After their opening night screening of Orson Welles’ Chimes At Midnight the first Sarnia Shorts film festival got going in earnest on Saturday 20th October with four sessions of screenings covering documentary, animation, ‘mini’ and Guernsey produced films ahead of an evening dedicated to the festival’s international fiction entries.
Unfortunately the real world got in the way of my attending the day time screenings today, but I made my way down to the Princess Royal Centre for the Performing Arts for the evening session and came away having ten at least very good films.
With most of the entries in the international fiction category coming from Spain tonight did have a surreal feeling as every film was in the same language, but, none-the-less, it was a thoroughly enjoyable selection.
The evening started with Nadie Tiene La Culpa, a very well made light drama set around a conversation between a husband and wife on the verge of separation. What really made this film stand out was the way it kept a remarkably light touch while still having a serious feel and ended up turning things on its head from both what I expected and what is usually seen in this sort of story.
Next up came another film dealing with communication between a couple, Guillermo Magarinos’ A Tiempo. My first impression of this was that it didn’t quite make sense, however, having now had time to settle down it was a well constructed, if abstract, exploration of communication issues which built a great sense of tension with a brilliantly cathartic release.
La Familia De Mi Novia brought us our first particularly quirky offering of the evening telling the story of a young man meeting his parents family for the first time and, with a style that seemed reminiscent of Natural Born Killers ‘sitcom’ scene, descended into a rather dark but still oddly humorous place in a way that was both funny and disturbing at the same time.
Next up was another film that mixed humour with a sense of the slightly odd, Interés Variable. This credit crunch tale of a couple loosing their house added elements of toned down Tarantino and a nod to The Dark Knight to create a mildly distracting film centered on one man’s unemployment induced paranoia.
Luis Arenas López’s La Broma rounded off the first half of the evening with a story loosely exploring immigration issues but mostly using this to focus on themes of trust, friendship and betrayal in a close-knit, ethnically mixed Spanish community. While this film was well constructed it did seem to act mostly as a treatment for a potential larger story, always a challenge for short filmmakers to overcome.
The second half of tonight’s screening started off with Sin Palabras that told a rather effecting tale of a teenager getting to know his reclusive grandfather and bonding with him despite their initial situation. Despite the emotional ups and downs this film did, in the end, leave me with a smile on my face for which I was thankful as, at times, it teetered very close to being a quite depressing, if well constructed, piece.
The evening’s shortest film, El-Pela-Ajos, was up next and, while entertaining, its short running time left it feeling a bit hard to know exactly what was going on in the relationship between the lead couple, though it still managed to produce a darkly humorous edge.
Next it was time for a dose of zombies, something seemingly inescapable in current cinema, with the Shaun of the Dead influenced Muertos Y Vivientes and the more 28 Days Later inspired Fase Terminal.
The first of this duo was certainly the most light-hearted of the two with an Ash from Evil Dead like old lady fighting her way through the hordes of the undead to find her late husband. Featuring an astonishing number of zombie extras this film really managed to build up both a great sense of comedy along with a real story and journey for its lead character and her knitting needles.
Fase Terminal on the other hand was a much more serious affair that built up a good sense of unease and some genuine horror as we follow a young boy in the middle of an “infection outbreak” (though I think the person behind the credits sequence may have seen a few too many episodes of The Walking Dead).
This evening was rounded off with a series of ultra-short films compiled under the title Slides and, while slightly imbalanced and certainly dark in tone, really served to demonstrate just how short a film can be while still getting across a sense of basic narrative and character.
So, for their second evening, Sarnia Shorts has once again triumphed in the films they have chosen to screen as these 10 pictures really showed the variety and skill in the world of short film and has got me properly excited about tomorrow evening’s Winner’s Show if these are ones that didn’t make the cut.