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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Abuelo: A Notable Short Film

Exceptionally well executed, this product of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women demonstrates the relevancy of the short film as a format and why it is so important to encourage the development of women filmmakers.

In the first few minutes of this tenderhearted film by director, Mary Ann Kellogg, I was struck by the overall exceptional quality. The look and feel of Abuelo resonates with that of a well-budgeted feature (accolades to cinematographer Larry Reibman) and the cast is strong without a hint of amateurism. This is a particularly important aspect when dealing with storylines that must be developed quickly. All too often, actors are tempted to overcompensate for the lack of time to develop a character with heavy handed emoting. And directors are tempted to let them. Not so here. Kellogg allows what could be a complicated plot to unfold neatly before our eyes.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the title says a lot for anyone who speaks Spanish. Abuelo is a new word for a young girl who has to get used to a new relationship in her life. We see during the course of one day how a preteen responds to the sudden presence of a grandfather she has never known and with whom she does not even speak the same language. By the end of the day the girl has developed an appreciation for this exotic old man, and through a silent but powerful gesture she demonstrates an acceptance beyond the need for words. A gesture that helps fill the loss they both are experiencing. It just may be one of the best endings I have ever seen in a short film.

Kellogg’s strong eye for composition and use of camera is demonstrated through the wide variety of shots and subtle use of camera movement. I particularly liked the creative use of single shots to reflect the point of view of the granddaughter. After the first few scenes, she doesn’t talk and there remains a silence between the two main characters. Although the grandfather chatters on at times, there are no subtitles, leaving the audience, like the granddaughter, to rely upon his actions to reveal what is going on.

My only complaint is with the end titles. I know it’s a budget constraint, but I wish someone would spend a little more money and make the credits for short films readable. I actually read those things and would very much like to know the names of all the people who put in their blood, sweat, and tears into such a fine product.

Perhaps one day the Academy of Motion Picture Arts will (as they do in other countries) help establish a fund to support the development of short films instead of pursuing the elimination of the category from Oscar competition. Maybe then the short will reclaim the prestige of its glory days, and credit won’t be limited to those who can afford it, and a short film such as Abuelo won’t be such a rare commodity. In the meantime, here’s hoping that this short film gets all the recognition it deserves.

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