Private Project

Dear Death

Stewball, a bipedal horse, is being stalked by Death, from his dreams to his cubicle job. Stewball writes a letter to Death, asking why he's being followed; Death replies, inviting Stewball to meet in the park. There, Stewball plays with a girl who reveals an unexpected perspective on life.

  • Kate Isenberg
    Heads or Tails, Robin
  • Kate Isenberg
  • Kate Isenberg
  • Alexis Harte (Stewball)
    Key Cast
  • Mia Harte (Katie)
    Key Cast
  • Josh Rodriguez
  • Kate Isenberg
    Sound Editors
  • Frank Smathers
    Sound Editors
    Silver Linings Playbook, Say Anything, Chicago PD
  • Kate Isenberg
    Re-recording Mixer
    Birdman, Unbroken, Straight Outta Compton, About A Boy
  • Project Type:
    Animation, Short, Student
  • Genres:
    Drama, Comedy, Animation, Adult animation, 2D animation, Traditional animation
  • Runtime:
    6 minutes 51 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    February 14, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    16,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Animaze International Film Festival
    United States
    August 19, 2016
    World Premiere
  • ​19th Bucheon International Animation Festival
    Korea, Republic of
    October 21, 2017
  • ANIM!ARTE XIII: International Student Animation Festival of Brazil
    Rio de Janeiro
    April 30, 2017
    South America
    Honorable Mention
  • ​Hancheng International Short Film Festival
    October 7, 2017
  • Bogoshorts
    December 9, 2017
  • Early Bird International Student Film Festival
    November 4, 2017
  • First Step International Student Film Festival
    September 23, 2017
  • Portland Film Festival
    Portland, OR
    United States
    November 3, 2017
    Special Mention in Visual Quality and Storytelling Excellence
  • Animation Nights New York
    Brooklyn, NY
    United States
    October 17, 2017
  • Riverrun International Film Festival
    United States
    April 2, 2017
  • San Francisco Independent Film Festival
    San Francisco, California
    United States
    February 11, 2017
  • San Francisco Frozen Film Festival
    San Francisco, CA
    United States
    July 22, 2017
  • UCLA Animation Festival (limited screening)
    Los Angeles
    United States
    June 8, 2016
    Best In Show
  • UCLA Festival of Animation: MFA Director's Spotlight
    Los Angeles, CA
    United States
    June 14, 2017
    ​Blue Ribbon Winner, UCLA Director's Spotlight 2017 Spotlight Awards, UCLA Director's Spotlight 2017, Myrl A. Schreibman Fellowship in Directing 2017
  • Mendocino Film Festival
    Mendocino, CA
    United States
    June 4, 2017
  • Benicia Film Festival
    Benicia, CA
    United States
    September 1, 2017
    Best Animated Short
  • Phoenix Comicon
    Phoenix, AZ
    United States
    May 27, 2017
    Best Student Film
  • Comicpalooza
    Houston, TX
    United States
    May 12, 2017
  • Santa Fe Comic Con
    Santa Fe, NM
    United States
    October 21, 2017
  • Albuquerque Comic Con
    United States
    January 13, 2018
Director Biography - Kate Isenberg

Kate Isenberg (director) is a Los Angeles-based animator and illustrator. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, she completed her BA in English at Harvard, where she immersed herself in canonical literature while also drawing cartoons for the campus newspaper. She has worked professionally as a journalist, editor, illustrator, and musician, and has released two independent albums of original contemporary folk songs. Isenberg created Stewball in 1998, for a parody zine published by the interns of MOTHER JONES magazine. She developed Stewball in an eponymous comic strip, distributed DIY-style to bookstores and cafes around San Francisco. Isenberg became an animator to combine her interests in writing, illustration, and music in one dynamic storytelling medium. With DEAR DEATH, she completed her MFA in animation at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television.

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Director Statement

DEAR DEATH is about a character confronting death to make a change in his life: to embrace risk instead of playing it safe. Stewball, a bipedal horse, has been clinging to a safe, dull job because he fears the failure that looms in living the life he wants. By writing a letter to Death, he chooses vitality over morbidity, risk over safety.

Stewball expects Death to be someone as self-serious as he is. But Death’s message is that Stewball’s need for things to match his expectations is exactly what’s holding him back from living fully. The little girl who appears as Death goads him into a playground romp and then shows him just how small his life and death are in the scheme of the universe. But it’s her ability to make him laugh at himself that finally allows him to shift into a freer state of mind. It’s the ultimate risk: not taking oneself seriously. Who will if we won’t? And yet it’s the most elegant way to express a grace with all we don’t know, with the beautiful mess of life itself.

Drawn in a simple, line-drawing style that reflects the influences of the children’s book illustrators William Steig and Jules Feiffer, Stewball and DEAR DEATH are childlike in aesthetic. The contrast between the innocence of the visual style and the worldliness of Stewball’s adult worries is on point. In the adult troubles we muddle through is what’s left of childhood wonder: dusty and covered over but still there, winking at our long faces in unexpected moments.

The character of Stewball has always embodied my determination to hold on to that childhood wonder, especially within the daily grind of less than rewarding jobs. I created Stewball’s eponymous comic strip in 1998, for a parody newsletter published by myself and the other lowly interns at a national magazine where we toiled 7 days a week for bus money. At another office job, where I clock-punched for 9 years, I drew a poster-size Stewball for my cubicle, a talisman to ward off the future my present implied. I left that cubicle job, enrolled in film school, and created DEAR DEATH. Like Stewball, I had to move beyond the safety of not going for it, to embrace risk. It’s the only way to live the life we imagine.