This offered two programmes in the Leeds International Film Festival Short Film City section.
The Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź (Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa, Telewizyjna i Teatralna im. Leona Schillera w Łodzi) is the leading Polish academy for future actors, directors, photographers, camera operators and TV staff. [The current name is in honour of the actor and first rector Leon Schiller].
You get a sense of the school’s status when you look at the list of alumni:
The School has three Oscar-winning alumni: Roman Polanski, Andrzej Wajda and Zbigniew Rybczyński, while alumnus Krzysztof Kieślowski was nominated for an Oscar. Both Polanski and Wajda won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 and 1981, respectively.
So it was a must for me to turn up for the first programme which was a series of short films produced between 1958 and 1986. The selection repaid my interest.
Two men and a wardrobe (Dwaj ludzie z szafą 1958) in black and white and running 14 minutes. The film is without dialogue and follows the characters and prop of the title. This is one of the famous films made by Polanski as a student. It is a real surrealist piece, droll and engaging as we follow the antics of the men and their interaction with passersby. The film opens and closes on the sea-shore which seems highly symbolic.
Conflicts (Konflikty 1960). Directed by Daniel Szczechura, this is a seven minute animation using stop-motion techniques. The plot concerns a marital triangle leading to a violent conclusion.
The Game (Zabawa 1960). Filmed in black and white and directed by Witold Leszczynski, the film runs for 9 minutes. The game in question involves a couple in a car and another driver with whom they race. This is a very sardonic piece: I wondered if Spielberg saw it before Duel (1971)?
The Office (Urzad 1966). This is a five minute documentary in black and white. The focus on an administrative space and the interaction betweens staff and users seems typical of the director, Krzyztof Kieślowski. The sort of sequence that appears in far more complex fashion in his later films.
Kirk Douglas (1966). A 10 minute documentary directed by Marek Piwowaki recording the visit by the Hollywood actor to the Film School. Douglas is clearly exploring h his routes, but also enjoy the intense interest and even adulation that he is accorded.
Concert of Requests (Koncert zyczeń 1967. This 16 minute drama in black and white was directed by Krzyztof Kieślowski. Like The Office it has recognisable themes and style. A couple on a motor bike, packing up after camping, encounter a fairly rowdy bus load of people. The latter include band members, perhaps returning from some concert event. The film follows the encounter and the brief conflict that develops. Like the filmmakers later and longer features, this was fascinating to watch.
Market (Rynek 1971). This five minute experiment was directed by Józef Robakowski and Tadeusz Junak. The film uses fast motion over a period of about a day and in long shot to record the event.
Square (Kwadrat 1972). Another experimental film with animated colour by Zbigniew Rybcznski. The four minutes are filled with changing shapes and music in a sort of abstract ballet.
With Raised Hands (Z podniesionymi rekami 1985). This 6 minutes black and white film won a Palme D’Or for the Film School and the director Mitko Panov. The photograph which the film uses is a famous one. But we are offered an alternative narrative. One that offers hope and which seemed to speak both to Polish history and recurring pre-occupations in the work of the Film School.
Krakatau (1986). This was an essay film rather than one with story. In black and white and running for eleven minutes the director, Mariusz Grzegorzek used ‘found footage’ to present a picture of rising frustrations. The footage included what seemed to be a volcanic eruption and reference to the famous one at Krakatoa.
Most of the films were in academy ratio, but a couple were in 1.66:1. They involved a whole host of School students in cinematography, editing sound and other production functions. The one flaw in all of this was the sound track. The volume went up and down from film to film. Apparently the poor projectionist was turning the output up and down as the films, copied to digital, ran. It seems this was on the disc supplied from Poland. This was not only unfortunate, but given the standards in the recent Martin Scorsese Masterpieces of Polish Cinema [with more Łódź alumni] surprising.
There was a second programme of short films made in the last couple of years. One, Hangover (Kao 2015) had arrived without subtitles. With a certain amount of effort I followed the main plot, but not all the subtleties. Set in an Alcohol Recovery Centre it looked rather good. The director was Maciej Buchwald, who likely also scripted the film.
The film that I was most impressed by was Gigant (Giant 2015). The film follows the romantic adventures of young Bartek and his mother, a single parent. I do not know if Polish Television ever featured Yellow Pages adverts, but this seemed to provide a back-story to one that involved French Polishers. I thought the cast were very good, and the development of the characters over 33 minutes was very well done. There was an engaging ironic take on the events as they unfolded. The film was both scripted and directed by Tomasz Jeziorski.
All the films were in colour and widescreen and this was an interesting and enjoyable screening. [Quotations with Links – Wikipedia].
This is fairly short film, 37 minutes, screening in the Leeds International Film Festival. However it offers as much interest as many longer feature documentaries. The subject is a cache of art works by people who were committed to a long-stay hospital, Netherne in Surrey, diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia. The collection has been named after Edward Adamson who operated a studio in the hospital from 1946 until 1981. Adamson is regarded as a pioneer in the use of art for therapy.
The collection comprises over 5,000 works created by patients in the period. Some of the early works appear to have been produced by patients before the studio was opened. Items 1 to 3 were drawn by a patient on toilet tissues. At this time the regime in the hospital was extremely oppressive: the film refers to the removal of organs like teeth to assist in controlling patients. And this was a regime that seems to have denied the inmates any autonomy.
At first the studio was regarded by the psychiatrists there as a diagnostic tool. One almost surrealist-style painting was described as revealing,
‘deficit conceptual ordering of space.’
Other comments on the works tended to see the patient/artists as divorced from reality.
In the 1950s a more liberal regime appears to have developed. Adamson was able to develop the studio for therapeutic purposes and to allow a degree of self-expression for the patients. Over the life of the studio some 100,000 art works were created. These were stored but when the hospital closed in 1993 many were dumped and only the 5,000 or so housed by the Welcome Trust survive.
These do not appear to be a selection of the best, just the fortunate survivors. The items used in the film are really impressive. The illustration at the head reminds me of the work of Salvador Dali on Hitchcock’s film Spellbound (1945). Among these works are paintings, portraits, landscapes, sculptures and artefacts – they are imaginative, often technically impressive, sometimes derivative and sometimes approaching a surrealist response to ‘reality’. Some of the work was by artists who were committed to the hospital, but some was by apparently untrained eyes and hands.
The film combines footage shot at hospital, stills, examples of the art work and more recent film. There are also interviews, including briefly Adamson himself, and some earlier film of patients and more recent interviews and comments. The film uses recurring voice-overs, both from recordings and by a commentative voice. Visually the film relies on skilled editing, cutting between the artefacts, found footage and illustrative film. Some flaring on the images appears to be technique for highlighting the content.
The film, scripted and directed by Pia Borg and Edward Lawrenson, manages to provide a narrative of the work at the hospital: to suggest something of the oppressive regime that operated, at least for a time; and to give some voice to the creators behind the work. Later in the film there is footage of an exhibition of the work in Paris: there is no sign of an equivalent in the UK. The collection is now housed in the Welcome Trust Library and by SLaM Arts.
The is documentary is accompanied by a short experimental or avant-garde film, Exquisite Corpus (2015). This is by the Austrian director Peter Tscherkassky. It is on 35mm, in black and white, academy ratio and runs for 19 minutes. The film is
‘based on various erotic films and advertising rushes. I play on the “cadavre exquis” technique used by the Surrealists, drawing disparate body parts constellating magical creatures. Myriad fragments are melted into a single sensuous, humorous, gruesome, and ecstatic dream.’
The film makes extensive use of fast editing, superimpositions and dissolves as well as reverse imaging. The soundtrack is equally experimental. This is one of the experimental work that appears to have a strong subjective focus. Its purpose is experimental and – I am not sure. It is adult material. It also appears to include footage from feature films as well as ‘the erotic’. I recognised a clip, in black and white, from Tony Richardson’s film of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1963). Whilst it accompanies the Adamson documentary I think it is actually of a different order of art. Abandoned Goods is 12A but Exquisite Corpus is 18.
Note, the screening only lasts an hour and is on again at 2.30 p.m. this Sunday [Nov. 8th] at the Hyde Park Picture House – really worth fitting in.
I wrote in detail about this local Yorkshire festival with a global reach last year. I enjoyed that visit so I returned this year. As far as I can make out there were less films screened this year but the standard was just as high, possibly higher overall even though I didn’t find the one standout film that so impressed me last time. With 50 short films in the programme I managed to see 19. An innovation this time was the switch to ‘mixed’ programmes in each of the seven screening rooms (three of which were deemed ’15+’ to give viewers some guidance to suitability). The ‘certification/advice’ idea is a good one but for me personally the mixing of animation, drama, science fiction, documentary etc. in the same programme was a bit of a pain. However, I’m not the target audience and there seemed to be more people viewing the programmes (and they were a more diverse audience) than last year. The festival screens the winning films voted for by festivalgoers in various categories at Keighley Picture House in the evening.
In terms of the films themselves, they seemed to be from a similar range of sources – though this year I was more aware of multiple entries from a handful of filmmakers. The interesting point remains that most of the films come from Europe, especially Spain. The film I enjoyed most was Desintegración by Álvaro Martín. This satire about the current economic crisis in Spain imagines an Orwellian future (in beautiful black & white) in which children are bought by the government or put out on the streets tied up like a dog and hoping for pity. You can see this film on Vimeo (but without the subs unfortunately). My selection also included films from Italy, Ireland and Israel, Germany, Estonia, Portugal, Poland and Croatia plus the UK, Australia and the US. (It’s strange that there are no shorts from France.) Most of the filmmakers appear to have been trained and to have started their own companies and Vimeo accounts where examples of their work can be found. Whether this means they are no longer ‘amateur’ is an interesting question. Most of the information about the films I found through online searches. RATMAFF is organised by a college lecturer and staffed by volunteers with funds raised going to Cancer Research UK, so I’m not complaining. Well done to everyone I say. Putting foreign language films before the good people of Keighley is a public service and I hope they can carry on offering a diverse programme for many years.
Here are Vimeo links to two more of the filmmakers featured at the festival:
Pedro Santasmarinas (Portugal)
Olga Guse (Germany)
The Leeds International Film Festival Short City included this opportunity for filmmakers working in ‘Gods Own County’. As you might expect the audience included a fair number of the filmmakers and their friends. Despite, or maybe because of their investment they were a very responsive audience.
The Man Who Thought a Hat Was His Wife was the winner of the Spotlight competition at Leeds City College of Art [films of five minutes or under]. The film was developed from a ‘true story’ involving ‘visual agnosia’. It is a film about bereavement. In this case emotionally loaded objects stand in for the lost one. The treatment offered a touch of surrealism. The style and detail were very effective as was the sense of the character’s feelings.
Cushy – 11 minutes. This was set in the Doncaster prison. The protagonist, Vernon, an inmate, talked the audience through his situation with a cocky and at times ‘in your face’ manner. But other currents were at work less obviously: the film leads up to a pair of visitors for the innate. The visit shed a rather different light on Vernon and hi situation. This is a powerful and very effective film: and on area, offending and imprisonment, that receive less attention.
The Devil on Each Shoulder – 18 minutes. This was a fairly bizarre tale. It included a sorry protagonist, the model devils of the title, and an oddball packaged box. The film was developed or inspired by a number from Velvet Underground. I never developed any sympathy with the characters, though I quite liked the devils: and the pixilation and puppetry were effective. However, the audience at the screening found the film fairly funny.
Children of the Holocaust – Suzanne’s story – 5 minutes. The film was funded by the BBC so it enjoyed quality resourcing. Suzanne’s story was of a child who, because of a brave neighbour, survived the Nazi round-up in Paris, whilst her parents did not. There have been a number of films that translate the memories of survivors into visual images. This film was extremely effective. The animation was finely done and treated the story with an absence of despair.
Hunting for Hockney – 3 minutes. The film is as the title, seeking out David Hockney’s Yorkshire home, though the context is recent bereavement. The animation is excellent and captures the colours and style that is found in much of the painters work.
Scrap – 17 minutes. Set in a scrap yard with a protagonist wearing a cardboard box on his [?] head. The film was clearly offering comment on the contemporary world. But the surreal treatment did not work for me. And I also found the film rather repetitive, though that is part of the treatment.
Rare – 14 minutes. The film was about teenage affections and misunderstandings. The young performers were effective as was the use of settings and changes, semi-rural West Yorkshire. I thought some of the style overplayed effects, especially with some of the soundtrack. The film makes a point about relationships which is credible, as is the treatment of teen situations.
The Last Smallholder – 9 minutes. The last of small farms raising livestock owned and run by Carson Lee. His character seems to embody familiar Yorkshire characteristics. The film shows a warm interest in his work and situation. And the filming of his livestock and acreage was very effective.
Don’t Forget Your Hat – 15 minutes. A tale, set to ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht’, of a rambler who encounters more than he expected. The situation soon became recognisable as was also the likely outcome. But the story was told in a stylish manner with lots of effective detail and edits. The film is fairly sardonic, a nice note to end the programme.
We then had a presentation with the Competition Jury. They selected Cushy as the winner, a worthy choice, and the film was also the Audience Choice. There was also a Special Mention for Rare. I thought there were three possible contenders that stood out, but this film did include stand-out performance by a young tyro.