The Movie Waffler SSFF 2016 Reviews - RAINFALL / RACING TO 500 / STARRY NIGHT | The Movie Waffler


Three reviews from this year's Seattle Short Film Festival.

Reviews by John Bennett (@johnbennett812)


If the short films represented in the Seattle Shorts Film Festival show anything, they show how young filmmakers are almost communally interested in similar themes. Their films highlight youthful characters who search longingly for fulfillment, be it romantic or professional. Often, this kind of subject matter wallows in myopia - but at their best, these films show how young filmmakers have a fine sense of the elusiveness of happiness and how moments of deep meaning and connection should be savoured when they fall from the sky.

In the short animated film Rainfall, by Efehan Elbi, a teenage girl apprehensively goes on a first date that turns out to be magical, only to doubt herself and the boy’s level of interest in her afterwards. Rainfall’s animation is very well conceived and executed. Elbi seamlessly interweaves an expressionistic style of animation with real-life photography. That’s why it’s too bad that the film’s story, characters, and dialogue are so workaday. Elbi’s exquisite technique deserves a narrative more subtle and adventurous than the tired tentative teenage romance that Rainfall recounts - even if there are one or two moments of genuine niceness amid the banality as the two characters enjoy their date.

Racing to 500

In the longer live action short, Racing to 500, Rob Smith and Pat O’Brien tell the true story of Greg Smith, a high school student on the autistic spectrum who finds an emotional outlet through swimming. Encouraged by a supportive coach, Greg strives to be a valuable member of his school’s swim team, despite obstacles that include his struggle to succeed academically, the bullying he endures at the hands of some of the swim team’s members, and his father’s strong initial reluctance regarding Greg’s focussing on any activity other than schoolwork.

Racing to 500 looks clean and has a nice message about overcoming adversity, even if the general tone of the film is a bit on-the-nose. This earnestness is embodied by the coach character, whose speeches to the team, Greg, and Greg’s father are delivered in such a way that makes the character corniness incarnate. Nevertheless, the film benefits from a strong central performance from Leland Chad Williams, and the directors’ choice to include a brief interview with the real Greg Smith at the end of the film validates much of the film’s narrative simplicity as a respectful homage to Greg’s tenacity.

Starry Night

The best short of the batch that I saw came from director Paxton Farrar. His film, Starry Night, tells the story of Dawn (Paige Hiskey) a high-school aged girl whose passion for astronomy leads her to dream of escaping her drab small-town life and her narrow-minded mother in order to study what she loves. Though she has a boyfriend, her main confidant is her older brother (Brian Combs), who has found his escape from their simplistic life in the form of military service.

Many of the shorts in this competition I saw looked fine, but that was the extent of their artistic quality; they were polished, but unexciting as movies. Starry Night is not just polished, it’s a vision. The dusty near-sepia of the visuals is an intelligent visual expression of how Dawn perceives the oppressiveness of her world. A smartly filmed sequence that takes place at an observatory dramatically uses light and shadow to illustrate the profundity of Dawn’s excitement. These stylistic choices not only make Dawn’s passion for astronomy convincing - but moving as well. Farrar’s skill as a visual storyteller is supported by two strong performances from Hiskey and Combs, who convey the complications of their characters without overdoing the story’s sentimental components. If you seek out just one short from the Seattle Short Film Fest, make it this one.

The 2016 Seattle Shorts Film Festival runs from November 11th - 13th. More info at