Making films is really really hard. Making films with borrowed equipment and a budget of $0 is even harder. And making films with borrowed equipment and a budget of $0 while still learning the ins and outs of filmmaking is probably the hardest. Having made films myself for four years in high school, I can attest to this. There are so many ways a film shoot can go wrong, and a lot of a film’s success isn’t about how skilled a filmmaker you are, but rather how well you can solve problems. That’s why I have so much respect for these Texas high school students, not only for making movies, but for making good movies. So anything critical said about these films comes with a heaping helping of respect for the filmmakers behind them. God knows I have made so, so, so much worse.
The first short I watched was Miu Nakata’s Wish Upon a Snowman. It’s a stop-motion piece about a girl eagerly awaiting Christmas, only for spooky happenings to occur. The animation is very commendable, but more than that, I was quite impressed with the set design. I’ve seen a lot of amateur stop-motion where the background is nothing more than a poorly-printed photo of a city street or someone’s mom doing the dishes, but here there are well-constructed and convincing sets, giving the production a sense of professionalism. However, the short lost me towards the middle, when everything became “creepy.” The issue is that I found the original doll way creepier than the generic skeleton. Additionally, it’s a nice touch that the whole short revolves around a literal “nightmare before Christmas” complete with skeleton dog, like the Henry Selick film, and the short wears this influence on its sleeve in a very charming way.