The third and final international shorts programme took a turn to focus on intimate, emotional stories, examining choices and consequences in real-life settings. As with the second programme, we saw mostly English-speaking shorts, with just one bucking the trend. What’s more, with four shorts from the UK, there was much original British work on show, which raises the question as to why these were in international categories rather than the UK shorts. But, this was also the category with the biggest variation in quality, with shorts ranging from 1/5 to 5/5 in a real hit-and-miss presentation.
UK, Dir: Molly Eaglesham
I can’t quite get a grasp on Dark Light. As the opening short of the programme, it was also the shortest, clocking in at just 4 minutes. Whilst it does well to demonstrate the intrinsic reliance, or perhaps addiction, humans have with technology, it fails to formulate a clear opinion or argument surrounding this. It’s a shame, because it’s a fascinating and juicy topic for a short film, but to be explored well, it needs a longer, more in depth analysis than Dark Light provides. However, it is a well shot and directed piece using innovative, creative shots which bode well for first-time director Molly Eaglesham.
Belgium, Dirs: Maxime Feyers and Séverine De Streyker
Calamity is a work of absolute beauty. When France meets her son’s girlfriend, Cleo, for the first time, she gets an unexpected shock; Cleo is a trans woman. The 23 minutes which follow are a delicate, well-handled masterclass in storytelling as France’s nervousness and, perhaps subconscious, transphobia come to the surface. Calamity is deeply grounded in real life, brilliantly capturing a realistic tone with moments of awkwardness, humour and coincidence sprinkled into a deeply emotional story. Rather than exploding into aggressive melodrama, Calamity explores internal struggles, with an ensemble of precise, astute performances expressing deep unease with sublime subtlety. It’s subtle, it’s real and it’s deeply moving. For my money, Calamity is the best international short on show at Raindance.
Jailbird: The Musical
UK, Dir: Lexy Anderson
I feel awfully conflicted about Jailbird: The Musical. There’s clearly a huge amount of passion and effort being put in behind the scenes, but sadly the finished project is riddled with issues. There’s a certain divide in tone as to whether the musical is a tongue-in-cheek comedy, complete with exaggerated theatrics, or a serious, hard-hitting drama. Without committing to one style or the other, neither seem to work; both jokes and drama fall a little flat. What’s more, the sound quality and mixing of the musical numbers is fairly poor, with varying levels and tinny vocals. But, with some well composed songs, good performances and a snappy pace, Jailbird: The Musical remains relatively enjoyable.
UK, Dir: Harvey Puttock
In all honestly, I’m surprised Warning Signs got into this festival. It documents the rise and fall of a relationship from the perspective of a bedroom and every element is beyond poor. The picture is grainy, improperly lit and oddly framed. The editing is choppy, cutting mid-dialogue, with vast changes in background noise between angles. The acting is strained, although you can’t blame them since the script was about as heavy-handed as they come. It looks like it was made in about 20 minutes on iMovie by a chimpanzee. The only positive I can draw is that it wasn’t outright offensive. UK film has more to offer than this; I couldn’t help but ashamedly shrink into my seat during Warning Signs.
UK, Dir: Paul Franklin
Perhaps the most striking thing about The Escape is the truly impressive cast. Julian Sands, Olivia Williams and Ben Miller star, all giving superb performances, as you would expect from actors of their calibre. But perhaps more impressive is the ambitious but brilliant debut from Paul Franklin, a big-shot VFX artist turned director. I’ll carefully avoid the secrets of the film, but Franklin has created a small, personal story to the backdrop of serious natural disaster. It’s a common formula, employed by numerous disaster films, but it’s impressive nonetheless, and it’s an undoubtedly emotional watch with a genius, gut-wrenching finale. The Escape is slightly safe in formula, but it’s an enthralling and pertinent story, leaving me very excited for whatever comes next from Franklin.
Australia, Dir: Sean Lahiff
There’s a real sense of fun to the horror-inspired Smashed, despite hitting a fair few horror clichés. As a group of Australian lads jokingly kidnap their friend and drive away, a fate they never could have expected catches up with them as they head through the forest. Sean Lahiff’s short provides an interesting problem, far more thought-provoking than many modern horror films, as the guys come across their own dead bodies in a car crash. With some well-shot eerie sequences and a suitable creepy setting, Smashed certainly creates an enjoyable, tense atmosphere. But it comes undone in its final moments when the solution to the mystery is revealed. Although at the time it provided a satisfying ‘oooh’ from the audience, when it’s thought through post-film, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. A paradox is created which just doesn’t make any sense. What’s left is a well-made, enjoyable film, but it doesn’t quite add up, becoming a little unsatisfying.