For the second full day of the inaugural Sarnia Shorts film festival I saw 33 films spanning pretty much every genre going including a screening of all the festival winners.
Sarnia Shorts 2012 came to a close on real high point with a showcase of all the winners of the weekend, rounded off by Best Film Matar A Un Nino – before that though were around 30 more films from various categories starting early for a Sunday morning.
The morning’s screening was a mixed bag of films starting with a trio of documentaries and what can only be described as a conspiracy-horror-docudrama. The three documentaries were made with varying levels of success exploring subjects as diverse as Ethiopa’s Christian heritage, life in a Belgian forest and the creation of a song.
While the subject matter of Timkat in Lalibela was by far the most interesting, it was hampered by a somewhat stilted narration track that lost something of the potential intrigue of the footage.
The opposite could be said of Anatomy of a Song, where the film was well constructed but the subject matter left me thinking this was a somewhat one sided view of what could be a rather controversial subject (in the subject matter of the song being explored).
The other film in the first half of the morning screening, The Haunting of Memory, was, for me, a very odd piece of cinema.
Looking at the potentially true story of Hitler’s pre-First World War visit to Liverpool through the filter of a pair of sisters discovering a box belonging to their great aunt, which told of her admiration and love of “the Fuhrer”.
Beyond this subject matter, what made the film seem so strange, was the imbalance between supposed historical accuracy, soap opera style drama and moments that could have come from a horror movie, which made what could have been an interesting story into something of a mess.
The second half of the morning session provided a much more balanced selection of films starting with La Lavadora, a sweet (or possibly very bleak, depending on your point of view) romantic comedy focusing on a magic washing machine and a couple living in adjoining flats.
This was followed by another sweet, but in this instance somewhat melancholy, tale of an elderly man making his way away across to for a picnic, Bis Nachste Woche. What made this film work so well was how it explored the precision of the man’s preparations and then revealed quite why he was being so precise and why it meant so much to him.
Australian entry Date With Fate was another romantic comedy with a twist, shot through the medium of video dating tapes. With its style and plot it added a nice new dimension to what could easily have been a very predictable little film.
The morning session was completed by another documentary, Shooting Blind, exploring the world of the England blind football team as they prepared for the 2010 world cup, which was held in England.
Even as someone with no interest in football this was a fascinating insight into a sport that is rarely seen and through its production managed to capture both the amount of work that goes into training and the drama of this unique form of the sport and for my money, if it wasn’t for Walk Tall, this would have been the best documentary of the festival.
UK Fiction screening
The second session I got to today was the UK fiction films and it kept up the high quality established in the second half of my morning viewing.
First up was Miss-Guided by William Fuller. An at once comical and slightly melancholic little short that seemed to deal with issues of a young couple’s relationship through the medium of a satnav.
Mum’s Not In was the first of the days more serious dramas and featured an excellent performance by both the young girl and her cat and this was the first of the festival’s films to really get to me, mostly due to the way the cat featured in the piece.
The next film, First Bite, was one I’d had a chance to see before the festival and found to have a slightly ambiguous edge, and this is an edge that remained on the second viewing. This didn’t stop it having an oddly effecting feeling though, and certainly it seems to say something about aspects of modern youth, though to me it leaves what it says open to the viewer on at least some level, not that this is a bad thing.
Birdie was a short and sweet film looking at a retired golfer that, while well made was probably the least memorable of this session, though its shots of Edinburgh in particular seem to have stuck with me.
The first half of the UK Fiction section was rounded off by three films from Jersey, under the Primavera Pictures banner. While the first of these, Unanswered, was a quirky little piece with a few witty ideas, it was the two other films, The Venial Society and The Final Straw that stood out from the trio.
Both films fell into the horror/thriller category but in slightly different ways with The Venial Society exploring guilt with a great visual style and some excellent special effects and The Final Straw feeling like the set up to a great post-apocalyptic saga, and again made with some more great special effects.
The second half of the UK Fiction section started in fine style with Fall To Grace. Telling the story of a puppet who makes himself a man and uses him for a ventriloquist act. Its darkly humourous edge, combined with the brilliant puppetry made it one of the highlights of the afternoon for me.
Room 4 was another highlight as it told its somewhat puerile, but ultimately very entertaining, tale of a trio of 20-somethings investigating a mythical technique being used in a local brothel. While fairly simply shot it told its story in a very effective way that was reminiscent of the best, slightly surreal, TV comedy.
Mug was another effectively shot and edited story with a well done twist that made it memorable and added something extra to its light urban setting.
The final pair of films of the UK Fiction came with a bit of a caveat from the festival organisers that due to the seemingly high production values and lack of communication from the films producers they had been disqualified from the competition (which is for amateur filmmakers only), but that the organisers thought they would still be worth screening, and I have to agree, as both were very good films.
First was Brotherhood, which told a story about a pair of immigrants to the north of England and how one brother had turned to crime while the other was training to be a doctor and how their sense of family loyalty clashes with their newly adopted home.
The second, MAM, was set in and around a tower block in the north of England and looked into the life of a young boy who was looking after his brothers and sisters while his mother was ill, again this film came with a sting in the tail that it would spoil things to reveal, but made for a very effecting little story.
While both of these films were very good I have to agree with the Sarnia Shorts orgainsers that the production values seemed suspiciously high for amateur work and the appearance of Josie Lawrence and a few other recognisable character actors seemed unlikely for a truly non-professional production.
Not wishing to down play the fact that these were very good films but, if what is suspected was the case, all the other films we saw this afternoon really did stand equal to these in terms of everything but production values which shows just how good a set of films we were seeing this weekend.
(Warning: This is the uncensored version of the film so probably best not watch if you’re easily offended by comedies about brothels… that sounds a lot less funnier as a description that the film is)
So, with all the general entry screenings done, the first Sarnia Short Film Festival came to an end with a session showing all the award winners from the weekend.
The session started off with the announcement of the Best Guernsey Entry, which went to Jack De La Mare for his film Six.
I’ve had the chance to see Six a few times over the last few months, but this was the first time seeing it alongside other short films and I’m pleased to say it more than stood up against Sarnia Shorts’ other award winners and really highlighted what a directing talent Jack is.
Best Student Entry and Best Use of Sound was awarded to Mathew Nesbeth for New With Tags, a great film exploring a young man’s attempts to escape his old life and deal with guilt with some excellent effects work that left me thinking of Fight Club.
Another Guernsey entrant was up next winning the Best Mini category (for a film under two minutes), Josh Fletcher, for Make Your Money Grow. This animation took the notion of its title and explored it in very well realised fashion as coins and notes transform from trees to houses to planes and onwards in visually remarkable fashion.
Next up were a couple of my personal highlights of the weekend; first was 8-Ball, by Mark Brennan, Carl Austin and Geoff Harmer. Picking up the best script award, this was a simple film of two men on a bench that played with notions of destiny with humour, pathos and real emotion.
Best Direction winner, Clown vs Society (directed by Brindusa Ioana Nastasa), was the second of these highlights, as it explored, superficially, how traditional clowning has fallen out of favour in the world of entertainment, while subtextually, it looked at a deeper change and issue of lost innocence in society in a mock documentary style.
The second half of the Winners’ Show started with another fantastic film (as all of them were tonight) They Say (or Dicen) by Alaunda Ruiz de Azua. A Spanish/American co-production that looked into the world of High School bullying in the USA and was shot on location in a school in New Jersey.
Exploring not only bullying but issues of homophobia it told very effecting tale, seemingly based on real events, and painted a very bleak picture of modern teenage life, and deservingly won its Best Use of Camera award.
Best Use of Editing was a very interesting choice from the judges as Room (by Fernando Franco) actually didn’t seem to include any actual edits. Again telling a tale inspired by a real event to do with youth in the USA, this Spanish language film also featured little spoken dialogue and instead put the viewer in the place of, seemingly, a teenager, viewing another on webcam and chatting with a few others through text appearing at the bottom of the screen.
As the film continues the horror of what we may be seeing comes to light through this text in which each character soon takes on their own personalities and, while the film itself leaves the ending open, the title card that follows hammers its point home in very effective style.
Best Animation was up next for a surreal little film that maybe had a point to make about eating meat, or maybe was just a strange and entertaining ride about a blue plasticine fellow trying to eat his tea. Either way Eso Te Pasa Por Barroco by Pable Serrano Rosillo was great little film in one of the most hotly contested categories in the festival.
Another of my personal highlights came next, picking up the prize for Best Non-Fiction, Walk Tall by Kate Sullivan. My main reason for enjoying this documentary was down to its sheer entertaining quality as it mixed well-made animation with historical photos and new footage of a former Olympic gymnast who represented Great Britain in 1948.
This entertainment combined with a fascinating subject and amazingly charismatic nonagenarian who not only told his story but offered us all some advice on keeping fit and healthy.
Best UK Entry, Buon Giorno Sayonara by Karen Hope, was the penultimate film of Sarnia Shorts 2012 and for my money, was the one film of this final session that didn’t really stand up next to the others.
While by no means a bad film this nice little tale of pair of couples day out in Bournemouth didn’t quite hit the mark for me in the way that the other films did, but, none-the-less, it was well produced and shot and entertaining in its way.
Finally for the festival we got the Best Film (and Best International Entry), Matar A Un Nino by Cesar and Jose Esteban Alenda.
Exploring how and when childhood and innocence end (in one sense at least) this seems to be a semi-autobiographical tale of someone and deservingly won as the script, editing, action, camera work, sound and direction all come together to create a truly great short film and while others came close, for me this was a deserving Best Film and closed the first Sarnia Shorts Film Festival in fantastic style.
While turnout for this weekend’s screenings certainly could have been better and low turnouts are always a disappointment, I sincerely hope that organisers Wynter Tyson and Lisa Gaudion aren’t disheartened by this and that the festival continues as, looking at other festivals around the world (most notably Shetland or New Forest), they can become major events for small communities and are indispensible for breeding new filmmakers.
Read my review of Day 1 here and the launch night here.