Now entering its 12th year in full-swing, the London Short Film Festival still keeps it snappy by firmly stating its enduring manifesto from the start: “we’re not here to entertain you, we’re here to make you uncomfortable.” It reflects an exploratory and thirsty attitude towards the function of film and the role of an audience, something that has always preoccupied filmmakers, from the experimental Dadaists like Fernand Léger to the enfant terribles of cinema like Rainer Fassbinder in the 1970s.
With 75 events and 300 screenings squeezed into 10 days, the LSFF’s category headings gave audiences teasing promises like Leftfield & Luscious, Lo-Budget Mayhem and Surreal Worlds, while music events, panels and workshops were also on offer. Excitingly, this year’s festival opened its doors to international filmmakers for the first time, too. Here are some of the memorable offerings from the truly leftfield, and from the festival’s new Global Stories section.
1. Last Base, Aslak Danbolt
Can the Scandinavians do no wrong when it comes to cinematography that imprints itself in your mind’s eye forever? Perhaps it is an influence of the abundance of unforgivingly beautiful landscapes in the region. London Film School graduate Aslak Danbolt’s short and steady Last Base (2014) is one of those contemplative then quietly shocking studies of man and nature. Joachim is on the verge of waving goodbye to his base-jumping days: his girlfriend is expecting, a friend Roger had been killed in a previous jump, and the responsibilities of family life are at odds with his dangerous hobby. Joachim is determined on one more climb, though; dragging his friend Øyvind in a determined ascent amongst the breath-taking, lonely vistas of snowy Norwegian cliffs, Joachim is stubbornly determined against all odds. Shows a quiet kind of “uncomfortable” can make for just as effective a premise for film.
2. 6 Cup Chai, Laila Khan
Featured in the 2014 Cannes Short Film Corner, King’s College London graduate Laila Khan’s 6 Cup Chai tells a tale of urban poverty most of us are familiar with, but increasingly desensitised to. Chotu lives and works as a Tea Boy in Mumbai’s poorest slum, Dharavi, like many of his fellow orphans living in dire conditions. One day, he discovers a tin pencil case, igniting his desperate curiosity for the world around him and wish to go to school. Khan has managed to coax a strikingly natural performance from her young protagonist, capturing the endurance and thirst for knowledge ready to be nurtured in every child before circumstances take their lives for a very different turn. The dynamic camera, at times observer and sometimes participant, is a particularly effective example of the power of short film editing in creating the degree of empathetic connection usually established over the course full-length features.
3. Leidi, Simon Mesa Soto
Winner of the 2014 Short Film Palme D’Or at Cannes with his graduation project, it must seem like Columbian director Simon Mesa Soto is living every up-and-coming filmmaker’s dream – but this by no means would suggest it is not a well-deserved one. His stirring story of a girl who lives with her mum and her baby seems a simple one: Leidi, waiting in vain for her boyfriend and the father of her child Alexis to return, decides to head off one morning to look for him herself. As Soto stated in his press conference at Cannes, this beautifully shot short film is both small-scale and human enough to work its way in through emotion, as it is a microcosm of a number of social and economic issues in Columbia that Soto wants to draw attention to. It is the narrative style of this film that makes it quite discomfiting. The character and her surroundings allow us to form the story in quite unchanging, static takes. Taking in the barrios of this mountainous town of Medellin and the sealed fate of the waiting women in its community, Soto’s camera is quietly angry. Considering the rich and bold history of Latin American filmmaking, here’s hoping we see more of Soto’s work.
4. Fruit Fruit, Peter Millard
It cannot always be about speaking to the heart or the mind when it comes to film, and experimental does not necessarily have to mean avant-garde, either. A bizarre little snippet from the Leftfield and Luscious category, Peter Millard’s Fruit Fruit reflects the childish delight at the basis of cinema: it’s a picture, and it moves. Jauntily edited, to an equally jaunty soundtrack of jazz, human exclamations and (possibly) bodily sounds, his variety of anthropomorphic fruit moan, sigh, implode, mutate and get squashed underfoot. It is like a two-minute peek into the subconscious at rest, caught unawares: incoherent, absurd, random, and self-entertaining. The Royal College of Art graduate’s hand-painted short animations have been shown at international film festivals and galleries alike.
Of the Arts, our youngest may have already celebrated its centenary but its experimental potential and its powers of “uncovering the hidden” makes it almost a duty to keep cinema’s edge alive. As LSFF proves once again, cut your running time down, and the distilled results are often even more effective, and even invitingly uncomfortable.
London Short Film Festival, 9-18 January, various venues across London.