Sydney Film Festival Review: Yearbook (USA, 2013)

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There’s only one time in my life that I can recall having something that I can only describe as an anxiety attack. It was at a Brian Cox lecture in Sydney last year and I believe it was when the rockstar physicist was describing the moment when the Earth would cease to exist. The very thought of everything I had ever known been wiped from both existence and memory was unbearable. On a rudimentary level, we all know that we’re going to die, but to have that clarifying moment where everything we stand for as a human race will simply disappear, was horrifying. The moment passed quickly enough. The tunnel vision receded, the invisible hand that was squeezing my heart loosened its grip and neither returned again until watching Bernardo Britto’s short film, Yearbook.

The five minute animation follows an un-named protagonist over the course of seventeen years as he records the history of the human race. A noble venture indeed, although as the voice over describes, the purpose is due to rather dire circumstances. After pissing off an alien race, a missile is heading towards earth that will result in its imminent destruction. Thankfully, it will take almost two decades, so our hero has been tasked with the job of recording all of our history. The unfortunate MacGuffin arrives thirteen years into the process when the hard drive becomes full, and he has to choose what to keep, what to condense, and what to delete. This heart breaking process is the very essence of Yearbook, and is guaranteed to leave audiences pensive about what their own choices would be.

Set to the soundtrack of a single, depressingly melodic piano, we are forced to watch the protagonist torturously decide which historical personages deserve precedence over others. This itself is exquisitely juxtaposed against his home life, which is deteriorating under the strain of his top-secret responsibility. As he ponders on whether he can live with the knowledge that the future of humanity may never know about Cat Stevens, his musings begin to turn inwards. What does his life mean if there will be no one left to remember it? This is a question that will resonate with everybody watching, particularly those who have seriously thought about their own mortality. If any viewers hadn’t before, they certainly will now. Yearbook both beautifully and brutally forces you to face this reality, which is impressive for such a short piece. It can’t be coincidental that the film focuses on people throughout history, as opposed to historical events. Because when it comes down to it, it’s people who make up the past, present and future and it’s people that we care about, miss, and mourn.

Yearbook is an elegantly crafted piece of cinema that dares to look the reality of death and extinction in the face. As opposed to mainstream features, it doesn’t shield people from philosophising about own own demise by pulling out a miraculous Earth-saving solution in the third act. It forces you to think, which is rare in 21st century entertainment. This renders it an imperative and thought-provoking film that I urge everyone to try and catch at the Sydney Film Festival.

Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Yearbook screened at Sydney Film Festival alongside Wish I Was Here.