The 2021 Long Distance Film Festival concluded with ‘Future’, a category that saw disparate quarantine themes cohere to resolution. It began with Edwin Miles’ ‘Shadows in a Landscape’. Opening with a shot reminiscent of Marcell Iványi’s ‘Szél’, Miles’ film discovers reassurance in exterior spaces. At the time of its production, quarantine had rendered solace a sacred prospect, especially for individuals confined to densely populated towns and cities. In tandem with gentle narration about wearing incorrect footwear, integrated with confessions of grief over the passing of his father, Miles guides us to moments that challenge our perception. A dense fog makes way for bodies in passing—as moving shadows, so to say. One appears to be the narrator’s late father, or at least we are told. Whether this figure is a stranger who bears a passing resemblance or a projected memory, we are left uncertain. Miles quietly discourages conclusions. Choosing to relish possibility, we embrace their brief encounter.
Succeeding Miles’ short, Joe Lueben’s ‘Close Your Eyes and See Purple Stars’ imagines a child’s experience of national lockdown, as crafted in the context of political protests that came to define the summer of 2020. Alluding to brutality itself, and the events that followed the death of George Floyd, the child’s father-cum-narrator observes his child’s peripherality (‘all this while you splashed in pools’.) We are presented with home video footage of a child innocently at play. We settle into the family’s balmy summer days chasing their busy three-year-old around a garden of insects as helicopters fly overhead. Julian Doan’s seamless ‘Raspberry’ positions the audience at a similar distance. A grieving family awaits undertakers to remove their late father’s body while their son tentatively hangs back; his grief is depicted as somewhat inexpressible. Precisely between voiceless mourning and potentiality, Doan uses physical language to elevate tragedy through comedy. Defying the expected sterility of this morbid affair, the titular raspberry—from the son to his father—figures as a bid farewell, a signature of tenderness.
Jenny Dinwoodie’s life-affirming ‘The Village’ stood out for its similarly quotidian allure. In her documentary short, Dinwoodie holds a camera to members of a quiet English community, revealing their bucolic existence. Appropriately described as an ‘audio-visual soundscape’, Dinwoodie’s portrait of a rural village offers insight into how a community of families, elderly couples, and children kept separate during the first of England’s lockdowns; how they synchronously learned to adapt, houses apart, among the honeybees and verdant scenery, in spirited co-existence. In bearing witness to the idyllic microclimate this community created for themselves, audiences are persuaded to slow down and embrace quieter moments of solitude, to breathe a sigh of relief.
Sophy Romvari’s critically acclaimed ‘Still Processing’ marked the festival’s close. As the title implies, Romvari meditates on her own process of grief as she confronts an archive of family photographs, viewed for the first time on camera. Subtitles direct our engagement, for ‘there are some things that cannot be said out loud.’ We apply ourselves, our own voice, to Romvari’s words as written; we retain their meaning through a lens of self-reflection.
It seems commonplace for individuals to own a childhood archive; a box of photographs, trinkets, and keepsakes intended to preserve this ever-distant time as physically as possible. Products of the same parental desire, childhood photographs and home videos belonging to different individuals often look remarkably similar. They’re all characterised by the humility of ‘filming things as they are’, by unsteady camerawork, by an indivisible devotion to children’s idyllic existence: their way of being, their curiosity. Indeed, it is incredibly moving to peer inside someone else’s childhood. Whether this is because of our penchant to view their world through our own, or due to their reminiscent potential, childhood photographs insist on tangibility. They sit heavy on the chest.
Romvari’s decision to film her reaction to these childhood photographs alludes to not only the longevity of grief, its photographic immortalisation, but cinema’s restorative promise. Perhaps upholding a camera to one’s grief enables emotional release. Involving a quiet, empathetic audience expands the borders of oneself; it exonerates the agony of individuality. Closing the festival with grief as a figment of the everyday—boxed up, stowed away, though never far out of reach—provides catharsis. We are reminded of the simple truth that we are all moving forward, vulnerable to the tides of today and yesterday—processing still.