Watch: How One Director Used Old VHS Home Movies to Create an Award-Winning Short
It's no coincidence that one of the best shorts of the year is also one of the most personal.
Justin Stoneham's deeply personal film REWIND FORWARD is having quite the festival run. After winning the prestigious Pardino d’Oro for Best Swiss Short at the 70th Annual Locarno Film festival in the spring, this week saw Stoneham earn the first ever Vimeo Staff Pick Award at the 2018 Palm Springs International ShortFest.
In a way, the film's title tells the whole story. It's clear that Stoneham not only spent hours in the editing room combing through old footage of his mother finding the perfect clips to tell her tragic story, but also in life, rewinding and fast-forwarding the old home videos to remind himself of the woman she once was.
For as long as Stoneham can remember, his mother been confined to a wheelchair, left partially paralyzed and unable to speak after suffering a stroke when her son was four years old. Following the death of his father, he discovers the tapes and discovers the mother he's always longed to have.
In a statement released after the festival, Vimeo's curation team felt the film deserved the award simply for "reminding [them] of the healing power of cinema." Stoneham "bravely dives into dusty old VHS tapes for an honest and often painful look at buried memories and lost connections," they continue. "While confronting a devastating family tragedy, the filmmaker takes us on an emotional journey through the past while simultaneously paving the way for a better future."
As a part of the prize package, Stoneham also received a premiere on Vimeo’s Staff Picks. No Film School spoke briefly with the director after his win at Palm Springs International ShortFest as part of our ongoing series exploring the benefits of having a simultaneous online and festival release.
No Film School: What was your inspiration for creating this film?
Justin Stoneham: There were many circumstances that led me to do this film, but I think the initial idea came after I found a box full of old VHS tapes that contained 20 years of footage filmed by my father. In the beginning, it felt like I had to finish something that he had started. But within the process, we soon realized that it would develop into an encounter between my mother and me, now and then.
NFS: Did you face any challenges when making this film?
Stoneham: I think the decision of bringing myself in as a main character was the most challenging. With such a personal film and the many people involved, it became clear that I had to tell the story from my point-of-view. Also, it was very hard to keep track of the very thin line between personal and private.
NFS: What is your best piece of advice to aspiring filmmakers?
Stoneham: Especially in personal films, it is crucial to choose people to work with who have a certain distance to the topic so they can remain objective and critical.
NFS: What’s the value of displaying your film at a festival versus releasing online?
Stoneham: At a festival, it's always nice to meet the many people who know the nerve-wracking but almost always rewarding process of filmmaking. Releasing a film online means to share it with an anonymous but bigger audience from all over the world. The thought of it makes me nervous and excited at the same time.
NFS: What does the Staff Pick Award mean to you?
Stoneham: It‘s a great honor and an even bigger opportunity to be able to show my film to such a large audience in such a well-curated online platform.
NFS: What’s next? Any upcoming projects?
Stoneham: To be honest, I‘m still looking for my next story. What I do know so far is that I‘d love to reinvent myself and maybe even work on a fictional project.