On day one I saw the Best International Shorts; the winner of this category was Buzkashi Boys, a glimpse into the life of 2 young boys growing up in a poor area of Afghanistan. Whilst the narrative was compelling and there were some beautiful contrasts of the harsh utilitarian urban landscape against the sunlit mountains, in my opinion this was not deserving of the title Winner.
Bolero was the first short screened. Slow at first, though beautifully shot and delightfully brought to life by Ravel's much loved Bolero, this short soon got and kept my attention. Two young children spend their days playing in dens made of bedsheets and cleaning the remnants of torture in an unexplained but troubling scenerio, until one day they take back control with a straightforward and childish simplicity that is shocking and satisfying. This would have been my runner up.
My winner of the Best International shorts would have been The Old Woman; a superb piece set in what seems to be pre-war Germany. The attractive writer Danlil intends to write a subversive novel about a miracle worker - much against the wishes of his cautious and frightened friend. Danlil claims to be interested only in nonsense, but his intentions run deeper than poetic absurdities. This short is stylish and full of the unexpected, but it is more than merely a charming narrative - it is hopeful and inspiring. Please note when watching the trailer that I'm pretty sure it wasn't in German when I watched it - or that there were at least subtitles. Still, you'll get a feel for it . . . Die Alte Frau.
On the opening day of the festival I also watched the World Premier of The Lottery of Birth - a documentary that I wholly recommend. It questions the values that society promotes - and more importantly the reasons that such beliefs are advocated and by whom. The premise itself is not ground-breaking; intelligent people always have and will think for themselves. However the film is a call for action - it is a testimony as to why apathy and passivity is unacceptable, why even everyday decisions should be made using sound reasoning - fact, not fear. With a cast that includes Steven Pinker, physicist Vandana Shiva, journalist George Monbiot and the late Howard Zinn, this documentary will remind you that good people do exist, that we can take control of our lives, and that if individuals are willing to stand up for what they believe then we really can change the world!
The next film I watched was Banaz - A Love Story, a harrowing account of the true story of the murder of Banaz Mahmod, by her family in the name of 'honour'. The film documents how Banaz went to the police 5 times to ask for help, but that it took 3 months for her notes to even be written up. She was let down by the police, let down by her family and let down by the Kurdish community in London, who actively hindered police enquiries. There are on average 12 honour killings in Britain a year, and it is a field that is fairly misunderstood by the public and the police. An interview from Banaz's sister, in hiding having run away from the family ages 15, gives us a deeper insight and illustrates the need for honour crimes to be faced and fought.
Sado Tempest is a film I was nervous about seeing - described as a Japanese futuristic take on Shakespeare's The Tempest, it could easily have been terrible. I love Shakespeare, and The Tempest is one of my favourites. I did once see a hideous interpretation of Midsummer Night's Dream, which involved aliens and Titania wrapped in tinfoil - so horrendous that I had to leave half way through - and so I was seriously dubious about Sado Tempest. However, after a pretty tuneless screaming introduction from the heroes and Japanese rock gods, this film was a beautiful retelling of the classic story, set on a mysterious island that hasn't seen Spring for 15 years. The exiled rock singer discovers Miranda in the form of a disturbed and lost young woman, and through her he discovers a more subtle and poetic way of playing. Hopeful and imaginative, this is the film of the festival that surprised me the most.
Q&A with director, John Williams:
One film I was determined to see was Death, as my friend is the niece of Martin Gooch, the director, and frankly I was intrigued. Now a film described as a "mysterious comedy sci-fi drama" and also "part family drama, part farce, part steam punk and part ghost story" would normally leave me a little sceptical as it seems rather a tall order. However I went in with an open mind and was very pleasantly surprised almost immediately. Firstly the animation that introduced the film had that gothic, fairy tale quality that I just love, and next there was big old house as a central character. The film continued in this vein and proved itself to be funny, warm and stylish, with characters that I genuinely cared about - the applause at the end was spontaneous.
And finally the last collection that thoroughly deserves a mention is The Survivalists shorts. First up was Karama Has No Walls, which depicts events as they unfolded at the student protest in Yemen 2011, calling for the then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down. What began as a peaceful sit in from male and female students, with dancing and music, slowly gathered ominous momentum and took a tragic turn. A total of 53 protestors were shot dead by snipers loyal to the president, and much of this was captured on camera. With bravery verging on insanity the camera men and their colleagues stand out in the open, making peace signs with their fingers in defiance of the chaos and bloodshed. The camera is targeted at one point and I could only watch in amazement at the numbers of young men willing to be gunned down. The camera then followed some of the victims to the local hospital, where people were carried hurriedly by a group of their friends, rudely bandaged and then lined up with the rest on the floor to await treatment or death.
Carbon For Water was the next short screened, which detailed the issues of deforestation at a family level, i.e. the daily gathering of fire wood, and the corresponding problem of desertification. The short focused on Western Kenya and discussed the impact on both the environment and the girls and women who suffer as a result of their duties in gathering the firewood: Girls as young as 6 are expected to spend the day alone in the forest where they are exposed to rape, kidnap and attack from wild animals. However a bigger social implication is that these girls are not being educated because of these duties. It is well documented that societies where women are educated benefit as a whole, and so the implementation of the Life Straw which is a filtering system to provide safe drinking water without the need for boiling (and hence gathering firewood) will have a direct positive influence.
The film itself left a few unanswered questions for me - like who was paying for these filters, and who had to pay for them to be replaced when they ran out. However a spot of Googling showed me that isn't a business out to exploit, but in fact the European company, Vestergaard Frandsen works using carbon financing. This means that companies in developed countries can receive 'carbon credits' for helping reduce the output of greenhouse gas in developing countries. Whilst Vestergaard Frandsen have invested $25 million in the project, they will be able to recoup this input in the form of credit. This seems to be an excellent venture and a decent film - have a look to see some good people doing good things.
Emptys documents people in the state of Oregon who have been making ends meet by collecting empty bottles and cans, and then getting back the deposit. For some of the recyclers, this is their only source of income, and the short provides a real insight into what happens to our rubbish. This is a well shot, touching and straightforward approach to the way in which we waste so many resources available to us.
My very favourite of The Survivalists shorts is one that is entirely different from those previously discussed, and is called When The Song Dies. Through the memories and songs from a range of old people, this documentary addresses the dying Celtic cultures across Scotland. Although I spent the entire short believing it was Ireland (lamentable seeing as I've studied linguistics), the sentiment is the same. Well-paced and poetic, the film evokes a feeling of something falling from our grasp, of being within reach but only just. There is a quiet sense of regret throughout, but just as with some of the forgotten songs and melodies, there is also a pervading hope and confidence. Some parts of the film were so beautifully shot and poignant that I was left in tears. Always have to embarrass myself.
Watch the trailor.