This year’s London Short Film Festival is the fifth organised by Halloween, but the first to run under that name. Halloween co-founder Philip Ilson explains: ‘When we started the festival four years ago we were actually going to call it the London Short Film Festival but we thought that by calling it Halloween – because we’d been using the name for a few years – it’d help to have that kind of ongoing connection with what we’d been doing. And also I think the pressure would have been on quite a lot at the beginning if we’d called it the LSFF, which has happened this year. I think there is a certain amount of pressure for us to deliver something that might be considered more mainstream than what we’ve done in the past. But it’s still us, and the only difference this year is that there are going to be more industry-based events because we’re linking up with people like the Film Council and Shooting People.’
Overall the programme follows the same template as in previous years, with shorts gathered into loosely themed selections – comedy, horror, love, experimental, and a Fortean Times-sponsored night of general weird stuff. Turntable Café will be organising a night of British-centric visuals while Darryl’s Hard Liquor & Porn Film Festival are coming all the way from Toronto to present work. In spite of the name, it’s not a porn festival, but rather a comedy event: Darryl’s co-director Jill Rosenberg’s entry at last year’s Halloween was Origasmi, an origami sex film.
Music is again an important feature of this year’s festival with events featuring XX Teens and The Young Knives. Says Ilson: ‘We link up with organisations that we like that are doing interesting things. Transgressive Records are an independent label, they’ve got lots of up-and-coming young bands like Foals, Jeremy Warmsley and The Young Knives. The Young Knives got a few filmmakers to make a video for each track of their new album. We’re going to premiere all the videos – which will be on the album released later that month – and the band will do a live set afterwards.’
As in previous years, there will be retrospectives of directors whose films have been regularly screened at Halloween events. This year, the focus is on Asif Kapadia, who presented his masterful second feature Far North at the London Film Festival in October, and Jes Benstock, who won the award for best film at the first Halloween festival. Benstock gained notoriety for his music videos, including one for Orbital, but over the years he has become more of a documentary filmmaker, though this is not a path he had deliberately chosen. ‘Creative life tends not to work in straight lines’, explains Benstock. ‘I started with a half-hour film called Poof, which wasn’t a documentary as such but was real-life filming in real time. But it wasn’t well received so I thought I’d do something else for a while. I did a lot of interactive art and art installations, and then made videos for live music shows. Then some people I knew were doing an audiovisual programme for ITV with VJs and DJs. I’d been VJ-ing for a while, but this was a chance to create a ten-minute audiovisual work with no editorial control. It was a chance for me to experiment. The first one I did was Baby Dreams, which was a conjecture of what my then three-month-old baby son would dream about. There was a lot of colour and animated toys as well as people and family gatherings. I found it really interesting so I did another called Phosphenes, which are what you see when you close your eyes. It was a ten-minute animation with the music of Professor Oz. I really liked the idea of combining the visual elements of animation with documentary so I moved in that direction.’
This year, the festival’s women’s award will be given by Club des Femmes. Sarah Wood, who won Halloween’s best film award last year with I Want To Be A Secretary, runs Club des Femmes with Selina Robertson, a former programmer at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Wood and Robertson started Club des Femmes to show experimental work by women filmmakers. ‘We use a lot of old artists’ films which we want to re-contextualise. We choose work that is innovative, pioneering and adventurous so we match up well with what Philip does with Halloween’, says Wood. ‘For the festival we wanted to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Kathy Acker. We love her and we thought it would be interesting to show films that pay tribute to her work and combine that with readings of her writings. She wrote about inappropriate and radical sex, so we’ve chosen films with the same kind of sex-positive ideas.’
The festival has always been an occasion to link up with organisations outside of London and to showcase their work. Last year, 7inchCinema came down from Birmingham and this year it’s the turn of Bristol Meth, a collective of artists led by David Hopkinson. ‘Bristol Meth is based around three films made in Bristol’, says Hopkinson. ‘One is my video art piece called Cutting Up My Friends, which is about the mix of people who are part of the Cube cinema. Then there’s a film called Get Good, an extended music video by FrÃÂ nÃÂ§ois and Rozi Plain, who are musicians and animators. It’s a very sweet love story about the start of a relationship but it’s also very experimental. The third, Don’t Do Tricks, is a skate film by Lady Lucy and James Canyon. It’s a day in the life of a feminist skateboarder. All the films are underground, self-funded indie films made in Bristol around the same time, featuring some of the same people and locations. I put them together as I thought they were interesting as a trilogy. They’re often shown accompanied by live music. They show the cross-fertilisation going on in the underground Bristol scene. It’s all based around the Cube cinema, which is a very important meeting point for creative people in Bristol.’
With such an array of juicy delights, it looks like the London Short Film Festival will live up to its bigger, bolder name: it’s good to see that, despite the influx of sponsoring money, the projector’s teeth are still as sharp as ever.
Lisa Williams and Virginie Sélavy