LFF may have been done things a bit differently this year thanks to the pandemic, but the quality of the festival’s output is as strong as ever, and the short film programme is no exception to that.

Out of the 37 short films (excluding Pedro Almodóvar’s The Human Voice) that premiered across six strands, these are my top picks:

Asho (dir. Jafar Najafi)

Somewhere in rural Iran, there’s a young shepherd boy who dreams of becoming an actor. His nickname is Asho, meaning ‘eagle’. “When I was a kid, I was very agile and fast, so they called me Asho,” he says.

The rambunctious young’un lives up to his moniker throughout Najafi’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, which captures Asho’s busy daily life while he talks about everything from his favourite movies to his love for Jodie Foster, and why he hated La La Land (except Emma Stone, whose name he will happily yell in adoration). His energy is infectious, and he’ll make you laugh as much as he’ll melt your heart.

Easy-going yet thoroughly entertaining, Asho is worth every second of its 30-minute runtime, and emerging filmmaker Najafi is surely one to watch.

Asho is part of the strand ‘This is the Rhythm of My Life’.

Bittu (dir. Karishma Dube)

A normal day at school ends in tragedy in this dramatic short centred around a young Indian girl named Bittu (Rani Kumari). Bittu is boisterous, independent, and likes to live by her own rules, even if it gets her into trouble. She argues with her teacher, fights with her best friend, and winds up in places she probably shouldn’t be. But on this day, her defiant nature turns out to be her saving grace.

Cleverly constructed, the film lures you in with a relatively light-hearted and fun tone and then suddenly hits you with a devastating sucker-punch of a plot twist. The performances are superb, with Kumari rightly stealing to show.

Bittu is part of the strand ‘Kids Will Be Kids’.

Dafa Metti (dir. Tal Amiran)

Under the bright lights of the Eiffel Tower, dozens of undocumented Senegalese migrants try to sell merchandise to tourists to support themselves and send money to their families back home. In Dafa Metti (meaning ‘difficult’ in Wolof), we hear from anonymous migrant voices who share their own tough experiences of struggling to make ends meet and being harassed by police, as well as the harrowing stories of those they once knew whose lives ended tragically.

The heart-wrenching narration is accompanied by mundane shots of the daily hustle and bustle in Paris, creating a striking contrast between the reality of the migrants and the reality of the people who barely notice them and their plight. Amiran’s documentary is short and simple but undoubtedly moving.

Dafa Metti is part of the strand ‘We Built a World’.

Expensive Shit (dir. Adura Onashile)

Tolu (Modupe Adeyeye) works as a bathroom attendant at a nightclub in the UK. An undocumented immigrant, she is struggling to find full-time employment and gets caught up in a nefarious plan concocted by a group of male clubgoers after being promised payment for her co-operation. When Tolu discovers the full extent of their plan, she must choose quickly between her livelihood and the safety of her friend.

The film’s concept is unique, but it is rooted in the very real and prominent issues of racism, sexual assault, and discrimination against immigrants. Adeyeye delivers a truly compelling performance that demands empathy for a woman thrown into an unimaginable moral quandary.

Expensive Shit is part of the strand ‘UK Focus’.

#FollowMe (dir. Anna Bruun Nørager)

In #FollowMe, Danish filmmaker Anna Bruun Nørager explores the modern feminist movement in Iraq that is making waves on social media. Across the country, women are taking to sites like Instagram to document their lives, shed light on the injustices they face, and challenge the traditions and norms of the conservative patriarchal society they live in.

The film takes place entirely through screens, with Nørager talking to Iraqi women (some of whom no longer live there) over Skype as well as showing a myriad of Instagram posts and stories of their activism in action. It’s a straight-forward but effective and captivating insight into a liberation movement that is giving thousands of marginalised women a voice.

#FollowMe is part of the strand ‘We Built a World’.

Hungry Joe (dir. Sam Dawe and Paul Holbrook)

Horror fans will rejoice at this gloriously grotesque short about a boy with an insatiable appetite. New mum Laura (Laura Bayston) is delighted when her baby Joe is born, but her joy is soon replaced with despair when she discovers he has a penchant for eating anything he can get his hands on. As Joe gets older, his hunger grows and turns into something truly hideous, which Laura is powerless to stop.

Tense, gory and spine-chilling, Hungry Joe is not for the weak-stomached or faint-of-heart. It’s brilliantly written and directed by Dawe and Holbrook, and Bayston shines as the scared, desperate mother on the brink of a breakdown.

Hungry Joe is part of the strand ‘UK Focus’.

 All short films in the programme are available to watch for the duration of the festival for free on the BFI Player.