I am sure I have said it before, but a well-made short film is a display of efficient storytelling. It is all about keeping things as trimmed as possible, while delivering the most amount of dramatic impact in the process. To do this, there must be a taut, close-knit relationship between the story’s themes and the corresponding imagery. On a cold winter’s day last week, I had the pleasure of viewing an accomplished example of this, in Kora Vanderlip’s 2017 short film Disappearing Summers.
Shot in the Greater Vancouver area, this work of fiction offers a fleeting glimpse at the reunion of the three Summmers siblings at their family lake-side home, commemorating their father a year after his death. While there is an undeniable sense of melancholy lingering in the air, it is also clear that the estranged David is especially affected by the loss, punctuated only by the tension between him and his brother and sister.
This tension is the source of the film’s initial moments of drama, while a lingering sense of mystery to the siblings’ past adds an air of intrigue to the story, bolstered by the fact that it is never really explained beyond a certain point…and rightfully so.
Remember, this is a brief voyeuristic experience, and writer/director Vanderlip knows she shouldn’t have to pander to the audience with the minute details of her characters’ lives, showing what I would describe as a natural sense of balance between reality and drama. The dialogue is revealing enough that we gain sufficient context of the past, even if it occasionally veers into the melodramatic.
Like any director worth their salt, however, Vanderlip also understands that dialogue tells only half the story…if that! Unquestionably Disappearing Summers’ greatest strengths are the consistent cinematography and revealingly pinpoint editing. While it is the screenplay that ultimately bears the themes of memory, time and family, I find it is the deliberate approach to its visuals that truly evokes them.
There are several cuts made to what would otherwise be seemingly insignificant details, such as a shot of David’s feet on the cusp of his family home’s front door, or a close-up of a torn paper lantern. Within the framework of the screenplay’s narrative, themes, and/or the dialogue at particular moments, the shot of David’s feet becomes a hint at how his father’s death and family estrangement weighs on him, while the torn lantern, to me, can be considered an affective metaphor on the frailty of time and tradition.
Ultimately, I am very impressed with the clear artistic intentions carried out here by Vanderlip and her crew, with nary a shot or cut wasted. Disappearing Summers is a touching, well-made short film that deserves notice on any awards circuit for its technical and thematic achievements, all admirably tied together by a sure-handed director with an unwavering vision in her work.