Spling’s Top 5 AFDA Graduation Festival Short Films 2023

Tis year’s AFDA Graduation Film Festival was a feast for the eyes, a strong showcase for the institution’s collective talents. Witnessing the emergence of tomorrow’s filmmakers as they uncover their true calling and master the art of problem-solving is a privilege and seeing their films grace the big screen at The Labia Theatre in Cape Town was an exhilarating experience, a testament to their talent and dedication. Having served on the critic’s panel for 9 years running, Spling has made a tradition out of writing about his five favourite short films.


The film industry is known for its propensity to encapsulate both dreams and nightmares. This world of illusion is what makes Miscellaneous so spellbinding in the way it pieces together the misadventures of a budding yet disillusioned screenwriter who forges his career path unsupported. A visually-captivating journey with a labyrinthine narrative in the style of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we begin with our hero sleepwalking. This story could all be taking place in this waking state where real and unreal mingle to form their own new reality.

A student film with decent resources, Miscellaneous could be what you’d call an ideal. Silky cinematography, seamless visual effects, sharp performances, a dreamy script, resourceful producing, stylish design and a tight edit, this film fires on all cylinders. A cut above with the clout to back up its imaginative script, the Charlie Kaufman influences are apparent, even bringing in a few visual touches from Inception and story elements from Stranger Than Fiction. While not a true original, Miscellaneous powers home to a breathless finish with its 24 minute running time. An epic student film, it’s also regarded as one of the best to come out of AFDA.


Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke

Love is almost always a compelling factor when it comes to driving stories. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke may have one of the longest movie titles for a short film in recent memory, but it’s actually one of the most intimate romance dramas too. The bittersweet story begins with the end in mind, as a short sharp burst of action sets the story in motion. Centred on a couple whose windswept romance begins at a night club, this is essentially a two-hander with a deep focus on its captivating co-leads who share great on-screen chemistry. A gritty and swirling love story, snapshots give us a sense of their connection, conveying a melancholy and joy in equal measure.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke references Fight Club and Before Sunrise, which gives one a good sense of the visual styling and structure of this nostalgic and stirring short film. Playing out as if it was a The Smashing Pumpkins music video, it effectively translates the happy-sad and tragic circumstances of the predicament this couple finds themselves in. Powered home by solid performances, a strong sense of tone and a moody atmosphere, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is heartfelt and impactful.


The Visitor from Yesterday

When it comes to student films, and even feature films, it’s typically easier to work with fewer moving parts. If your story and characters hold weight, being able to control the environment and tailor the situational dynamic enables filmmakers to crank up relational tension. This is the case with The Visitor from Yesterday, a cat-and-mouse thriller that finds two strangers in a dangerous stand-off as what’s owed to them becomes paramount. Keeping the cinematography fluid ensures this real-time thriller ratchets up suspense as the urgency and unpredictability mounts.

Armed with two fine and tightly-wound performances against a deserted rural estate adds to the mystery as they try to figure out each other’s true motivations. A perfect setting, slow-boiling situation, sharp acting and escalating tension is the currency of The Visitor from Yesterday, which builds and builds along with the promise of violence. This suspenseful drama thriller uses every trick up its sleeve to set the scene and immerse its audience without sacrificing its sense of danger. Carefully calibrated shots keep you in the moment while wardrobe and production design offer a sense of creeping mystique and cluttered history.


Where the Rest of Us Go

South Africa is still in a state of recovery from the remnants of its traumatic history. Testament to lives lost during the struggle, Where the Rest of Us Go seeks to address the past from the present. Cleverly using a multi-generational framework, history is brought to life as a group of friends wrestle with the untimely death of a close friend in the South Africa of 1985. Tapping into the age of Ashley Kriel, this drama focuses on Aiden, a young coloured man who reaches a crossroads between fighting for freedom or completing his education. Tying shoelaces to a fence as an emotional tribute to the fallen, Where the Rest of Us Go is an authentic, impassioned and heartfelt story about standing up to an oppressive regime, making life choices and honouring the memory of the innocent lives lost.

Shot on location to add to the realism of this story, Where the Rest of Us Go summons a slice-of-life and docudrama feel. Carefully researched and beautifully realised with a poetic temperament, there’s a wistful edge to this touching drama. A strong ensemble effort brings all the pieces together as the film establishes its main characters and swathes us in the life and times. In spite of its short runtime, Where the Rest of Us Go manages to pack a punch with a series of haunting moments. Operating with restraint, there’s rarely a false moment to this simple yet emotionally powerful historical drama.


Page Turner

When it comes to film noir, it’s difficult to overlook the likes of Humphrey Bogart and films like The Maltese Falcon. A genre of strong visual aesthetics and quintessential sounds, it’s lovingly and meticulously crafted in Page Turner. Spare on modern affectations, there’s a dedication to delivering full tilt film noir in this striking short film. From an evocative jazz soundtrack to otherworldly cityscapes, Page Turner hits the right notes as the detective mystery plays out with an Edge of Tomorrow concept to spice things up.

Solid performances and accent work embroider this visually captivating short film and help set the scene as New York City is cleverly recreated and brought to life. A highly stylised film, the painstaking efforts are appreciated, optimising resources and taking full advantage of locations to effect Page Turner. A little muddled when it comes to storytelling, the overriding concept powers it home with a twinge of comedy, serving to establish an effective short film concept that could be stretched into a feature.


To the credit of the filmmakers, the standard was so high and there were so many strong short films that it almost seems unfair that this list is limited to a favourite five. While some filmmakers did wonders with their world-building and action choreography, it’s the controlled, intense and sensitively acted drama Sofa Silahane that deserves special mention.

From the Durban campus the experimental and disturbing social commentary drama Warm showed moments of pure inspiration in its poetic examination of patriarchy, Cipher showcased sharp visual effects sci-fi action while The Joy of Man’s Desiring created an authentic and lived tapestry for its wistful crossroads drama.