Sitting in a gaudy furniture store was a woman with hair made of cotton candy. She began to pull off chunks and swallows each piece, bit by bit, until she was left bald and dazed, staring in a mirror. In devouring parts of herself, the woman seemed to symbolize the destructive consequences of addiction, or perhaps narcissism. This compelling yet slightly unsettling narrative describes Biancia Boragi’s ART ’17 “Cotton Candy,” one of the eight experimental shorts featured at the Yale Student Film Festival this past weekend.
Made by students from four different countries, including Iran, Lebanon and Germany, the experimental shorts at YSFF offered an exploration of themes ranging from self-destruction to the banality of daily life. The films included animations in various media such as watercolor and clay, as well as video footage.
“Nerves Most Spoiled” by Virginia Commonwealth University student Andy Gottschalk kicked off the screening. Animated with experimental media and narrated poetically, the film explored the suffocating quality of leisure time. Clay animation’s colorful visuals contrasted sharply with the narrator’s intentionally dull tone. Within minutes, Gottschalk powerfully demonstrated how summer, a time dominated by idleness, is sometimes crippling. His film was equal parts unsettling and enlightening.
“Nerves Most Spoiled” set an appropriately eerie tone, and the following shorts did not disappoint. Sam Kirchoff, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate student, created “Bike Trip,” a live-action short that captured the tranquility of the outdoors through a poetically fragmented travelogue. University of Tehran student Motahreh Ahmadpour’s “Redpoint,” which included footage of machine-like objects representing beating hearts and brains, intricately displayed how powerfully love affects our bodies. “Dispersion” by Adam Dargan, a student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, provided an entrancing, computer-generated representation of nature. Brightly colored peaks, ridges and forests dissolved in 3-D space, resulting in a slightly bizarre yet calming viewing experience.
Also of note was “Forgiveness” by Rima Irani, a student at Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon. A captivating, surrealistic journey through the recesses of a woman’s mind as she sat in a hypnotherapy session, the film explored the damaging effects of abusive familial relationships. As the title suggests, the woman was only freed from her anxiety after forgiving those responsible for her childhood trauma.
I left the screening feeling simultaneously fulfilled, stimulated and mildly confused by some of the more abstract showings. While some of the shorts’ messages were immediately clear — consumption and destruction in “Cotton Candy,” consequences of idleness in “Nerves Most Spoiled” — others were harder to access. “Dispersion” and “Red Point,” for instance, both required close attention to discern central themes: Confused viewers were held hostage until the very end when the payoff was satisfying, but questionably worth it. Although each of the films succeeded in provoking the viewer to think about important concepts, some such as “Nerves Most Spoiled” achieved this end using unsettling animations and disturbing sounds, while others like “Forgiveness” provided a more pleasurable viewing experience.
The experimental film block at YSFF showcased the value of cinematic innovation, not only in filming techniques but also in storytelling structures. In a market where every other movie is an extravaganza of CGI and conventional hero narratives, an experimental short like “Cotton Candy” stands out as a refreshing break from the norm.