One of the most fun parts of having films grouped into different thematic categories is trying to find the common thread that unites a group of seemingly disparate films. According to the Fear No Film Guide, the films in this category are designed to explore “ways of seeing your limits, who you think you once were, who you are now, and what might lay ahead.” Though the following films were vastly different in tone and content, each of them offered their own personal challenge to rethink the world as we might see it. After watching these films that came to us from all over the world, I think it’s safe to say that the infrastructure of my personal boundaries has been sufficiently rocked.

Voice Over (Spain)
Directed by Martín Rosete

Voice Over brings a fair amount of intensity into the very first scenes, which depict a stranded astronaut on an unnamed planet. Féodor Atkine’s grave voiceover dictates the astronaut’s movements, and there is something about the second person narration that makes us feel like the character onscreen has little control over what he’ll do next. It turns out that’s exactly the case, as our character’s entire world shifts among three different, no-win situations. As far as time and setting, each scene is completely different—but let’s just say the whole thing makes perfect sense in the end. Rosete’s film was a good choice to kick off this set of films as it demonstrates just how easily three completely different ideas can be united by one common theme.

Warsaw, January 2011 (New Zealand)
Directed by Miriam Harris & Juliet Palmer

I’m always drawn to mixed media paintings. Something about taking random objects or pictures from several different sources and arranging them to create something new altogether is a fascinating and optimistic practice. In Warsaw, January 2011, directors Miriam Harris and Juliet Palmer created a living, breathing collage that explores her connection to Poland’s capitol city. The animated travelogue is punctuated by a voiceover delivered by Harris’s mother Stella, who recalls a few poignant memories about being a Jewish child in Poland during the rise of Hitler and Stalin. Harris and fellow animator Kate Barton utilize everything from Polish newspaper clippings and photographs to stop-motion puppets to create the simultaneous feeling of displacement and discovery that comes from rediscovering your roots.

The Russians’ Machine (Spain)
Directed by Octavio Guerra

Regardless of how much easier it’s become to make family videos, does anyone consider the ten seconds of a child blowing out birthday candles or zooming down a waterslide to be cinematic art? This is the question that Octavio Guerra struggles with as he makes an attempt to reignite his father’s passion for documenting every moment of his childhood life with an old Super 8 camera. As a struggling filmmaker, Guerra returned home to recapture his own past. In doing so, he fixes his father’s long dormant film projector. This gesture results in Guerra actually getting what he wants as his father rediscovers all of the Super 8 films that he recorded so many years ago. The overarching idea with this film is that, if we let them, recording devices can help us preserve our lives—which is a form of art in its own way.

November (Germany)
Directed by Eric Esser

I had a tough time with this one. It’s an existential meditation told from the perspective of—wait for it—a pile of dogshit. Of course a film like this calls all sorts of things into question—can a film about dog excrement be artistic? Is this independent cinema? Indeed, maybe that’s the point. However, it’s difficult for me to get behind a film that could very well be someone’s idea of a practical joke—as if the filmmakers decided to film a pile of feces for five minutes, outfit it with a bit of philosophical dialogue, and see how many festivals pick it up. Regardless of the motivations behind the film, it definitely makes the viewer think about their own boundaries regarding what is and is not cinema. But keep in mind—it’s literally five minutes of shit.

C.T.R.L. (United Kingdom)
Directed by Mariana Conde

What starts out as an unexplained dance off between a man and a woman as they pass each other on the street becomes an interesting perspective on the gamification of everyday life. As we see two friends sitting at a café manipulating the actions of these complete strangers, it’s difficult to shake the thought that this type of control might already be taking place. Don’t get me wrong, the film is a blast to watch—watching the principal characters lose their inhibitions and accept the fact that they’ve inherited some pretty impressive dance moves evokes the classic dinner scene in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. Looking past the entertainment value of the piece, it still brings up a chilling thought—how much control of our lives do we willingly hand over to the people who are making our smartphones?

Playing With the Devil (Utah)
Directed by Nick Stentzel

This local chiller is based on a Japanese game called “Hitori Kakurenbo,” or “Hide and Seek Alone.” After watching this film, I would strongly suggest not messing around with it. Hitori Kakurenbo is the type of game kids play in order to scare the bejeezus out of each other, and it involves conjuring a malevolent spirit into a doll stuffed with rice and fingernails and daring it to come and find you. Why, kids? Why would you want to do this? The film captures a nice mix of older Japanese horror films like Ju-On but also uses some of the fancy camera tricks that have been popularized in the Paranormal Activity films. Also, the three pre-teen actresses (Valerie Treuherz, Rachel Frain and Jessica Hadlock) play their parts with feigned bravery and later abject terror. I suppose by now you’ve googled how to play this demonic game, and might be planning on trying it out yourself. If so, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Mulligan’s Island (Massachusetts)
Directed by Jeff Palmer

The final film of this category began with an obvious nod to French filmmaker Georges Méliès in which a group of kids is taken to a surrealistic carnival. I was surprised to see that Mulligan’s Island is actually a music video performed by California’s We Govern We. It’s a melancholy little tune about unappreciated childhood and how adulthood can totally suck sometimes. Lead vocalist Anna Karakalou channels a bit of No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani, and when she croons “I demand a do-over,” it’s tough not to think about how life can get be thrown so off-track as adulthood shows up to kick us in the face. Though I’ve never really considered music videos as short films in the narrative sense, Mulligan’s Island presents a very artistic and emotional marriage of music and video.

Thematically, each of these films explored our personal boundaries and how it’s occasionally good to pause and explore the world beyond that which we have created for ourselves. Even if that means accepting the fact that bad home movies can be cinematic masterpieces, first kisses can be as daunting as an action film and that a pile of poop actually has a lot going on in its poopy little world.