Big in Japan! Epic highlights from the Sapporo Short Film Festival 2013

So I’ve had this sneaky plan for while now:

  1. Make a list of the countries I really want to visit
  2. Find film festivals in those countries and send them Preparation
  3. Hope they jet me in on business class

Okay, so the last part didn’t exactly happen.

But I was lucky to get selected for the first festival I chose: the Sapporo Short Film Festival and Market in Japan.

And business class or not, it was a great experience.

About the festival

Sapporo is the fourth-largest city in Japan, and is located on the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.  It is known for it’s beer, snow and really, really good soup curry.

Sapporo is perhaps lesser known for it’s little gem of a film festival; this, I’m sure, is changing rapidly.  Even the most seasoned filmmakers at Sapporo told me it is one of the best festival experiences they have had, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone with a short film to submit.

Sapporo-Short-Film-Festival-2013The festival promotes “inter-cultural understanding and friendships” among filmmakers.  That means it’s laid back and friendly, and involves a fair amount of Sapporo beer.

The festival is split into two main categories:

  1. “One Title” Section – for filmmakers submitting a single film
  2. “Filmmaker” Section – for filmmakers submitting multiple films.  (If selected, your films are shown in one session.)

You may submit any film under 30 mins, regardless of genre.  All countries are allowed.  When I attended in 2013, there were films from Japan, France, Greece, Brazil, the UK, South Korea, Singapore, Belgium and South Africa, to name a few.

You can view the listing for the festival on Short Film Depot.


The standard is high at Sapporo, with a lot of great films to be seen.  Below are a few highlights (although there were many more great films I have not included).

If you get the chance to see any of these – grab it!

45 Degrees – Georgis Grigorakis

Georgis Grigorakis is a Greek-born filmmaker with a gritty style and sharp focus on social issues facing his country.  45 Degrees tells the story of an out-of-work father trying to make ends meet, and the story really stayed with me after I saw it.

Georgis gets it right to capture real life in a way that is intense and visceral, rather than mundane. (Boring social realism seemed to be quite fashionable for a while; this is the opposite of that.)

The film’s sound design is exceptional – you could feel the pressure mounting on his character in the sweltering heat of the city.

Georgis was awarded the Grand Prix in the Filmmaker section.  He was clearly not expecting his name to be called at the ceremony, which always makes for an endearing acceptance speech.

Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw) – Tom van Avermaet

Death of a Shadow is a Belgian Fantasy film that tells the story of a deceased soldier who works for Death capturing souls at the moment people die.  The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 2013, and has won countless awards since then.

Writer/Director Tom van Avermaet took 5 years to raise the money and finish the film, and the effort really shows.  The film is a totally polished, Hollywood-ready piece of entertainment, and in the tradition of great “mainstream surrealists” like Guillermo Del Toro and Terry Gilliam, it also has life under the surface.

Tom was awarded the Grand Prix in the One Title section, as well as the award for Best Cinematography.  He’s a really humble and likable guy, which just goes to show that you can be an Oscar-nominee without being douchey.

寿 (Kotobuki/To Us) – Kimie Tanaka

寿 (Kotobuki/To Us) by Japanese filmmaker Kimie Tanaka is a simple and beautifully executed drama about a woman visiting her parents for her 30th birthday.

The film contrasts the strained relationship between the parents with that of the lead and her boyfriend.  It’s a layered film that captures the subtleties of our sometimes delicate relationships.

Despite being considerably talented, staggeringly well-travelled and having a list of awards as long as your arm, Kimie has remained gracious and quite lovely throughout.

Her recent smash hit of an Indiegogo campaign for her NYU thesis film Hide & Seek points to a bright future. One to watch.

Cold Blood (Sang Froid) – Chakib Taleb

French directors are known for making whole films in one apartment, but usually they use nudity to keep us interested.  Just kidding.  (Sort of.)

Writer/Director Chakib Taleb, however, succeeds in keeping us on the edge of our seats in his One Apartment Film – and without a naked person in sight.

Cold Blood (Sang Froid) tells the story of a cop looking for a serial killer, and delivers a fresh take (and a twist) that make the film truly unique.  The film stars veteran French actor Brice Fourier, who lends a brooding presence to the piece.

Chakib creates suspense with masterful control, giving even casual dialogue scenes an undercurrent of electric tension.   He also sings really well, looks dapper in a suit and is French.  Some guys have all the luck.

Preparation – Tyron Janse van Vuuren

Yes, yes, I know it’s my film – but it was a highlight for me.

It was truly special to present Preparation to a Japanese audience (and also quite cool to see vertical subtitles down the side of the frame).

Sapporo, I miss you and think of you often. I will be back!


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