Ben Nicholson

LSFF 2018: Our festival roundup

The London Short Film Festival returned to the capital this month with another cornucopia of new and beloved shorts from around the world.

Taking place from 12 – 21 January it gave UK audiences a chance to catch up with shorts that have premiered on the festival circuit over the past year as well as an impressive array of repertory screenings – from Chick Strand and Barbara Hammer, to Ngozi Onwurah and Mati Diop.

The Artificial Humours
Anthropological and comical, The Artificial Humours is a film about journeys personal, professional and philosophical. Ostensibly the story of how a cute robot, Andy Coughmann (move over BB-8), develops an understanding of human emotions, it takes on wider import as he comes to understand the social value of humour and, at the same time, falls in love. Shooting with a documentary aesthetic, director Gabriel Abrantes weaves in commentary on identity and Brazil’s colonial past amongst the tender relationship drama.

Crossing
Crossing focuses on intersections physical and metaphysical. A documentary about the summit of England’s highest motorway, it’s a revolving study of where the M62 crosses the Pennines and where the footpath, the Pennine Way, crosses the M62. Filmmaker Jenny Holt employs landscape images of the misty moors, traffic and dashboard camera footage of the road to explore the history of this nodal point, particularly the issues and concerns raised during the motorway’s construction in the 1960s.

Estate
In May 2006, Juan Medina to a photograph – ‘In search of a better life’ – of a immigrant crawling across the sand of Gran Tarajal beach in Fuerteventura as holidaymakers carried on oblivious. Ronny Trocker’s Estate adapts that image as a man wanders between unmoving onlookers, frozen in the shuttered moment. The sound design counteracts the lack of movement, giving kinetic energy to his break for freedom – but questions arise about our ability to escape the static nature of the still, captured image.

Et in Arcadia Ego
Sam Ashby’s evocative short film is of a piece with William E. Jones’s Tearoom (more on that below) which it screened alongside at the festival. Ashby’s film is like an urban landscape documentary riff on Jones’ work, observing old, now-defunct public toilets that acted as cruising spots in London. Shot on 8mm to emphasise its plaintive quality, it is an elegy for these lost queer spaces and a pilgrimage to their ruins.

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A Gentle Night
Qui Yang’s A Gentle Night begins and ends in institutional waiting rooms, reciting the circumstances of a missing daughter, her fate unknown. Between these scenes is a quietly affecting lowborn drama as the girl’s mother wanders the dark, unnamed city, in vain. It’s a perfectly weighted glimpse into the unending waiting game of a distraught parent, observed at often dispassionate range – except in one moment when soundtrack and cinematography combine to plunge deep into panic.

Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is the third part of a trilogy – after Father and Son – exploring the spiritual implications of the filmmaker’s own experiences of playing video games. Effectively this is a montage of dozens of looped moments of gameplay often depicting on-screen deaths either caused, or suffered, by the player. The appropriate buttons – being bashed by the player at that moment – flash up on the screen, lending agency to Wright’s fleeting glimpses on computer generating transcendence.

I Want Pluto To Be A Planet Again
Science fiction often holds up a mirror to the modern world and Marie Amachoukeli and Vladimir Mavounia Kouka’s I Want Pluto To Be A Planet Again is no exception. A charming monochrome animation, the film takes place in a near future where transhumanism – the augmentation of our physical bodies with technology – is rife for the rich. Marcus’s voyage from podgy H- to streamlined H+ in the name of romance explores ideas of self-acceptance, conformity and difficulties of the heart.

The Kodachrome Elegies
Jay Rosenblatt has been making short collage films since the 1980s and one of his latest (more than one of his films screened at LSFF) was part of the International Competition. The Kodachrome Elegies does largely what its title suggests – unfurling a nostalgic lament for the colour reversal film that Kodak stopped producing several years ago. Divided into a triptych of distinct chapters, this 11-minute archival ode speaks about the role the film’s vivid colouration has on societal memory.

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The Moon and the Sledgehammer
Possibly the crown jewel in a wonderful slew of repertory screenings at the festival was Philip Trevelyan’s 1971 mid-length feature, The Moon and the Sledgehammer. A mysterious and mildly unsettling foray into a liminal world, it spends a week in the company of the idiosyncratic Page family who inhabit a small house in the woods where they spend their time tinkering with steam engines. It’s a strange place where nature abounds but interest is placed firmly in the oily chug of anachronistic technological progress.

Tearoom
William E. Jones’s Tearoom is a found-footage documentary that recontextualises archival police surveillance film of men cruising in an Ohio restroom. The purpose – and subsequent use – of the footage was to identify, and prosecute for sodomy, those implicated. Jones’s reworking of the footage makes for a fascinating, disquieting mid-length feature. It both observes the practices of the scene – and the ways in which it facilitated the crossing of other societal thresholds – and emphasises the anxiety and voyeurism of the watching experience, not least in its silent soundtrack which magnifies the shifting bodies of a captive, uncomfortable audience.

For more info on the LSFF simply follow this link: shortfilms.org.uk/lsff2018

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson