©Photo by © Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia.

VR Makes Its Debut And What Else To Look For At This Year’s Short Shorts Film Festival

A Mixture Of All Things Old, New, and Most Importantly, “Short”

By Jes Kalled
June 12, 2018
Art & Culture

Calling all cinema lovers, and immersive content connoisseurs! This year’s Short Shorts Film Festival has many kinds of films for you to digest.

This June marks the 20th anniversary of the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia, its humble beginnings going back as far as 1999 when it screened six short student films by George Lucas. In step with its pre-millennia ambition to bring the nuance of short films to Japan audiences, SSFF & ASIA is the first film festival in Japan to include VR in its program. So this year, at last, you can see—or rather, experience, VR 360° and VR Interactive short films. Go solo, with friends, or take the kids out to enjoy the sight, sound, and immersive experience of the future’s filmmaking technology.  

About Short Shorts Film Festival

SSFF & ASIA is one of the world’s largest international short film festivals, annually screening over 250 films selected from titles submitted by 10,000 contestants and filmmakers from around the world. As a qualifier for the Academy Awards, and simply a place to admire what’s “new,” “old,” and more specifically, “short,” the festival has become a curated place to appreciate the moving image art form in the beauty of its brevity.  

“We would like to make the status of ‘short film’ higher and make people recognize ‘the short film’ as being something that is full of possibility,” a spokesman from the festival’s organizing committee told Savvy in an interview. 

In an effort to be an “on the edge” film festival, SSFF & ASIA blends the old with the new.

“Short film is now becoming an entertainment content which can fit into our various and unique lifestyles. The short film is also used as an effective medium of telling messages for brands and corporations. In contrast with advertisements, short film also provides cinematic movement which touches people’s hearts.”

Welcoming VR at last

Although Virtual Reality has multiple homes in Tokyo at arcades such as the VR Park in Shibuya, and VR Zone in Shinjuku, and even though Japan is a lead explorer in mixed reality-based endeavors at large, the country wasn’t quick at introducing VR in its film festivals up to now. Other countries have already taken advantage of the new medium in film festivals across the Pacific: In 2012, the first VR works appeared at the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City, Utah, and in 2016 — arguably the year in which VR began to gain real momentum — works arrived at the Cannes Film Festival in short film form.

It took SSFF & ASIA around three years to provide a VR shorts program and “it wasn’t easy” to gather high-quality VR short films from around the world due to lack of content, the representative says. “This is because making VR films is totally different from traditional filmmaking, and there are not enough VR filmmakers yet,” they argue.

But now that the devices used for watching VR have grown and become more accessible, introducing VR has finally become possible and we are so excited! Here are some of the best VR selections playing at Short Shorts 2018.

Sergeant James by Alexandre Perez, France

© Photo by Alexandre Perez/07 min/France/2017

A VR experience you won’t want to miss this month is Sergeant James, a 360° short by Director Alexandre Perez. It first premiered at Tribeca in 2017, and has since given audiences a unique sci-fi VR experience, where the viewer may or may not be the imagined presence underneath the boy’s bed. Are you there? Are you not? Are you just a part of the young boy’s imagination?

Invasion! by Eric Darnell, USA

© Photo by Eric Darnell/6:08/USA/Animation/2016

From the creator of Madagascar, and the VR Startup, Baobab Studios, comes an animated 360° VR short called Invasion!. A cute story about two aliens who try to take over the world, but who’s goals of world domination are somewhat impeded by adorable bunnies, one of which might be you, the audience. Of the many shorts made for mature audiences, this animation, on the contrary, was made for the whole family. So much so that it is the first VR short film that will be made into a Hollywood feature.  

The Future of Music by Greg Barth by Greg Barth, Switzerland

© Photo by Greg Barth/2017

For a trippy, immersive look into how VR can play with sound, space, and time, come through for Greg Barth’s, The Future of Music. “Is all this for real?” The interviewer asks the fake, world-famous composer. Experience an audiovisual short that defies gravity, and embraces the experimentation of giving audience members autonomy in a space where a music director commands it.

Dear Angelica by Oculus, USA

© Photo by Oculus/USA/2017/13 min

One of the more unique VR films to experience is Emmy-nominated Dear Angelica, a dreamlike short that follows a young girl as she remembers her mother, an actress, and the memories of her that are captured on VHS. This VR short was uniquely illustrated with a “quill tool” which lets the makers draw 3D images directly inside VR. Paving the way forward with storytelling in this new tech field, Dear Angelica, has two female lead roles, and was illustrated by a woman. A beautiful start to a beautiful new way to tell stories. Especially in the technology and film world. “It should feel like a lucid dream in that way that things appear and disappear in a nearly effortless way,” says writer/director Saschka Unseld in Wired.

Other highlights

In an effort to be an “on the edge” film festival, SSFF & ASIA blends the old with the new. A unique part of the festival is not only the ability to see into the future of a new storytelling medium with VR, but also facilitating the viewing of classic short films which can be found in the festival’s Anniversary Program. Directors such as Nobuhiko Obayashi, Charlie Chaplin, George Lucas, and other award-winning creators, are featured in this selection. Pictured below is director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s hard-to-find-on-the-internet 14-minute experimental short with the incredibly long title Complexe=binetsuo hari aruiwa kanashii jozetsu warutsuni notte souretsuno sanpomichi. This may be something you cine-files won’t want to pass up, as it seems to have almost zero Google footprint.

© Photo by Nobuhiko Obayashi/14:00/Japan/Experimental/1964

For truly devoted film fans, you’d also want to attend the Academy Awards Program & Canne Program, which provides some traditional storytelling shorts that will have you leaving the theatre satisfied — as if you had watched a long, feature film. This includes the Oscar-nominated short, Watu Wote: All of Us by Katja Benrath, which is based on the events of a December 2015 Mandera bus attack by militant group Al-Shabaab in Kenya. The bus passengers, including both Muslims and Christians, display solidarity with one another despite the rising tensions between them in the country.  

© Photo by Watu Wote: All of Us by Katja Benrath, GERMANY, 2017, 21:33

Also new to SSFF & ASIA this year is the Nonfiction Program. The Human Face is a documentary that follows Kazuhiro Tsuji, the winner of the 90th (2018) Academy Awards Makeup & Hairstyling award.

© Photo by The Human Face, by Aline Pimentel, USA, 2017, 13:46

Special programs in the lineup also include a Shibuya Diversity Program, which presents an award to a film that especially exemplifies diversity and inclusion, traits that Shibuya wants to embrace. Seen below is Sacred Hair, a 13-minute short based in Montreal about an encounter between a young, ill boy, and a Muslim woman.

© Photo by Sacred Hair, by Mario Morin, CANADA, 2017, 13:15

In the waking moments of VR, a medium that does not yet have a clear foundation, we might say that the short film, and festivals like SSFF & ASIA are in for a whole new level of the concept of being moved. As Jessica Brillhart said in an interview with Motherboard Vice, “It’s more, how do we craft an entirety of a world to be able to harness the agency of the viewer being able to look wherever they want to look,” Brillhart said. “To see it as world-building, instead of trying to put things in a box.”

Happy Viewing! Happy Shorts! And Happy VR to you!


The Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2018 runs until Sun, June 24, 2018, in various venues in Tokyo. For details on tickets, schedule and venues, see the official Short Shorts 2018 website here