What to watch at LFF: Shorts to see – the programmers’ picks

Our festival shorts programmers each pick a favourite from this year’s selection – all of which are free to view.

London Film Festival 2020


Director: Luna Carmoon

Shagbands (2020)

It’s a hot summer in south-east London. Chantelle and Mona are 2 teenage schoolgirls hanging in the park with their mates talking shit, eating soggy chips, doing balloons, or pissing off Chantelle’s stepdad. The coloured jelly bands they wear, the ‘shagbands’, have meanings and secrets, and it’s complicated. This film feels personal. It’s an autobiographical take by filmmaker Luna Carmoon on childhood turning to adulthood, on being confident with an attitude and not being afraid to be confused, while savouring the friendships that are so important at that age. 

Stylistically, you can see Harmony Korine in the loose structure, letting kids be kids, and shades of 1980s teen rebel films Out of the Blue (1980) and River’s Edge (1986) – who doesn’t love a mullet? – but with an emo twist. The ghost of Pete Wentz observes all from a bedroom wall, and chart-topping UK garage is never far away as the final credits roll. 

Philip Ilson 

Henet Ward

Director: Morad Mostafa

Henet Ward (2020)

A Sudanese henna artist prepares an Egyptian bride for her wedding day. At first, it’s all gossip and conspiratorial female friendship, as the painter holds the bride’s hand and talks her through the upcoming nuptials. It’s not long, however, before the differences in power and social status slowly undo all that has come before, revealing a bond that’s as porous as the skin being painted on.

Director Morad Mostafa predominantly uses handheld shots to document this gathering storm. The camera follows the henna artist’s little daughter, Ward, as she playfully roams about the bustling house, vulnerable and oblivious. In doing so, the filmmaker adds a bittersweet intensity to the story, weaving together various interactions that confront cultural differences. You’re left all too aware of the tenuous space mother and daughter find themselves in. 

Nellie Alston

Jambo Cinema

Directors: Dawinder Bansal and Anthony Davies

Jambo Cinema (2020)

In this video essay from filmmakers Dawinder Bansal and Anthony Davies, a personal story emerges. With close-ups of VHS players, cassette tapes and old video footage, this is a nostalgic trip back to a time of now forgotten media and videotape shops that no longer exist.

Set in Wolverhampton in the summer of 1978, Jambo Cinema is narrated by Bansal, who introduces myriad personal artefacts and family photographs. We’re introduced to the experiences of British-Asian families yearning to watch films that spoke to their cultural identity. Dawinder’s highly personal account of the era adds layers to a fast-paced look back at VHS history and the boom of home entertainment. Get ready to be transported back to a lost age of sharing physical media with friends and family, long before smartphones became the norm.

Elaine Wong


Directors: Pat Heywood and Jamil McGinnis

Gramercy (2019)

This particularly masculine story of brotherhood and love, set to trap and jazz, is a beautiful reflection on black American experience, past and present.
For Shaq, returning home from college is a chance to escape, but it’s also the place not just of his roots but of his unaddressed grief. His family home in New Jersey is dotted with images of a wholesome upbringing and a strong black legacy, but an inner strength, the ability to fix what’s broken, evades him. Getting back in touch with friends seems like the chance to revert to how life used to be, but this reconnection is also a means to be checked, grounded and re-centred.
With strong performances and a script that feels completely natural, Gramercy sweeps across like a joyous and uplifting dream.

Aduke King

Originally published: 8 October 2020