Sunday, 20 January 2019

REVIEW: Film Hub North Showcase - HOME, Manchester

HOME played host to six short films as part of its Push Festival on Saturday afternoon. The six films had been shortlisted at the 2018 'Aesthetica Festival' for the BFI’s Film Hub North Filmmaker Award and are now enjoying a short tour to showcase the work.

The films were screened together and collectively lasted just under an hour. What then followed was a Q&A with four of the directors and the almost full house in Marina’s cinema were treated to some lively insights from these very promising young filmmakers.

The first film screened was ‘With All The Will In The World’ (Dir: Appleby, D.). Director Daniel Appleby’s view into Sunderland’s shipbuilding legacy through the eyes of its workers and the Pallion Yard, which lies empty but intact on the banks of the Wear. The opening black and white imagery is impressive. Black and white shots of industrial buildings from obscure angles that immediately prompted comparisons to Koyaanisqatsi and a voice-over began saying something poetic about the River Wear. Voic-eover is my kryptonite, I hate it and consider it a crime against cinema, so coupled with poetry, an art which is completely lost on me (“Oh. You described something and made a comparison to something else. Well done.” Tends to be my nonplussed response.) I was all prepared to mentally check out from this 12 minute offering. But how could I? Appleby’s direction and Daniel Smart’s exquisite cinematography made for a truly captivating documentary, which combined the expository and poetic modes to bring this melancholy ode to a bygone industry to life. Every shot was an image you’d happily frame for a photography exhibition and Appleby’s choice of using the voices of former workers as perfectly framed static shots explore the enormous empty factory evoked ghosts of what that bustling industry must have been like. Ending with grainy archival material of ships being launched into the Wear, this short documentary was excellent and the voice-over, which had now become more economically utilised was more than forgiven.

Next was ‘Infinity’ (Dir. Mackenzie,R.) Ronan Mackenzie’s personal exploration into our existence in the cosmos, which took black and white photographs of milestones in a lifetime and juxtaposed these with images of the universe whilst a voice-over offered philosophical musings. It was a striking, thought provoking and hypnotic seven minutes that wasn’t entirely coherent but was visually impressive. Mackenzie had sourced old photographs from his grandmother’s collection and had manipulated them digitally so that, as his camera slowly zoomed towards the image, almost imperceptible movements of the figures in the shot made them come to life as spectral memories. It was a visually amazing film, which got rather lost in its own musings.

Anna Ziebinska’s ‘Outside In’ was a straightforward drama short about a newly arrived Polish man being harassed by an unseen nemesis who was spraying racist graffiti on his shopfront. Taking influence from Lynne Ramsay’s ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, the short works nicely without much visual ambition. Instead Ziebinska draws and excellent performance from her lead, as a father losing his grip on hopes for a brighter future in the face of this cruelty. What impresses is Ziebinska’s storytelling, which clearly follows the old-adage of “show don’t tell” and in under 8 minutes, creates a satisfying arc with tenderness and excellent pacing.

In comparison to this ‘The Sycamore Gap’ (Dir: Wilson-Green, L R.) is a short film that buckles under the weight of its own narrative. Lucy Rose Wilson-Green offers a period drama about Mina, a housemaid who finds herself entering an affair with the Lady of the house. When the husband becomes aware of the affair, both women hatch a plan to flee. With this all taking place in 9 minutes, the film is guilty of offering a highlights package of a feature length story, so characters are undeveloped, the romantic story passionless, the conflict uncertain and jeopardy is absent. Yet ‘The Sycamore Gap’ is an excellent calling card for Wilson-Green who along with Director of Photography Lizzie Gilholme, create imagery that balances incredible intimacy with sweeping majesty. The cold tones of the interior shots perfectly mimic the loveless marriage that Lady Clara is trapped in and the harsh exteriors are beautifully shot to create a feeling of isolation.

Metroland’ (Dir: Bee, B.) is a comedy short that is best described as a British ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ and has some good comic turns that easily prompt laughs from the audience. A heart-warming, black comedy about re-living a childhood visit to a funfair in the wake (and indeed presence) of a parent’s death is excellently performed with some very good dialogue. It tends to lack fully fledged motivations and logic takes a break every now and then, but there is no resisting the warmth of Bee’s film, especially in the naturalistic final shot that offers a lovely resolution. I am smiling as I write this.

Finally, ‘Venus’ (Dir: Carr-Wilson, F.) is a six-minute profile documentary of Sophie Harris, who appears as drag act ‘Venus Dimilo’ in clubs around the north of England. Juxtaposing Sophie’s everyday life, as a young woman who encounters polite sympathy due to her disability and the empowerment she feels as her alter ego, named after the famous statue, which as the film informs us “is widely renowned for the mystery of her missing arms”. It is a thoughtful and rich profile which touches upon gender, identity and disability by finding beauty and humanity in both personas, with an electronic score by Gareth Edwards which is uplifting and brings a pulsating momentum to slow motion imagery of Sophie/Venus which is hard to resist.

Four of the filmmakers were present to discuss their work and all made for engaging discussion. From the way they spoke about their work and the content of these consistently excellent films, one couldn’t help but feel optimistic that the British Film is in safe hands for decades to come if these young directors and their amazing production crews are anything to go by.

Reviewer - Ben Hassouna-Smith
on - 19/1/19

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