Ian Floodgate: Short films sometimes get overlooked at film festivals even though they provide the industry an insight into which filmmakers to look out for in the future. One of these is Tommy Gillard, writer-director of Shuttlecock. Gillard’s film follows a man named Carl (Tom Greaves), a macho male amateur badminton player, who wants to win at all costs at a charity tournament. Questions arise about Carl’s sexuality when a mysterious new member Morgan (Niall Kiely) joins the club, as he captures the attention of everyone with his potent but effeminate style of play. Shuttlecock effectively says a lot about repressed sexuality in thirteen minutes, and I think the production team behind this short could explore this theme further in a feature-length film. I also thought Carl’s extreme competitiveness to win at a small charity event was compelling. What did you guys think?
Jessica Moore: Shuttlecock feels incredibly self-aware. The machismo dialogue paired with homoerotic imagery is both comic and revealing. Although overtly concerned with the triviality of a charity match, I agree that repressed sexuality is at the fore of this short. Carl’s awareness of Morgan, competitively and as an object of sexual interest, is present throughout to varying extents. I’d also be interested to see where this narrative could go if it were extended to a feature-length film – though perhaps the short is the perfect form to compact and heighten its playfulness. What do you think the short form does for the tone?
Nick Davie: I think the length of Shuttlecock allows the director to be more playful in explorations of toxic masculinity and insecurity within the characters, simply by not allowing more room for character development, etc. Which is one reason why it is so successful in its humour, it doesn’t overcook anything. In terms of specifics, Carl exhibits such great physical aggression and frustration at his shortcomings or potentially looking ‘weak’ or less of a man, and the other characters are initially threatened but barriers fall.
Ian: I agree that the short can stand on its own, should no feature be made. I think the characters and plot that encompass the central themes of repression and homoeroticism that underpin Shuttlecock allow them to excel. I find the cast and crew don’t overplay anything, and if they do decide to make an indie comedy expanding on the characters and themes, I would be interested in seeing it.
Are there any other shorts that you two were impressed with that you watched at the festival?
Jessica: I was especially impressed by Good Thanks You?, another British short. Directed by Molly Manning Walker, its thirteen minutes are spent briefly examining the aftermath of sexual assaults and the clinical processes of conviction. It felt autonomously female in its perspective, and its sympathies were clearly directed towards the voiceless protagonist Amy (Jasmine Jobson) and her instability. In crafting a clear foundation of Amy’s interiority, Walker is able to effectively criticise the UK law system by exhibiting its dehumanising protocols. One officer proposes Amy ‘starts at the beginning’ of her story and then directs shifts to question what she was wearing, implying partial blame on the victim. Thus rather than merely sympathising with Amy, though it absolutely does, the short has a critical, political edge which I found refreshing. It reveals the cracks within a broken system and points towards necessary change. What did you guys think of it?
Ian: I found the fact that Good Thanks, You? didn’t overtly state what happened to Amy a strength that allowed the intrusive questions in the flawed proceedings to be more impacting. I was in shock that these professionals would even ask such questions. I also thought Jobson’s excellently nuanced performance as Amy allows the audience to sympathise with her further. The way she conveys her frustration with subtle actions and expressions deepens the empathy felt. What did you think, Nick?
Nick: I think the short excellently looked at trauma in a unique manner, exposing so many inadequacies in the legal system. It was a very powerful film. The depiction of the aftermath of sexual assault is a difficult thing to articulate well on film and in a respectful manner; I hope we can see more from Molly Manning Walker in the not too distant future. The film also looked striking, which added to its effectiveness. Hopefully this short receives widespread coverage and online exhibition to highlight how broken the system is as Jess says. Did either of you see any less recognized shorts this year?
Jessica: Not that I personally agree, but I noticed some criticism towards Adonia Bouchehri’s Jello. It’s a bizarre, very attentive piece which grapples with isolation on its own creative terms. It lingers on the objects one turns to in such heightened circumstances, guided by narration with descriptions that feel inspired by Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp. It has a haptic, obsessive feel to it – one matched by its Y2K aesthetic in all its visual, textural variety. I found the short charming, and its criticism for seeming like a ‘school project’ slightly harsh albeit amusing. Did either of you catch Jello?
Ian: I agree it is dismissive to say the film looked like a ‘school project’ when the animation adds to a hypnotic feel I thought Jello creates quite well. I find Bouchehri’s voice-over another aspect that supports this. Her calming and passive delivery draws in the audience. The focus on isolation is something many of us can identify with this year, and I think Jello demonstrates well how being secluded can affect us- it gives a greater emphasis to our daily actions and routines. Similar to the way Chantal Akerman‘s Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles does.
Nick: I found Jello more video art than anything else, and I liked it: it was tactile and it was rich in poetry. I understand that it perhaps had a lo-fi quality that isn’t always appreciated but I think it managed to really paint the isolation of this pandemic in a profound manner. The personal exploration of habits and rituals described in such detailed poetry; it was soothing, partly in thanks to the soft narration as Ian draws upon. Do you find more arthouse content fits neatly in short formats?
Ian: I saw another experimental film in the same Speculative Futures section as Jello called The End of Suffering (A proposal). It follows Sofia (Sofia Kokkali), an anxious woman who converses with The Universe. I thought this short was hypnotic as well, in the way writer-director Jacqueline Lentzou uses a soothing electronic sound to represent The Universe, along with the images of a slow-moving starry sky and red filtered landscapes that represent the planet Mars.
Nick: I think you’re right Ian, it is a very hypnotic short and much like Jello it is very poetic and metaphoric. The End of Suffering (A Proposal) is an open-minded trip, also somewhat soothing narratively, consoling Sofia and the audience. The omnipresent voice that guides her gives some valuable life lessons on an anxiety-free existence but isn’t too heavy; unfortunately the red filters that represent the planet Mars somewhat counteracted the calming sentiments in my opinion (perhaps that was intentional from Lentzou). The film’s apparent quest to encourage patience and wonder amongst Sofia and audience alike is a welcomed one.
Jessica: Absolutely, Nick. True to its metaphoric aspects, I found that Lentzou’s short felt incredibly embodied. Every technical decision (camera work, soft focus, audio) is a product of deliberately empathetic filmmaking. We as audience are not merely in proximity to Sofia’s panic and self-consciousness, we are directly and urgently involved in their manifestations. As Nick pointed out, there are valuable explorations of free-thinking which aim to remedy the suffering Sofia endures. I loved this short and its dynamic blend of filtered montage and dialogue, which at first seem at odds but ultimately unify to create a lyrical, collective spirit. Lentzou ventriloquises her own rejection of humanity’s exigency for logic and explanation through the hypotonic, experimentalism of her short, favouring sensorial enchantment above all else. As Ian mentioned, both The End of Suffering and Jello were screened as part of the Speculative Features category — what other categories did either of you find especially successful this year?
Nick: That is an excellent summary Jess, I was drawn to empathy that resonated so heavily throughout. In terms of other categories, I watched John Ogunmuyiwa‘s Mandem from the UK Focus selection, a brilliant short that questions male friendships in a heteronormative society, a valiant, much needed quest to challenge perceptions. Without discussing a huge spoiler that comes at the end of the film, this short features great camerawork and acting. Mandem is set against the backdrop of East London drug culture, whilst offering some new on the concept. There is such an accomplished feel to this engaging film; this is a great advertisement for Ogunmuyiwa as a filmmaker. Did either of you manage to catch this or any other shorts you’d recommend?
Ian: I did watch Mandem, and I wondered where it was going at first, but as you pointed out the short challenges heteronormativity and what people perceive to be customary, and the final scene subtly delivers its point. As you said, there is some excellent camera work, and I think the UK Focus section as a whole has showcased some great British talent that the industry should be on the lookout for in the future. I thought the Kids Will Be Kids and My Time To Shine categories both had an impressive selection of films too.
Jessica: UK Focus was certainly an impressive category this year, and I felt the same affection towards Mandem. It was technically superb, each moment used effectively to conjure feelings of authenticity and focus. I agree, Ian, that conceptions were challenged – indication for Ogunmuyiwa’s propulsive creativity as a director. I was also impressed by those categories, especially My Time to Shine’s feature The Name of the Son (El Nombre Del Hijo). A quotidian Argentinian short bathed in hues of blue and green, following Lucho (Tristán Miranda), a transgender boy as he seamlessly drifts through the short in search for a moment of fixity. There is an overarching feeling of intimacy and care among Lucho and his father, an understated sense of acceptance that is beautiful to witness, making for an impressive addition to an already strong category.
Ian: I agree Jess, The Name of the Son (El Nombre Del Hijo) did stand out in that category. I think the sensitive approach of Luncho’s father was refreshing to see given the emotional difficulties Luncho experiences. Did you see it, Nick?
Nick: The UK has been brilliantly represented this year in the shorts. I didn’t manage to see The Name of the Son but have read positive responses such as yours Ian. I think the shorts have approached delicate and relevant issues at this years festival with nuance, humour, compassion, and understanding. Moving forward, there are plenty of directorial debuts amongst the short films that hold much future promise for additional shorts and first-time features.