So often, we discuss filmmaking from a storytelling aspect. After all, that’s what drives most people to see films in theaters or while sitting on their couches at home. If there isn’t a good story, then what’s the point of seeing it? There are also variables like acting, cinematography, and sound design that all go into making a polished final product. Then, what happens when a film doesn’t really have any of those things? When it comes to Chris Esper’s new documentary short film, Yesteryear, it apparently doesn’t matter. Though a risky and bold approach, Yesteryear is an absolute triumph in experimental filmmaking. The film still manages to leave an emotional impact with its commitment to nostalgia and thought-provoking editing style.
In all honesty, the film is more of a visual art piece than anything. It’s assembled by Esper who uses home movie footage to craft a loose timeline based on personal reflection through “simpler times.” It explores the past as well as questions things like aging and mortality to relate to viewers. The footage starts out with events like birthdays, a fishing trip, and Christmas gatherings before delving into more isolated personal memories by the film’s end. Much of the footage may seem uninteresting for someone who’s not part of these particular families. For some reason though, Yesteryear works perfectly. None of the scenes ever linger on for too long and the expert editing from Esper has you living vicariously through these people.
Bookended by someone operating a film projector, Yesteryear truly makes you feel as if you’re in the room watching your old home movies. The footage, coupled with a somber score from Steven Lanning-Cafaro, is nostalgic while running viewers through a gamut of emotions. There are moments of happiness seeing past family get-togethers but it can also be kind of sad at the same time. As you watch the film, you get the impression that some of the people featured may no longer be with us. You’ll find yourself unintentionally going through your own personal memories and relating your life to the ones seen onscreen. As the film continues, it’s like experiencing memories that you can’t have back or relive. Also, in these uncertain times, the film really makes you think of how good things can be and it instills a bit of hope for a currently bleak future.
A film like Yesteryear really goes to show how powerful film as a medium and communication device can be. It unites people and proves why movies are so beloved across the entire world. While so many of the home movies in Yesteryear have a sense of mundanity to them, there’s something warmly hypnotic about them. Again, viewers will find themselves reflecting on their own lives as the film reflects on those of others. While it’s no typical film by any means as there’s no story to follow or characters to root for, Yesteryear remains a superb personal project from Chris Esper. It’s an awesome time capsule of a film that captures humanity at its best and brings up fond memories of those “simpler times.”
Check out the full short film below.