Using a mixture of archive material and home movie footage, director Chris Esper gives us a visual documentary that reflects upon the past to shine a positive light on what is now considered a more cynical world. Here is our review of the short film Yesteryear.
In Yesteryear, Chris Esper takes an autobiographical approach as a filmmaker, using domestic material as a personal tool to build a narrative out of the clips of his own family and those of other people.
Almost all of us have home movies of our families somewhere, from those old dusty canisters of 8 -millimeter film hidden up in the attic to the immediate uploading of a mobile phone video. We like to think of them as capturing our lives as we live them, a way of saving our memories and while this is undoubtedly a great thing it also leads to a lot of waste.
We can record things so easily and so instantly these days that we quickly end up with hundreds of clips of hundreds of moments that we will either never see again or, if we do, actually find them quite mundane. They are taken in the moment and over time that moment passes therefore a lot of these instant clips lose their meaning.
Back in far simpler times when we were limited to what we could save we had to be very careful. Picking and choosing only the most perfect moments to capture and it is these types of recordings that remain the most powerful when we revisit them.
Chris Esper’s, Yesteryear is a lyrical film that captures small intimate moments between families, like the silences and the looks that mark long marriages, the fun that only couples who know each other so well can get away with, the laughs that only the closest friends share.
It’s a surprisingly touching documentary that tugs on the heartstrings and manipulates its audience but in completely moralistic, good and tender ways. Esper uses clips from his own home video collection that highlight births, parties, fishing trips, Christmas’s, holidays, and drunken ramblings. However, it always leads us back to the film’s main theme, pure ordinary love between families.
As an audience we don’t know any of these people but because they are real people doing real everyday things we project our own family members onto them. That may well be Esper’s grandparents and extended family at a garden party back in the ’60s or ’70s, but we see our own grandparents and relations reflected in them. That is possibly Chris himself playing with sparklers in the garden with his siblings on Independence Day, but we see ourselves as kids doing the very same thing. A newborn baby falls asleep on their dad’s chest in the same way our own children would fall asleep on our chest.
It’s a simple film making technique but a very effective one as it allows the audience to sit back, relax, and reminisce about their own lives. The addition of a beautiful score by Steven Lanning-Cafaro that permeates the short and ensures that there will be something in your eye within the first minute of the film starting. Although Yesteryear does have a beginning and an end there is no linear through-line that links the two together and I couldn’t work out if the clips were edited together in any particular order or for any particular reason.