A brief encounter with some fantastic films.

December 5, 2008

I went down to Bristol last Friday morning to attend the Encounters Short Film Festival. It’s now in its 14th year, and it still feels as fresh as the first time I went.
I went down with Adrian from mightysmall, and we crammed a huge amount of films into the two days we were there. At a conservative estimate I reckon we saw somewhere in the region of 90 films. They varied in length from 90 seconds up to 30 minutes, and they varied in quality too. There were some absolute gems, a lot of very good films and a small number that I’m going to be kind about and say I didn’t get.
You can visit the Encounters site here and see some of the films through their website. You can also see some great films that are all 90 seconds or less at the DepicT! site.
There were a high number of great films. Some of them will appear on YouTube, given time, and others will appear on sites like Babelgum, 4mations, Mini Masterpieces and the BBC Film Network.
I’ll give you a quick run down of my highlights of the festival, plus a brief synopsis of each of the stories.
Stand Up, directed by Joseph Pierce, UK. 2008:
A comedian who seems to love booze more than his act is seen to unravel in front of the audience whilst he’s on stage. It’s a tragic comic performance that leaves the audience unsure how to react.
See it here.

Skhizeik, directed by Jeremy Clapin, France, 2008:
A surreal little film about a man who is struck by a meteorite and ends up inhabiting a space that is actually 91cm from his body. Weird and beautiful.


See a clip from it here: (click on Bande-Annonce to view the trailer)

Next Floor, directed by Denis Villeneuve, Canada, 2008:
A superb film. Watch out for this one worrying them at the Oscars – that’s how good this is. It has a great, simple idea that cracks along and keeps you right on the edge of your seat. The cast is excellent and leaves the audience in no doubt as to the desired outcome for the table of glutinous horrors. The technique used is great and builds towards an earth-shattering finale.
See a clip here:

The Contract, directed by Konstantinos Fragkopoulos, UK, 2008:
A lovely little twist that is hugely unexpected. We open on a little old man sitting on a bench in a park. He seems almost invisible as he feeds the pigeons. Then he stands and starts to walk. As he moves we see him become slightly less fragile and a little more bold. We then see him carry out a hit on a bloke, where he stabs him and then places him down on the bench, as if he is sleeping. He then gently wanders off on his way. Brilliant. (I couldn’t find a link to this film. Yet. Once I do, I’ll post it here)

This Way Up, Directed Smith and Foulkes, UK, 2008:
Another great film, this time a claymation animation that sees a father and son undertakers attempting to lay a coffin to rest with a bit of dignity. Fat chance. It all starts to go wrong as the hearse is crushed by a rock (in a scene reminiscent of the Honda ‘Cogs’ advert). We then see all manner of catastrophes as they try to lay the deceased to rest. This was commissioned by the BBC, so watch out for it on a TV near you. These are the two geniuses who created the “Hate something/Love something” Honda ad. Pretty talented blokes, I guess. Watch the film on the BBC Film Network here.


There is also a competition within the competition in the form of a micro film competition, where the only rule is that it must be under 90 seconds in length. Which, for those of us with an advertising background, seems like quite a long time.
Each year there are a mix of great films and some truly strange films that make the final shortlist in the DepicT! competition.
My favourite three this year were:
In the Name of God, directed by Hamed Knobari, Iran, 2007
We see a young boy sitting an exam. We see him keep stealing furtive glances at the palm of his hand. This is intercut with the teacher walking round the room. We assume that the kid is cheating. The teacher stalks up from behind and makes him open his closed fist. Then we see that what is actually written on his hand is “In the name of God. The compassionate. The merciful.” in Arabic. This was a great little film that left me with a warm smile on my face.

What’s Virgin Mean, directed by Michael Davies, UK, 2008
A mum and her young daughter are in the kitchen. The young girl doodles as her mum makes the tea. Suddenly the daughter asks her mum: “What does virgin mean?” We then see the mum squirm a but and then rise to the task of explaining this mystery term to her daughter. The rug-pull is then that the daughter asks: “So what’s extra virgin?” and it turns out that she’s been reading from the label of an olive oil bottle. Nice, but I guessed the pay off after about 5 seconds.

Enough, directed by Tor Kristofferson, UK, 2008
Another film with a great reveal. We see an elderly man sitting in his house as youths bully a kid on the street. We see the elderly man sink a tumbler of whisky, before grabbing a truncheon and heading out to confront the youths. We see him approach the youths, and them scatter. He grabs one of them and asks him what he thinks he’s doing. The kid shouts at him to get off. One of the other kids then stabs the elderly man. At which point the youth he’s holding cries out: “Dad!” Like I say, an amazing reveal. And a seriously powerful piece of film making.

You can view all of the DepicT! shortlisted films for 2008 by clicking here.

I was also lucky enough to catch a showing called Blank Slate, by a collective called B3 Media.
They’re always on the look out for creative talent to nurture from communities that are underrepresented by the mainstream. They had a screening of ten short films, from all sorts of different perspectives.
There was a great little film called ‘Preacher’ which had a kung fu inspired preacher ridding the neighbourhood of all the bad cats. Another brilliant film was ‘Souljah’ which won best film at the Soho Rushes film festival. It shows an unexpected side to a cross-dressing asylum-seeker when his mum is pushed around by the local hoods. And a great, funny film about an old-school comedian who plays a club in a black part of town. He initially dies on his arse, but he manages to bring the audience round with a bit of self-deprecation. It’s a lovely little tale, that’s well shot and nicely told. Check out their website and see their latest offerings.

All in all it was a brilliant 2 days. Bristol itself is a beautiful city with lots of shops for a self-confessed book and record addict to enjoy. There are some great restaurants and bars, and the harbourside where the film festival is held is a great spot for soaking up the atmosphere.
So if you love film, then spend a few days in Bristol at the end of November. You just might catch an early film by the next big thing.

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