I was delighted to be invited to be one of three judges in the Main Category at the 12th Kino Shorts International Film Festival. This evening sees the preview screenings of some of the highlights from this years’ festival offerings and I was lucky enough to be able to sit down for a preview of the preview at Manchester’s Central Library National Film Centre earlier today.
And the preview does give audiences an indication of the quality of short films being made today. Headlining this years’ previews, and first on the bill, is Mark Gill’s Oscar nominated short, The Voorman Problem, starring Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander. Freeman plays the part of Doctor Williams, who is sent to evaluate the titular and allegedly insane, Voorman, played by Hollander. Voorman believes he is a god, who created the earth and everything in it just nine days previously. Understandibly, Doctor Williams has some issues with this claim, but events transpire that make the good doctor question exactly how much he knows about what is going on around him. The writing is sharp and often witty with Hollander stealing the show with his portrayal of the enigmatic Voorman, but Freeman and Hollander work excellently together. The best examples of short films make you upset when they finish too soon and The Voorman Problem is a classic example of this. Directed with panache, Gill relishes the content, which is easy to understand, as this has been adapted from the work of David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas). At only thirteen minutes long, this is blink and you’ll miss attention to detail and whilst shorter than some, Gill’s talent should be obvious to anyone with eyes to see. Aided by a supremely talented cast, it is also easy to understand why it has received a host of plaudits, not to mention an Oscar nomination last year for Best Short Film.
Second on the bill of tonight’s preview was Melvis, an Australian production, directed by Jamie Humphris
Short even for a short, this nine-minute musical featuring some well-loved Elvis Presley standards is presented here in the fantasy mental wanderings of a Taxi Driver. As he goes about his business, he often dreams of becoming ‘The King’ and in his perfect world, he touches each life he comes across with the beauty and vibrancy of the songs he sings. Mark Borg plays the part of Melvis himself and the film is a bit of an engima, demands little, yet delivers more than its fair share of joy, making the only person in the theatre this afternoon smile broadly at least a couple of times.
Third up on this whistle-stop tour of what’s showing in and around Manchester venues in the next few days was Checkpost, a sometimes poignant postcard of the fallout from one event that touches the lives of many. Concentrating on the fatal shooting of a documentary film maker on a quiet road in Pakistan, this sixth short film from Manchester’s own Aneel Ahmad is unapologetically political in tone and is often uncomfortable in its reluctance to shield its audience from the harsh realities of lives we rarely witness with our cossetted first world perspective.
At a criminally short twelve minutes, the film feels like it has much more to say than it has time to, but possibly undermined by the choice to feature Gordon Burns, authentic as he is as a newsreader, as the stark tug back to a safe domestic distance is jarring and probably unnecessary, possibly diluting events on screen. Nonetheless, Ahmad could easily be hailed as a visionary and his scenes are consistently captivating, particularly as the unfortunate events unfold.
Probably the single most charming film on offer at this years’ preview screening was Luminaris, originally made in 2011, an animated Argentinian production using real people, stop-motioned and pixilated. This six minute film wordlessly tells the story of two people, Man and Woman, who work in a light bulb factory. They live in a world guided by light and the attention to detail is outstanding. The amount of effort taken to ensure that the film did not fall foul of the medium the film itself was referencing was staggering, given that external stop-motion flim-making is probably the single most difficult process to deal with as a film-maker. After all, the sun keeps moving and the shadows do too. To begin with, the choice of animation style here can be off-putting, but the charming story and stunning visuals, together with a perfect accompanying score, will turn even the most stubborn of heads.
The penultimate film on the list today was Going To Mecca, the story of two brothers who go to Blackpool to scatter their Father’s ashes. Directed by another of Manchester’s talented sons, Jason Wingard, this often funny twenty-minute delve into some darkly comic matters is at times bittersweet but always watchable. As the longest of the films on show, you can expect to wonder just how long the film will take to get its message across, given that you have already quite happily swallowed four manageable bite-sized chunks of mostly perfectly formed entertainment. Through no fault of its own, Going To Mecca can sometimes therefore be accused of dragging its feet. With some fine performances and its fair share of chuckles “I Love Rhyl” being a particular pearl, the film is easy to like, especially if you have a lasting fondness for Chesney Hawkes.
Last but not least is Cowboy Ben, a tense, brittle and violent two handed short featuring Shaun Dooley and Ramon Tikaram. This nine-minute film places itself in one scene, a busy restaurant/bar, as Ben talks to his allegedly imaginary friend from days gone by, defending the lack of contact he has had with this Cowbys & Indians cohort from his childhood. Coming off as an off-kilter dangerous homage to Toy Story and Drop Dead Fred, Ben pines for his lost youth and wants to play with his old friend one more time, with dramtic consequences. The film is able to ramp up and maintain a highly charged discourse due to its short running time and the choice of shot throughout is exemplary. The acting too is something to be enjoyed as both Dooley and Tikaram are on good form. A very apt sense of finality to end a very enjoyable hour in the company of some of the best short film makers working today.
The Kino Shorts Internation Film Festival runs from 28th May at various venues around Manchester City Centre. This is only six of more than 120 films showing during the festival proper.