Five best submissions of Reality Bytes night one


Courtesy of Patrick Murphy

Reality Bytes poster created by Patrick Murphy

By Jacob Baker

The 2021 Independent student film festival Reality Bytes premiered April 12 on Vimeo. The festival lasted for three nights with submissions from every category of filmmaking from across the world. Each night showcased six or more films. Here are the five best films of night one. 

‘Between the Lines: Liz at Large’ directed by Abi Cole

This short documentary tells cartoonist Liz Montague’s story of becoming the first Black cartoonist at The New Yorker. Montague joined the New Yorker in 2019 to push out the norms of primarily white cartoons. This documentary was such an inviting tale into Montague’s life. 

By telling Montague’s story, “Between the Lines: Liz at Large” teaches viewers about the racial unevenness within cartoons. Both by providing a learning experience and diving into Montague’s craft, the documentary immediately stands alone. 

‘The Recess’ directed by Navid Nikkhah Azad

“The Recess” was a complete surprise. The film is inspired by the tragic death of Iranian resident Sahar Khodayari who snuck into an Iranian football game where women aren’t allowed to attend. “The Recess” covers the hours leading up to her arrest at school. The short film looks extremely professional and the actresses showcased give great performances. 

Khodayari’s preparation at the school with the help of classmates almost feels like a heist film. The last moments of the short film see Khodayari leaving school as she walks off into the distance and becomes out of focus. The viewer is presented with text explaining that Khodayari was caught, and to protest her sentence, self-immolated until she eventually died from her injuries. These pieces from director Navid Nikkhah Azad make “The Recess” a heartbreaking short film worth watching.

‘The Lost Son’ directed by Zachary Earnest and William Rowley

“The Lost Son” easily stood out as the best short film in night one’s submissions. “The Lost Son” starts off with ominous shots of forests in the fall which is overlapped with chaotic audio of a plane crash. Once the radio stops, the viewers are introduced to the short’s title card over an immense and atmospheric forest landscape. Once the title card is dismissed, the viewer is in the thick of survival mode. 

A father and son were separated in the crash, and as the son wakes, he’s challenged with regaining connection with his father. All throughout, there’s impeccable camera work and cinematography that leads to strong, haunting visual storytelling and editing choices. 

At first, “The Lost Son” seems like a standard survival narrative, but unexplained occurrences start to happen. Directors William Rowley and Zachary Earnest toy with viewers through those unexplained occurrences which lead to a phenomenal and ambiguous ending. 

While the direction and cinematography clearly stand out, actor Stephen Durosaye as the son delivers a masterful performance to cement a brilliant short film.  

‘The Puppet’ directed by Will Nordstrom

“The Puppet” may be the shortest submission of this set of shorts, sitting just under two-minutes, but it’s equally as intriguing as the others. The viewer is introduced to a robot puppet, who is clearly still learning and very impressionable. The puppet comes across a glass of beer and a knife, shared with a beer ad and a kill scene from a movie. Soon after, the puppet sees a resident of the house and is faced with a decision to choose either the beer or the knife. 

During the puppet’s little dilemma, there’s a set of stilted POV shots from the puppet’s perspective that do an excellent job at putting the viewer in the puppet’s shoes. This short wields a killer concept and achieves that concept in perfect timing. 

‘Hamda’ directed by Ilona Szekeres

“Hamda” follows 17-year-old Hamda Al Qubaisi, daughter of a former Formula 1 race driver and her passion for driving Formula 1. 

“Hamda” doesn’t waste time telling a full history of Al Qubaisi and her family; most of what can be learned regarding the family is instilled as quick shots around their house and preparation for races. There’s a strong sense of togetherness, passion and determination seen from Al Qubaisi and her family. 

A strong directional point is putting more emphasis on Al Qubaisi rather than Formula 1 itself. The viewer really gets to know Al Qubaisi through her love of racing, her love for her sisters and how she bounces back from mistakes on the race track. Director Ilona Szekeres has a strong sense of how to helm documentaries and how to capitalize on their most compelling aspects.