From teen escorts to angsty stick figures, these are the digestible flicks that have lit up the shorts festival circuit
Already the year’s half over, and with it some of the most important dates on the short film calendar – from Europe’s main fests dedicated exclusively to shorts such as Vienna Independent Shorts, Go Short in Nijmegen and the legendary Oberhausen, to festivals showing features as well as tasty sections of shorts like Berlin, Rotterdam, Sundance and Cannes. Which hits of shorts goodness do you need to look out for? Here are our picks.
Leicester-born filmmaker Fyzal Boulifa’s Rate Me is an innovative pop replication of the way we communicate online, which envisages the internet as a kind of trash can for unfiltered thoughts and was inspired by an existent site on which users rate prostitutes. Teen escort Coco (played by Zehra Zorba) is always seen through the prism of others’ comments; her real identity is elusive. The short’s incisive originality was awarded with the prize for Best Short at Directors’ Fortnight last month in Cannes. It’s the second time winning this prize for Boulifa, whose 2012 Morocco-set fable about transgression The Curse was also awarded.
Indie animator Don Herzfeldt’s much-loved shorts of pitch-black, absurdist humour see calamity-ravaged stick figures grappling with existential angst. He was at the Vienna Independent Shorts festival recently to talk rapt audiences through all of his work, including his dazzling new World of Tomorrow, partly voiced by his four-year-old niece and his first venture into digital animation after his labour-intensive hand drawing. A sci-fi that’s teeming with idiosyncratic philosophical musings on memory and loss, it sees a small child visited by a third-generation clone of herself from the future, and won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
BLOOD BELOW THE SKIN
Pop culture talismans and music hits feed the surreal atmosphere of Jennifer Reeder’s films, which evoke the magical power of the secret languages of adolescence and interrogate gender divides. Blood Below the Skin, which dips into the lives of three teenage girls from different social circles at high school as prom night looms, premiered at the Berlinale and is a memorable follow-up to the US filmmaker’s A Million Miles Away, which cleaned up awards on the short film circuit last year. A retrospective of her work to date at May’s prestigious Oberhausen festival recognised her as a major force in short film right now.
Ben Russell’s short Greetings to the Ancestors is a psychedelic, anthropological dreamscape of verbal memory and ritual. Shot between Swaziland and South Africa, it won a Tiger award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and is the third in a trilogy of films about the search for utopia in modern times by the US experimental filmmaker, who worked with British collaborator Ben Rivers on last year’s blend of mysticism and black metal A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness.
THE EXQUISITE CORPUS
Peter Tscherkassky’s short The Exquisite Corpus is a sensuous and hallucinatory black-and-white dreamscape elegantly shaped together in hypnotic rhythms from found footage sourced from erotic films and porn of decades ago. The title is borrowed from the game invented by the Surrealists in Paris in the 20s, where players blindly contributed a part of a composite poem or image – and here analogue film in its death throes becomes the body Tscherkassky experiments on, shot through with that aching desire for magic that defines our relationship to cinema of the past.
TAKE WHAT YOU CAN CARRY
The influx of foreign residents to Berlin and that sense of inner tumult that comes with travel and removing yourself from your comfort zone underpin Matt Porterfield’s short Take What You Can Carry, which he shot in the German capital over one summer. Hannah Gross stars as an ex-pat artist, and British-German performance art group Gob Squad bring an unexpected, witty contribution to a short that echoes the understated melancholy and quiet navigation of loss of Porterfield’s previous acclaimed Baltimore-set indie features Hamilton, Putty Hill and I Used to Be Darker.
Winner of the Fiction award at Go Short festival in the Netherlands, this unique, politically-resonant French short by Clément Tréhin-Lalanne holds us in suspense and creates space for a myriad of questions by not revealing too much. Aissa (played convincingly by Manda Touré) is an illegal Congolese immigrant in France. She claims to be under 18, but the authorities have doubts, and an examination of her anatomy is carried out by a doctor to determine whether she will be deported.
Swedish director Ninja Thyberg swept to attention with her bold feminist takes on sexual politics and agency that explored the worlds of porn (Pleasure) and dancing for music videos (Hot Chicks). Her latest short Catwalk bagged her the Student Visionary award at the Tribeca Film Festival, and focuses on a nine-year-old in revolt against childhood and the eagerness to enter the world of fashion.
German filmmaker Jan Soldat won the Documentary award at Nijmegen’s Go Short festival for his bold and daring observational portrait of a holiday resort modelled like a prison in Germany. Known for his films tinged with normalising humour and tenderness on people with unconventional sex lives, he earns the trust of his subjects and finds the common humanity for viewers where lesser directors would resort to easy spectacle. He was the subject of a career retrospective focus at this year’s IndieLisboa festival.
Peter Millard’s bonkers hand-painted animation Fruit Fruit is like careening around a grocery stall on acid, the morphing size and violent squashing of various brightly coloured fruits to bizarre outbursts of sound an exhilarating assault of absurdist humour. Screening at Vienna Independent Shorts last month, it won the jazz-influenced British animator a residency at Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier, where he’ll create some work for next year’s festival edition.