After spending an entire day (21 September) watching short films at the 2019 Raindance Film Festival, I decided to give my quick takes on the films that stood out from this impressive line-up. You can also hear mine and Anna’s thoughts on our Raindance Round-Up Podcast.
Animation shorts programme
Girl In The Hallway – Directed by Valerie Barnhart
Synopsis: Why does Little Red Riding Hood give Jamie nightmares? Fifteen years later, the girl in the hallway haunts him still. A testament to locked doors. A lullaby sung by wolves with duct tape and polaroids. Not all girls make it out of the forest. Some stories children shouldn’t hear.
Quick take: I snuck in five minutes late for the animation shorts programme, yet my absence from the first half of Barnhart’s short did not prevent me from becoming fully invested in this devastating story. The regret of pressed snooze buttons and the irritation caused by plodding public transport quickly washed away in favour of more pertinent issues; in this case, violence towards Indigenous women and young girls in North America.
This is a hair-raising film puts the issue into focus with strikingly haunting visuals (Anna has an insightful comment on the podcast about the use of charcoal) and riveting narration from Jamie DeWolf. A must-see short – just try not to miss the first half!
Eddie & Frankie – Directed by Katherine Hearst
Synopsis: In an ex-mining community, a young girl’s attempts to get her dad’s attention are thwarted when he loses his job.
Quick take: Eddie & Frankie beautifully captures and communicates the demoralising impact joblessness can have on a person. The sense of draining dejection that manifests in slumped features and how that can impact loved ones – dispiriting even the most exuberant of young girls.
The absence of dialogue in Eddie & Frankie feeds into the damaging truth that men often find it too difficult to talk about problems and seek help. This is a powerful world-less short that can hopefully encourage honest conversations.
Toe – Directed by Neal O’Bryan and Chad Thurman
Synopsis: A starving boy eats a toe he finds sticking out of the ground. Later that night, something ghastly comes to his bedroom, wanting it back.
Quick take: In the podcast, I compared this stop-motion animation to a Tim Burton work. But I feel as though the creepy edges of Toe deserve more than this somewhat lazy comparison. This horror short creates its own distinctive gothic atmosphere with wince-worthy moments and a grin-inducing closing image (Anna made a great point on the podcast about Toe’s ending).
The Opposite Game – Directed by Anna Samo and Lisa LaBracio
Synopsis: A classroom erupts into a war of words as students grapple with a seemingly simple prompt: what is the opposite of a gun?
Quick take: The Opposite Game takes a simple literary exercise and, with captivating flair, explodes it out into something much broader and memorable. An inventive short that is not only a reminder of the power of good teaching (my verbally stunted school classrooms never witnessed such feverish debate) but also the confounding place guns have in our world.
As pointed out by Anna on the podcast, the flipbook animation was also impressive.
My Generation – Directed by Ludovic Houplain
Synopsis: What if we put down our smartphones and opened our eyes wide shut? My Generation is an 8 minute travelling shot, where we go through different worlds, encountering contemporary art, GAFA, sport, religion, pornography, politics, finance, scared cows, generalised surveillance, all opium of the people.
Quick take: One of the standout shorts of the day, My Generation takes viewers on a journey that – like much of the modern world – is so fast-paced and packed with momentary pleasures that we are often left hopelessly grasping for meaning.
Yet, despite the transience of these images, this is an undeniably spectacular and thought-provoking short. One that I would take pleasure in watching on a loop to catch every single detail.
The film’s computer animation style adds an aesthetic superficiality to each image – whether we are travelling through ‘Porn City’ with its phallic arches and floating bodily fluids, or ‘Commercialised Sports City’ with a giant Cristiano Ronaldo statue (I’ll refrain from the obvious joke there). While voiceovers from figures such as Adolf Hitler and Bertrand Russell provide a haunting gravitas.
Fittingly, this short film conjured flashing memories of riding on Disney World’s ‘Test Track’ when I was 9 years old. I can safely say My Generation is another ride that will stick in my memory for years to come.
Documentary shorts programme
99 Problems – Directed by Ross Killeen
Synopsis: The inside scoop on the murky world of the ice cream business. Through the eyes of Pinky, the self-declared ‘King of the Ice Cream Men’, we’re taken into this unregulated industry where rival drivers will stop at nothing to protect their livelihoods.
Quick take: Who knew the ice cream truck world was so fascinating? 99 Problems is a surprising and highly entertaining short that shifts through different tones – heart-warming one moment and Scorsese crime drama the next – with the smoothness of a Mr Whippy.
There are a number of interesting contradictions in 99 Problems: a film about an ice cream man that opens in a boxing gym. This affable ice-cream man even has the cheek to preach health advice to kids whilst handing out sugary snacks.
Best of all, however, is the aerial shot of the pink ice cream truck moving through the grey streets of Ireland. The aesthetic sprinkles on a treat of a documentary.
Queen Of Dinosaurs: A Wrestler’s Story – Directed by Addison Dlott and Jakob Markwardt
Synopsis: A portrait of professional wrestler Samantha Cohen, following her in and out of the ring, through tribulations of self-doubt and acceptance.
Quick take: Queen Of The Dinosaurs shows how a person can sooth and escape personal pain through choregraphed violence. Dlott and Markwardt do a fine job of lifting this powerful emotional story from the bloody and grungy world of underground wrestling. Brilliant storytelling.
Kamali – Directed by Sasha Rainbow
Synopsis: Kamali is the only female skateboard in her fishing village. Her timorous mother, Suganthi undertakes a pilgrimage in a quest for self-discovery. Seperated for the first time, they must each find freedom in a man’s world.
Quick take: There is lots to smile about and admire in Kamali (Anna sums it up better than I can in the podcast). This gem of a documentary was a worthy winner at Raindance.
Serious Tingz – Directed by Abdou Cisse
Synopsis: A short tale about the face of masculinity, portrayed by young men who grew up in inner-city environments.
Quick take: With soaring knife crime and gang trouble in London, this type of concise and potent storytelling needs to be given as much visibility as possible. Cisse deconstructs masculinity with an accessible style that would be sure to capture attentions and open up young men to honest self-reflection. I’d love to see teachers introduce Serious Tingz to their classrooms or to see it ran as an ad on TV.
Cisse also came across as terrific role model, thoughtful filmmaker and engaging person at the screening. Let’s promote his voice and be excited for what he will be capable of with more than a couple of minutes!
Gone Astray shorts programme
Pagans – Directed by Lucy Luscombe
Synopsis: Three young women learn about loss over the course of one Bonfire Night that takes them on a surreal journey into the depths of the English countryside.
Quick take: After this short programme, Luscombe spoke about moving back into her parents’ house and putting her savings into making Pagans. It is a gamble that pays off with incredible performances and a moving story (the All Saints scene was a high point of the day).
I truly hope someone shows Luscombe the faith she showed in herself and provides the funds for a feature. Pagans is evidence she can create something authentic and heartfelt.
Boy – Directed by Isabelle Schapira
Synopsis: Today, seventeen-year-old Tatiana is not going to school. She has a far more important event planned with her friends: saying goodbye to the boy she’s not ready to leave yet.
Quick take: Similar to Pagans, this short film beautifully speaks to how young people handle grief and encapsulates that through the ‘letting go’ of an electronic device. There is also brilliant lead performance from Aloula Watel.
What Bitch? – Directed by Julian Acosta
Synopsis: On a hot day in Bakersfield, Ketta is dragged to a Catholic thrift store by her mother and younger sister. Ketta has always felt second-best in her mother’s eyes. When her little nephew accusses another customer of hitting him, Ketta uses it as an opportunity to gain approval from her mother.
Quick take: This punchy, crowd-pleasing story has a moving undercurrent about family love. Awesome and riotous!
Nova Express shorts programme
The Devil’s Harmony – Directed by Dylan Holmes Williams
Synopsis: As nerdy captain of the a cappella club, Kiera is an easy target for bullies. But her club possesses a secret power: when they sing ‘Devil’s Harmony’, listeners fall into a never-ending sleep.
Quick take: The Devil’s Harmony was the highlight of a long day at Raindance. An eccentric vision executed with such conviction that it charms, delights and enthralls from start to finish. A special mention goes to lead actress Patsy Ferran. She has the perfect presence to bring audiences fully into this quirky short film.
A marvellous watch – where do I sign up for more from Dylan Holmes Williams and company?
Milton – Directed by Tim Wilkime
Synopsis: A guy makes a bad first impression when he meets his girlfriend’s family as they gather at her grandfather’s deathbed.
Quick take: Milton is a tale of hilariously woeful social missteps in a grave family moment. What I loved most about this short, beyond fun characters and committed performances, is that it builds brilliantly to find new levels of absurdity and embarrassment. A short that displays incredible comedic awareness.
Dog-Eat-Dog – Directed by Rikke Gregersen
Synopsis: Silje wants to leave her boyfriend, but when she finds him half-heartedly trying to hang himself she reconsiders, for fear of him acting recklessly.
Quick take: Dog-Eat-Dog does cold, socially awkward confrontations with the same seat-clenching discomfort and perverse enjoyment as Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure. Perhaps because this short thrives on many of the same ingredients as Östlund’s film: an absurd triggering event, an isolated setting, a fragile male character, and lots of dry humour and uncomfortable scenes.
I, for one, would love to see Gregersen make a feature from this short, especially if she is able to reunite this terrific cast.
Chowchilla – Directed by Rick Darge
Synopsis: A brother and sister decide to sell their family farm but things go awry when a bag of money shows up on the front doorstep.
Chowchilla was one of the final shorts of a long day, but there was something darkly charming about it that made me feel as fresh as I had 30-something short films earlier. Anna made a great point about the genre tweaks this short makes, and that is where a lot of the fun of this short lies.
I’d love to see more of Chris Candy and Guerrin Gardner’s (co-writers and lead actors) work in the future.