ASFF 2020: Award-Winning Narratives

With the 10th Anniversary Edition of the BAFTA-recognised Aesthetica Short Film Festival drawing to a close, it’s time to celebrate this year’s winners. Over 300 films in this year’s Official Selection were in competition to receive prestigious awards that recognise outstanding talent in independent cinema. Here’s a short review of each winning film.

Best of Fest & Best Documentary

The Fantastic, dir. Maija Blåfield

The multi-award-winning short film, The Fantastic, follows eight enlightening interviews with exiled North Koreans. This documentary reveals what they imagined the outside world to be like, based on their experiences of watching smuggled western films. Exploring the interviewees’ answers, Blåfield combines the audio with visual effects and footage of North Korea, providing an illuminating visual experience, intertwining elements reality and fantasy.

The Hijack Visionary Filmmaker Award

Thinking About the Weather, dir. Gardar Thor Thorkelsson

This eye-opening documentary revolves around Thorkelsson’s determination to evoke discussion on climate change. The film follows interviews with coastal inhabitants who live on the rising coastline of the UK as well as Extinction Rebellion protestors. The interviewees discuss the devastating implication of climate change and educate the audience on what we can do to change it.

Best Advertising

Safe Water, dir. Mario Dahl

Dahl continues his run of intriguing and powerful advertisements with his latest project Safe Water. A young girl walks right to the edge of a diving board. But what is she jumping into? This visually striking advert for World Water day outlines the importance of safe water in society.

Best Animation

The Passerby, dir. Pieter Coudyzer

Based on Coudyzer’s childhood experiences, The Passerby focuses on two young boys who unexpectedly cross paths. The dark colours and texture of the animation sets the gloomy environment for this tragic story. This is not an animation is not for the faint-hearted.

Best Artists’ Film

Factory Talk, dir. Lucie Rachel and Chrissie Hyde

Set in a besmirched warehouse, Factory Talk focuses on two factory labourers. This film is a visual poem of identity, class, sexuality and masculinity. With the younger factory worker describing his complications and insecurities through a powerful and rhythmical voiceover.

Best Comedy

Maradona’s Legs, dir. Firas Khoury

During the 1990 World Cup, two young Palestinian boys search for Maradona’s Legs – the last missing sticker that they need to complete their world cup album and win a free Atari. This comedy explores the escapism of football and childhood, but, as the director notes: “cannot be isolated from Palestine’s political reality.” Young stars Faris Abbas and Ayoub Abu Hamad possess an electric chemistry with their quirky and humorous dialogue.

Best Dance

The Conversation, dir. Lanre Malaolu

The Conversation is thought-provoking and pulsating dance piece investigating the challenges black people experience when communicating their racial experience to white partners. It presents a stylistic mixture of movement and discourse. This short also features as part of The Uncertain Kingdom – a collection of 20 shorts offering an insight into modern Britain.

Best Drama

The Present, dir. Farah Nabulsi

The Present focuses on a Palestinian man and his daughter as they set out to buy a present for his wedding anniversary in West Bank. However, the journey across Palestine into West Bank proves problematic as they travel across segregated roads, checkpoints and armed soldiers. This emotional drama reflects a family’s struggles in daily life and the length people must go through just to live their life. In Palestine, even simple tasks prove challenging and dangerous.

Best Experimental

Softer, dir. Ayanna Dozier

Softer is an experimental examination of the the demands that black women’s bodies be made “softer” – be that in their voice, manners, or, critically, their hair. This experimental short plays upon grooming rituals – presenting a recreation of a permanent wave machine produced perm (popular in the 1930s-1950s). The short mediates on the historical ways in which Black women have tried to answer this demand on softness.

Best Fashion

Baba, dir. Sarah Blok and Lisa Konno

Ceylan Utlu moved from Turkey to The Netherlands to combine his left-wing ideology with western culture. 40 years later, Ceylan and his daughter discuss his journey. This experimental project combines fashion with documentary to discuss immigration, integration, relationships, and loneliness. Blending elements of truth and fiction, Baba provides a surreal yet light-hearted portrait of a Turkish immigrant.

Best Thriller

Night Bus, dir. Jessica Ashworth and Henrietta Ashworth

A bus driver journeys round the nocturnal streets of London on the eve of her 30th birthday. As the shift passes into the early hours of the morning, she encounters a strange supernatural figure who torments her and takes control of the bus. Filled with nail-biting chills, this alarming short transforms a mundane environment into a dark mystical setting.

Best 360 Film

VR Free, dir. Milad Tangshir

VR Free uses new technologies to explore the nature of incarcerated spaces. Prison inmates use virtual reality headsets to test the waters of the outside world, demonstrating how virtual reality can provide a feeling of liberty and freedom. Set in a Turin prison, the film also captures the reaction of inmates during their encounter with immersive videos of life outside of prison.

Best Documentary Feature

Neighbors, dir. Tomislav Zaja

Award-winning director Tomislav Zaja provides a thought-provoking documentary offering an insight into mental illness. This observational film concentrates on residents from an institution in Croatia. After years in isolation, the residents venture out into the big unknown, living beyond their diagnoses and regaining their individuality.

Best Narrative Feature

How to Stop A Recurring Dream, dir. Edward Morris

Faced with a split custody break up, a family’s older daughter kidnaps her hostile sister in the hope that they can reconnect before they are forced to part. Edward Morris’s debut feature film is an atmospheric drama. Exploring themes of separation and loss, this dark tale is not your average bonding story.

ASFF 2020 is On Demand until 6 December. Get Your Pass.

Adam Grewer