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SXSW 2020: “Blackheads” Short Film Review

Originally intended to debut at the SXSW 2020 Film Festival, Emily Ann Hoffman’s animated short film “Blackheads” found its way onto Vimeo for a brief 48 hours on March 15. It lived there for just double the lifetime of your average mayfly. 

“Blackheads” is a remarkable short film taking different animation mediums and mixing them together into a fabulous pot of creativity. That’s what really struck me most about this film. It’s a wonderful exploration of animation styles. My ignorance led me to think it would be nothing but stop-motion. I was proven deliciously wrong. 

Blackheads
Photo courtesy of Emily Ann Hoffman

The film centers on Sofia (voiced by Chet Siegel), a woman who is struggling to deal with a recent breakup. The abrupt trauma causes her to call her therapist (Robin Brenner). Despite the therapist giving some pretty awful advice, they share some very honest thoughts, which helps make the characters and the story that much more empathetic and meaningful. This leads to one of the more imaginative scenes wherein the therapist isn’t on a couch or in an office — she’s drag racing while she’s talking to Sofia. Clearly, Sofia doesn’t feel as if she’s really being heard, and this is the perfect way to show it. 

Despite being only seven minutes long, the short constantly manages to keep your attention through its visuals alone. The stop-motion lead character is the tip of the iceberg. Sofia’s own face has drawn-on facial features. The rest of her bedroom is given a weirdly unique texture through its plants, facial tissues and working phone. The film gives way to slightly more traditionally animated characters, along with more abstract elements and a tapestry of beautifully woven moments. 

Sofia talking to her therapist was something I could really relate to on a personal level. When you share with your therapist it is a very private thing, and to be part of this intimate discussion feels truly special. You’re invited to learn about this woman and her most honest feelings. 

Blackheads
Photo courtesy of Emily Ann Hoffman

The short culminates with a dramatic, intense effort surrounding a very real — yet at the same time very metaphorical — blackhead. Her ex-boyfriend insisted she not pop the blackhead. Sofia pops it anyway, releasing stress and taking ownership of her body. Even thought it’s animated the scene is still pretty graphic. It made me cringe but you could see the satisfaction on Sofia’s face: a gift to herself, something that was well-earned. 

It may only be seven minutes long, but “Blackheads” is something you won’t soon forget. 

See more from Emily Ann Hoffman here. And stay tuned for more SXSW 2020 remote coverage.

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Featured image credit: Emily Ann Hoffman

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