Devise, depicting the journey of two polar bears driven into exile due to global warming. 

As for online screenings available to watch now, be sure to check out the Ladies for Cinema Project and Visual Tourism Award. The Ladies for Cinema Project supports women filmmakers and films that focus on female protagonists’ success stories, identity crises, and challenges against societal pressures. The five selected short films of the Visual Tourism Award offer “cinematic travel” amid the pandemic by displaying cutting-edge approaches to how towns and prefectures can be branded through comedy and drama. 

An immensely colorful variety of genres and topics are included in the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2021 lineup, offering something for everyone, whether physically situated in Tokyo or abroad. 

The in-person segment of the film festival will kick off with the Opening Ceremony on June 11. The Official Competition supported by Sony, the best short awards and the Grand Prix “George Lucas Award,” will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on June 21. 

Check out the Short Shorts & Asia 2021 official website to see the full program. 

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Author: Mariko Azuma

Mariko Azuma completed an MA in art history at the University of Utah. With a broad interest in the interdisciplinary humanities, her particular research focuses on the preservation of Japanese vernacular architecture and the related concepts of heritage and authenticity.