Festival Report: Bradford Fantastic Films Weekend – The Short Films
Part 1 of Brutal As Hell’s coverage of the 11th Fantastic Films Weekend at Bradford’s National Media Museum, Fri 15th- Sun 17th June 2012:
Report on Saturday’s Short Films Compendium by Keri O’Shea
I’m a huge fan of the short film medium. Some of my favourite festival discoveries over the years have been short films, so I was excited to see what Bradford Fantastic Films had to offer in this department. Well, the strongest of the bunch were absolutely superb, and the weakest were rather weak – though this may be overkill speaking on my part, as the first film we saw was Perished (2011), which despite competent handling and being nicely shot, suffered for being ‘another zombie short film’, and I feel like I’ve seen more than my share of those. The set-up is rather a simple one: the dead are walking in contemporary Australia, a living man is holed up in a shed on his property and has to decide what to do to escape. Now, I don’t think the zombie genre has been completely wrung of possibilities, but on occasion, and with respect to director Stefan Radanovich, it feels as though it very nearly has when the same tropes crop up over and over. Radanovich has an impressive short-filmography to his name, though, and obviously has talent as a director, so I’d love to check out some of his other work sometime.
There was another zombie short during the set, too – this was Chomp! (2011) by British directors Adam and Joe Horton; a comic skit on boy zombie meets girl zombie, where two undead’s lips meet during a jolly bit of gut-munching and they fall for each other – referencing the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp (no, really!) along the way. At just four minutes, it’s a comic fragment as much as anything else and can hardly be said to overstay its welcome, but I did have to struggle against wondering why we needed more zombies…or indeed, and this is a general observation, why the end of the world always happens when people are wearing quite so much white. Still, Chomp! had a punchline, and wasn’t badly-executed.
A short film which started with an intriguing premise was Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise (2011): director Kelly Sears has developed a haunting visual effect here, superimposing old yearbook photographs onto a school building background, and having them move just slightly – the overall effect is quite unsettling. The story told within the film – of a strange air of apathy descending over the year-group of an American high school during the seventies (communicated via on-screen text, not dialogue) generated some nice feelings of creep, though appearance and idea badly needed some more exposition. As I’ve said elsewhere, a very little will suffice in these cases – but I felt too much as though I’d been left out of some big secret, made to feel engaged with wondering what the fuck was going on and then cut loose.
Striking the balance between tantalising the audience and tying things up must be a hard thing for any director to decide upon and accomplish, however long a time-frame they have. The sins of Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise are duplicated in Finnish short The Hunting Ground (2011). Though The Hunting Ground is more linear and more conventional, it sets up an interesting story but leaves it rather rootless, though it manages to get a few naked women in there for good measure. Two men heading into the middle of nowhere encounter a young woman lying in the road. She’s unconscious, but largely uninjured. They pick her up, and take her with them. She has very little to say for herself, but seems happy and grateful for their help. That is, until one of the men makes a pass at her, and she takes flight into the woods. How does this situation resolve itself? Well, it doesn’t really, although it hints in a few directions. Again, I felt engaged enough by the premise that I wanted a little more, just a little more, to tell me what I’d just seen. In its favour, this film has some superb long shots, the Finnish countryside in which the action takes place is beautiful on-screen, and the performances from all of the limited cast certainly generate interest.
The Little Mermaid (2011) is another fragmentary affair, a sliver of mood rather than a tale, but one which boasts attractive sets, setting and costumes: we are taken to an old-time freak show, and a man who makes his dollars exhibiting a real life mermaid. So, he’s exploiting her – but is he safe from being exploited? That would be a no, then. Being unable to stand or attack him conventionally, she goes for a siren song to lure him near…from a director with an extensive short film retinue, I really wanted to like this little period piece more than I did, but I found it hard to feel invested in what I was seeing. Still, the idea of mermaids as malign entities is a good theme for horror, and mythical creatures on the screen are always welcome. (Editor’s note – we’ve previously featured The Little Mermaid in our Horror In Short thread; you can read Marc’s thoughts on the film here.)
Moving on to my three favourite short films of the selection, Decapoda Shock (2011) managed to tell a complete story in its ten minutes – like a sci-fi movie in microcosm, and an ambitious mix of media, splicing animation with live action in a way which really worked. The whole thing felt like an old-school comic strip – economical, but telling a hell of a lot in a matter-of-fact way. When an astronaut is sent to investigate a mysterious planet and gets attacked by a lobster-like alien creature, he mutates – but survives to return to Earth, and do something about the conspiracy which got him feeling so crabby (sorry). He takes revenge against the Evil Corporation who set him up, and as this necessitates a part-man, part-crustacean in a spacesuit riding a horse through a desert, I’d say we can be truly thankful for that. The pace and style of this short are both very well-realised and the humour worked. This film was a lot of fun, and it was great to see the city of Madrid on the screen too…on the screen, as a man with mandibles and pincers rows through Retiro Park. Magnificent.
And now for something completely different, to anything, ever. Stop-motion animation is the medium of choice for the weird world of Bobby Yeah (2011), and boy, does it work well. Now though, I’m faced with the difficult job of explaining what happens in this gem. Right – a mischievous little fella has nicked off with a limbless, blue-eyed pet. He gets it back to his digs, and is in the process of looking it over when – ooh – he spots a big red button on its body. Buttons are meant to be pressed, yeah? He tries to resist, but he hits the button. Cue a very stressful afternoon for our Bobby as he’s beset by weird cycles of transformation, birth and…well, shall I just say that I liked the bit where Bobby beats the formerly-crow-headed golliwog monster with its detached penis which is now a skull-headed club? That’ll suffice. The essential lesson in all of this, if there is such a thing, is to not steal, but even if you must, resist pressing those tantalising fucking buttons (though I am very glad Bobby did). This is a unique piece of filmmaking. Bravo, Robert Morgan, you decidedly deserve your BAFTA nomination for this one.
Last, but not least, another cautionary tale, but one which might be a little bit more familiar to most of us, at least in the possibility of something like it happening. Bear (2011) made me laugh out loud with its impeccable sense of comic timing, and the deft way it linked this humour to an escalatingly grim situation. It’s no mean feat. When a man forgets his girlfriend’s birthday, it seems he’s in the doghouse for the duration. He plonks himself down in front of the TV. She gets dressed, in a huff, and goes out on her mountain bike. But he hasn’t forgotten her birthday at all – he’s planned a special birthday picnic, and he swings into action to intercept her out in the countryside, getting into his car to get there in time. How romantic! Except that – well, you know that whole ‘best laid plans’ thing? The pace here is just brilliant, and the story gives the audience just enough detail and development. It has a snappy punchline, too, which short films benefit hugely by. This is a great piece of work by director Nash Edgerton – tragic and comic by turns.
Read part 2 of our Fantastic Films Weekend report here.