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LiftOff Festival International shorts

I was never quite sure about short films. On the one hand, they never really have the time to make any serious point, and so are often superficial and meaningless. On the other, they don’t outstay their welcome and can often say what they need to say elegantly without wasting our time. Maybe, at a time when films regularly overstay 2 hours, shorts should be something to be celebrated.

Besides which, in a programme of shorts, if you don’t like one it will be over soon and you can watch something else. Sure enough, this one had some greats and some which were, well let’s say, not so great. Bring it on.

Let’s rush through the first few. “Bad People” is set in the Georgian civil war and reminds us that War, War is Stupid. The Mexican film “SCAR” has a similar message, which it carries out more elegantly, though it depends very much on one single image. And I’m not sure what “Agoria – Call of the Wild” – wanted to say. It says it “features Jane, an enigmatic L.A.P.D officer, forced to face her Orphic power to dive into death”, but it didn’t do much for me.

Moving on to the near misses: “Anpu – ZOEA” has lots of pictures of crabs, and apparently wants to make a bold statement about migration and pollution. It is very pretty. “You say nothing” is set in Derry around the time of the Battle of the Bogside, and shows how a father’s physical abuse damages his kids. And “Remus and Ron” is an interesting story of fucked up identical twins.

None of this was bad, and some of it was very interesting, but I found two of the films particularly interesting. First “Yellow”, the story of Australian photographer Andrew Chapman. Chapman was one of the big boys – we see his old photos of Nelson Mandela and The Police – but then was diagnosed with a degenerative disease (something to do with too much iron, but for more information you need to talk to a real doctor) resulting in transplant surgery.

The irony is that, decades before, Chapman photographed the same people making innovative heart and liver transplants. As a result of this collaboration, Chapman has headed a photography project aimed at winning more donors. The results are both compelling and heartbreaking, not least from Chapman’s narrative about he should really not be here.

But the most provocative film for me was “MAELLE”, a French film about a young woman who is walking alongside a long road and is picked up by a passing motorist. He takes pains to explain that he’s not one of those sleazy guys who might, like, rape her or something, but he continues to make inappropriate comments about her appearance and to question her when she’d obviously rather keep herself to herself.

The whole road trip is pervaded by a feeling that something really bad could happen very soon. Its not that he’s a rapist, or ever a potential rapist, but there is a dangerous power imbalance here. To add to our feeling of foreboding, eerie music keeps jumping in to disturb us.

Now, as it happens, there is a twist in the tail, which I’d love to discuss but this would be difficult without revealing Plot Spoilers. All that I’ll say is that the impact of the film does not depend on its outcome but on the real anxiety that women feel nowadays from accepting a lift, particularly from a man who won’t say no. He may claim that he’s one of the good guys, but that’s what creeps say too, isn’t it?

The evening was mixed, as a performance of different films should be. Each of the films has its own qualities, though I must say that particularly “Agoria – Call of the Wild” relied on us feeling that an interesting form excuses inexplicable content. There is, of course, the possibility that I just didn’t get it, but I’d rather think otherwise.

I’m really not sure what happens to films like this after the festivals. They all seem to be available online, and I wish their directors every success (albeit some more than others). If you get the chance to see any of them, then do give it a go, but as said, I do believe that there’s more to take from some than from others.

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