With details of LSFF’s 2011 programme still under wraps, I ventured forth to an icy Soho street, buzzing with the Christmas rush, to collect a bundle of DVDs from festival programmer Philip Ilson. Home-burnt screeners whirring on my precariously balanced laptop may be a far cry from this month’s forthcoming screenings at the ICA but they provided a lovely taster of things to come: a preview of the festival’s most experimental new shorts selection, Leftfield and Luscious. Films are brought together for this programme under a fairly loose premise – namely that they lean towards a more abstract approach – and, as a result, it’s a varied assortment of discs. First to make it into my computer is the strange, poetic Sea Swallow’d, a collaboration between the filmmaker Andrew Kötting and artists Leslie Hill and Helen Paris, working under the name Curious. A work with clear surrealist influences, the film is at times madcap and lively; and at others, ominous and lilting. Divided into sporadic, episodic chapters, the film slowly builds to reveal its themes. The sea appears, disappears and reappears as a mysterious force. Guts figure in several forms: the camera trails the texture of a human stomach; a female voice declares her love in terms of digestive organs (she loves his insides, the darkness of his liver); and a fish is de-boned. Sea and guts represent the powerful, primeval aspects of life, ones which we do not often consider in our day-to-day humdrum. Sea Swallow’d is a beautifully made film and one that gently reveals some poetic lines and interesting questions about how far such primitive forces might influence human behaviour. The other stand-out example of filmmaking from the collection of discs was Paul Wright’s Until the River Runs Red. This film has some extraordinarily sumptuous cinematography – close-up shots of open meadow, wet skin and long tresses of hair, glimpses of sun and road snatched through a car boot. The film follows a girl who was kidnapped from a shopping centre and the couple who abducted her but, unfortunately, it felt as though the content itself had been underdeveloped; the subject matter was treated slightly melodramatically and the dialogue a little unoriginally. But director Paul Wright is clearly a very talented filmmaker; his step into features is an exciting prospect.
Wright’s film is nominated for the festival’s Best British Short Film Award, alongside two other shorts in the Leftfield & Luscious category. One of these, Murmuration, by Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith, perfectly encapsulates the other side to this programme; a lighter, more playful side, which popped up across the selection. The film tracks a river canoe trip paddling underneath a murmuration of starlings: an acrobatic display put on by thousands of synchronised, flocking birds. With camera work aimed at emphasising their DIY-approach and a soundtrack by Beirut, there is a vivacious, carefree appeal to the film. This lightness and playfulness also struck me in Dominique Bongers’s Gallop, a visual experiment with a nod to Eadweard Muybridge’s flying horse, and Ruth Lingford’s Little Deaths, an animated representation of interviewees discussing their experience of sex. The content and tone of the Luscious and Leftfield films might vary enormously but the films’ abstract leanings mean that there is common ground: a shared love for the visual side of filmmaking. It is encouraging to see such strong work in this category. If this treat of DVDs is a hint of what the festival is offering, it should be another interesting year for LSFF audiences.