My Favorite Movies – Surfacing (Short Film) (2009)

18 Aug

By Tanner Smith

Surfacing is a 30-minute short film I love to play repeatedly on my laptop because it helps inspire and motivate me whenever I’m in a writing or thinking mood. I don’t know if it’s a film that writer-director Bruce Hutchinson, lead actress Kristy Hutchinson, cinematographer Chris Churchill, and/or anyone from the supporting cast want to forget about since it was made so long ago–but to them, I say this with all sincerity:

You made a damn good film and I love it wholeheartedly.

“Surfacing” is a film about a college swimmer, Hannah Gill (played wonderfully by Kristy Hutchinson), who has temporal lobe epilepsy and also Geschwind Syndrome (a phenomenon that involves characteristic behavioral changes following a seizure). But her seizures are getting worse and could end her life unless she gets an operation that could help. Does she want to be rid of the thing that gives her the most joy in life? (A better question would be, can she still feel that joy without it?)

It’s a character-based slice-of-life drama that uses this conflict to get us in the heads of Hannah, her sister (F.E. Mosby), her swim coach (Pammi Fabert), and her friends as they figure out how to handle the situation. Those moments wouldn’t matter as much without the quieter, softer moments which show the characters just hanging out together–watching the sunset, studying in the library, etc. There’s also a lovely tender moment in which Hannah’s sister is there for her during another seizure, and it’s played beautifully.

I love the cinematography from Chris Churchill–its raw, documentary-like style adds to both the realism and the charm of the film. I also love the use of the film’s soundtrack–it feels like it’s constantly playing in Hannah’s head. (To further illustrate the point, she listens to a song on her iPod and then that same song plays during her swim meet.)

There are many layers to Kristy Hutchinson’s performance as Hannah–as someone going through such a complicated illness with seizures that cause her a feeling of grace, Hannah feels intense energy and joy post-seizure, guilt when the moment passes, confusion when she’s unsure whether or not to cure herself because of those moments, disappointment, sadness, and then acceptance. When she gives a poetic speech about embracing the beauty in the world, I’m not thinking, “What a manic pixie dream girl”–I’m instead understanding why someone going through this would say these things. It’s wonderful work.

I also love that Hannah can be a little too much to handle sometimes–for instance, in any other film featuring a disease-stricken character, that person would be complaining about feeling fatigued when someone is pressuring her to go out and party, whereas in this film, SHE’S the one pressuring her friends to go out and party even though THEY’RE tired.

It’s funny–I used to think Hannah’s friends and sister were boring and now I see where they’re coming from when it comes to being friends with Hannah. And I still like Hannah for the same reasons they do.

Check out “Surfacing” here.

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