Wind in the Night [Jesse Harris, USA, 2018]

Opening out in the Texan desert, the camera slowly zooms in on a stationary pickup truck, as a man in a cowboy hat at the wheel leans out of the window pensively smoking a cigarette. This languid and sumptuous framing skilfully builds up a sense of foreboding before a single word is uttered and immediately we know that, in terms of the film, we are in safe hands. Cut to our protagonist Guillermo, a family man and a drug mule for a Mexican cartel. He consoles his emotional wife and daughter as he prepares to leave for a job. His wife implores “Let’s run away. We could go now, Guillermo. We don’t need any of these things”. It has been instructed that Guillermo must leave his family behind in o

SHORT FOCUS 2018 - JURY PRIZE: One Night [Alex Marshall, UK, 2018]

The final film to screen in a programme of outstanding short films at Short Focus 2018, One Night faced some fierce competition, to say the least. A near zero-budget student project, this ingenious slice-of-life comedy is a testament to the power of imagination and teamwork and proved a deserving winner of the festival’s Special Jury Prize. Shot brilliantly in one unbroken take, the camera follows one group of characters to the next as they discuss everything from extortionate public transportation prices in London – an anecdote hilariously conveyed by Ethan Holden – to more philosophical matters, the two central characters pondering over the transient nature of love (whilst sharing a cigare

Knock Knock [Grace Lambert & Noemi Gunea, UK, 2018]

Knock Knock is the zany comedy sketch dreamt up by London-based female comedy duo Cheap Thrills (Grace Lambert & Noemi Gunea). The short opens on Noemi, seen through the spyhole of the front door, as she zips around the living room carpet with a vacuum cleaner. With her hair wrapped up into a bun and face plastered ghostly white under a cleansing face mask, the comforts of her domestic ablutions are betrayed by the sound of a knock at the door. Immediately unnerved by this perceived intrusion, Noemi calls upon her housemate Grace to confirm whether or not the knock was actually heard. The blonde-haired Grace ambles down the stairs, evidently the more relaxed of the two as she casually chomps

Rokeaux – ‘Silent’ [Gorkem Tekdal, USA, 2018]

Silent is the title of this catchy, calypso-tinged, hip hop track by independent rapper/singer Rokeaux and also the name of its accompanying music video, directed by Gorkem Tekdal. The film has a very new-age, “millennial” aesthetic, displaying all the hallmarks of a media-savvy videographer; the kind of content creation savant that, with a decent drone camera and on an exceptionally low-budget, can make anybody look like a star. The film mostly consists of scenes of the Rokeaux overlooking the city at dizzying heights and his long-legged muse dressed in body-hugging black and high heels. At certain moments, the shots are literally flipped upside-down or mirrored along a latitudinal axis to

99 [Stephen Kilkie, UK, 2018]

Two friends, Jen and Becky, stroll down a quiet street casually interacting with their respective smartphones, and arrange plans with friends in a mutual chat group. Their conversation swiftly turns to social media, Jen complimenting Becky on a recent photo she had posted. Becky seems particularly aggrieved that her post only received 99 ‘likes’ and more pointedly irritated because Jen hasn’t liked the picture, which would bump the amount of likes up to the consecutive triple-figure. Becky keeps the source of her grievance contained, but her mood has clearly taken on a more morose aspect, which Jen is attuned to but oblivious to the precise reason. The girls finalise their previously discuss

Quadrant [Marta Arjona Blasca & Mei Casabona, Spain, 2017]

Marta Arjona Blasca and Mei Casabona’s Quadrant is a socially conscious dance film that interrogates modern notions of gender roles and hegemonic constructions with which we automatically identify without question. It is an intelligent and imaginatively choreographed piece that works to reveal the source of our obsession with fitting in, and how that very motive in itself is self-destructive, producing greater conflicts between our fellow human. The opening aerial shots create a sense of alienation keeping the viewer in a disconnected space and reminding us of a masculine-feminine duality and paradoxical tensions within our primal consciousness. There is a historical element to the performan

Finding a Way to the Suomenlinna Toy Museum [Marjo Tokkari, Finland, 2018]

For all of the great things that technological advancements have offered the world, its ability to emulate older, and sometimes even obsolete forms of technology has yet to prove convincing. There is a likeness that these ‘so-called’ improved copies allude to but can never faithfully recapture. It is a perennially curious incidence, where new innovations usurp their so-called outdated counterparts, only for the obsolete technology to become an object of nostalgic heraldry and endearment. In cultural art and media spaces then, we are often left in a resigned state of ironic homage, tongue-in-cheek parody and knowing pastiche. It is very much the experience here in Finding a Way to the Suomenl

Acquainted with the Night [Tony Rayner, USA, 2018]

Tony Rayner’s Acquainted with the Night is dark thriller about family, money and betrayal. The film opens with young, married couple Anthony and Cassandra immediately after a morning of passionate sex (kindly treating the audience with more than any eyeful of both parties’ bare posteriors in the coital aftermath!). It is very early on that we discover, after an appointment with his therapist, that Anthony is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and hallucinatory visions of Cassandra, who is actually dead, having been murdered during a horrific home invasion by a hooded burglar. Anthony is plagued by nightmares that replay the series of events during which he was also badly injured (

Hair [Olivia Coppin, UK, 2018]

The ubiquitous issue of ‘body-shaming’ seems by all means a modern one, a term that exists within a millennial taxonomy under which one could also confidently expect to find a ‘meme’, ‘selfie’ or ‘troll’. But, the sentiments to which this ‘hip’ vocabulary pertains are, of course, age-old and universally understood. In Hair, Olivia Coppin places body-shaming under the microscope and zooms in on the sociopolitical pitfalls that still occur in a postmodern world that isn’t perhaps as forward-thinking as many would have us believe. After a colleague’s leaving party at work, Nina (played by Coppin) returns home to her boyfriend Billy, but as they prepare for sleep, she realizes she has forgotten

Lemon [Timothy Michael Cooper, USA, 2017]

How well do we really know the people we love? And at what moment can one really decide when it’s the right time to devote the rest of their life to that special someone? The basic principles of love and marriage appeal to mutual trust, devotion and sacrifice, but to what degree the boundaries of these pillars can be pushed is a complicated and idiosyncratic mire of personal rules, regulations and emotions. Seconds after their matrimonial ceremony has taken place, a newlywed groom (Noah Bean), with his bride (Jennifer Westfeldt) in tow, scurry towards their suite as he confesses to her that, when he told her he was a high-powered trial lawyer, he “kinda never really passed the bar”. She does

The Garden of Gethsemane [Galina Altman, Russia, 2018]

The shot of a woman’s hand caressing the tips of barley in a sprawling countryside field beneath a clear blue sky, instantly recalls the opening shot of Ridley Scott’s historical epic Gladiator (USA, 2000). In Galina Altman’s The Garden of Gethsemane though, we are worlds apart from the violent bloodshed of sword wielding warriors and crumbling empires, Altman instead attending her focus towards more Dionysian fascinations. The film supposes the relationship between woman and nature to be one of sensuousness and nurturing, as indicated though extreme close-ups of the unnamed woman’s lips or a bird’s eye shot of her laying supine in wistful repose. The film is silent, functioning without the

Hindsight (In Real Time) [Tom Worrall, UK, 2017]

Hindsight (In Real Time) takes places in an alternate world where everyone knows when and how they are going to die. Peter Welles is the shy and introspective retail worker who receives a phone call from George Powell, a successful writer who is ready to accept the fate that awaits him and the man whom Peter must kill as part of this fatalistic and contractual arrangement. After saying his goodbyes to his mother, George makes his way to Peter’s home, full of energy and eager to make good on the deal, the spectre of a black-cloaked Death skulking in the near background. In the hours leading up to the event, George tells Peter a little about the science fiction novel he has just completed in w

The Hidden Injuries of Dreams [Giacomo Ecce, USA, 2017]

The notion that time has the power to change and heal is one that often emerges closely after a point of prior destruction, damage or pain, an idea that sits in direct opposition to the perhaps more skeptical perspective that history has a tendency to repeat itself. It is the paradox that exists firmly at the centre of The Hidden Injuries of Dreams, the reflective and poetic documentary from Giacomo Ecce. This experimental short film looks at immigration in early 20th century America from the point of view of a daughter (Katherine McGavin) remembering her father. As the narrator of the documentary, she contemplates the meaning of hope and the invisible injuries experienced by the immigrants

Pas de Deux, Froid [Carles Pamies, Spain, 2017]

Two homeless people walk separately towards their respective place of rest for the night on a cold and uninviting Spanish street. Each of them settles down, draped in a rough blanket, tattered attire and covering themselves with large lengths of cardboard. The camera dissolves on their faces in slumber as the shot changes to black and white, with two dancers now taking their place. The dancing figures meet in a suggested meeting of spirits. Lightly clad in black trunks and vests, the dancers move in a shallow pool of water against a stark, white stone backdrop. The sunlit water casts a shimmering light across their bodies as they flutter in unison. Once in full flow, the screen becomes satur

Utakata [Luca Ogawa Depardon, USA, 2017]

“We are all ants! And ants are inside you!” reads the cryptic tagline from Luca Ogawa Depardon’s playfully surrealistic Utakata. Employing a mixed media approach to his production Depardon uses acetate, paint markers, paint and cut-outs amongst others to create a distinctive composition of colour and texture, incorporating them into a childlike and cartoonish milieu. It is a weird and curious world that points to and subverts the Japanese chanbara genre, filtering it through the wayward anthropomorphic zaniness of American animations such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force (US, 2000-15) and Adventure Time (US, 2010-18). As the tagline suggests, this film is all about the ants, and they take up virtua

Tennessee [Jack Wedge, USA, 2017]

Surreal and futuristic animated fantasy Tennessee is a mesmerising and strangely uplifting depiction of love in a time of increasing social media obsession, A.I. technology and human disconnection. It is telling from the outset exactly where Jack Wedge’s fascinations lie, observing the conditions of modern society through the relationships we share with technology and the validation we seek from such an absurd construction. “Good morning, Tennessee”, begins a glitchy automated voice. “It is your birthday today. Happy birthday! I love you, Tennessee. You are my best and most special friend”. It is very easy with this type of subject matter to be purely cynical, but Wedge’s preoccupations do n

For Liberty [Roan Bibby, USA, 2017]

The film opens with a dream sequence of our protagonist Jim peering through a telescope at a bikini-clad woman in sunglasses. He wakes up, showers and then peers through a bedroom door at a sleeping figure on the bed. This clandestine moment of voyeurism is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Pit, the cocksure boyfriend of Jim’s sibling Liberty. The two men do not appear to get off on the right foot, Liberty the main source of contention. As Pit arrogantly inquires how much Jim’s sister talks about him, Jim makes it quite clear that she is only his half-sister, “Y’know, different mum’s, different states?” he proffers drily. It is at this point that the woman from the bedroom awakes. It

A City of Nature [Felicity Silverthorne, Ireland, 2017]

A City of Nature is a 5-minute documentary about environmental conservation efforts in Galway, Ireland. It is a very low-budget ‘talking heads’ style piece, with Silverthorne using the camera to capture the green spaces and wildlife that are under threat from basic human neglect. One of the main interviewees is Brendan ‘Speedie’ Smith, a wildlife conservationist and environmentalist who sums up the film’s attitudes early on stating that, “There is a magic in nature that we are losing touch with”. We also learn through intertitles that only 9% of Ireland is made up of forests, with many wildlife species becoming extinct as a result. This is clearly a subject matter that is dear to the filmma

A Pinprick of Light [Kasra Karimi, UK, 2017]

In 1983, university Professor John Hull became blind, leading him to evaluate disability from the perspective of religion and theology, both areas in which he studied and taught. It’s an extraordinary story of a strong-willed man, whose spirit and work ethic, if anything, were bolstered by his affliction, recording an impressive number of cassette tapes to document his own experiences of blindness and his evolving views on Christianity. The material here is covered well enough and the camera work is handled with great care and attention. Much of the film’s focus is on John’s relationship with his daughter and her innocent understanding of her father’s illness. Aesthetically, the film is very

SHORT FOCUS 2018: Iconoclast [Alex Haney, USA, 2017]

Alex Haney’s Iconoclast is a bold and compelling exploration of shame and denial told through the eyes of a black, Jewish and gay teenager. For the lead character Yuri, the thought of coming out causes a profound agony. A sensitive soul, he coils in discomfort when merely asked by a classmate to explain the colourfully patterned yarmulke rested upon his “hi-top” hairdo. This strong internal conflict is furthered clarified once we learn that his parents (an African-American father and Jewish mother) are none-the-wiser regarding their son’s sexual orientation. His parents’ possible despair and revulsion is a fear that haunts Yuri and leads to sleepless nights. His secret threatens to burst for

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