Surfacing (Short Film) (2009)

18 Mar

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Hannah, the main character of the short film “Surfacing,” is an athletic college swimmer with temporal lobe epilepsy. In the film’s opening scene, she’s preparing to compete in a latest swim meet when she knows a seizure is coming. She knows she still has some time before it happens, and she’s nervous yet familiar with these feelings at the same time. She swims the laps to get it over with…and then has the seizure almost immediately after she’s out of the water. The next scene shows a new side of Hannah–happier, livelier, more energetic, ready to go out partying for a night on the town with her friends. One of her friends, who I’m assuming hasn’t known Hannah very long, questions this behavior, to which one friend answers: “She’s always like this after a seizure.” In comes another friend, who actually wrote a paper based on Hannah’s condition, to explain (to the friend and to those viewing the film) that it’s a condition known as “Geschwind syndrome.”

I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I had to look up “Geschwind syndrome” for confirmation. I shouldn’t have done that, for two reasons. 1) That kind of confession can mean I didn’t put any faith in the filmmakers behind “Surfacing” having done their homework before making a film about the subject in question. And 2) Even if it wasn’t real (which now I know it is), the film should still make me believe (which it did).

“Surfacing,” which runs at about 30 minutes and was written and directed by Bruce Hutchinson (whose 2014 short drama Sidearoadia I greatly admired), shows Hannah at a dilemma with this condition. She can keep swimming, possibly risking brain damage if she has another seizure too late during another meet, or she can get her illness treated. Her seizure aftereffects are what make her feel truly alive, so she has to decide whether or not she wants to be rid of them for that very reason. But on the other hand, her coach (Pammi Fabert), her sister (FE Mosby), and her best friend (Jennifer Richman) all grow more concerned about her as the seizures seem to be more frequent lately.

Hannah is played with a truly marvelous performance by Kristy Barrington (who, since this short, has gone on to a memorable side role in Mud). It’s a deeply layered portrayal of a suffering yet free-spirited young individual who lives in the now and must consider the future, if not for herself then for her loved ones. The quiet moment in which she feels the entire weight of her world crashing down on her, which comes at around the 25-minute mark, is so moving and convincing and beautifully done. (I’ll even go as far as to say it rivals the best moments of “Sidearoadia,” which Hutchinson made five years after “Surfacing.”)

The skillful direction from writer-director Hutchinson and casually observant cinematography from Chris Churchill help keep “Surfacing” on a grounded level. But Kristy Barrington is this film. She exhibits great screen presence here and makes an already-interesting character even more fascinating.

“Surfacing” can be seen here. I recommend you give it a watch.

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