Category Archives: Short Cuts

Butterfly Women and Cursed Cassettes: Music and Video Shorts at LSFF 2011


London Short Film Festival

7-16 January 2011

LSFF website

On a grim mid-January Saturday afternoon, the Roxy Bar and Screen was packed to the rafters with a lively audience waiting for the LSFF programme of music and video shorts. It was impossible to move for the people sitting on the floor, and still they kept coming. Their eagerness was justified: once more, LSFF delivered the goods in a selection of shorts that innovatively combined sound and image. The programme was bookended by Max Hattler’s Heaven and Hell, two films inspired by the visionary paintings of Augustin Lesage. They are constructed as loops, with patterns of coloured circles moving in a circular movement to repetitive percussive sounds in Heaven, while in Hell, dark grey machine imagery opens like the wings of an eagle to the noise of a sinister drone. Hypnotic and immersive, with complex variations on visual and aural patterns, they perfectly framed the programme.

Check out Max Hattler’s contribution to The End: An Electric Sheep Anthology, out in March (Strange Attractor Press).

One of the most impressive films was Franck Trebillac’s Calculus, the video to an electronic track by Stretta (scroll down to watch the film). Images of organic matter and insects are set to the throbbing music, with a beetle and a praying mantis moving in time to slower and faster rhythms, before a woman comes out of a chrysalis with a butterfly covering her eyes and nose. The pulsation of the music and the emphasis on the texture and palpitation of the insects’ bodies work together superbly to create a heightened sense of life’s matter, culminating in the creation of this beautiful, deeply alien creature. Another of Franck Trebillac’s videos was included in the programme, for Tricil’s ‘The Emancipation’. This time, the focus was on mechanisms and automata, with a ballerina in an old-fashioned music box dancing to a dark, heavy complex electronic beat. Her movements were jerky like a doll’s, and as the music progressed, her image was multiplied and superimposed, creating wonderful abstract patterns that fitted the music perfectly and underlined its dark, oppressive feel.

In Alex Harrison’s video for Aspirin’s electronic instrumental ‘Cutter’, a gloved hand tests brightly coloured 80s plastic toys in a white lab-like environment. As the music becomes more discordant, the toys spin out of control, until the lab tester sets fire to them. The Day-Glo 80s imagery was a perfect fit for the music, and the movement of the toys precisely matched the rhythm of the music. In a completely different style, Friends was a video directed by Edwin Mingard for François and the Atlas Mountains. François is introduced as the ‘curator’ of the ‘Atlas Mountains’ Memory Archive’ and he sings the song with an old Super8 projector behind him. This is intercut with images of a young man in various settings, who wipes words such as ‘Kissed a Girl’ and ‘Got Scared’ off his face. This is filmed backwards, the words appearing as the wiping is reversed. This temporal trick emphasises the melancholy of the song.

Among the films that were not music videos, one of the most interesting was Paul Cheshire’s The Cursed Cassette, which established a convincingly strange world in just one minute. A man receives a mysterious cassette in an envelope on which is drawn a moustache; when he plays it, high-pitched electronic noises and what sounds like a bassoon or a tuba are heard, while a moustache appears on his face. Weird electrical impulses are triggered and the man goes through a number of transfigurations; he multiplies and is transformed into a sinister masked figure. The Cursed Cassette brilliantly uses simple visual and musical elements to create an intriguing and evocative story in a remarkably short time.

Not all of the films were as successful, but in a programme that included 26 shorts, that was to be expected. Some of the music videos were not particularly interesting, and the two fashion films included seemed entirely unnecessary: Leaving Dreamland (Ivana Bobic and Rain Li) told the silly, clichéd story of a girl who looked like a model and whose only purpose seemed to show off hip clothes, while Cassia (Zaiba Jabbar) seemed like a self-indulgent portrait of Hoxtonites. But despite these bum notes, the screening was hugely enjoyable and interesting overall, and the audience certainly agreed, enthusiastically applauding every single film.

The Music and Video programme screened on Saturday 15 January 2011 at the Roxy Bar and Screen.

Virginie Sélavy

Watch Calculus:

London Short Film Festival 2011: Leftfield and Luscious

Until the River Runs Red

London Short Film Festival 2011

7-16 January 2011, various venues, London

LSFF website

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.

Eleanor McKeown

Aston Gorilla

Aston Gorilla

An odd and frightening apparition, with the body of a football fan and the face of a gorilla, steps out of the shadows and into a young boy’s waking nightmare. The beast then starts to dance. Frenetically jerking from sharp elbows into monkey looseness and aggression, it’s a jumble of hooligan poses and simian swings. Partly comic, technically brilliant and distinctly creepy, Tom Browne’s short film Aston Gorilla may resolve in a place of sanctuary, where men can protect their children from the world, but the aftertaste is still discomfiting.

The film has already found acclaim at the 2010 edition of moves, a Liverpool-based film festival that fuses dance film with experimental moving image, screening as part of their Alternative Routes tour. But while the skillful choreography could see the film win fans on the screen dance circuit, the fictional elements and flashes of horror are also akin to the likes of filmmaker Robert Morgan and should find an audience at short film festivals interested in a more experimental approach to storytelling. It’s certainly unlike anything else you’re likely to see this year.

Filmmaker Tom Browne has mined dark territory before. His previous short Spunkbubble featured a grotesque mélange of violence and sexual brutality. Starring Aiden Gillen as a man whose encounter with hotel pornography is cruelly interrupted, it features a vengeful duo searching for La Freaque, a supernatural figure whose sexual magnetism leads men to lose their minds. A deeply uncomfortable watch, it marked Browne as a bold voice, with clear stylistic confidence, a strong crew of collaborators and a penchant for extremity.

In person he is disarmingly unguarded and frank about his ideas and increasing personal focus on filmmaking. The first striking thing about the process of production for Aston Gorilla is the velocity of its inception. It seems that a common thread in Browne’s films is the speed at which they are thrown together. ‘I hadn’t really imagined anything beyond making it,’ Browne starts. ‘The way it came about was very quick. The camera man from Spunkbubble called me up at short notice to say that he had the use of a Canon 5D for a weekend, and did I want to shoot something? I said yes without thinking what it might be. That night I went to see a dance performance from the Hofesh Shechter Company in Brighton. As I was coming back on the train I had the idea for Aston Gorilla. I literally thought you could do it like that. It would be very easy to make. I got hold of a hall very quickly, and we just shot it in a day.’

As to inspiration, the jumble of elements seems to be another hallmark. Browne explains, ‘I think you always know you’re on to a good thing when lots of disparate things in your head come together. That was one of my son George’s favourite jokes: “What team does King Kong support?” “Aston Gorilla”. And my brother-in-law supports Aston Villa so we had a team top. Then in the programme from that evening of dance was a picture of Hofesh in a gorilla mask. Further feeding into the mix, George was having terrible nightmares at that stage. So I was thinking about his nightmares and about how you see your father sometimes, as very strong but also very weak. All those things together in one. That was its genesis.’

The father/son dynamic is amplified by the fact that George stars as the son in the film. It’s a trick Browne’s repeating with his youngest, in a new film shot in Kew Gardens that has a similar punchline-driven narrative, regarding a slug that gets mugged by some snails. ‘Shooting People just held this competition where, if your treatment was selected, you got to shoot in Kew Gardens, which is a wonderful botanical garden. I had this joke in my head that I always thought would be good for a father to tell a son. It’s a sort of shaggy dog story, but the punchline is his mum saying, “Oh my darling, did you see what any of them looked like?” And he says, “No, it all happened so fast”.’

As well as making films Browne earns a living as an actor under the name Thomas Fisher, and has appeared in films such as The Mummy Returns, Van Helsing and Shanghai Knights. He has also collaborated in more experimental territory with director Ben Hopkins, notably on The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz, which he both acted in and co-wrote. It was an experience that involved some deep research for a character who was addicted to alcopops.

They seem to have completely gone from life now, Browne muses. ‘I found our tasting notes the other day. There was one called Strobe, which was really ferocious. It had a skull and crossbones on it and I think it was just sugar and caffeine and alcohol. You could get white, red and blue, but I can’t remember what they called the flavours. Then there was one called Barking Frog, and that was also extreme. They’re basically like Special Brew with caffeine, and even stronger alcohol. After a night of that you were completely in a terrible sugar-rush headache. You felt awful.’

This seems to illustrate Browne’s organic approach to collaboration and the drawing together of haphazard influences. ‘We didn’t watch a lot of films,’ Browne explains. ‘Ben’s seen more films than anyone I know. But we didn’t sit around watching films saying, “it should be like this, or it should be like this”. We did a lot of other stuff, which was only vaguely related to what might happen. I’m very bad at drawing things together in my head without the need to. So I don’t quite know what my inspirations are until they suddenly appear.’

For his next film, Browne is aiming at something technically complex: ‘It will be six minutes long and the camera will travel 360 degrees in 360 seconds.’ Meanwhile, Fisher can be seen in Jamie Thraves’s new feature Treacle Jr, which premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in October.

Kate Taylor

Watch Aston Gorilla:

Aston Gorilla from hangman on Vimeo.

Lewis Klahr’s Prolix Satori


54th BFI London Film Festival

13-28 October 2010, various venues, London

LFF website

The LFF Experimenta strand provided the first opportunity for UK audiences to see collage artist Lewis Klahr’s Prolix Satori series. Composed of mid-century American imagery such as advertising and comic books, Prolix Satori is loosely structured around a repetition of visual motifs and thematic threads: melodramatic cartoon couples, post-war interiors and pop songs are woven into variations on love, loss and death. Prolix Satori is an ongoing series, and the films presented at the LFF ranged from 8 to 23 minutes, the shorter ones being part of a sub-series, ‘The Couplets’. The Couplets explore the interaction of image and sound through the repetition of imagery paired with different soundtracks, creating surprising shifts in mood and feeling. Klahr was present at the screening, and the Q&A that followed the films offered fascinating insights into his elaborately constructed work.

As Klahr explained, the starting point for Prolix Satori was False Aging, a film he made in response to the suicide of his friend and fellow experimental filmmaker Mark LaPore (there were other works dedicated to LaPore in the Experimenta programme, by David Gatten and Phil Solomon). The film starts with a quote from Valley of the Dolls, as a woman’s voice talks about the climb up Mount Everest to reach the Valley and the feeling of loneliness during the journey, followed by her desire for new experiences. This segues into the ‘Theme from the Valley of the Dolls’, whose unusual lyrics imbue the first part of the film with feelings of longing, confusion and loss of certainties about one’s self and the world. The song colours our perception of the imagery, which includes quaint, flowery wallpaper patterns, a yellow bird cut from another wallpaper and coins – maybe small mementoes of home – as well as intimations of a journey: a cut-up globe, markings on a road, a suitcase and a car.

The next section, introduced by the label ‘Poison’, sees a cartoon couple, a bike, locks, doors, a medical diagram of a human torso and a chart for endowments at age 30 accompanied by Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Lather’, the lyrics of which revolve around ageing – more specifically turning 30.

The final section is constructed around a number of substitutions, using extracts from Lou Reed and John Cale’s Songs for Drella, in which Cale quotes from Andy Warhol’s diary, voicing what Warhol once said about him: ‘What does it mean when you give up drinking and you’re still so mean?’ The recounting of a nightmare on a snowy night and quotes such as ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if I died in this dream?’, ‘I’m so scared today’ and the final ‘Nobody called’ transpose the poignant sense of anxiety, bitterness and loneliness of Warhol’s diaries on to a cartoon blond man looking at an American cityscape. That character is Illya Kuryakin, from the Man from U.N.C.L.E comic, and this is another substitution: Kuryakin stands in for LaPore, as Klahr explained during the Q&A, ‘because he was a handsome man’ (the comic representation of the character is also a substitute for the actor David McCallum).

Klahr commented that False Aging initiated a new way of working with lyrics and images, with motifs that recur throughout Prolix Sartori; for instance, a caterpillar seen crawling in some of the earlier films finally turns into a butterfly before getting captured and killed in Lethe.

Lethe stood out from the selection not only for being longer at 23 minutes, but also for being more narrative than Klahr’s other films. Evoking the feel of classic Hollywood melodramas, this tale of doomed love in a sci-fi setting was fashioned out of 1960s Doctor Solar comics. The original comic centres on the impossible love story between the radioactive Doctor Solar and his blonde assistant. They also work with an older scientist, and the physical similarity between him and Doctor Solar prompted Klahr to twist the story line so that in Lethe, Doctor Solar becomes younger through the experiments they conduct. Doctor Solar’s transformation continues until he becomes pure energy and his lover has to shoot him, a scene that segues into her shooting at an eclipse, in one of the most poetic moments of the film.

The cold modernist décor and the recurrence of a strange clock throughout the film, with odd symbols indicating time, create an otherworldly atmosphere and the impression that we are in some sort of parallel world. After another scene replays the traumatic moment when the blonde woman shoots Solar (this time he has turned into a hairy monster) and then puts the gun to her head, she is seen driving around, lost. A police officer asks her, ‘Where did you cross over?’ reminding us of the underworld river evoked in the title. She then crashes the car and the strange clock goes backwards. Both she and Doctor Solar go through several deaths, as if the moment of death was constantly replayed, maybe to make sense of it, so that they finally realise they have been dead all along.

Lethe is set to a Gustav Mahler symphony, which guided the composition of the narrative through its dramatic moments; Klahr called these ‘peak moments’, to which he felt he had to respond. The filmmaker chose Mahler because the symphony reminded him of the score to Vincente Minelli’s melodrama’s The Bad and the Beautiful. This is another instance of the substitution process that seems so central to the construction of Klahr’s work, as well as of the use of music as a structuring device.

The Couplets use substitution in a different way. Nimbus Smile, loosely centred around the thematic motif introduced by the speech balloon, ‘I haven’t been sleeping too well lately’ (which recurs in Lethe), sets imagery of comic characters, a man and a woman, to the Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’. Interestingly, the film didn’t seem to work initially, because all the emotion just came from the song, rather than the imagery. This was followed by Nimbus Seeds, which sets the same imagery to rain fall and other sound effects. This completely changed the perception of the images, removing the pop video aspect of the previous film and making the visuals more mysterious and evocative. The third Couplet, Cumulonimbus, uses the same soundtrack as Nimbus Seeds, but with different imagery. Wednesday Morning Two A.M. uses this substitution device within the same film, the Shangri-Las’ ‘I’ll Never Learn’ initially accompanying cut-ups of 60s comic images of a couple, before it is repeated to score images of pure colour and abstract patterns. Across the Couplets, the variations of visual and aural motifs wove a remarkably evocative, intricate fabric that suggested a complicated web of thematic, formal and romantic interconnections.

Prolix Satori was one of the highlights of LFF, not just in the Experimenta section, but across the whole festival. It was great to see the NFT cinema packed with curious film-goers with appetites for unconventional, adventurous, poetic filmmaking. They were rewarded with a particularly rich and memorable experience that was augmented by Klahr’s engaging presence.

Virginie Sélavy

7th London International Animation Festival

Angry Man

London International Animation Festival

27 August – 5 September 2010

LIAF website

With most screenings just a couple of Bloomsbury streets apart, there was a friendly, community atmosphere at the seventh edition of the London International Animation Festival (LIAF): a rarity among such a frenetic, sprawling city. Over the course of 10 days, audience members began to assume familiar faces, and collective interest in the festival competition became palpable, as festival-goers scribbled down their thoughts on questionnaires, filing them into voting boxes. The last say might have gone to the professional judging panel but the audience vote was an important and lively part of the festival, as revealed by the final night’s packed-out Best of the Fest screenings. The announcement of the best film in the competition – Anita Killi’s Angry Man – was greeted with an ardent ‘Yes!’ from one festival-goer. Such a strong reaction is not surprising since choosing the winning film apparently caused some contention between the official judges. A recipient of various international awards, Angry Man portrays domestic abuse through the confused and scared eyes of a young boy. This ethereal, fairy tale work with beautiful paper cut-outs presented an interesting contrast between subject matter and form but was not necessarily a clear winner. The quality of the films at this year’s LIAF was so high and the content and form of work so varied that the selection of the Best of the Fest in some ways felt rather arbitrary.

Still, these final screenings did provide a nice snapshot of what the festival has to offer: from a dark tale of death in the audience’s choice – Zbigniev’s Cupboard – to witty physical comedy in the Chomet-like Runaway; from works that take human dialogue as their starting point – David Shrigley’s Pringle of Scotland and Joseph Pierce’s A Family Portrait – to films that rejoiced in purely abstract imagery. My personal favourite from Best of the Fest, Mathieu Labaye’s Orgesticulanismus, combined both aspects. Opening with a selection of family photographs as a narrator discusses his paralysis, the film used animation to explore the idea of movement and what it means to human beings when physical capability is removed. Small, lonely computer-animated figures repeated the same minute movements over and over again, trapped in an overwhelming black space: a woman swept leaves; a man started up a lawn mower; a lady tossed a pancake. Then the movement suddenly expanded. A single figure became a mass of different dancing, jerky, gyrating bodies before altering into organic, bacteria-like shapes. The film provided a visually absorbing meditation on the difference between human beings’ experiences and interactions between their minds and physical bodies.

Purely abstract work was strong throughout the competition categories and, in addition to its own very fine showcase, this year’s ‘technique focus’ screening presented some lovely examples. All the films used ‘direct to film’ techniques, from scratching and painting on celluloid to the application of objects onto film – fake tattoo transfers in Mike Maryniuk’s Tattoo Step and an eerie selection of moth wings in a soundtrack-less screening of Stan Brakhage’s seminal 1963 film, Mothlight. The screening was attended by special guest filmmaker Steven Woloshen, who presented a selection of his films: spectacularly paced painted and scratched compositions, following in the tradition of Norman McLaren and Len Lye, set to the plink plonk of uplifting jazz and, in one case, the throbbing pulse of Hendrix guitar.

The Woloshen retrospective was one of several special events organised in addition to the competition screenings. Many of these took place in the Horse Hospital, an independent, progressive arts venue and apt setting for more offbeat offerings, like the Late Night Bizarre programme of unclassifiable oddities and the special studio focus on the cutting-edge work of Parisian animation studio Autour de minuit. Daring in their animation style and subject matter, Autour de minuit animators have produced some extraordinarily breathtaking animation (even if on occasion the content did not feel quite as rigorously considered). Hendrick Dusollier’s Obras took the viewer through the process of urbanisation – a continual cycle of destroying and reconstructing – exploring city structures and landscapes through head-scratching angles and flight-simulator swerves. Most of the works were entirely computer-generated but Guilherme Marondes’s Tyger, inspired by William Blake’s poem, combined techniques by following a hand-operated puppet tiger through a night-time city, lighting up its path with illuminated foliage. It was great to see a cohesive portfolio from a single production house presented together. In a similarly concentrated focus, over the festival’s final weekend, a whole afternoon was devoted to rare 1920s Felix the Cat films. Presented by enthusiast and walking Felix encyclopedia Colin Cowes, the screening provided a fantastic immersion into the world of this immensely characterful, plucky black and white cat. The perfect slapstick rhythm and pre-occupations of jazz-era America played out beautifully and audience members could not help but leave with smiles on their faces.

That LIAF can move so seamlessly from ground-breaking, uncompromising CGI to 9.5mm home-entertainment Felix the Cat films is testament to its strength as a festival. It brings attention to unique and unusual animation, regardless of categorisation. Its breadth can make choosing between competition films feel almost impossible but it makes for a far more interesting festival experience. LIAF revels in the innovative possibilities of animation and, from all the lively debate in evidence, it clearly attracts an audience that strongly analyses and cares passionately about the art form.

Eleanor McKeown

Shorts in Edinburgh 2010


Edinburgh International Film Festival

16-27 June 2010, Edinburgh

EIFF website

The Edinburgh Film Festival once more delivered an excellent, wide-ranging selection of short films, organised in eight programmes, including international and UK films, digital and animation, and Cinema Extreme, an initiative from the UK Film Council and Film4.

The clear highlight for this writer was Maska, the new film by the Brothers Quay, whose achievements in the field of animation were celebrated by the festival in a special event on June 22. Based on Stanislaw Lem’s short story ‘The Mask’, it tells the story of a robot created in the shape of a beautiful woman by an authoritarian king in order to seduce and destroy a noble man who opposed him. The robot tries to work out its identity, ‘it’ coming to know itself as an ‘I’, then as a ‘she’, before discovering that she is in fact a metallic construction resembling a praying mantis, which violently erupts from her previous female shape. The Brothers Quay’s elaborate animation style lends itself remarkably well to a rich visual exploration of the fluctuating identity of the creature and conjures up disturbing echoes that connect the female, robot and insect natures she successively adopts. Artificially gendered, then born of herself, she leads us on a journey through the dark mystery of creation and metamorphosis. Parts of Lem’s wonderful story are narrated in Polish and although the Quays are generally wary of using large amounts of text in their films, the fusion of the sumptuous imagery with the poetic narration and Krzysztof Penderecki’s unsettling music is here perfectly realised and richly evocative.

Other animated shorts of note included the Brothers McLeod’s excellent Gothic fairy tale The Moon Bird, which was shown earlier this year at Flatpack, and Max Hattler’s witty, Busby Berkeley-inspired war satire Spin. Nick Cross’s Yellow Cake was another smart political satire from the USA about the consequences of big cats’ exploitation of small blue creatures, in which escalating death and destruction was contrasted with a cute, childish animation style that underlined the ironic tone. In The Astronomer’s Sun, Simon Cartwright and Jessica Cope told the story of a young man who goes back to his father’s observatory and revisits a traumatic childhood memory, with unexpected consequences. Bathed in melancholy blue tones, the enigmatic story was a true delight. In an entirely different style, Stewart Comrie’s Battenberg was an impressive example of digital animation which saw a squirrel and a magpie locked into a power game inside a miniature cabinet of curiosities within an abandoned house. The objects, evoking the human world, created a bizarre, disquieting setting for the cruel fight to the death between the two animals. A work of startling originality and technical mastery.

In the live action shorts, Cinema Extreme was a somewhat disappointing section – although it is a very laudable scheme – partly because the films seemed rather tame in contrast with what could be expected from such a label. Daniel Mulloy’s Baby won the UK Film Council Award for Best British Film. The story of a brief encounter between a young white woman and a black boy from a street gang, it played with viewers’ assumptions, but reversed them in such an unsubtle way that it was utterly predictable from the start. Scott Graham’s Native Son, which focused on an outsider in an isolated rural Scottish community, was mysterious and menacing but the pace was not quite controlled enough. Tony Grisoni’s The Pizza Miracle, about a man having an imaginary dialogue with his dead Italian restaurateur father, was humorous but offered no genuine insights or emotions.

Among the international shorts, Joyce A Nashawati’s The Bite (La Morsure, France) stood out through its masterful composition, sharp editing and atmospheric quality. A young woman takes a little girl to a park, where she meets her lover. While they talk, the little girl disappears into the woods and has an encounter with a man who is sleeping rough in the park. The story had a fairy tale quality and was told in a nicely elliptical, suggestive manner, which contributed to the unsettling, ominous atmosphere. Magnus von Horn’s Echo (Poland) opened with the reconstruction of the apparently motiveless murder of a young girl by two boys and ended with the confrontation between one of the boys and her parents. It was bleakly realistic and looked fairly drab, but the constant rainfall, timeworn face of the detective and striking finale made it worth checking out.

In the UK shorts, Ben Lavington Martin’s Dust was a particularly affecting and ingenious work. Using NASA archival footage, Martin constructed the story of astronaut Glen Gordon, who is stuck on the moon after his mission goes wrong. As we see images of the moon, a spaceship, an astronaut on its silver surface, we hear Glen Gordon talk to man on the ground Jimmy, fellow astronaut Alan, and his wife Patty. The dying moments of a man alone in the universe are captured with humour and pathos, as he poignantly describes the astonishing experience of walking on the moon, reflects on what is important and ponders the existence of God. A very full and rich 10 minutes.

Virginie Sélavy

Short Cuts: Puppetoons


Flatpack Festival

23-28 March 2010, Birmingham

Flatpack website

On Sunday 28 March, as the clocks sprung forward and the hangovers kicked in after a raucous night of plasticine revelry, some brave souls dragged themselves out of bed for Puppetoons: a celebration of Georges Pal’s puppet marvels from the 1930s and 40s. Pal’s charming stop-motion techniques were spotted by the electronics company Philips, who were looking for an offbeat way to promote their radio sets and decided to commission a series of commercials. The resulting films – imagine the woodentops sashaying to jazzy trumpets and Latin American rhythms – provided a lovely Sunday wake-up call. The programme also presented some of Pal’s work from the 1940s, which saw his retreat from war-torn Europe to the world of Paramount Pictures in America.

Read about the short films shown at Flatpack 2010.

His best-known film, Tubby the Tuba (1947), which tells the tale of a ruddy-faced and ostracised tuba trying to find his way among a group of sneering, snooty orchestral instruments, screened alongside Pal’s most controversial character, the racially stereotypical Jasper. Following Jasper’s in a Jam (1946), which featured a smoldering Peggy Lee number, came John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946) – Pal’s attempt to re-balance the racial stereotyping found in his Jasper series. Indeed, at the time, the African American magazine, Ebony, praised the latter as ‘that rarest of Hollywood products that has no Negro stereotypes, but rather treats the Negro with dignity, imagination, poetry, and love’. Personally, I did not find too many positives in a tale focusing on a worker’s struggle and death on the railroad (!) but the animation and beautiful soundtrack (this time supplied by the powerful Luvenia Nash Singers) once again supplied a visual treat. The final film in the programme was Tulips Shall Grow (1942) – a tale of a smitten and be-clogged Dutch couple and their windmill, which is suddenly besieged by The Screwballs, an army of malevolent nuts and bolts. An allegory for the Nazi invasion of Europe, the film was in some ways a sentimental fairy tale, but it was also incredibly touching as the couple were eventually re-united, their windmill came back to life and tulips grew back among the fields. Knowing that Pal himself fled Europe during World War II made the subject matter doubly affecting. Puppetoons provided a great and rare opportunity to see the work of an immensely talented animator and one who, for various reasons, provided a lot of political food for thought.

Eleanor McKeown

Read our feature about Magic Lanterns at Flatpack 2010.

Short Cuts: Flatpack 2010

The Moonbird

Flatpack Festival

23-28 March 2010, Birmingham

Flatpack website

For its fifth edition, the Flatpack Festival conjured up another brilliantly inventive programme that made great use of the art spaces around Digbeth, Birmingham’s former industrial area. The selection included previews of Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Mamoru Oshii’s latest animé The Sky Crawlers and the provocative Greek psychosexual drama Dogtooth. Live events encompassed everything from magic lantern shows to a plasticine party, which involved adults drunkenly attempting to mould rude/cute/disturbing shapes as the demented strains and visuals of punk combo Jackdaw with Crowbar mounted a double assault against the audience. The Belbury Youth Club, an event curated by the Ghost Box record label, featured rare 70s TV treats, including an MR James story and the exquisitely sinister Penda’s Fen. Music films covered everything from Mogwai in Burning to the Iranian underground scene in No One Knows about Persian Cats. There were also experimental movies by Paul Sharits and Takashi Ito, children’s films, talks, documentaries and archive footage, and an Odeon bus tour through Birmingham.

As Flatpack is organised by 7Inch founders Ian Francis and Pip McKnight, it was no surprise to find a treasure trove of short films at the festival. The programmes were curated by Flatpack as well as Glasgow’s The Magic Lantern and the Dublin-based collective Synth Eastwood. The Magic Lantern’s programme was entitled ‘Pandemic’ and, although the films covered a variety of topics, the two best shorts in the selection were the ones that actually dealt with apocalyptic scenarios. Javier Chillon’s Die Schneider Krankheit presented itself as a newsreel recounting the rapid spread of a deadly virus after a spaceship containing a chimpanzee crashes in West Germany. The 50s newsreel style was perfectly reproduced, while the reasonable tone of the reporter was brilliantly contrasted with the outlandish events depicted, including the creation of a tortoise/leech hybrid to cure patients. The zombie movie was given a comic and very British twist in Louis Paxton’s Choreomania, in which a man on his way to work tries to escape the dancing plague that has turned everyone in town into twitchy ravers.

Synth Eastwood brought ‘Darklight’, a selection of animation shorts that opened with Aaron Hughes’s Backwards, which told a failed love story from the tragic end to the unexpected beginning, with several comic twists along the way. Mike Weiss’s Debt was an excellent puppet animation in which a little boy becomes obsessed with collecting pennies, but soon finds out that the luck they are meant to bring is not without consequences. It had a whiff of Eastern European strangeness; the boy was both cute and creepy with his big button eyes and bowl haircut, and the story was original and well-paced. Croatian filmmaker Veljko Popovic created a striking dystopian world in the enigmatically titled She Who Measures. A column of identical big-headed men and women pushing trolleys are led across a barren moonscape by a clown, brainwashed by smiley screens attached directly to their faces. They march to the sound of a supermarket radio, putting any rubbish they encounter in the trolleys. A man who is not wearing a mask tries to encourage them to get rid of the screens but fails to stop the column of slave shoppers. The atmosphere was very dark, the vision pessimistic, the ending mysterious and the animation bleak and powerful.

Among the shorts selected by Flatpack, Andersen M Studio’s Going West was a great short film that made the story of a book come alive as it was narrated, animating its very pages to create all sorts of shapes, including houses and tunnels. The selection also included two interesting animated documentaries. David Quinn’s Twas a Terrible Hard Work used black and white animation to illustrate the experiences of a group of miners. The combination of factual realism and imaginary reconstruction was a great way to deal with the subject matter and the film was a very poignant evocation of life in the mines. Samantha Moore’s An Eyeful of Sound was less successful. The idea of conjuring up the perceptions of three women who experience synaesthesia through colours and shapes was excellent, but the realisation was not entirely satisfying: the animation was not very inventive and the narration provided by the women was edited in an unnecessarily repetitive way.

The final short treat of the festival was screened before Tomm Moore’s animated Irish children’s story The Secret of Kells on the last day of Flatpack. The Brothers McLeod were there to present their latest film, The Moonbird, which marks a departure from their previous work. A dark animated fairy tale in black and white, it told the story of a little girl who is kidnapped by a witch who wants her tears for a magic potion. The animation looks like chalk on a blackboard, the atmosphere is perfectly sinister, the story involves death, dismemberment and various transformations that culminate in a fight between two quasi-mythical birds, one white, the other black. Watching it felt like doors were being opened into strange and wonderful worlds, something that can be said of the Flatpack Festival itself.

Virginie Sélavy

Short Cuts: Redmond Entwistle’s Monuments


Format: Cinema

Screening date: 28-29 January 2010

International Rotterdam Film Festival

26 January – 6 February 2010

IRFF website

As long as art is seen as creation, it will be the same old story. Here we go again, creating objects, creating systems, building a better tomorrow. I posit that there is no tomorrow, nothing but a gap, a yawning gap. That seems sort of tragic, but what immediately relieves it is irony, which gives you a sense of humour. It is that cosmic sense of humour that makes it all bearable.
(Robert Smithson in Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object)

Robert Smithson (1938–1973) is looking into the half-distance. Resurrected, having emerged from an underground car park into a 2009 suburbia and wearing an exceptionally bad wig, he contemplates post-minimalist art with his equally glacial buddies Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978) and Dan Graham (b. 1942). In a landscape of greys and blues the trio slope around, deadpanning theory and journeying into a reverie of architecture and cinema.

A beguiling oddity, Redmond Entwistle’s short film Monuments stood out as a highlight at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. A thoughtful, funny, sad film. A film with a bibliography. A film about New Jersey. ‘New Jersey was where my grandparents settled and lived after moving from Poland,’ Entwistle explains. ‘It is the counterpart to the visible New York. New Jersey feeds the city with materials, construction and invisible labour. At first New Jersey was the working-class suburbs of the city, then it became the white-collar suburbs, and now it’s something else. It’s a new hinterland. It’s a corporate park.’

Overlapping in time spans, all three artists created seminal works in New Jersey: Graham’s Homes for America photographic series was largely shot there; Matta-Clark carved up suburban houses with a power saw in Splitting and Bingo; and NJ-born Smithson’s Monuments of Passaic essay was a journal of a trip he took there, creating a series of photographs along the way. ‘In it, he talks about the cinematised landscape,’ Entwistle explains. ‘The landscape in New Jersey for him is already a filmic landscape.’

Monuments echoes what Entwistle sees as an underlying structure within their work. ‘Even though it’s sculpture and exists in that kind of space, it felt like there was an underpinning of narrative to their work. The narrative I recognised was this movement out to the fringes to collect material that you bring into the centre, as a means of authenticating society again. The way they’re going out to these environments and using raw materials, I think to some level there’s a reiteration of that narrative, of modernism, where one goes and finds the authentic materials and brings them back to the centre again, and that relates to their interest in context as well.’

Formerly a projectionist at the ICA in London and currently based in New York, Entwistle cuts a serious but restless figure. He has been making moving image work for 10 years, often switching between cinema and gallery exhibition. Paterson – Lódz (winner of Best International Film On-Screen at Images 2008) is an expanded sound piece for a seated audience in a cinema and Belfast Trio (also shown at Rotterdam) consists of three short films that were originally displayed in a gallery but also screened in three cinemas simultaneously in Belfast – each one a short staged scene that doesn’t necessarily relate to the dialogue on its soundtrack. ‘None of the pieces sit comfortably in a cinema or a gallery setting. They’re always between,’ he states. ‘I’d say neither space is adequate, so it’s partly a process of trying to provoke some sort of dialogue about the alternative ways of showing and making work. The cinematic experience has not always been a fixed one, it’s been one that’s open to new possibilities of screening. But I wouldn’t say that the works I’m making are defining what that should be. They are not just critical, but they do construct a certain way of viewing.’

For now though Entwistle has a pressing concern, how the very-much-still-alive Dan Graham will respond to the adventures of the zombie-esque photocopy of himself in the film. ‘I was concerned how he would react to it. I didn’t want to ridicule him. I think maybe it’s slightly unavoidable. He has his persona and I’m ridiculing that persona in some ways.’ Entwistle recalls the post-screening Q&A at the IFFR premiere: ‘I think a couple of people felt that I was mocking the artists’ work. But I really feel that if there is a humour in there it’s directed rather at the industry around the artists. Their mythic status isn’t of their own making, it’s something that’s happened as a process of a cultural industry around their work. I wanted to separate their work from this hagiography that developed around it.’

Kate Taylor

Short Cuts: 7th London Short Film Festival

Con Moto

7th London Short Film Festival

8-17 January 2010

Various venues, London

LSFF website

‘It’s only fucking rock and roll’. After considered soul-searching and philosophical ponderings, Noel Gallagher’s Mancunian drawl brought proceedings down to earth with a sharp bump, stifled laughter rippling around the Roxy Bar and Screen. One of the London Short Film Festival’s many events combining music and film, the 65-minute documentary, Introspective (2006), was a captivating exploration of definitions: musicians struggling to define themselves, as individuals, among their contemporary peers, and within a complex sprawl of musical genres and history. While this type of quandary might not keep Noel Gallagher awake at night, fortunately there were plenty more thoughtful voices to discuss what the term ‘post-rock’ really means. A simple, low-fi mix of interviews and performances by bands associated with the movement, Adam Garriga’s documentary presented the audience with important dilemmas facing all artists in an age of information overload: how to come up with something original when it feels as if everything has been done before; and how to escape pigeon-holing while being indentified. The interviewees were an analytical, critical and engaging bunch, as they tried to find the words to define their art and their own place within the world. One of the more eloquent speakers, Jan St Werner from Mouse on Mars complained about the media trying to categorise and file bands: ‘our work is our definition,’ he explained. Ending with an eerily beautiful live performance of Low’s ‘(That’s How We Sing) Amazing Grace’, the film proved that words and definitions are not always necessary or able to do artworks justice.

The London Short Film Festival happily followed this dictum throughout its own programming. And this was nowhere better displayed than at the Leftfield and Luscious screening. The shorts compiled into this enigmatically titled programme defied categorisation, lying somewhere between video art and art-house cinema. Such assorted misshapes are usually left out in the cold or side-lined so it was nice to see them taking centre stage for a packed-out screening at the ICA.

As two ghostly figures appeared on screen, shrouded by mist and ethereal strings and saws, it was clear that this was going to be an interesting afternoon. While at times the programme felt a little long and films occasionally missed the mark, most offered memorable moments and arresting images and some were really very special. Generally, it was those that tried to marry conventional linear narratives with more intangible, obscure forms that worked least well. The dialogue rested heavily and awkwardly in these films, making you wish the filmmaker had dispensed with the everyday altogether and just let the visuals speak for themselves.

Toby Tatum’s painterly short, The Sealed World, which started the screening, presented two women cut off in an over-grown, secluded garden. Here, everyday activities become hyper-ritualised with girls deliberating, obsessing over books, pouring tea and, most bizarre of all, fondant fancies. This otherworldly, haunting quality was apparent across many of the selected films: from Conversation, a series of slowed-down, theatrical facial expressions that spiralled into increasingly abstract forms; to We Only Talk at Night, with its compositions of hypnotic pulsating city lights. Layered images, split screens and disjointed soundtracks were popular as filmmakers experimented and pushed at their media. For me, the most successful films were the ones that seemed to enjoy the possibilities of film – shorts that were happy being shorts and filmmakers who were happy working with film.

The programme was at its best with joyful celebrations of rhythm. Most straightforward, Sam Firth’s I.D. created a mischievous montage of photo booth pictures cataloguing teenage posturing and chameleon hairstyles while Max Hattler’s Aanaatt presented an endlessly mobile sequence of animated Bauhaus-style shapes and compositions. Magnus Irvin’s Spiral In Spiral Out also centred on geometric forms as drawn spirals expanded and increased, recalling early scientific films demonstrating the multiplication of microscopic organisms. The stand-out works of the programme were two shorts – Con Moto and Without You – by Tal Rosner, who won the festival award within this category. His kaleidoscopic visions of architectural views and receding countryside shot from racing train windows demonstrate the excitement that arises when music and film combine successfully. With a dynamism similar to Léger’s Le Ballet mécanique, Con Moto‘s interpretation of Stravinsky’s 1935 Concerto for Two Pianos provided a fantastic seven minutes of cinematic vitality. An exceedingly happy marriage between music and film, which spoke for itself.

Eleanor McKeown

Watch Tal Rosner’s Con Moto: