In 2016, we laughed, we cried, but mostly we watched a lot of short films. The Showcase featured many incredible pieces covering a wide range of topics, including death-defying carnies and extraordinarily dull men. To recap the year, Lauren Leadmon and I selected 10 of our favorite shorts that stood out in each of the following categories:
Riding the Well of Death: Inside a Dangerous Carnival Stunt
Director Erik Morales’s short film centers around a dangerous circus stunt called the Well of Death and the men who ride it for a living. Held in place by physics and faith, these daredevils race around a near-vertical pit for a mesmerized crowd that watches from above. The pacing of this piece is terrific. Shot in northern India, Morales introduces us to the place while setting up the key elements of the story: the performers, the carnival, the kingpin, and the highly anticipated finale. The last act does not disappoint.
A Woman’s Epic Journey to Climb 7 Mountains—Shot on a Phone
National Geographic Emerging Explorer and Adventurer of the Year Wasfia Nazreen tells her remarkable story in this poetic short film. She is the first Bangladeshi to scale all Seven Summits and wants to empower young women to seek out their own adventures. Shot on an iPhone, the piece is unique from a technical standpoint and in its stylistic approach. Nazreen shares her setbacks and successes as we take part in one of her climbs. By participating in this profound endeavor, the film also asks us to reflect on our own journey.
Step into a Miniature World of Animated Paper Wildlife
Every time we watch this video we find another reason to be amazed. An adventure from start to finish, this imaginative short film transforms an office desk covered in paper into a living, breathing world of wildlife. Soft winds breezing through grass, the fluttering feathers of birds in flight—no detail was spared by directors Dávid Ringeisen and László Ruska. Accompanied by its powerful message about human impact on the wild, this video is definitely a must-watch and one of our favorites from this year.
The Tragic Tale of a Pangolin, the World’s Most Trafficked Animal
Coral and Oak Studios chose to craft a narrative about one unlucky pangolin and its tragic demise at the hands of a poacher. The scaly anteater, which is found in Africa and Asia, has become one of the most illegally trafficked mammals in the world. Highly desired for their meat and scales, it’s estimated that more than a million pangolins have been killed in the past 10 years. Conservation films are integral in raising awareness about vulnerable species, and this one does it in a powerfully unsettling way.
Inside the Rugged Lives of Mongolia’s Nomads
Ever dreamed of training eagles to hunt, racing camels, and herding yaks? Watch this incredible short film from filmmaker Brandon Li for an immersive experience that will leave you spellbound. In his piece, masterful cinematography and aesthetics combine for an epic and visually stunning adventure. Li’s cinematic approach to documentary filmmaking is an exciting example of powerful, nonfiction storytelling through innovative technique. Do yourself a favor and transport yourself to the world of the nomadic Kazakh people of western Mongolia—you won’t regret it.
How Do You Make a Skateboard Out of Trash?
Can a skateboard be made out of trash? Artist Mac Premo decided to try it with the help of skateboard company Sanford Shapes. Together they discovered that discarded paint buckets could be used to make some pretty sick boards. The makers have chosen to distribute their creation for free so that more kids can shred and discover how a skateboard serves as “a tool for empowerment [and] self-expression.” This film’s fast pace shows a cool way to up-cycle, shares an environmental message, and is an ode to a much loved sport.
This New Zealand Couple Is Charming—So Is Their Farming
We can’t imagine a couple that epitomizes relationship goals more than the adorable Joe and Fay Gock. These two Chinese refugees found each other in the 1950s, but their love for one another and their New Zealand farm continues to grow stronger every year. Always grateful to the country that granted them refuge, the Gocks have given back with numerous contributions to the agriculture community, including such innovations as the seedless watermelon, sticker labels on produce, and a disease-resistant variety of kumara. In this Dr. Seuss-inspired short, their charming tale is a testament to the value of hard work, creativity, and love.
These Men Love Extraordinarily Dull Things
Don’t let the milk bottles, roundabouts, and mailboxes fool you—the Dull Men’s Club is anything but dull. These boring renegades are rebelling against society’s expectations to find contentment in the ordinary things of life—not to mention, they also put together a pretty awesome wall calendar. In this refreshing short film, meet some of these fascinating gentlemen as they remind us to slow down, enjoy life, and not take ourselves too seriously.
Microscopic Time-Lapse: See the Crazy Chemistry of Reacting Metal
If we knew that chemical reactions could be this breathtaking, we definitely would have paid more attention in chemistry class. In this captivating time-lapse, the scientists at Beauty of Science captured on a microscopic level the metal-displacement reactions between zinc and silver nitrate and lead nitrate. The results? Incredible crystalline branches that grow and splinter into metallic forests. If this video is any indicator of what’s to come, we can’t wait to see what Beauty of Science has in store for us next.
Experience a Whirlwind Look at Life in Shanghai
Discover China’s largest city in a very unconventional way. This exhilarating hyperlapse from filmmaker JT Singh takes you through Shanghai’s bustling streets and lively back alleys, and into the homes of some of its 24 million residents. We’ve featured some of Singh’s other incredible work in the Short Film Showcase, and each piece pushes boundaries, geographically and visually. He experiments but advises that every scene should have a creative function and serve an emotional purpose: “If it doesn’t, then cut it out, no matter how cool the footage is.”
The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the web and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic’s belief in the power of science, exploration, and storytelling to change the world. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of National Geographic Partners.
Know of a great short film that should be part of our Showcase? Email SFS@natgeo.com to submit a video for consideration.
See more from National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase at documentary.com.