One Man in the Band

Still from Man from Uranus from One Man in the Band (Adam Clitheroe/One Man in the Band). More information on the film here.

London Short Film Festival

9-18 January 2009

Various venues

LSFF website

Now in its sixth year, LSFF returns to the capital with a charming mix of films, music and can-do attitude. Set to be a highlight of this year’s programme, Adam Clitheroe’s work, One Man in the Band, perfectly encompasses the festival’s DIY ethos. Having started out making ‘odd little shorts’ on 16mm film, Clitheroe has always preferred a samizdat style of filmmaking and found a kindred attitude in the ‘stubborn persistence of one-man bands’, as he describes it. Influenced by the atmospheric style of Errol Morris’s Vernon, Florida, Adam’s documentary is a lyrical, poetic portrait of seven lone performers. A strange menagerie of acts, the one-man bands provide an illuminating meditation on man’s creative impulse – that strange desire to define oneself and connect with the world, which so often leads to loneliness and isolation.

In order to keep costs down and retain control, Clitheroe spent six months acting as a one-man crew, undertaking all aspects of filmmaking from camera to editing to sound mixing. As he explains, ‘it was just me on my own, chatting to the performers, getting distracted by scowling cats and trying not to drop my camera as I drank a cup of tea at the same time’. Clitheroe’s unobtrusive approach has resulted in some distinctly surreal scenes: a skeleton puppet playing the theremin; a strange duet between one man and his Hornicator, a homemade instrument made from junk-shop finds; and The Man from Uranus, a Gulf War veteran playing avant-garde space rock to a garden full of Cambridgeshire children. By acting alone, Clitheroe also garnered some very honest, poignant conversations from his subjects. As he wisely says, ‘if you’re filming someone interesting, just listen to what they say’.

Speaking about the initial motivation behind the film, Clitheroe admits to being ‘seduced and overawed by the impossible glamour of music performers’, but in retrospect he’s not so sure he ‘discovered the glamorous face of music making’. Indeed the film does so much more than that; through the weird and wonderful performers, it presents a fascinating exploration of the creative process.

In addition to individual filmmakers, LSFF also invites the participation of film organisations, and last year one of the guests was Darryl’s Hard Liquor and Porn Film Festival – a Canadian festival showcasing comic shorts all about sex. Having started out nine years ago in filmmaker Darryl Gold’s bachelor pad, the ‘festival’ has grown beyond a small network of filmmaking friends to a large-scale annual event but the same irreverent spirit remains. Audience participation is strongly encouraged and it went down especially well in London last year, with an extra screening being scheduled to satisfy demand. As festival co-curator Jill Rosenberg explains: ‘It is always a spirited crowd and often quoted as the best party of the year.’ It’s not just about the festivities, however; the films themselves are often extremely creative. Jill’s brilliant animation, Origasmi, winner of the lo-budget film award at LSFF 2006, is a case in point. Such an experimental do-it-yourself attitude is integral to LSFF and one which makes the festival such a deserving hit with London audiences. Make sure you don’t miss out!

Eleanor McKeown