Have you heard? Gary Ross isn’t returning to direct Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. Not that you need to get your info from me. It’s everywhere, as are the multitudinous wish lists. Alfonso Cuarón is being tossed around, alongside essentially every director in the business. Just going on Christopher Campbell’s Conversation post, the discussion ranges from Stephen Spielberg to Julie Taymor and Joe Wright. And that was five whole days ago. By the time Lionsgate finally decides, even if it happens relatively soon, we’ll probably have seen the case made for countless and varied filmmakers to take on the project.
Which is why I think I’ll jump in, with an eye on shorts. Why not? In the end, only one person will get to direct Catching Fire. Yet before that’s finally confirmed, imagining a whole slew of drastically different potential films is a great way to occupy our time. It’s also a great excuse to watch a bunch of shorts. The first two names below are filmmakers who haven’t ventured into the world of feature filmmaking, yet have demonstrated with their shorts that they’d bring something unique and interesting to the project. The next three are filmmakers who have already made at least one feature, but whose earlier short films are a lot more akin to the work they might do with Catching Fire. Watch and speculate at will.
Brink, by Shawn Christensen
The first time I saw this short was about a year ago, at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. It was shown in a program of all New York City shorts, surrounded by quirky Brooklyn comedies. It didn’t fit in; it seemed not only otherworldly but almost inaccessible in context. Since then I’ve been unable to get it out of my head. On the one hand it’s a straightforward representation of love, which might not necessarily help in Catching Fire. Yet it’s also a blend of youthful beauty and a mysterious world that seems to be both crumbling and floating away. Shawn Christinsen’s capture of that intersection is perhaps exactly what the Hunger Games sequel needs. The thin border between the artistic potential of these books and the shock of children horrifically killing each other is a hard one to walk.
Robots from Brixton¸ by Kibwe Tavares
I’m recommending Kibwe Tavares for essentially the exact opposite reason I’ve showcased Christensen and Brink. While the ethereal short above is Catching Fire-adjacent because of its tone, Robots from Brixton shows an extraordinary technical sensibility. The uprisings in Panem that will become so important in both upcoming sequels pose an interesting problem. How does a filmmaker present fantastical dystopian imagery while keeping the political symbolism fresh and biting? Tavares combines stunning robotic images with footage of the 1981 Brixton riot in South London. Simultaneously escapist and dangerously relevant, this kind of manipulation of civil unrest and its visual representation could be a fascinating component of Catching Fire.
Alive in Joburg¸ by Neill Blomkamp
I’m a big fan of Neill Blomkamp’s first feature, District 9. Yet I also think that in many ways the original short is more interesting. The mockumentary style comes through in the beginning of the feature film as well, but fairly quickly District 9 heads off into sci-fi/action territory. Alive in Joburg, on the other hand, is laser focused on exploring the single rhetorical idea behind the films. Maybe Blomkamp could apply the same sort of irony to Catching Fire¸ telling the story alongside creative diversions into the society of Panem and its contradictions. One of the more telling complaints about The Hunger Games is how inaccessible the universe is to those who haven’t read the books – the approach of Alive in Joburg might be an excellent solution.
Wasp, by Andrea Arnold
I’ll second David Ehrlich in suggesting Andrea Arnold, whose Wuthering Heights certainly suggests she would strike right into the heart of the books and come up with something potentially controversial and thoroughly excellent. The case doesn’t stop at her lone adaptation, either. Her Oscar-winning short, Wasp, presents the experience of an embattled young woman with relentless nerve. Arnold zooms in on her motherhood with both scathing honesty and lyrical compassion. Her take on Katniss, couched in a bold adaptation of dystopian Panem, would be vivid and perhaps appropriately revolutionary for the genre.
I Love Sarah Jane, by Spencer Susser
When is a zombie movie not a zombie movie? When it’s directed by Spencer Susser, apparently. This short bends the flesh-eating genre away from its conventions and past the satirical tradition of Shaun of the Dead. This is a teen drama of sorts, following a few kids (including Mia Wasikowska) in a post-apocalyptic suburban Australian neighborhood as they go about the business of adolescence. There just happens to be a re-animated corpse tied to a post in their backyard. It’s a movie with zombies rather than a “zombie movie.” That distinction is perhaps the extra oomph that Catching Fire needs. Growing up in the context of national disaster is pretty important in these books, and any director will need to find a way of expressing a personal story surrounded by dystopian turmoil. If this short is any indication, Susser has what it takes.