short films

Shorts on our list: Before ‘Sicario’ and ‘Arrival’, Denis Villeneuve made this film in 1994

‘REW-FFWD’ is a nightmarish exploration of culture shock set in Jaimaica.

For fledgling filmmakers, short films serve as calling cards. For established filmmakers, shorts serve as a break between projects, or perhaps something to do as they seek funding for a planned future film. In 2015, director Sujoy Ghosh released Ahalya, his first film since Kahaani (2012).

Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve made only four films between 1998 and 2010, but he has since proceeded to work non-stop over the last few years. Villeneuve first came to mainstream notice in 2010 with Incendies, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2013, he made Prisoners and Enemy, both starring Jake Gyllenhaall. In 2015, he directed the drug smuggling thriller Sicario. The science fiction film Arrival, which was premiered at the Venice Film Festival, is being released in India on November 25. Villeneuve will also helm the prestigious sequel to the Ridley Scott classic Blade Runner.

Although Villenueve’s films are firmly embedded in genre, they have a strong edge of realism. Villenueve’s docu-drama style is firmly in evidence in REW-FFWD (1994), one of his early works produced by the National Film Board of Canada and referred to as a “pyscho-drama” by one of the characters in the film.

“You are the protagonist of a broken down road movie,” an unnamed voice, who identifies himself as a psychiatrist-mechanic, tells the photographer protagonist of REW-FFWD. A black box has “digitally recorded every move, every thought, every breath, everything” from the photographer’s trip to Kingston, Jamaica, on an assignment. On the front of the box are four buttons. “Let’s push play,” the psychiatrist tells photographer.

The rest of the film uses found footage format and is told from the main character’s point of view. Scenes are played out of order to create confusion for viewers as they follow the photographer’s journey into an alien word. What begins as culture shock slowly gives way to understanding.

The film was shot on location and features what appear to be real interviews with reggae musicians such as Massive Dread. There is also a brief interlude where a local academic explains the role of family in Jamaican society. The short film’s eerie, nightmarish quality makes for an uneasy viewing experience.

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‘REW-FFWD’.

“I started alone with a camera,” Villeneuve told British pop culture website Den of Geek about his early career. “I made a few dozen small documentaries, and that was the birth of a way to approach reality with a camera. After that, my first films were really like sketches for me. They have some qualities, but they also have a lot of faults. I was not a good screenwriter at the beginning – I needed to learn more. I stopped for a few years, saying to myself, ‘I will go back to cinema when I’m able to better control my ideas.”

Villenueve went on to contribute Le Technétium to the anthology film Cosmos (1996), a showcase of Canadian filmmakers. Two years later, he made his feature film debut with August 32nd on Earth. Both films were Canada’s entry to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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The cinema of Denis Villeneuve.
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