There is an old phrase that says, “some of the best things in life come in small packages.” For me, there’s no finer proof of that than in the art of the short film. Everything that is amazing and powerful about the medium of cinema shortened into a bite-sized morsel for consumption… What more could you ask for?
Just as there are plenty of great full-length movies for yogis to enjoy, so too are there some excellent short films. These smaller features can be found quite literally everywhere from the crowded halls of the film festivals to the online platforms of YouTube and Vimeo.
The best part of these films? They rarely take more than a few minutes to watch and place all of the awareness, impact, and inspiration we get from longer pieces into something more bite-sized we can easily watch anytime and anywhere. Some of the best creativity, inspiration, and power can be found in these pieces, and you might be surprised at what you end up finding once you dive in.
Here are 10 of my favorite short films I recommend for yogis and meditation/mindfulness practitioners to enjoy.
1. “Life’s a Bitch” (2014)
Representing 95 single-shot scenes in under 5 minutes, “Life’s a Bitch” is directed by François Jaros and gives us a small slice of existence in one man’s life. It’s a simple but well-executed little piece that feels like we are watching an artistic Vine compilation of sorts. The film shows a span of time from one heartbreak to another, taking the viewer on a high-speed ride of emotion and drama. Its tone veers wildly from serious to comedic with reckless abandon. Multiple scenes are laugh-out-loud funny while others tug at your heartstrings or even shock you with their nature.
But even when its creativity staggers a tad with its plot being essentially an indie rom-com, this is one of the most authentic films I have ever seen. It makes the point that our circumstances are never going to be perfect no matter how much we want them to be. There will always be times of darkness and desperation in conjunction with moments of happiness and joy. More than anything though, it serves as a mindful reminder that no matter what happens, life continues onward for better or for worse. It’s dark, funny, odd, and yet somehow so very real.
2. “Father And Daughter” (2000)
“Father And Daughter” is a simple animated film that tells the story of a daughter’s waiting for her father for decades. The eventual heart-breaking realization of what the short is all about is wonderfully conveyed. It’s accompanied with a beautiful French score and some of the most beautiful hand-drawn animation you’ll ever see.
This film reminds you not to take any moment with your loved ones for granted. It doesn’t necessarily beat you over the head, but there is a definite air of gratitude about the whole thing that’s impossible to miss. It also touches on the sense of awareness of how much time we might have left and how long it might be before we see someone again. Thus, we should take advantage of every little moment we have and live in the present moment to make each second count.
A small warning: this is not one to watch if you aren’t prepared for it, especially if you have a strong connection to your father. I guarantee that, by the end of its runtime, you’ll suddenly find your eyes a little bit wetter than they were before.
3. “Doodlebug” (1997)
“Doodlebug” comes from the complex mind of famed director Christopher Nolan. Filmed in black and white, focusing on one man’s recursive battle against the tiny little things that disturb him, there are many different ways you can unpack its meaning. You could see it as the anxious struggles of an insane person trying to conquer his personal demons, or the needs of a society crushing down the needs of the individual.
But from a mindful perspective, it can be viewed as a symbolic piece that tells us our future depends on what we do in the present: any action we take will have an immense effect on our life. The past is the past, and the future is the future, so what matters is how we live in the present and how we think about the future consequences of our actions. It’s an intense and suspenseful psychological film that also represents the earliest of Nolan’s cinematic style. In terms of impact, however, “Doodlebug” doesn’t waste a second of its three-minute runtime and only gets more intriguing the more you think about it.
4. “Just Breathe” (2015)
Directed by Julie Bayer Salzman and Josh Salzman, this film made the rounds across the interwebs in immense ways when it was first released. For a while, there wasn’t a mindfulness/meditation site that wasn’t at least mentioning it, and it’s for a good reason.
“Just Breathe” focuses on young children and how mindfulness helps them navigate some of the more extreme emotions they feel. The creators found inspiration from their 5-year-old son, who was discussing with a friend how to calm down. They were taught, at their elementary school in California, to do so by taking deep breaths. Thus the film shows very candid kindergarten-age kids talking about what they’ve learned and how they cope with their feelings using mindfulness and meditation.
What I find most compelling about this one is how straight the entire direction is played. There is no softening of impact, no modification of words, no real distraction from the message. It’s just you watching these earnest young people talk and bring more to the table — in less than five minutes — than what many adults take hours to teach. It’s so simple and yet so powerful, and it’s a great representation of how the smallest of things can have so much more to say than we might give them credit for. Sometimes, all we need to do to stay happy and healthy is to take time and come back to the breath, which is something a lot of adults still struggle with, myself included.
Out of all the films on this list, “Just Breathe” is the one I think everyone should see for how simply it reminds and inspires us towards a happier and more peaceful tomorrow.
5. “Smoke” (2012)
“Smoke” is an interesting little film that tells an LGBT love story in a unique way. The audio of the film details a young couple’s first meeting, and the beginning of their relationship while the visuals show their final hours together, in reverse. Not only are the acting and cinematography incredible, particularly from current Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker, but it’s a brilliantly mindful and unique way to tell a love story.
Most refreshingly though, the focus of the piece is not on their sexual orientation, either one of them having to come out to each other, or even dealing with associated harassment. The fact that it’s an LGBT film is just a circumstance rather than a draw, and it simply looks at them as people involved in a romantic relationship. More specifically, it’s a tragic representation of how any relationship, even with the best of intentions, can still fall apart when things aren’t mindfully handled or worked through in the present moment. A conflict or argument that ends a relationship may seem small or inconsequential, but often it comes from something that was built up, pushed off to the side, or not communicated properly. It stresses how a mindful approach or the lack of it can easily make or break a relationship. This film is the perfect representation of that kind of tragedy and how it can happen.
6. “The Choice” (2018)
Sometimes, all that’s required for a happy and healthy lifestyle is the simplest of decisions. The choice between when to get up early or sleep late. The choice between whether to eat that healthy salad or that bag of junk food. The choice between whether to hit the gym and be active or whether to sit and do nothing on the couch.
No matter which path you take, those small little moments eventually start to add up and take their toll on you physically, mentally, and spiritually. This little animated film shows exactly what a difference one or two simple daily actions can have and how extensively they can affect your life if they end up being the unhealthy ones.
Yes, it is a little blunt and the background score of “Hall of the Mountain King” feels like a bit much. But at the same time, a message that is so in-your-face is sometimes what we need to start a change. The animation is also simple but very effective. It’s the perfect distillation of what it wants to be and, as this film exemplifies, ‘small choices become actions, actions become habits, and habits become our way of life.’
7. “Scrambled” (2017)
Compared with the other films on this list, “Scrambled” by Bastiann Schravendeel is perhaps the most light-hearted of the bunch. It follows a young woman on a train platform waiting to make her home, and she is being stalked by a living Rubik’s cube. It’s a cute and beautifully animated short that makes you feel for the little cube, especially once you see the true purpose of its presence. But it’s also a good reminder that we need to step away from technology every once in a while.
In a world where our digital devices rule us, sometimes, a physical analog problem to solve is all that we need to keep us mindful and present. It also adds in a final message of how important having a meaning in life is, no matter how simple, in a way that isn’t shocking or overdramatized in any way. The depth of “Scrambled” is in its simplicity and, unlike some of the other shorts on this list, this is one that all ages can enjoy and glean something from.
8. “Into Light” (2018)
Created by the team who made “Just Breathe,” “Into Light” follows a similar concept but instead looks at an older age group. It talks to a group of public high school students in Portland, Oregon about their specific struggles with depression and how a non-profit semester-long course of mindfulness changed their lives. It has a similar vibe and energy but its focus is a bit less narrow and its power a bit more complex.
While these are still obviously younger people, some of the issues they touch on such as social media comparison, gender, and sexual identity, and overall disillusionment with life itself are very adult and achingly modern. It gives us a strong glimpse into our future and what our next generation is turning into: a melting pot of people, stifled by the intense pressures of society and stressful high school experience. They are struggling to live and thus, by extension, so are we. The help and guidance they find through mindfulness are ideas we can all use in moving forward. It’s a very relevant piece that exemplifies the power of a mindful lifestyle and why it’s so important not just for us in the present but also for future generations. Also, the credits song, “This Wild Darkness” by Moby, is a brilliant touch and a great musical accompaniment to end the film on.
9. “A Sense of Wonder” (2017)
More of a cinematic poem rather than an actual narrative film, “A Sense of Wonder” captures the journey of a lone adventurer moving through the misty mountains of the French countryside. It has some fantastic visuals of nature and the planet while backed by a powerfully written poem, read with reverence and power. It’s almost a mini-meditation in and of itself; it allows you to take in the wonder of what you are seeing while also remembering the human element of the explorer in the journey.
We are not separate from nature as we often believe in our more technological style of living. Through a healthy, vibrant, and mindful lifestyle, aware of everything around us, we are (or at least should be) just as much a part of nature as everything else on this Earth. It’s gratifying, captivating, a perfect three-minute experience, and a perfect depiction of its title.
10. “Yearbook” (2014)
The apocalypse has arrived, and we are all going to die. One man has been given the job of collecting an entire history of man’s existence on Earth. How do you decide who and what is important enough to be remembered? How do you reconcile forgetting some of the best moments of your life that, arguably, aren’t as important? And most pressing for us as individuals, will you be remembered and how?
This is the premise of “Yearbook,” a surprisingly funny but also a heartbreaking little film that leaves you both frustrated with the futility of the human experience and inspired. It resonates and gets you thinking about your own mortality in the course of its five-minute runtime, making the point that it is people that ultimately matter. No matter what time period we are in or what events happen in our lives, ultimately, it’s those around us, who made a difference, that we will miss and want to remember once everything is gone.
Most importantly, however, it doesn’t leave you with third-act salvation. It follows through and gives you a thought-provoking end that leaves you on a melancholy mood. But it also makes you want to make every moment, and every person around you count. It’s not a nihilistic film per se, and it’s not exactly hopeful either. It’s a brutal yet grounded and realistic message, a powerfully mindful piece that gets you to laugh and think at the same time.
So if you need a little dose of yogic and meditative inspiration, check some of these short films out in the course of your practice. Breathe, watch mindfully, and most importantly, enjoy!