Dedicated to spotlighting short films around the world regardless of access to equipment, the 16th annual Frozen Film Festival featured a diverse collection of more than 175 films, covering genres such as sci-fi, skate and surf, documentary and drama. Though the festival is typically held every summer in the Mission District, this year’s installment was almost entirely online, with on-demand films available from July 13 to 17. The lineup featured both international and domestic films, and standouts in each category were acknowledged at the festival’s awards. With an eclectic lineup of shorts and feature films, the Frozen Film Festival presented a bursting collection of stories, myths and fairy tales from around the globe — a Bay Area must-see for broadening film horizons.
“Step Into the River,” Grade: 4.5/5 .0
With a distinct hand-drawn likeness reminiscent of children’s picturebooks, Weijia Ma’s animated short film “Step Into the River” presents a solemn, beautiful folk tale nestled in cultural history and intrigue. The ghost story follows two young girls in a river village where infant girls are often drowned by their families. Both Lu and Wei make for charming on-screen protagonists, with each carrying their own distinct, touching histories that quickly become intertwined with one another and the river that borders their lives.
Ma’s deft hand intertwines historical trauma with the lives of the two young girls to craft an enriched folk tale full of magical spirits, yelling grandmothers and solemn realizations. The childlike, hand-drawn style provides the space for the more subtle and visceral elements of the story to come to life amongst the younger background. A poignant and soft soundtrack swells underneath the girls’ adventure, adding a cherry on top to the already good-as-myth short.
“Dandoy,” Grade: 3.5/5.0
A textured, sweeping reel of skateboarding and surfing in the Philippines, “Dandoy” is a breezy venture into the challenges and joys that the sports inspire in Lapu-Lapu city. The documentary follows athlete Dandoy Tongco, who lives in the coastal city after achieving skateboarding acclaim — demonstrating a new image of the sport not defined by the popular skate scene of Venice Beach, but rather a bare-bones version of that prevails in spite of the many challenges Lapu-Lapu city presents. Rhythmic black and white photos of surfing and sweeping shots of skateboarding in the Philippines define the short’s bursting cinematography. While certainly aesthetically pleasing, the smooth visuals sometimes veer into that of a glossy cinematography reel rather than a sharp focus on Dandoy himself. A fresh sports tale, Dandoy’s perseverance in bringing his dream to his community leaves its audience inspired to reach for their own ambitions just a bit more.
“Deracinées,” Grade: 4.5/5.0
Deracinées is a brutal, honest short that demands to be heard. In September 2017, Burma’s Rohingya minority became a victim of ethnic cleansing, leading to 1,000,000 refugees settling in camps in South Bangladesh. This 11-minute-long piece documents a collection of short interviews with refugee women and victims of sexual violence. The ages of the women vary from mid-20s to as young as nine, and with each testimony their harrowing truths ring louder. Simple shots of the interviews are combined with the landscape of the refugee camps, a subtle touch that lets the women stand on their own as their words propel the documentary.
“Kooseh (Shark),” Grade: 4.5/5.0
In “Kooseh (Shark),” some of the darkest moments occur right outside other people’s brightest. Behzad Azadi’s simmering short details a story played out in the quiet corners of a ceremony salon in Tehran. Young Samim explores living secretly masculine-presenting and working illegally at the salon, leading to a confrontation with the head attendant who attempts to take advantage of him. The tentative, yet graceful, character Samim embodies a body still in a state of discovery and in constant subtle dialogue with the world around him. Every stolen conversation sinks with potential danger of discovery, bordered by raucous lights and sounds from the rented ceremony hall constantly leaking into the frame. A contained story told through quieter moments of self-exploration that build to a slow, agonizing confrontation, “Kooseh (Shark)” captures a brutal internal conflict dancing within stunning, lonely cinematography.
“Baloney Beacon,” Grade: 4.0/5.0
A frenzied god holds court, a school of sperm flies through outer space and a beacon is sent beyond. In Max Landman’s “Baloney Beacon,” balloon gods come to life in an absurd and surreal stop-motion filmed almost entirely with blow-up balloons. Landman’s experience as a professional “balloon twister” and animator collide expertly in this silly and wonder-filled short in which balloons are morphed into all-new shapes and sizes. The work of transforming helium filled plastic into otherworldly, living creatures took around a year and a half to complete — a level of commitment that’s illustrated through the comprehensive five minute short. While certainly hard to follow plot-wise, “Baloney Beacon” is perhaps less interested in linear storytelling and far more invested in the silly and impressive exploits that this form of artistry can create, leading to a highly entertaining jaunt through balloon space.