Review: Elsa

Written and directed by Cameron S. Mitchell, co-written by Julia Muniz, a brief glimpse into the life of Elsa Sjunneson and the challenges she faces. Sjunneson is a DeafBlind professor and media critic, skilled fencer and hiker, and published author who has written for Marvel Comics.

As Elsa opens it makes a strong impression and one of the reasons for that is how Cameron S. Mitchell and Julia Muniz cleverly frame the story in an almost superhero origin style. It’s such a charming tact to take, to both do justice to the strength of Elsa Sjunneson’s story and highlight how she’s putting herself in the spotlight to stand up for herself and others. As it moves forward the style has a brilliantly atmospheric quality, the sharp aesthetics to the footage blended with the eloquence and power to Sjunneson’s words is a winning and compelling combination. It manages to also bring through a typically nostalgic, emotional vein when diving into her childhood but does so in a way that doesn’t become overly sentimental and retains the sharpness.

A lot of ground is covered in less than ten minutes but it never feels rushed, there’s a consistent pacing which is satisfying to watch. It gives itself time for its message to land and to grow its story in a natural way, of course there’s still plenty of room to explore but there’s a pretty perfect amount of information within the short. The cinematography work also brings through a great amount of colour which fits perfectly with conversations about comic books and graphic novels. It’s a very clear and concise package which gets across a few core messages firmly. Firstly, Elsa discusses the absolute need to have disability represented in media and for it to be done in an accurate fashion. It’s been done so poorly for so many years, there’s now a spark of change which will hopefully continue and expand for years to come.

It calls out the rampant ableism in society and the hugely restricting way in which the general public views disability. It’s depressingly often that people try to fit disability into neatly wrapped boxes which fit a preconceived view when it’s actually intensely complex and there’s absolutely no need for anyone to define another person’s disability. The only need is for people to be understanding, to listen and not make unnecessary judgements about what others can or can’t do. That mindset is damaging, not only in the sense of prejudice but also in affecting the mental health of those facing it, pushing them to keep themselves in those restrictive boxes. It comes down to a terrifically simple idea, you will never know what you can do if you don’t try. Highlighting the importance of not letting society dictate your limitations.

Elsa takes only a handful of minutes to explore an important issue and with the powerful, eloquent voice of Elsa Sjunneson it succinctly gets across its message of representation and understanding. Cameron S. Mitchell’s directorial style echoes the strength to Sjunneson’s presence and brings a stylish and atmospheric edge. It presents the inspirational attitude and achievements of Sjunneson, a superb role model for those with disabilities, and a perfect example of not letting others decide what you’re capable of, because you won’t know until you try.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯½ | 9/10

Screening as part of HollyShorts 2022 on August 15

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