Day 1 at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival and it is immediately apparent how well organised the event is. From the multiple locations, clearly mapped and scheduled to the extremely helpful staff always on hand if, like me, you may be stood around with a confused expression. I have been stunned with the sheer quality of films I have seen so far. Some examples of these short pieces of cinema execute in six to fifteen minutes what many movies at the box office struggle to achieve in over two hours. Seeing so many of them is like a cinematic narcotic, so many emotions packed tight into to such a short running time leads to an incredible experience and it is addictive.
I have selected a few of the highlights from my first day at the festival. Everything I have had the opportunity to see so far has been excellent, so narrowing it down to a short list has been difficult. I have chosen the films that have, for me at least, pushed the boundaries of what may be expected of short film and offered a fully rounded experience including direction, acting, script, plot etc.
Drama Genre Pieces
As contemporary society becomes more and more obsessed with likes, follows and advancements in digital technologies, it is fitting that the ASFF offers a sextet of short films that have something to say about the ‘screen’ culture. A wonderfully diverse selection of films that each demonstrate the effect of devices on our lifestyles currently as well as the potential to impact our future, with positive and negative effects.
All six short films set the bar high in terms of quality and should be celebrated, but three that stood out for me personally as exceptional examples of fully well rounded and boundary pushing film.
New Zealand – Eddy Fifield (2019)
A young woman reluctantly participates as camera operator in a YouTube stunt for her boyfriend, a self-proclaimed ‘adrenaline junky’’, for his first video. Inspired by tragic true events, Views exemplifies how far the you tube generation are willing to go for a like, share and subscribe.
Giving a stark glimpse into the culture of extreme acts for YouTube views, this short film from New Zealand instils an air of unease from the very start. There is palpable tension building towards the climax and even though the ending is heavily signposted, the impact of it is not hindered.
Strong performances from the two leads, especially girlfriend Lauren, who encompasses the weight of her character’s nervousness and anxiety with all the skill of a veteran actor. Her believable concern and reluctance are entirely convincing and in the closing scene her reaction is wonderfully executed (no pun intended).
UK – Kate Cox (2019)
On their 20th wedding anniversary Emilia and Jeff are given the gift of a Virtual Reality headset that enables them to see their ‘true self’ through the power of sub conscious. As the two test out the device a long-kept secret is unearthed that has the potential to change the couple’s relationship forever.
This in an incredible piece of film that could easily be part of a Black Mirror episode. Beautifully shot, with a dark colour pallet with pastel flashes of colour. Neon glows mist the characters during a wonderful and dreamily shot virtual reality scene that is akin to Nicolas Winding Refn in terms of cinematographic style. The use of lighting and sound are truly wonderful and the reveal at the midpoint is beautifully executed and feels fresh and relevant for todays viewership.
Having the star calibre of Nick Frost as Jeff does not detract from the rest of the film and he is equally matched in talent by his onscreen wife, Nikki Amuka-Bird. The intelligently written script, that on first glance could be labelled basic sci fi, manages to develop into something deeper and is extremely touching. Questions such as self-image and gender identity are approached with compassion, and the film leaves a lasting effect that one would consider difficult to achieve in the short running time of just over twelve minutes. I would happily watch a 2-hour movie featuring these central characters and the events featured. Wonderful.
Poland – Filip Igantowicz (2017)
In the back streets of Gdansk, a mid-teen girl named Natalia becomes obsessed with a local boy and she seems willing to do whatever it takes to be close to him. With her pregnant friend at her side she sets about getting his attention to distract him from a love rival. But she may regret all her efforts when things do not go quite as she planned.
This short film moves away from being centred around technology to the extent of other examples in this Drama category, instead using mobile devices to capture some of the events as an expositional tool. As we see Natalia’s blinkered obsession with a boy who is clearly (for the audience at least), a shit. Ignoring the signs, she flies head on to win his love (or lust as it seems) and injures herself, jeopardising even more in the process.
Beginning at the end, it replays the events leading to the final scene allowing the viewer to piece together events with foreboding. The acting is excellent and each of the teenagers are entirely believable as to be going about their regular lives, the camera work invites you to be a part of their actions with a rough grainy pallet of colour and shaky-cam lite movements adding to the immersion.
A cleverly thought out yet simple film that covers the subject of going too far and facing dire consequences.