The opening night of Soho Rushes Short Film Festival started off rather unexpectedly with a 105-minute film. Having shown various shorts at Rushes over the years, director Jan Dunn was in attendance at Curzon Soho to discuss her new feature-length film, The Calling. Having moved into features, Dunn described shorts as an excellent opportunity for filmmakers to ‘exercise their muscles’ and show what they can do. In this light, shorts are seen as a stepping-stone to other projects. This attitude could be detected in some of the films showing at the festival. With glossy productions and an animation category that included two commercials, sometimes screenings felt more like showcases for insiders to spot and hire new talent. This year saw a concerted effort to bring in outside audiences with new screenings at the ICA but there is no escaping the fact that RSSF, based in Soho at the epicentre of London’s creative industries and production companies, is essentially an industry-focused festival. This can be a little distancing for those less commercially minded. Indeed a day of seminars and master classes at BAFTA was fantastically interesting for burgeoning filmmakers wishing to hear about funding opportunities and technical developments but not quite so exciting for those interested in seeing the works themselves.
That is not to say that there isn’t a need for this type of festival. The capital has alternative calendar fixtures, such as London Short Film Festival, which cater to public audiences. It is great that this type of focal point for the industry exists, but at the same time there is a sense that if an event is too introspective, the professionals won’t get an outside perspective on the works and the general public will miss out on some of the gems in the programme. And there were gems to be seen.
Introduced as one of the strongest categories in the festival, the animation screening at the ICA had some excellent works and was also nicely eclectic, with a mix of stop-motion, cartoons and 3D work. Particularly inventive was Txt Island, which showed the development of a beach resort on an unspoilt desert island, using only plastic lettering and a peg signage panel. There were lovely touches as swimming alligators and leaping fire were created out of the simplest typography. Photograph of Jesus, which took a look at the work of a picture library, also used stop motion to enchanting effect. Based on an interview with one of the picture researchers, the film visually represented some of the more ridiculous requests received at the library (photographs of Jesus, a picture of Hitler at the 1948 Olympics in London). Origami Yetis swung between filing cabinets as Jack the Ripper tore paper cuts into the bodies of his victims. The overall winner of the category, This Way Up, involved a similarly charming physical type of comedy as two funeral directors struggled to carry a coffin back to their parlour. Echoing the comic choreography of silent cinema, the timing was spot-on and the 3D animation had a beautiful Gothic quality as the two figures made their way across swampy moors.
These films, and many more throughout the festival, were carefully considered works that wonderfully fitted the definition given by actress Pauline McLynn at the Q&A that accompanied The Calling: a successful short should be a ‘beautiful sonnet’. RSSF screens some fantastic work and it deserves to be visible to those both inside and outside the industry.