Criterion Month: Andrea Arnold’s Short Films… From ‘Milk’ to ‘Wasp’

This piece is by our guest writer, Shaun Alexander.

As a part of the Criterion collection release of Andrea Arnold’s 2009 film, Fish Tank, you are treated to not only the Jury Prize winning film, but also three short films Arnold directed previously: Milk (1998), Dog (2001) and Wasp (2003). When you watch these shorts as a collective it is clear to see how they became stepping stones for Fish Tank and Arnold’s other future films, which tackle themes that can disturb viewers at times with intense depictions of sexuality, poverty and family relationships.

The reason for my own personal interest in Arnold’s work is due to the socio-economic setting. Set in and around East London / Essex, Fish Tank has a number of locations which are within walking distance from where I have lived the majority of my life. These are streets I have walked down, these are roads I have driven past and that level of familiarity is not just with the setting but with the characters we see. I am friends with, worked with and went to school with the people that Arnold often focuses on in her filmography – good-hearted people with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Having these personal investments in Arnold’s work has made it fascinating to rediscover these short films and the way in which their ideas are clear influences on her later work.

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‘Bao’ is a Tribute to Motherhood and the Daily Life of Asian Immigrants

When your family rushes to the cinema to see Incredibles 2 this weekend, be sure you head there on time and bring a box of tissues while you’re at it. Pixar’s newest short film, Bao, plays right before every screening of the new animated sequel, and in my opinion, it might be their best short yet. It follows the story of a Chinese-Canadian mother adjusting to her empty nest, who one day creates a little dumpling child to take care of. This eight-minute animated short is home to some of the best high-grade animation, a beautiful score, and delicious animated food. But Bao is so much more than just a technical demo for Pixar – it also serves as a cultural piece! Told through visual storytelling, Bao captures the essence of a 1st and 2nd generation Chinese immigrant household and their family dynamics, as well as paying tribute to the love of Asian mothers.

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There are tears in my eyes from how cute this is.

There’s a lot to love about this short if you come from a family of Asian immigrants. The immediate thing I noted was the expressive, chibi-like art style that manages to successfully cartoonize Asian features, but doesn’t do so in a racist, caricaturist fashion. But thinking about the short since I saw it last Friday, I realized that it made me feel so much more validated and represented than most times I see myself in Western, Asian-targeted media. I then found out that the film was actually directed by a Chinese-Canadian woman, Domee Shi. Bao is the first Pixar short ever to be directed by a woman of any ethnicity, so already this short has made history and garnered lots of praise. I particularly want to highlight the successful way it captured the experiences of coming from a family of Chinese immigrants.

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One Short A Day: Week One

For the first week of the One Short A Day challenge, upon the suggestion of many friends, I decided to watch shorts of Ukrainian-American experimental filmmaker Maya Deren. I find it quite hard to talk about them, but what I know is that after every film I watched, I wanted to watch it again. And at the end of the week, I wanted to watch them one after another at one go. There is so much written about Deren, her films, her influences, and I wanted to read as much as I could but decided against it since it’s against the purpose of this challenge, which is to write about these films right after I’ve seen them, on how I felt watching them and their immediate effect on me. It was hard, but that’s why it’s a challenge. Hope you enjoy!

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Summer Challenge: One Short A Day

In case you couldn’t tell from the weather, summer is (almost) here! This summer, Much Ado is setting a challenge: One Short A Day. Starting from May 8th, I’ll watch one short film a day and will publish my thoughts on them every Tuesday. Films will be chosen randomly from your suggestions, films that are taught at film schools, films that won awards or went under the radar. My thoughts on the films will be one paragraph for each, written right after I watch them.

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If you want to join me in this challenge, you can alter it in any way that fits you. Tag your posts with #OneShortADay on Twitter and/or Letterboxd to share your challenge with us and give us your suggestions in comments or Twitter. You can also follow the challenge on Letterboxd here which I’ll update weekly.

Enjoy the challenge and happy summer holidays!