When the London Short Film Festival (LSFF) adopted the slogan “We are not here to entertain you, we are here to make you feel uncomfortable” (attributed to musician Viv Albertine), it crystallised the festival’s daring ambition. For 13 years it has championed a huge range of shorts – there are almost 400 titles in this year alone – that challenge audiences seeking a provocative alternative to multiplex fodder.
The ethos of the festival can be found in the cinema of Harmony Korine, whose works are celebrated in an LSFF weekender, including a VHS screening of his 1997 masterpiece Gummo. Elsewhere, festival director Jo Duncombe and filmmaker Jessica Sarah Rinland curate the Nature Mixtape, a programme of shorts documentaries by the little-known British director Mary Field. Beastie Boy Adam Yauch is commemorated with a screening of the wild and funny videos he made under Swiss pseudonym Nathanial Hörnblowér, and filmmakers Jennifer Reeder, Nicholas Abrahams and Vivienne Dick will showcase three new LSFF commissions that reclaim the pleasures of the cat film.
Retrospectives and Q&As include Jessica Sarah Rinland, as well as post-punk visual poet Richard Hislop, master of dark comedy Joern Utkilen, and shorts provocateurs Fyzal Boulifa and Taina Galis.
The LSFF is justly celebrated for its innovative events, but it’s also a great chance to catch up with the best in current short film. Last year we previewed 12 shorts for the 12th festival, but 13 for the 13th is probably overdoing it. So here’s a sensible 10 shorts to seek out as a taster.
Billy Lumby, UK, 2015
Theo Barklem-Biggs plays Shmilu, a 23-year-old Hasidic Jew who is curious about the life he sees outside his orthodox upbringing. Provoked by his father’s overbearing rules, Shmilu rejects his family and religion, only to discover that rebellion comes at a price. Director Billy Lumby shoots with close-up handheld cameras that capture the claustrophobic intensity of Shmilu’s identity crisis. Samuel-613 is apparently the first fiction film made with London’s Hasidic community. It’s nominated for the festival’s best UK short award.
In London Lives, Hackney Picturehouse, 9 Jan, 13:00
Kate Herron, UK, 2014
Watch the trailer for Rest Stop
Canadian backpacker Meredith finds herself in a deserted service station, somewhere off the M3, in the small hours of the morning. Diligently blogging while the half-asleep other customers doze around her, Meredith attracts the attention of a dishy older man who claims to be her guardian angel. Writers Kate Herron and Monica Heisey delight in the contrast between their chirpy but gauche backpacker and the mundane snooze-fest of the dimly lit rest-stop. A sharply written comedy two-hander.
In Femmes Fantastiques, Hackney Picturehouse, 9 Jan, 17:00
Groove Is in the Heart
Bijan Sheibani, UK, 2014
Watch Groove Is in the Heart
A short and sweet homage to the almost-forgotten art of making a cassette mixtape, Groove Is in the Heart is unashamedly nostalgic but also beautifully moving. Sometime in 1993, a teenage girl livens up her humdrum homework-filled evening by compiling a tape of her favourite songs. The film reveals the ways in which old analogue home recordings often captured much more than we originally intended and how re-discovering this can transport us across time. It was made through The Guardian and Royal Court theatre’s ‘Off the Page’ series, which brings together journalists, playwrights and directors.
In Teen Girl Heroes!, Hackney Picturehouse, 9 Jan, 19:00
Blood below the Skin
Jennifer Reeder, US, 2015
Jennifer Reeder’s previous film, A Million Miles Away, was the darling of the 2014 shorts festival circuit, charming audiences across Europe and the States and winning best film at Oberhausen and Encounters short film festivals. Her latest piece, Blood below the Skin, also bagged the 2015 Encounters Grand Prix. Set a few days before high school prom, it follows two girls who become increasingly attracted to each other, while a third struggles to bond with her depressed single mother. Reeder masterfully observes the minutiae of everyday teenage life but intersperses this with moments of magic realism, creating a sublime film about teenage ties that bind.
In Teen Girl Heroes!, Hackney Picturehouse, 9 Jan, 19:00
Simon Cartwright, UK, 2015
Watch the trailer for Manoman
Simon Cartwright’s Manoman uses puppetry to tell its tale of Glen, an introverted man who unleashes his once-suppressed inner-self after a dose of primal scream therapy. Cartwright has great fun with puppet animation. At one point Glen’s devilish offspring attacks an innocent bystander, grabbing his victims’ puppetry controls to torment him. The National Film and Television School’s animation department is going through something of a purple patch, producing two BAFTA award winners in the past two years and notching up an Oscar nomination too. Manoman is nominated for this year’s LSFF best UK short award.
In Gothic!, Hackney Picturehouse, 9 Jan, 21:00
Some Candid Observations on the Eve of the End of the World
John Howlett, UK, 2014
Watch the trailer for Some Candid Observations on the Eve of the End of the World
Actor Theo Barklem-Biggs was busy last year. As well as in Samuel-613 (see above), he also appears at the LSFF in this elaborately titled comedy-thriller as Tristan, an expectant father convinced that London is about to be invaded by aliens. He tries to capture the remaining hours of London’s pre-invasion peace on his home video camera but those around him are more concerned about his impending fatherhood. A comic tale of paranoia in changing circumstances, Some Candid Observations… shows what can be done with a good script and fine performances, transforming our view of London on a modest budget. Made by the producer of last year’s BFI Flare hit Appropriate Behaviour.
In Youth of Today, Hackney Picturehouse, 10 Jan, 12:00
Això és la història d’un objecte
Carlota Castells Puig, UK/Spain, 2014
Watch the trailer for Això és la història d’un objecte
Two young women search for an unnamed object that has mysteriously disappeared. A Spanish short made by Screen Academy Scotland, Això és la història d’un objecte, or History of an Object has the feel and tone of an art/design textbook attempting to illustrate the differences between objectivity and subjectivity. Beneath the academic structure, however, is a playful struggle between the women (are they sisters?) that exposes the futility of searching for objectivity when human nature is involved. Carlota Castells Puig directs this exquisitely presented short with a wry sense of humour. She won the best director award at 2015’s Underwire Festival.
In Leftfield & Luscious, ICA, 10 Jan, 16:00
Dean Loxton, UK, 2014
Hungarian student Dániel is working as a male prostitute while studying in the UK. His friend Nori is anxious about hosting a lunch at which she will introduce her new partner. Dániel reassures his nervous friend, but once at the lunch he discovers that all may not be OK. Director Dean Loxton has three shorts showing in this year’s LSFF. He trained as an actor and often allows his camera to focus closely on the gestures and body language of his performers. Here he crosscuts between Dániel’s professional encounters and the dreaded lunch, emulating the hushed secrets that lie behind his day-to-day persona.
In Movement: Uprooted, Hackney Picturehouse, 13 Jan, 19:00
Grades – ‘King’
Taichi Kimura, UK/Japan, 2015
Watch Grades — ‘King’
A night of music and video on 13 January features the best in new music shorts, mixing regular music videos with dance film, fashion films and music-led fiction shorts. The evening kicks off with Taichi Kimura’s brilliant promo for British electronic dance DJ Grades’ 2015 track ‘King’. Kimora’s concept, combining Japanese monster anime with kick-ass schoolgirl dance moves, made this music video a swift Vimeo hit.
In Music & Video, Hackney Attic, 13 Jan, 19:00
Rebecca Coley, UK, 2015
Steamers shows the weekly routines of a group of elderly customers who use one of London’s remaining public steam baths. Director Rebecca Coley focuses on the community spirit among the ageing users, revealing how the baths provide respite for the body and the mind, the frequent visits giving a much appreciated social link to likeminded members of their generation. The film screened on Channel 4 as part of a Shooting Gallery special on ‘old age in the new age’.
In Docs: London Stories, ICA, 14 Jan, 20:30