Watch: This Exquisite Short Moved Heaven and Earth to Cast a Whale
Vimeo's December slate of Staff Pick Premieres highlights the best new short films.
In the fall, we announced Vimeo's decision to take Staff Picks to the next level with Staff Pick Premieres, a curatorial initiative designed to showcase high-quality shorts, some of which have already enjoyed a fruitful life on the festival circuit. Last month, the company rolled out its first slate of short films, including this year's mesmerizing and horrifying Sundance award-winning short.
The December lineup (detailed below) is just as exciting. This time around, we were particularly impressed by Icelandic director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson's short Whale Valley, which won a short film Special Mention at Cannes this year. Set on a remote Icelandic fjord, the solemn film is the story of two brothers struggling with depression as a result of their isolating existence.
No Film School spoke with Guðmundsson, who said the biggest challenge was successfully securing one of the film's co-stars: a whale.
"In the script stage, everyone wanted to save me from the disappointment of not finding a whale," Guðmundsson said. "My friends and colleagues tried to convince me to change it into a sheep, horse, cow, or basically any animal except a whale."
"In pre-production, I found out that at least once a year a whale washes off the shore of Iceland," he continued. "I was ready to wait at least couple of years. To my surprise, the whale came before the principal shooting, so we rushed out to the countryside and saw this beautiful animal, which had already passed away, on the beach."
Though it was still winter at the time, the snow began melting the next day, leaving a mile-long lake in its wake. To Guðmundsson's chagrin, it blocked the only road to the beach. But with the help of a local farmer, who cleared the lake by digging paths for over a week with his small Caterpillar, the crew was able to reach the whale.
"When we got to the whale, it was half buried into the beach, but the farmer was sure he could save that, as well," said Guðmundsson. "He restored the whale and ended up playing an extra in the scene on top of that."
The exquisite scene that resulted was well worth the trouble. "On the day of the shooting, there was a huge storm outside and we were all wet to the bone and freezing. But all the same, the visuals were amazing, so it was a mixed feeling of joy and pain."
Guðmundsson was shocked to find out that Whale Valley would screen in competition at Cannes. "It was amazing," he said. "I still remember having the phone call and how surprised, happy, and thankful I felt."
Below are the rest of the December Staff Pick Premieres (synopses courtesy of Vimeo):
The Chaperone (dir. Fraser Munden)
Synopsis: The previously untold true story of a lone teacher chaperoning a school dance in 1970s Montreal, when a menacing motorcycle gang invades.
Listen (dir. Hamy Ramezan & Rungano Nyoni)
Synopsis: A police station. A foreign woman, wearing a burqa, is there with her young son to file a complaint. Yet, it seems the translator is not willing to report what she is telling. Available December 21st
Territory (dir. Eleanor Mortimer)
Synopsis: The rock of Gibraltar is shared between two primate species: people and monkeys. The monkeys populated the upper rock long before the British arrived, but now, 300 years on, the two are by no means on friendly terms. Vain attempts to drive the monkeys away from the town with peashooters are seen as a game by the animals. This leads the government to resort to more drastic tactics. Available December 28th
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