What to look out for in the online Glasgow Short Film Festival 2020

The short films of the late Japanese auteur Nobuhiko Obayashi are just the tip of the iceberg of this year’s reconfigured Glasgow Short Film Festival, now coming to us online.

11 August 2020

By Ren Scateni

Emotion (1966)

After the postponement of its annual late March appointment, the Glasgow Short Film Festival returns with a vengeance this August with a reconfigured online programme. The festival is billing it as its 12th and a half edition.

Part of the original line-up and a few live events have been sacrificed, but in their stead GSFF20 gains a newly curated strand that promises to reflect on our challenging experiences of the last few months. Think all your lockdown blues channelled into art and delivered to you in short form via the net.

There’s a new focus on the quirky and hallucinatory style of Polish animator Tomasz Popakul, guest curated by Short Waves Festival. Tackling very on-the-mind themes of loneliness and alienation, the selection ranges between the popping colours and unsettling atmosphere of Acid Rain (2019), in which a teenage girl joins an older man on a psychedelic road trip through rave culture, and the bleak monochrome of Black (2016), in which the return to Earth of a desperate group of space castaways is impeded by worldwide nuclear war.

Acid Rain (2019)

The programme Black Spatial Imaginaries engages with the challenges faced by black communities in the current climate. The shorts, selected by emerging curator Natasha Ruwona, include dives into the archive to unearth the ignored or violently suppressed voices of marginalised black people, including such films as Towards a Black Testimony: Prayer/Protest/Peace (2019) and Welcome to Africville (1999). It also offers Glasgow-based artist Alberta Whittle the chance to articulate her critical response to COVID-19 and BLM, in the new films business as usual: hostile environment (2020) and Holding the Line (2020).

In Sorayos Prapapan’s work, the hierarchies of Thailand’s social structures are pitched against the relaxed and privileged realities of European countries experienced through the lens of the film festival circuit. The practice of filmmaking is stripped of its glamorous appeal while the idiosyncrasies of the industry – including the joy-sucking nightmare of obtaining funds for a new project, the uncontested prestige of an international festival, and the attentive yet easily unnoticed work of foley artists – are laid bare in films like Dossier of the Dossier (2019) and Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport (2014).

Dossier of the Dossier (2019)

The satirical gusto of these titles is matched by the social critique of the military service in Fat Boy Never Slim (2016), while Prapapan’s newest short, Prelude of the Moving Zoo (2020), closely documents the last day of activity of the iconic Dusit Zoo in Bangkok, which closed in September 2018.

Accompanied by specially commissioned subtitles, GSFF20 hosts a partial online retrospective of the late Nobuhiko Obayashi’s experimental short films. The selection, curated by Matchbox Cineclub, focuses on the early titles of the idiosyncratic Japanese director, which reveal his fascination with the melancholy of youth. The Girl in the Picture (1960), Thursday (1961), and Emotion (1966) all tell wistful stories in which death looms over young lovers.

The six segments of the Bill Douglas Award for International Short Film and the numerous titles running for the Scottish Short Film Competition remain at the heart of this online-only edition. Together they showcase the thriving creativity in short filmmaking right now. These are challenging times for film festivals, but it’s to be celebrated that, on the internet, GSFF has the potential to bring all this vitality to a much wider audience.