At last there’s a chill in the air, the leaves are exploding in a riot of color, and Día de Muertos is upon us once again. For your average American, that might mean donning some questionable calavera face paint and getting “totally smashed” on Coronas and tequila shots, but one charming short film from students at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida goes much deeper into the cultural significance of this ancient tradition. The result is so convincing and downright heartwarming that Día de los Muertos picked up a Student Academy Award for its three co-directors Ashley Graham, Kate Reynolds, and Lindsey St. Pierre back in 2013.
The three-minute short finds a precious young girl from the Mexican countryside placing a flower at the grave of her deceased mother, only to be pulled into a colorful underworld populated by festive skeletons. Drawing on the colors and vibrant imagery of Día de Muertos, Graham, Reynolds, and St. Pierre show us the joy of traditions like pan de muerto, piñatas, and la flor de cempasúchil, before treating us to an emotive reunion that goes to the true essence of the holiday: taking a moment to remember our loved ones past, and helping them on their journey through the spirit world.
Whether or not the three directors have any direct personal connection to Mexico or Día de Muertos, they surely nailed the deeper cultural resonance of the holiday. All in all, Día de los Muertos is a beautifully animated and emotionally impactful reminder of what holidays were like before consumer culture became our national religion.