Now in its sixth decade, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is still unrelenting in its dedication to short films. This is, after all, the festival that nurtured the careers of filmmakers Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold by supporting their early shorts. This year’s festival boasts six programmes, which all reflect the festival’s commitment to screening challenging work as well as its rejection of Western-centrism: a programme of solely Scottish shorts sits alongside an international category that has contributions from Turkey and Israel among others.
Other programmes include ‘Love Bites’ – a look at the bitter aftertaste of love – and ‘Child Proof’, which groups together films that use child characters in an unconventional way. Both these categories were chosen in order to explore recurring themes in a way that would not betray the originality of the submitted material, according to the festival’s short film programmer Matt Lloyd. ‘There are so many short films that use children’, says Lloyd. ‘Often everything is seen through the eyes of a child – that is fine but it has become so prevalent. The films in our selection go against the grain. Similarly, films about relationships and love often form a large part of the work we see but we’re showing a film about an attempt at sex in a sick bed (Sick Sex). We’ve also got a film called I Love Sarah Jane, which is a love story set in a post-apocalyptic suburb overrun by zombies’.
The fact that short film allows people to push boundaries is not lost on Lloyd, who compares his role as programmer to that of a DJ. ‘I choose films I like and which I think other people will like but I also have to give consideration to how they work together in the 90 minutes of a programme. We can afford to be experimental. The beauty of it is that when you’re watching a short film programme, if you don’t like one of the films, you know it’s going to be over in a few minutes and you’ll probably like the next’.
Film conventions are also subverted in 2 Birds, a film about the growing pains of two teenagers. ‘Coming-of-age films are always about people at a crossroad in their life’, said its Icelandic director RÃºnar RÃºnarsson. ‘They have to make a decision and this makes them grow wise or lose their innocence. I was interested in a story about how the main characters end up after this. Some people may interpret what the characters do as taking drugs but there is no close-up of the drugs and it is not supposed to be about them specifically. I have a friend who is very Christian and for him the drugs are the Biblical apple. Apparently, there is some kind of myth about Adam and Jesus which was found written in a manuscript and he recognised this story in the film but I hadn’t heard of this – I guess some people are cleverer than me’.
Screening his film at Edinburgh must mean a lot to RÃºnarsson, whose last film to be shown at the festival – The Last Farm – went on to be nominated for an Oscar. But most contributors agree that the charm of the event is the opportunity to see burgeoning themes and practices. ‘It’s great to see which works are evolving. With short films you can be experimental and really push things so it’s the place to see what is emerging – it’s like a mini-subculture’, said British director Piers Thompson.
Thompson hopes that his film K, the story of an encounter between a teenage girl and a vagrant on a bleak island, will go down as well in Edinburgh as it has done elsewhere. ‘It’s about a 15-year-old living in the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary with her father. I worked on a documentary out there and saw the location, which I just loved. It’s really barren and really strange – especially out of season. We showed it in Berlin and it worked well there as they liked the cold and clinical aspect of it’.
The aesthetic quality of a film is something that director Sarah Tripp also takes very seriously. Tripp comes from a graphic design and fine art background, and has ample experience of photography, drama and writing, so her short films are the culmination of a broad artistic outlook. ‘What I love about film is how it uses so many other art forms – the aspect of performance, storytelling, photography – and music, which is so important to narrative and the building of emotion. Film builds different sub-disciplines into one’.
Her film Let me show you some things is about a brother and sister meeting after years of estrangement and constructing a relationship by showing each other mementos from the past. It is based on a short story Tripp wrote as part of her artist-in-residence role at Glasgow’s Centre of Contemporary Arts and was turned into a film using improvisation by drama group Stage 5. ‘The film is highly autobiographical. It is about whether or not the brother and sister will reunite and about the dissipation of the relationship’.
She too has high hopes for this year’s festival. ‘I think under Hannah McGill the festival has huge potential. She is a really interesting woman with a fresh outlook. We should see new practices in the short film categories this year. Short films show that despite living in a digital era, creativity is not being compromised’.