SXSW Short Film Review: Tough (UK, 2016) redefines the documentary genre tag with inventive animation

A bold colour palette expressing traditional Chinese imagery overlays both the personal and political difficulties filmmaker Jennifer Zhang has with her mother in Tough, a short student film that redefines the documentary genre tag.

In the space of four short minutes, Zhang manages to convey an alarmingly detailed view of her relationship with her mother, and how their own individual cultural upbringings has driven something of a wedge between them; Zheng herself was born in suburban Northern Ireland whilst her mother was born during the Cultural Revolution of China.

The inventive animation taking place on screen is intentionally unrealistic, and occasionally it pulls focus from the audible conversation Zheng is having with her mother, but it ultimately proves a successful counterbalance to the grounded audio detail.

I would say that the conversation taking place suggests something of a strained relationship between the two (material that feels ripe for feature length worth), leaving my only criticism of Tough being that I wanted more as it’s evidently a story that could find a relatable audience despite its cultural specifications.


Tough screened as part of the SXSW Short Film program last month.