Leeds Film Festival - Day 12

Yorkshire Short Films Competition

I wasn't sure weather to go see this and decided to after managing to raise my carcass in time. I'm glad I did because they included some of the best short film output of the festival. All these films were made locally. Hovis!

Tale of Teeth - A dark comedy shows the tooth fairy in dire straits. He owes Santa Claus a wad of cash and only has 3 days to get it. Then he realises that he can take teeth directly from childrens' mouths for much higher profit, and the children on Santa's naughty list look like ideal targets. A very student-y feel which made it charmingly rough around the edges, and no less entertaining. Not one to see with your kids though, or they will never go to sleep. 7/10

My Brother Steven - A slice of the lives of an ordinary family trying to bring up an autistic child. Steven throws tantrums and lashes out violently over the smallest things, leading to many stressful days, especially for the parents, and a few bruises for his two sisters who present the film in a home video style. The film shows the difficulties but also the good times when Steven stops being a walking nightmare and functions like any other happy child does. Warmly funny without being sentimental. 7.5/10

You, Me and Captain Longbridge - After the death of his dad a week ago, young Luke 'Stanton' Stanton disappears into his own world, skipping school and acting out swashbuckling adventures in the countryside with a model soldier as his first mate. Luke uses the figure as a coping mechanism; a substitute for his dad, and his imagination lets fly as the soldier turns real. An emotional hit of a film, and full of beautiful landscapes. 8/10

Mother, Mine - After grieving over the death of her adoptive mother, a woman attempts to trace her real parents. She manages to arrange a meeting, but it does not go to plan. A very good, tense film with a hellish twist at the end. 8/10

Joy - In a seaside fishing town, a miracle has happened. Someone has caught a singing fish! It's now singing for its life on the fishmongers' chopping board. Shot in sunny, windy Bridlington, the amusement factor lasts just long enough to fill out the film. 7/10

There's Only One Bob Latchford - For anyone who collected football stickers and stood in a playground chanting 'got, got, need, got, NEED!, got..', this is the film for you. It's set in 1978, following four children of the 'Brotherhood of Panini', relentlessly buying little packs of football stickers to fill their albums without resorting to the cheaters' option of sending off to Panini for them. One sticker is rarer and more prized than any other; that of Bob Latchford, and the kids will do anything to get it. Perhaps it would not so resonating to someone outside of the UK, but to any British man in his thirties, this is a great nostalgia trip, done very authentically (the football stickers, the packs, and the albums are all authentic looking, and the setting, clothing and haircuts are all completely convincing. A great, funny film. 8.5/10

Yakov, My Boy - Yakov is the Jewish grandson of a second world war survivor. On the day of his Bar Mitzvah, Yakov just wants to play football, and has no idea of the weight his grandfather has placed on the day. A quiet film demonstrating the importance people put in keeping certain memories alive. 7/10

In Pursuit Of.. Best of British Shorts 1

Stowaway - A documentary about the constant influx of Africans heading into Spain illegally, having to pay to sail to Europe, often having to swim part of the way, crossing deserts filled with bandits and predetors, and living in squalor in tents just a few kilometers from the high 2-level border fences. As well as footage of those who do manage to make it over, it also shows some disturbing imagery of those who are caught along the way. Even those who do make it through the obsticles then have to find work, which is practically impossible, even with qualifications and work skills. It certainly raises many questions, about what to do about the situation where people are prepared and able to work but cannot legally do so, but doesn't provide much in the way of answers. 7/10

Charon - The ferryman that crosses the river Styx in the Greek myth is given a rather scratty form here, as he travels to find his mortality after so many years. The stop-motion jerkyness and the look of the figure (a slithering lump of braided hair and clothing) mean you can rarely interpret any indication of what he is thinking or doing, and the end comes without warning, just as you're waiting for something to happen. 3/10

Let Me Show You Some Things - After some time apart a brother and sister, now well into their 20's, are brought together again when she needs accommodation. Childhood-influenced behaviours and bickerings begin to resurface as they talk about their memories of an innocent time, but the happy scene cannot last; he is introverted, sensible and straight; she is wayward, mischievous and unreserved, and they find life in his small, cramped flat quickly becomes strangling. A good, solid work about what happens after a time to grow apart, and how it can be healed. 6/10

Ralph - Ralph isn't the sharpest tool in the box. Proudly sporting his pikey attire and casual bling, he struts and struggles through the streets of France with a massive suitcase, looking for someone to help him dial his girlfriends' telephone number and getting angry when the people around him cannot understand what he is saying. As he gets more and more out of his depth, it is difficult not to feel some empathy towards the arrogant child, and when he finally makes a bit of headway thanks to a young waitress, that's just the wrong time for coincidence to strike. Solidly entertaining. 7/10

Dead Dog - A man and his girlfriend head to a farmhouse where he believes the farmer has shot his dog, having threatened to do so before when it trespassed on his grounds. When he arrives, he opens the boot of the car to reveal a shotgun. Will he be able to control his anger enough to avoid getting into more trouble? 6.5/10

Ryan - On a dodgy estate, Ryan struggles to find his spot in the pecking order of the local youths. Goaded on, he enters the house of an old man with the intention of nicking his stick, but things don't go well for him whilst inside. 7/10

Mind Game (Japan) (wiki)

A bit of a surprise inclusion, since it was originally released back in 2004. Nishi is a 20-year old who makes few ripples on the lives of others; when he sees that Myon, the girlfriend he has had a longing for since childhood has got herself a man - and not a bum, a decent, nice, hardworking guy - his reaction is 'he is the better man, I concede'. A chance encounter in a bar with a deranged football-mad freak ends up with Nishi dead in one of the least noble ways possible, and only then realising that his attitude on life is arse end up. Somehow earning a second chance, he takes immediate and insane control of the situation and speeds off, leading to a car chase that ends up in the belly of an enormous whale, where Nishi, Myon and her sister Yan have plenty of time to reflect.

Mind Game is just that, a story told with such intensity that it will continue spinning round in your head for some time after the last frame. That's not to sell the film short; the themes within are perfectly lucid and extractable, but they are bordered by a wall of technicolour eye hammerings that leave you breathless. It has a constantly morphing art style, using traditional cell animation for the most part, but departing from drawings of the main characters to using cut-out pictures of human beings in certain intense scenes. This is never explained, but I suspect it is to suggest that when the photographs are used, the characters are being at their most true, with no lies or misleadings between them. It's by Studio 4C who did the comparatively subdued Tekkonkinkreet shown at Leeds in 2007, and the art style for that film clearly has its origins here. If you want to see an example of how Anime can be the source of an enormous blast of air whizzing past you, then you should see Mind Game, perferrably twice; once to experience the visual intensity, and again sometime later to grab a flailing hold of its underlying themes. 8/10

Life, Death and Everything In-between - Best of British Shorts 3

I couldn't make all of this short film collection, but managed to see the first three offerings.

Battery - A sketchy, scrappy surreal animation where a man tries to dine with two bird-like beings at the same table. Periodically, the bird-things will melt, vomit or grin, the man will berate them, look at the clock, or get up and look out the window. Surrealism at its most pointless. 2/10

Wires and Bows - A short and simple but effective animation. A view from a moving car at wires slung between telegraph poles, to the accompanyment of a violin composition. The wires bow and bend and interact with each other in time with the music, and the telegraph poles correspond with pauses in the music. Well done, but thankfully it was only as long as the idea was interesting. 5/10

The Hunger House - In an alternate view of 1940's Britain, where the Nazi's have gained control of the country, an epileptic and a man with learning difficulties are rounded up to meet their fate in a correctional facility, echoing the treatment of the 'imperfect' Jews elsewhere in the world. Chilling to watch, and the imagination of what happens to these people is best not pursued. 7.5/10

Seaview (Ireland) (trailer)

At its peak, the Mosney Butlins holiday camp attracted 8000 people a year, providing cheap getaway breaks for a recovering postwar populous. It's transformation from holiday camp to holding centre for housing asylum seekers was completed in 2001, and as they wait for the Irish government to decide on whether to grant entry proper into the country, its inhabitants stifle and stew.

That is not to say the conditions are bad; it is considered by many immigrants to be one of the best places to go when in the limbo state, but whilst there, many feel it as a prison; they can go outside, but why bother? People arrive from all over; Russia, Nigeria, Africa, Croatia, Iran, Romania.. often with a desire and skillset to enable them to get straight into employment, but they cannot, and they are not able to enroll into the benefits system either.

The film interviews several asylum seekers held there at the time, plus some of the staff, a few of which worked there when it was a holiday camp and describe and lament the changes they saw, and the ones they had to do on themselves to accept a different kind of clientele.

It may have been the lack of sleep by this point, but I found myself unable to fully get into Seaview, which was an accomplished documentary revealing the voices of the asylum seekers, it could just do with being a little more varied in its content. 6.5/10

Sita Sings the Blues (US) (wiki)

Another animation project (similar to From Inside) where the animation, story and direction were done almost entirely by one person; Nina Paley. It tells two parallel stories, using several different art styles. The first, main story, is that of Sita, a character from a chapter of the Ramayana, an indian book of myths and legends. She is happily married to the lord Rama, but is stolen from his opulent grounds by the demon Rakshasa who fancies her more than a bit, and takes her to Sri Lanka. Sita remains loyal, but Rama doesn't believe her and demands a trial by fire to show her chastity, which she passes. However, when it is revealed she is also pregnant, he cannot trust her enough to believe that the children are his. This aspect to the main story is told in two parallel styles, one of static cartoon puppets, where the characters move across the screen with little or no animation, and another, more iconic style that resembles a flash animation; where Sita uses the music of Annette Hanshaw to describe her feelings of the situation.

The viewer is helped through the finer points of the story by a third style, using a trio of debating silhouette figures, reconstructing the story from their patchy memories and using traditional Hindu art representations of the characters in a scrapbook style slightly reminiscent of the Terry Gilliam Monty Python animations.

The other story thread is done in a fourth, completely different style, chopped into sections and inserted between chapters of the primary story, it is an autobiographical account of the artist's breakup with her partner, leading to the motivation for the film.

It all hangs together quite well, though it does suffer from a mechanical switching between one style and another; the silhouettes bicker about what part of the story comes next, then we see the static puppets do dialogue with each other, and then Sita reiterates the situation via one of her singing numbers. After a while of this, it started to grate that yet another singy bit was coming along, even though they were perfectly entertaining in their own right.

Unlike From Inside, Sita holds up far better as a piece of work from a single person. The quality and quantity of effort is definitely higher, and it has an appealing style all of its own, with bright, garish colours, smooth animation, and a soundtrack that bounces between authentic Indian source and banging techno tracks, sometimes merging at a point between. As a labour of love, it deserves to be seen at as many venues as possible, and no doubt the director will go on to do many great works in the future, but Sita lacks a little in the polish and varience departments to truly make it sturdy enough for general, less patient cinema audiences to go see. 7/10

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