Short Film Reviews



Ghost Nets (2016, Mark Bousfield)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

With the opening moments of ‘Ghost Nets’ focusing on the small tensions between siblings, the film establishes its early on set of ‘blood thicker than water’ paradox. This paradox being that the film’s conclusion recoils to a survival mode – one which is similar to the notions expressed within this first scene: how does the idea of ‘self’ survive scrutiny? How does civil society behave? How does one behave in the company of ‘the other’? What is an ‘ethical’ murder?
In the positioning of the film’s leads, that being between Neal and Jack, the tension amounts to the ideals of what makes one a man, or perhaps – ‘masculine’. Similarly, the trio camping out on the shore, and the gun wielding stranger, compute a particular ethical outlook at the concept of living conditions, how does one keep themselves safe, and at what point does one ‘act’ in order to save them and their loved ones.

At its core, the film appears as a science fiction venture. Perhaps its the digital titles, sweeping camera angles, and the sound design, but to me the film became just that – an allegory of what is alternate to our world. And in doing so, in my mind, ‘Ghost Nets’ drifted out of the apolitical sphere of emotional drama, and moved into a more amplified commentary of what makes us human.
And here in lies the best moment of the film, which highlights this verbose thesis of mine – the closing scene. From moving in towards the car on a wonderfully smooth shot, we turn away from the arguing couple towards our enigmatic Joe Sowerbutts, who moves out of the light, and towards the darkened woods.

There, in the darker shades, we observe his dismantling of the sordid items which have caused so many rifts in the last few days of his life, as well as his own humanity. With an overlaying track, a song which highlights the new ‘drifter’ status of Neal, we watch a new vagabound human emerge, one lost in the shadows, one obsessed with the past, or perhaps one with an uncertain future they will forge for themselves. What is certain at this point isn’t so much a plot notion, but rather a few very clear cinematic agenda: this short film is a well written, and a well executed project, one which allows for thematic issues to rise to the surface, and a project entirely unique to its perspective and message; which is incredibly rare for the normal ‘one tone’ short films. Mark Bousfield should be headed to feature filmmaking by now, as he’s somewhat outgrown the short medium in the best of ways.


The Weekend (2016, Dennis Cahlo)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

With a formalist edit ‘The Weekend’ appears as yet another rehash of The French New Wave motif of bite sized narrative points streamlined into a style and cinematic plugging of ‘essential moments’ in life. And yet, despite its outset design, the film retains some of the best re-vamped FNW (acronym for French New Wave) tones one can imagine.
Gone are the pastiche throwback references which Jean Luc Godard’s ‘Breathless’ suffers too heavily with, gone are the Truffautesque focus on meaningless and sexist female starlets, and how destructive they can be… here, in The Weekend, be it an effort on part of Dennis Cahlo to rework the FNW film model, or not, is a new FNW film.

One quite suitable for the contemporary viewer: its slick, its aptly made, and its moving. To me, this little short, be it by design or intent, is a complete new vision of all the good things about the FNW films; minus the French language (because, lets be honest, that is part of what made those films so cool).

Cahlo breathes fresh air into the domestic quarrels and unexpected encounters of strangers, his actors deliver defined performances, the editing is jumpy and plump with texture, creating oodles of meaning in seconds, and above all, there’s a certain naturalism to its stagy nature – almost as if Cahlo has managed to reduce Une Femme est une Femme into a bare charming short. Considering its budget, it is a fantastic little gem.


EARLY SUMMER 2016 Reviews


Extra Time (2016, Caris Rianne)

The strange thing about short films is once you’ve seen a random sample of about 100 of them from the same regions in the world (specifically western ones), all within a month or two, you become somewhat desensitised. They blur together covering several familiar themes: loss, fleeting romance, chases, escapes, survival, growing up and so on.

The special thing about Extra Time is just this – we have seen this film already. And yet, we haven’t, because it isn’t the dynamic which makes the theme new, or how the story is told to us in terms of plot… but rather how it is told to us in tone. This is what makes this particular take on the divorce ‘growing up’ story new.

Extra Time has been directed incredibly well by Caris Rianne through the sheer multilayered character relations which she employs. We have access to the family, the sibling, the father, the friends, and all within a few moments, we learn how they interact with one another, who does what and why. And this notion of detail is explored in other elements of the film – we have a very careful set of camera angles, edits are sparing and selective, and music comfortably enhances the film’s motifs.

The only criticism due isn’t a technical one, or even a negative one really, but – at times the film did feel rather ‘short’. The director, the cast, the team overall had achieved a great engaging effort here, one that they had perhaps outgrown by the end of the production. Perhaps a feature, or a more challenging short, will be their next step; as it is the one they are definitely ready for, having succeeded in making a fantastically engaging and warming short film already.


Dark Clouds Far Away (2016, Ian Lapworth)

Ian Lapworth’s ‘Dark Clouds Far Away’ is a documentary focusing on one family’s experience of dementia, specifically that of Lapworth’s mother, Beryl.

The film’s portrayal of the disease is quite carefully presented, balanced off of the memories discussed and presented to the viewer.

Stylistically the film is quite bare, reminiscent of avant-garde cinema – presenting its information as a series of episodic slide shows accompanied with a voice over and the occasional clip.

The difficulty of course of judging a film of this nature, as well as making it, go hand in hand. It is near to impossible to not remain unbiased to the content, rendering all viewer’s sympathetic; and this is in part the wonderful portrayal of Lapworth’s relationship with his mother – it is a raw film experience, personal and intimate.


Imitation is Suicide (2016, Julian Davis)

With its youthful ‘outsider’ take on the online era, ‘Imitation is Suicide’ approaches its story with a simplistic silent film.

This form though isn’t an imitation.  Though many short film directors often start with silent efforts in order to avoid large scale productions, here it is quite the opposite – extras pass on by with phones in hand, and the need for inter-personal dialogue just isn’t necessary as we have entered the information age of text typing and image swiping. Taking a step further, the film’s urge to maintain a simplified communication of its story, without much convoluted character development or contrived situations, allows it to become rather similar to those much loved film efforts of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. This is not to say that it is a classic, however – it isn’t an imitation of the current mode of filmmaking.

With its idyllic photography, and careful cuts, the film coaxed its viewers towards the single note function of the short’s narrative – finding another person like you.

Thankfully this early effort from its young director, Julian Davis, isn’t as preachy as the ‘anti-internet age’ efforts of Jason Reitman’s ‘Men, Women and Children’; and is a wonderful beginning towards what could develop into a well rounded filmmaker. The next step would be of course to use sound, to hear our characters speak, and to understand a bit more of what they think beyond their urge to read.


SPRING 2016 Reviews


Carthage (2016, Peter Vaughan)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

So he’s stuck in purgatory? Unable to escape the carefully framed corners of the dark studio carefully lit with overheads, side lamps and dangling bulbs? I think we’ve seen this film before. Or have we?

I know over the course of my time working in film I have read many scripts with a similar plot, I’ve seen many films much like this one in terms of narrative, and have considered many of these kind of films rather pastiche. Though of course, they are all supposed to be parodies. But yes, they are pastiches of a particular type of aesthetic: the ideal of hell, the vision of an inescapable space… however, here’s the punch line, Peter Vaughan’s direction of this particular version of this vision is quite special. Though it does feel very compact due to its particular budget, it is also something quite brilliantly envisioned. There’s a breath to the visuals, the cutting between them in particular is quite slick and effective, and they all come together to form a coherent slippery vision of the ‘underworld’.

– heck, it even includes a sheep!

It isn’t the blooming white space in ‘Under The Skin’, or even the dingy passages the so-called alien of that film lures men into, but this is a fair effort into that kind of vision; and a respectable start from which Vaughan is bound to build on with his later efforts.


Amoo Nowruz (2016, Farkhondeh Torabi)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

Farkhondeh Torabi’s ‘Amoo Nowruz’ is a delightful mixed media animation inspired by one of the ancient Persian tales about a woman waiting for her love’s return.

One of the most prominent elements of this short is its rather post-modern appeal – it is an old tale using some of the most distinctive silent film traits originating from the turn of the century, all the while performing the film in a digital matrix which is very much of our ‘current’ mode of image processes.

Here, the lead character, a lively daydreaming woman who is both large and thin, depending on where she stands, counts down the days, and prepares everything she can think of for the arrival of her man; only to then fall fast asleep upon on the promised date, and miss his appearance.

The tale though is both mystical, and much like many early animation exploits by Disney, a careful balance of realist and situational ethics. Though of course, the latter observation could be of my own projection, but personally I believe one could argue for this perspective, this female directed effort feels to me like a wonderful modern-feminist take on an tale: leave the woman to do all the house work chores, and she will only greet you with her snores.

The best bit of the film is its final reward to the viewer, much like the lead character, we feel rather exploited by the entire affair, all of this waiting and preparing, and they don’t even see each other? Not to fret though, a rather wonderful reward arrives at the final turn, and the film becomes a wonderful dreamy effort.


ALBA – Yesterday Belongs To The Dead (2016, Nicolás Olivera)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

‘Alba’ by Nicolás Olivera is somewhat of an acted out documentary. Using what I assume to be untrained actors predominantly (in particular for the children), the film relies heavily on the political play of ‘what is real?’, ‘what is ethical?’, and most importantly in my opinion – ‘what is ethical cinema when it is unreal?’

At first, I was under the impression that the film was supposed to be a fictional take on the material it wanted to present, a kind of docu-drama style, but its photography lead me astray to think it was a political comedy, or even some sort of dark satire. That its well framed and stylish looks were a parody, instead of say a pastiche.

And then, with a second viewing, I came up with a better reading, which I felt better suited to the film: this is more of a docu-ethics-drama film. It appears to us slightly more polished than a documentary, there are no ‘to camera’ speeches or shaky camera work, however the ‘voice’ of the material is that of a documentary posing some sort of ethical dilemma which as viewers we are challenged into exploring through the perspective of a witness.

Furthermore, the ethics game imposed on the audience is that of asking us to believe something which is real in circumstance to be also real at playtime with children. Without the much needed filmic realism, this message becomes somewhat lost. Without the rougher look which is needed to make such a story appear ‘real’ to the viewer, or perhaps an even more polished effort, the lack of a reason behind its filmic stylisation becomes quite apparent; the film becomes purely academic in my eyes. It feels like an exercise in learning about these people living in these circumstances, rather than say sympathising with them, or wanting to explore the story they have to tell.

On the plane of academia the film sours, it becomes a coherent Brecht like piece, reminiscent of the playwright’s German depression era effort ‘Whither Germany?’ from 1932. It is moving nonetheless, aesthetically taught, and a lesson we should listen to. However, by no means does ‘Alba’ reach the emotional class of other filmic efforts depicting ‘realistic’ events, such as ‘Elephant’ by Gus Van Sant; the type of realist cinema which shocks and moves its audiences deeply.


PAGES 321 PART-1 (2016, Dir. Anugat Raj)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

Like with Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Pi’, or even  David Cronenberg’s reworking of William S. Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’; ‘PAGES 321 PART-1’ drifts in and out of being a work of part quasi-intellectual rambling, part character study and part art house romp.

The main issue here though is unlike the larger pieces produced by those previously mentioned heavyweight filmmakers is – this is merely a short film. Without the longer length to explore the style, or the pace with which to allow the audience to become attuned with its particular vocabulary and tone, we are somewhat lost as to what we should be taking away from the film as it hurdles towards its conclusion with quite a dreamy pace.

Not all though is at fault though, the performance delivered by Saurav Khurana is quite noteworthy – he’s restrained and physically bound to his character’s psychological state. Keshav Gupta and Aakash Rajput’s photography is slick, and very bold for a throwback effort towards the more avant garde black and white look, reminiscent of the early Hollywood ‘film noirs’ which flooded into France past the Vichy era. And lastly, Anugat Raj’s script and direction are well attuned to the material.

For me the highlight of the film was the exterior shot, the only one we are allowed – a brief moment where our character stands out on a balcony, and is surrounded by the image of his neighbours. The distance which unfolded here, revealing a layered background and foreground, provided an escape from the all too familiar white walls, an escape from the stuffed turtle that had died, and a much needed moment to clarify which ‘world’ it was we were viewing this film in.


The Dead Bird (2014,Damien Overton)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

With its children’s book type voice over, angst youngsters and warm Australian vistas, The Dead Bird by Damien Overton is a spiderweb of multi-layered plots which carefully unfold using a beautiful cinematic language – the type of cinematic language which is usually avoided when making short films due to it being too complex or too intimidating to short film audiences. Overton’s efforts here are particularly of note, as he does not shy away from making something entirely unique and well rounded in just a few minutes.

The performances in the film are of special note: Alexander Gavioli’s clear voice, often barked at Ryan Lights’ Nick, keep a steady bolt on the tension building beats. There’s a particular harsh physicality to his movements, he seems almost caged within the frame, forever forcing the camera to follow him, and capture his speed. It’s a refreshing delivery, a far more realistic one than the traditional wooden movements often found in film.

Similarly, Lights’ face carries all of the frustrations and inner psyches of a fairly robust variety of emotions his character lives through. He slips in and out of different tones, and helps balance the film’s harsher notes with a particular softness to his delivery.

The photography, editing and pace of the film is also of special interest – the film finds a certain comfort within its timing, all the while configuring a delicate filmic ‘world’. Considering Overton’s previous dramatic efforts, a fresh faced filmmaker who has previously been stuck within the limiting space of theatre, it’s easy to spot that he has surely found some structural freedom within the images of cinema. He jumps from space to space, flips in and out of various time structures, and enjoys the full benefits of a Deleuzian time structure spun out of his rich short script.

The film conveyed multiple strands of thoughts – pain, love, loss… and furthermore, it compiled these themes into separate narrative strands which interweaved through particular character relationship dynamics: the father and his sons, the runaway and his lover, the dead birds and the youngsters. Its a complex piece, provocative, and especially memorable.


WINTER 2016 Reviews

A Place To Lay Your Head (2014, Dir. Simon Adegbenro)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

Steve Look’s Hitchcockesque thriller, ‘A Place to Lay Your Head’, is a great example of minimalist film-making. Set within one house, run by a killer, we explore the rooms scene by scene, unveiling the space. Its pace, subjectivity, and overall editing choices aid in its building of tension which reach a climax of a love versus ethics clash.

Reminiscent of ‘Frenzy’ (1972, Alfred Hitchcock), the film neither places the audience within a sympathetic or empathetic position with its lead; but – instead, we are levelled at a point of view with the witness, it is here, in the cinematic space of observer that we are shown the events as if we were in the room, inspecting the blow by blow occurrence.

What makes this film unique is its engagement with the current political tides of localised issues within the constantly expanding city scope: crime, over population, small living spaces. Furthermore, as the final murder is ensued, we reach a new progressive vibe towards love within the city – are we to be victims in the plight of unethical metropolises?

Perhaps the truth lies in the overriding vibe that the film is more of a parody than a pastiche, less political, and more satirical of our social structures, rules and moralistic ideas of what makes a victim a victim, and a murderer a murderer.



Last In First Out (2015, Dir. Henry Stephens)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

It’s easy to watch films today whilst twiddling on your phone. The characters talk, announce as what and who they are. Where we are meant to look, what the meaning of a scene is, and how it all comes together is all part of the ‘talkies’ era that set in at the end of silent cinema. And it is an era we are stuck in still today, even perhaps at the most heightened state that it has ever been with the increase of phone conversations and news-broadcasters announcing all sorts of information in action and thriller films.

However, what we have here is a silent film. A contemporary silent. One which utilizes the skills and language of our current story telling arcs, as well as the ones originating from the bygone era of silent cinema. Whilst watching this film you can’t look at your phone, nor can you ignore the content on screen and just ‘listen’. You have to keep your eyes on the screen, just like our forefathers of film audiences used to.

What writer/director Henry Stephens has achieved is to authentically rewind the clocks for ‘Last In First Out’, and return to the 4:3 ratio, the black and white chiaroscuro, and altering image frame rates of the flicks. Furthermore, the language of the film, its steady shots, and careful editing of shot/reverse shot help tell the story through images. Perhaps though, the most important element of this short though isn’t its nostalgic form, but its pure heart. Like a Chaplin picture, the struggle of class, money and power rise to the top, and reveal the essence of what early films were all about. We have a story, some clear cut characters and a struggle for survival; just like the early cinema which Stephens attempted to capture, his film becomes more of a social commentary than just a meaningless reworking of past techniques. And that is what pure film is all about – the perspective one can take on whilst watching a film, the experience we are able to share, and the human story it can tell when we concentrate.



Temporary Discomfort (2014, Dir. Simon Adegbenro)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

Enigmatic codes fill the opening scenes of ‘Temporary Discomfort’. We immediately open the short film with Derek as he checks in at a hotel. Our locale for the short is temporary – Derek does not live here, but there is purpose behind his visit.

Moments later Derek visits his old neighbour and asks ‘how are you?’, and receives no response. He then asks and is granted entrance into a room of someone he once knew, only to lie down.

We aren’t told what the significance of these moments are, but the reality is of their cinematic worth – we are here to decode the film, follow the trail of ideas and pursue the truth. It is this kind of cinematic storytelling which keeps a viewer’s interest: moments which are strung together as pictures rather than a picture book full of dialogue telling us what we should know and understand. The best element of this short is Adegbenro’s self restraint here, the plotting and use of narrative development feed the audience’s craving for information and atmosphere.

With nuanced steady camera angles, which restrict the audience’s point of view, the carefully crafted shots help align us with the perspective we’re suppose to take: an importance of time, space and circumstance become clear. Their length is also of particular interest, they often force us to observe Angus McGruther and Judith Shoemaker stuck and unable to escape; somewhat reminiscent of the motel ending of Vincent Gallo’s ‘The Brown Bunny’.

As the final turn is revealed, ‘Temporary Discomfort’ underplays itself. If the last plot point was at all predictable, it was also inevitable in the way simplicity is elevated and stylised intimately in this well produced short film.