DeKalb Elementary (2017) Short Film Review

DeKalb Elementary from director Reed Van Dyk is one of five films nominated for the 2018 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film

The entirety of the short film DeKalb Elementary takes place inside of an administrative office of the eponymous elementary school. A man (Bo Mitchell) walks in and calmly proceeds to take out a semi-automatic rifle. Holding a woman (Tarra Riggs) hostage, he waits for the police to arrive.


The calmness of the characters involved may at first appear anachronistic to the plot that is unfolding, but the short plays out in what feels like a realistic way. This is accomplished through the acting performances of Riggs and Mitchell. Mitchell paces around the cramped space of the office, dazed. Riggs, for the most part, is stock still, concealing fear. Together they create an economy of emotional states that serve the function of the short well.

The short is based on a true story, an incident that occurred in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a live action reenactment of a 911 call; it unfolds unexpectedly, sadly. Surprisingly quietly.

What results is a case study of mental illness. Moreover, it is an isolated incident that could be mapped onto a culture of mental illness and gun violence. As much as the discourse on gun violence is politicized and polarized, the incidents are unilaterally stories about human beings.

DeKalb Elementary is not so much expanding the discourse as it is pausing to look at the people, on both sides of the gun, that are involved in these incidents. While not the first filmmaker to do so, Reed takes a dissociated approach that allows sympathies to fall on figures that one would not normally sympathize with when the story is filtered through other media sources.

It is an intriguing perspective. The staging and the setting are restrained as to heighten this perspective. This makes the short sparse, but that doesn’t mean it is any less effective. It is simply-drawn, but not devoid of import.


As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)


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