Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Case for Adding Don Hertzfeldt's "Rejected" to the U.S. National Film Registry

In the coming weeks, a wide variety of film critics, professionals and policy-makers will converge upon the Library of Congress in Washington, DC to discuss the 25 films that will be added to the National Film Registry in December. The National Film Registry has become an important voice in terms of what films deserve recognition, and particularly what lesser known or smaller films have a “second life,” as it were, due to the recognition the Registry gives it.

With this in mind, I would like to humbly suggest that in their meetings in the next few weeks, the Library of Congress consider adding the animated short Rejected, written and directed by animator Don Hertzfeldt. The short, in its entirety, can be viewed below:

As I recently wrote for a piece on the Bright and Balanced blog, Hertzfeldt is a leading voice in animation. Despite some of the weird imagery you just saw in the short, Rejected deserves a place among the other great animation shorts featured on the National Film Registry. Some of the most influential animation, including from such giants as Chuck Jones and Walt Disney, is featured in the Registry. As such a unique voice in today’s world and a leading voice in non-corporate animation, I thoroughly believe Hertzfeldt should be added among their ranks.

Here are 3 points I think the Library should consider in their deliberation of whether or not Rejected deserves a place on their list.

1.       It has had a huge influence on animation
Salad Fingers and Aqua Teen Hunger Force are some of the things that have been influenced by Rejected.
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia/Wikia.

If you’ve ever seen Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of programming, you owe a debt of gratitude to Rejected. If you’ve ever seen the online series “Salad Fingers,” you owe a debt of gratitude to Rejected. If you’ve ever seen a non-Pixar, non-Disney related short nominated for the Best Animated Short at the Oscars in the past 10-15 years, you owe a debt of gratitude to Rejected. Rejected was a major game-changer in the field of animation, and allowed similarly surreal premises and animations to go mainstream in a way that they simply hadn't before. Simply put, the film's influence is far-reaching and revolutionary, and we are still feeling it today.

2.       It is one of the first “viral videos”

In 2009, the Registry honored the legacy of the music video by adding what was one of the most popular and influential music videos, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, to the Registry. In so doing, they seemed to be honoring not just the achievement and impact of this particular music video, but honoring the medium of the music video, and how important they were in the music culture of the 1980s and 90s.

An image from "Michael Jackson's Thriller" Photo courtesy of

Now, in our current day and age, the viral video has replaced the music video. Rather than seeing it on MTV, PSY’s hit music video for the song “Gangnam Style” spread like wildfire through the Internet’s collective word of mouth. Much like that, Rejected can be seen as one of the original “viral videos” because, considering its age, it is an important part of Internet video history and Youtube because it was relatively recent when those things were just starting to emerge. Honoring Rejected with a spot on the National Film Registry would be a collective win for viral videos, and allow other films which have used the Internet to gain popularity to be selected in future years.

3.       It would stand as a testament to Hertzfeldt’s ability as a filmmaker

Don Hertzfeldt- image courtesy of

I could talk about the individual awards and honors given to Rejected, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 2000, and appearances on respective “best of the decade” lists from both Salon and The Huffington Post, but at the end of the day, adding Rejected to the Film Registry would be honoring both the individual film and its creator, Don Hertzfeldt. Hertzfeldt deserves to be among the other animation greats featured on the Registry, because like Disney, Jones, Ralph Bakshi, and John Lassiter before him, Hertzfeldt broke down barriers and notions about what people thought about animation. He has continued putting out a tremendous body of work, including his 3-time Sundance Film Festival award winner/ magnum opus It’s Such a Beautiful Day, and honoring Rejected would be honoring all of his work by putting him among the all time animation greats.

While there are probably thousands of letters and thousands of people wanting the Registry to include more mainstream fare, I hope that they don’t forget Rejected and that they find a way to honor this incredible, influential short film. 

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