This was another strand in the Leeds International Film Festival extremely extensive coverage of short films – local and international, features, documentaries and animation. The British selection comprised 15 films spread over two programmes.
Exchange and Mart (2013 – 15 minutes).The film was set in 1986 in a girls’ boarding school somewhere in the Highlands. The film opened with the teenage girls attending self-defence classes. Then it explored the way that two particular girls responded to and explored the issue of men and sex. The treatment and performances were nicely done. Rather than being dramatic the film struck a droll note, as suggested by the title which is also refers to a prop.
A Generation of Vipers (2013 – 15 minutes). ‘A day in the life of a violent and nihilistic youth …’.As the Catalogue description suggests this is a bleak character study. The young lad is effectively portrayed and there is some context; though I felt this needed more development.
Love Me Tinder (2014 – 11 minutes). This is an evening between two online daters – an older woman and a younger man. The treatment is deliberately oddball, as the title suggests. I found it not surreal enough to be funny but lacking realism it seemed to lack comment.
The Outside In (2014 – 20 minutes). This film used an unconventional set to present a couple where the man dominates and virtually imprisons the young girl. I never quite figured out how the setting was supposed to comment on the relationship, though the intent was clearly symbolic.
- Enstone (2014, 15 minutes. The film was developed from the discovery of 89 reels of Super 8mm film shot in the 1980s by the aforesaid Richard Enstone. The introduction suggested ‘hidden messages’, which never actually seemed to materialise. The film used the Super-8mm footage in a variety of ways – original ratio, stretched, split screen and speeded up. There were also interviews with people who knew Enstone. I thought there was interesting material here but that this documentary did not make adequate use of it.
Woodhouse (2013 – 9 minutes).The film is set in the Woodhouse Nature Reserve in South East London. This is partly fantasy, mainly from the viewpoint of a child. The film makes good use of effects and school artefacts. As the mystery develops a local journalist also becomes involved, but this mystery is too whimsical for the media.
Anthony (UK / Finland, 2014 – 15 minutes). This is a droll tale of Santa, elves, reindeer and, of course, Rudolph. It offers a sardonic take on the winter festival, just the entertainment to follow over-indulgence during the festivities. It has bright, pleasing snow covered settings and has some fine unconventional gags.
Sexlife (2014 – 15 minutes). Another film which is letterboxed within a 2.37:1 frame. It presents a couple facing a minor crisis, to which the husband responds with extreme measures. The opening belies the direction of the story, which presents an intriguing and revealing exchange between the couple. It is effective though I found the conclusion not completely convincing.
Alice (2014 – 5 minutes).Thomas was ten when his grandmother was diagnosed with dementia. The adults in the family are quite inhibited in the relationship, Thomas, unencumbered by adult attitudes, relates effectively and playfully with her. A warn portrait of a very positive relationship.
The Stomach (2014 – 15 minutes). This is a bizarre tale of an extremely unconventional medium. It is definitely sardonic and does tend to schlock. There are some visceral moments and a very effective reversal.
Seagulls (2014 – 14 minutes). This was one of several films produced by Creative Scotland. They all enjoyed high production values: and this was for me the most completely realised. Ryan and his mother, who run a fair attraction, arrive in a small seaside town on the West Coast. Ryan’s life style has limited his opportunities for bonding with other teenagers. Meeting a group of local boys he is invited to join in on their celebration of the longest night. This involves climbing up into the surrounding foothills and soon an unfortunate incident. The film makes good use of both the small town environment and the mountainscape. The there is very effective staging and blocking to comment on the characters and events.
Crow (2014 – 5 minutes). The film uses an extract from a reading by Ted Hughes of his major poem, ‘Crow’. The film adds to this music by Leafcutter John. The animation is visceral and exceedingly well done. Five very rewarding minutes.
Crocodile (A Life to Live, 2014 – 16 minutes). This is a film about bereavement: in this case the loss for a head teacher and his wife of their teenage daughter whilst working for Voluntary Service overseas. The sense of loss and the accompanying performance was extremely well done. The film leads up to a moment of catharsis: I found the final scene unconvincing, but I have always thought crocodiles, whilst dangerous are also oddly attractive.
Blue Train (2014 – 15 minutes}. The train journey in this film is by a man into his past, his dreams and imaginings. The journey involves magical landscapes, and figures from his actual life. The combination is extremely intriguing and the visual splendour gives great pleasure. The film has original music Alexandros Kavadas and Paul Tyan, but there are also some extracts from Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’.
1946 (2014 – 15 minutes). Set in a gleaming chromium bar we meet Jimmy Stewart home from World WWII. His agent has a new prestige script but Jimmy will actually go on to make the classic It’s a wonderful Life (1946). This was pastiche, and I always think this is the most difficult type of treatment to get right. The film did not work for me: possibly because the actual Jimmy Stewart is one of my two or three favourite |Hollywood stars.
I thought the second programme was much the stronger of the two. There were a number of fine films in that programme. With some of the weaker productions I felt that they either failed to combine narrative and style effectively, or that generic qualities tended to cliché: I rather thought these stemmed from weaknesses in the script writing. But there are promising young filmmakers out there, as the Brochure suggests,
Prepare to meet the film directors / actors/ key grips of top morrow.
Given what I saw in the best shorts there are also certainly the cinematographers and animators of tomorrow. Plus a number of technical craftspeople whose work contributed to effectiveness of the films.
This was the final set of screenings of short films from around the world at the Leeds International Film Festival.
Chorus (Coro Dos Amantes, Portugal, 2014 – 23 minutes – the Porutguese title, which translates as Choir of Lovers is better). Stylistically this was a surprise, with the image letterboxed within a 2.39:1 frame: a technique used by a number of filmmakers in these selections. In this case the noticeable letter-box seemed justified, as there was a split screen. As I adjusted to this I realised that the left of the image was in the right hand frame, and vice versa. And there was overlapping dialogue: sometimes cutting from one track to another, at other running simultaneously. The story is composed of three songs – the two lovers at home; a desperate drive to a hospital; emergency treatment at the hospital; and then a final sequence at home. The unconventional style adds to the emotional impact of the film. The performances, mise en scène, cinematography, editing, and sound design are exactly appropriate. This was for me the most impressive short film of the festival: more engaging than some of the feature length films.
Rosa (Portugal, 2014 – 15 minutes). A totally different atmosphere is this second Portuguese film. We meet Rosa on the beach where she has a spat with a woman who turns out to be her ex-husband’s girlfriend. Later he turns up at her apartment to collect their daughter for the day. Rosa finds her own day extremely curtailed at this point. She also makes contact with a younger neighbour. At the calmer end of the day we see him in the deserted evening street. The film was vibrant in colour and performances.
Greenland (Israel, 2014 – 18 minutes). The film follows Oren’s day as he packs up preparatory to moving into an apartment with his girlfriend. We see his interactions with his parents and hear conversations on his cell phone. The activities seem very simple, but the film effectively develops a sense of the relationships between characters. And the film has an open-ended conclusion.
Shit Eaters (Gówanojady, Poland, 2014 – 17 minutes). A teenage girl goes with her parents for a day or more at the seaside. The beach seems empty. Soon the girl is conjuring up friendly rather than frightening monsters. Her imaginings seem to comment in some way on the family relationships. This film has a strong and assured touch of surrealism, and it also reminded me of some of the early short film of Roman Polanski, though lighter in tone than those.
Person to Person (USA 2014 – 18 minutes). This film includes one of those record stores for old tapes and long players. But that sets the character of the protagonist: his day is pre-occupied with an uninvited guest who stays on after a party. The film is nicely droll with a touch of whimsy.
As can be seen this programme was very much about relationships, with nice variety of both approaches and situations. Chorus stood out for me but all the film were both absorbing and entertaining.
Over the next few days the Hyde Park Picture House is hosting three parts of the Leeds International Film Festival Short City programme: including the above, and the Yorkshire Short Film and the British Short Film Competitions. The selection was nicely programmed, bookended by two films all in 1.85:1 and a filling of two films in 1.37:1. And the programme still maintained a thematic continuity.
Art (Arta, Romania, 2013 – 19 minutes) featured two filmmakers auditioning a young girl for a short film with risqué content. It nicely satirised a sector of cinema and a certain dubious approach to moral content. I did not find it that cinematic and it relied extensively on the dialogue.
Behind the Curtain (Verhon Takaa, Finland, 20214 – seven minutes) was set in a junior school. This was also in a sense about an audition, for a music teacher and for the tyro singer’s class mates. The treatment generated a playful treatment of an intimidating class experience. The young boys in the film were excellent, the teacher and class mates nicely observed. The director and scriptwriter, Teemu Nikki, based on a school memory from the 1980s.
The Noisemaker (Triukšmafarys, Lithuania and Sweden, 2014 – 15 minutes) was a sardonic take on schools and targets. The Principal and his caretaker or assistant prepare a failing junior school for inspection. Their tactics produced some nice gags. I did think that the film could have made more us of the assembled teachers, all women.
Say Nothing (No Digas Nada, Spain, 2014 – 14 minutes) was the film that I most enjoyed in the programme. Set in a house with a ‘threatened woman’ the film was full of skilful camera movements and fine use of chiaroscuro. It also presented one of the effective strategies for short film, subverting a genre.
II (Two, Germany and Greece, 2014 – 16 minutes). Set in a desolate desert setting with a tattered mobile bar, it was full of striking shots of characters and the setting. It was also extremely enigmatic. I was absorbed but also bemused: as seemed other audience members. I am hoping I can find someone to offer an explanation as the Catalogue only offered one slight clue.
Travellers into the Night (Reizigers in de Nacht, Netherlands 2013 – 10 minutes). Like two of the other films this subverted a stereotypical situation. It was nicely played and made good use of music, but it needed a little more development and substance.
It struck me after the full screening that the different films had enjoyed differing production values and that affected my responses. Say Nothing certainly looked and sounded the best. All of the films held my interest and the general production level was good or better.
I hope to see more from this competition so I can place them overall.
Bradford prides itself on its programming of shorts. I’m not really a shorts fan and I do tend to neglect them, though I appreciate the importance of short filmmaking in the ecology of film production generally. BIFF 2014 featured short films in a variety of programming slots. The ‘Shine Short Film Competition’ comprised six films shown as a programme twice and individual entries shown before the main feature elsewhere in the programme. I saw only two of the six, one of which, Cadet (Belgium 2013) won the prize (report to follow). I didn’t see any of the Sydney Underground Shorts which screened before the late night horror films in the ‘Bradford After Dark’ programme. (I couldn’t watch the late-night films as there is no all-night public transport to get me the nine miles home.) I only saw one of the Charles Urban early scientific films – these too had a separate programme.
I did see most of the ‘Cinetrain: Russian Winter’ films that were dotted across the main programme. This funded production programme invited international filmmakers to make films about communities in Northern Russia during the ferocious Russian winter. It’s an interesting project with information available on its website. Bradford showed all seven films which attempted to explore “the most common stereotypes about Russia”. These include excessive drinking, open-air bathing in the depths of winter, traditional Russian crafts etc. I was most intrigued by the village dwellers in one community who complained about the disintegration of local community/collectivist spirit. They viewed the new capitalist Russia with mistrust and felt that today people steal from each other to get by when they used to help each other. That’s a side of the new Russia that doesn’t get as much media attention as it should.
Other than these separate programmes, each of the ‘official features’ was also accompanied by an appropriate short film. I confess that under pressure with several screenings on the same day I sometimes missed the short on purpose to give myself a few extra minutes of breathing space. I’ll just pick out one other short (some are mentioned alongside the feature screenings). The one that impressed me most (i.e. appealed to my interests) was Whale Valley (Iceland-Denmark 2013) directed by Arnar Gudmundsson. This tells a complete and satisfying story about two brothers – a genuine ‘Nordic noir’ – on their farm (see the still above) in 15 minutes of skilled narrative filmmaking. I wasn’t surprised to learn about its success at festivals worldwide.