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Tag Archive: short films


Review by C.J. Bunce

In a year of retrospectives that included the return to theaters of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), would you have guessed that the film to fill the most theater seats would be Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind?  Sunday I saw just that, as Ghibli Fest 2017 and Fathom Events presented the first of three screenings nationwide.  Tonight you, too, can see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at select theaters nationwide, the subtitled version, followed by the 2005 English dubbed version screening again Wednesday.  Check out the Fathom Events website here for participating theaters and to get tickets.  If you are a fan of Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, epic fantasy films, or great cinema in general, Nausicaä is a completely different film in the theater than as seen on the small screen.  In the theater you will be immersed in Miyazaki’s sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrific, post-apocalyptic world.  You’ll surrounded by the prolific composer Joe Hisaishi’s sweeping, gorgeous melodies and breathtaking emotional cues.  And if you’re an anime fan debating which of Miyazaki’s creations is the best–Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or My Neighbor Totoro…  you may decide Nausicaä is the winner.

Nausicaä is chillingly timeless and current.  I discovered what began as a rather chatty theater suddenly became quiet as the story’s themes unfolded: the consequences of unchecked technological advances, the price of decades of polluting the environment, the likely outcome of warring nations bent on total destruction of the other, the results of failing to take responsibility for the animal kingdom.  Miyazaki combined more compelling and important drama in one film than many top directors have created in the entirety of their careers.  But the film is not the stuff of your typical bland mainstream drama–it’s chock full of action and daring adventure of the fantastical variety while also considered a science fiction tale because of its dystopian vision of the future.  Set one thousand years into the future, the world was once ravaged, and cities destroyed, by mutated insects and beasts created by humans as bioweapons that laid waste to everything like military tanks, all during the horrible Seven Days of Fire.

But over the centuries a balance has formed between the Toxic Jungle, humans, and the animal world.  A young woman named Nausicaä, a princess of the Valley of the Wind, is praised and respected by her people.  She studies the forest, its creatures, dangerous spores, and the environment, all in secret, searching for anything to help her preserve the progress that has been made.  Her world is soon upset by the people of Tomekia, militant humans led by Princess Kushana (voiced in the English version by Uma Thurman) bent on destroying the insects and sending the world out of balance.  But it is Princess Nausicaä that steals every scene.  From the very beginning she emerges as a great leader, clever and resourceful, never hesitating to protect the people and things she cares about.  And the plot threads are entirely unpredictable–Miyazaki’s entire grasp of fantasy, interlocked with amazing special effects for an animated film, suck us down into the quicksand with Nausicaä and a boy named Asbel.  Miyazaki created a flying contraption for our heroine, a glider so wonderfully conceptualized every viewer will believe it could be real, based on sound aeronautic principles, from the soaring trajectories, weight, and movement in flight to Nausicaä’s different ways she grasps the ship to maneuver it.  Even the enormous multi-eyed Ohms feel ominous and threatening.

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Humans gravitate toward benchmarks.  Anniversaries and events that end in zero, like 50th anniversaries.  Turning 20.  They like superlatives.  The biggest.  The best.  The fastest.  The youngest.  The oldest.  It’s human nature.

You never know what’s going to happen to you in a given day.  Maybe you meet someone new.  Maybe you work on a new project you hadn’t contemplated before.  Or, if you’re lucky, you wander into a new town and stumble upon something new.  Or something old.

It could be in any town in any city, but it just happens to be in a town you hadn’t planned on visiting, on a side jaunt along the way to someplace unrelated to where you now find yourself, staring up at an old building with a marquee.  A movie theater like any other old movie theater on any other main street across the Midwestern United States, that dot towns here and there.  Yet this one makes a surprising assertion.  This one claims to be the oldest.  If you find yourself in front of a theater like that, then you must be in Ottawa, Kansas, a quaint town about a half an hour’s drive south of Kansas City.

And like a trip to The Twilight Zone, the next thing you know you’ve paid the price of your ticket and you’re sitting alone in a movie theater, soaking up that old familiar place that smells like popcorn and feels like home.  You marvel at the gray metal 1930s art deco ceiling lights, the tall vintage curtains, and find yourself watching a film from 1903 that played in this very town in its opening months 109 years ago, then viewed by a crowd of turn of the century townsfolk from a very different turn of the century.  Like you, they were watching this movie for the first time, only they were watching it as the first movie they’d ever seen.

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Robinson Robot

I was lucky to catch up with an aspiring creator of short films who has a love for the sci-fi vision of the future as seen through the viewfinder of the past–U.S. filmmaker Michael Prestage.  His films harken back to everything from 1950s serials and commercials to 1960s cartoons like Fractured Fairy Tales, old NASA films, and even the live-action series Tales of the Riverbank.  Michael has a great eye for styles of the past and you could easily see his work used in modern marketing and commercials or to help create the setting for motion pictures taking place in decades past.

I interviewed Michael about three short films, which I am posting in their entirety here.  First, check out Michael’s recent competition entry in the 2013 Firefox Flicks contest:

CB:  Michael, thanks for sharing your work with us today.  Please tell us about your work on Tale of the Firefox.

MP:  Tale of the Firefox was a project that came ridiculously close to never happening.  It was past midnight when I remembered I’d left my PC on in the other room and went to go shut it down.  I got there and there was this little blurb that had popped up sometime in the interim, imploring Firefox users to enter their short film contest proclaiming the virtues of Firefox.  I like Firefox as much as the next person, I’ve been using since the 56k days, but I ran the prospect over my brain cells and I came up dead empty.  I said to hell with it, shut the PC down and forgot about it… or, so I thought.  Lo and behold, I wake up the next morning, grab a scrap of paper and start madly scratching out this offbeat story about a cherubic little kid suddenly finding himself tossed into this creepy netherworld.

CB:  I love the narration that sounds just like someone out of the 1960s.  Was that you or someone else’s voice?

MP:  I’d hit upon the idea of placing my pocket voice recorder inside this old NASA floodlight that I’d been noticing for some time to have unusual resonating properties.  I spent the rest of an afternoon reciting my narration into the amphitheater-shaped lamp, and by that night I had my narrative track laid down exactly as it plays in the completed short.

CB:  How long did Tale of the Firefox take to create?

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