VIWFF2020 Blog 5: “Staring Down the Stillness” Short Films Review
Written by: Hanna B.
The shorts program Staring Down the Stillness consists of 6 shorts from a wide variety of genres, but centered on individuals who survived and endured the harshness and reality of life as women in their very different worlds. Although, in most of them, there is a sense of contemplation and reminiscing about the past, hence a stillness looking back or facing certain situations linked with the feeling of powerlessness that one might feel at some point in their life due to their sex or condition. And yet, one might feel powerless but not helpless as we realize no matter how long it takes, there is hope for these women coming in all forms and variations.
We witness this in all the shorts whether it is about the joy and nightmare that involves traveling with a child – and, conversely, what can possibly go in the mind of said child; their enhanced feelings of powerlessness – in Poland Border Crossing directed by Agnieszka Chmura. Or in the genre-bending effort by Michelle Muldoon Last Stand to Nowhere. It is retelling of a real event supposedly making us question the actual reality and very little options women had to survive in the West. Likewise the idea of survivalism is more literally explored in Whitehall, The Hunger and the City, black-and-white dystopian short, set in Toronto, about surviving in a post-apocalypse desolate place akin to a warzone or the Warsaw ghetto.
In Magdalena Chmielewska’s Am Himmel (Heaven’s Meadow), the theme of survivalism is at its strongest and deepest. The opener, and most poignant short of this program, is probably also one of the most triggering being about an important subject. It could come with a warning as it is about surviving a sexual assault and how one has to go on, simply living, after such a traumatic event. In merely half an hour, Am Himmel delves into its protagonist psyche as she tries to make sense of what happened to her. She processes it through many stages and the focus is on the denial, inaction, or what can be seen as a certain type of stillness. One might want to move on with their life but it is impossible until they find a way to exorcise the past or a mental (or physically) paralysis. There might be a lot to unpack here for a short (and one might not be wrong to think this could have been a full-length film), but Am Himmel is telling an authentic, disturbing and engaging story that needs to be told.
The next short is also about a survival story, this time focusing on the ones left behind. In Alejandra Wills’ Colombian film Amalgama, we see a mother and a friend, who might be the “lucky” survivor, coping with grief in different ways. One might overcompensate in action to overcome feelings of guilt, while the other one might feel like standing still is the only way to prevent her loss to be forgotten.
Lastly, we have a real tale or retelling of another survivor story, this time, in Olga Delane’s documentary short, Dorotchka. The film is about an 80-year-old woman living in rural Russia and the sad and hardening life she lived. The way she managed to find peace and happiness all the while nonchalantly sharing some of the most intimate and traumatic moments from her past, is a remarkable proof of conspicuous stillness indeed.
Be sure to catch these shorts screening at Vancity Theatre on Saturday, March 7th at 1:20pm.