London Short Film Festival: Out Of History
This international selection sifts through the rubble of history, finding new meaning in the aesthetics, ideology and artefacts of the past. Whether it be finding parallels between the romantic mysticism of medieval knights and the political dissenters of today or the timely excavation of surveillance footage from the Attica Riots, these shorts (including the animated extravaganza This Magnificent Cake!) are unique, urgent explorations of the now, filtered through the lens of a darker past. 82’
Synopsis: “A group of medieval knights disembarks on the banks of the Río de la Plata. They are looking for an ancient tomb in which they must perform an exorcism ritual. During the trip they make several games to pass the time, these games make them do things that they had never imagined.”
T.R.A.P. is an Argentinian film directed by Manque De Banca. It features a troupe of three medieval knights on a journey to complete a mysterious pagan ritual, but along the way engage in a series of increasingly bizarre and sexually explicit games with one another. In tone, it feels like a throwback to films from the late 60s and early 70s, with a blend of mysticism and erotic imagery that someone like Oliver Reed would have starred in.
The color saturation of the film evokes the same period and is visually engaging, perhaps enough so that it lends a sense of depth beyond what the narrative actually possesses. The choice to blend the modern and medieval elements later in the film is intriguing, but ultimately T.R.A.P. relies too heavily on the shock value of the truth or date scene, in which seemingly unsimulated sex acts performed on camera cross from edgy into abrasive territory rather quickly.
Evidence of the Evidence
Synopsis: “A work of “archival vérité” and a meta-reflection on the role of the camera as both a weapon and a maker of history, Evidence of the Evidence chronicles the infamous 1971 Attica prison uprising.”
Evidence of the Evidence, directed by Alexander Johnston, utilizes found footage from a New York state police officer to examine the famous Attica prison riot, which resulted in the deaths of 43 inmates, correctional officers, and civilian employees over the course of just four days. The footage filmed by the officer as an attempt to document the uprising is fascinated in its rawness and intimacy. Although the man recording the film was not a trained videographer, his efforts make you feel as though you’re experiencing the events firsthand, and what he chooses to film gives us insight into his perspective as a law enforcement officer.
There is a strong emphasis on how historical narratives are crafted around a specific point of view. Johnston’s commentary towards the end of the film reminds the viewer that this particular story is told from the perspective of those in power and that there is an alternative point of view that is equally valid which should not be discounted.
While the ending is undoubtedly powerful, the film overall feels as though it might have been more effective had the director gone to greater lengths to curate the footage in some ways. There is a feeling that the viewer has been presented with all the raw materials of an incredibly engaging short film, but the final package is somehow incomplete.
This Magnificent Cake
Synopsis: “An anthology film set in colonial Africa in the late 19th century telling the stories of five different characters: a troubled king, a middle-aged Pygmy working in a luxury hotel, a failed businessman on an expedition, a lost porter and a young army deserter.”
This Magnificent Cake is the final entry in Out of History and is by far the most narratively ambitious. Directors Marc James Roles and Emma De Swaef construct an anthology piece, telling several different stories all interwoven to create an overarching narrative about colonialism in Africa.
The stop motion animation is unique and expertly done, with each character and set painstakingly built from felt and other fabrics. The character design is eccentric yet surprisingly engaging – you wouldn’t expect to be able to feel every single emotion that flits across their bizarre little faces, but you definitely can.
The stories themselves are alternately sad, funny, poetic, and very cleverly connected to one another. All have an underlying sense of deep pain and loss; these emotions are balanced by a certain deftness of touch and offbeat humor. The moments of sorrow throughout the film are understated and often not the focus of each chapter, but are incredibly effective.
When we see the clarinetist politely asked by the king’s aide to refrain from playing, for example, or the pygmy man grieving the loss of his family, culturally isolated, and dehumanized by working as a standing ashtray in a fancy hotel, these beats hit hard and leave a mark on the viewer. This Magnificent Cake succeeds both visually and narratively, using an oddly beautiful animation style to enhance the unconventional nature of its stories in a way that few films are capable of doing.
These shorts will screen at the festival 13th and 18th January and you can book your tickets here