Shorts of FilmBath Festival 2019

Across the 2019 FilmBath Festival programme, 46 short films were screened — 23 attached to feature films, 17 at a dedicated ‘Shorts Showcase’, and six at the IMDb New Filmmaker Award ceremony (five in competition, one the film made from the winning screenplay of the IMDb Script to Screen Award). I saw 14 of these, one way or another, and have compiled my reviews into this (commensurately long) post.

First, the five films that competed for the IMDb New Filmmaker Award.

Gladiators on Wheels

The winner chosen by the judges was Gladiators on Wheels (2019, Souvid Datta, UK & India, Hindi, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a documentary about the ‘Well of Death’ — an attraction at Indian circuses where daredevils ride motorbikes and drive cars around 60ft vertical walls, literally defying gravity. It’s both impressive and terrifying, especially considering they’re doing it without any kind of safety gear — no helmets or padded suits here, never mind nets or something. But the film isn’t just about the actual act, also touching on the way of life, and how it’s fading. It’s a well-shot bit of filmmaking, especially impressive when you learn it was all filmed in a single day. The script was compiled from interviews with the drivers, then voiced by actors, but if anything it’s a little cliché — lots of talk of “living on the edge” and how dangerous it is but how they wouldn’t have it any other way, etc. Still, like many of the best documentaries, it’s a fascinating glimpse at another world.

The audience at the ceremony also got a say, favouring Hey You (2019, Jared Watmuff, UK, English, 5 mins, ★★★★★), which is about gay men hooking up via text messaging. At first it feels like a lightly comedic bit of fun, possibly with some drama in that one of the men is closeted, but then it develops into something more serious. It’s a very well made short, in particular the shot choices and editing at the climax, which combine to produce some incredibly striking imagery. It’s tricky to say why it’s such an effective and vital film without spoiling where it goes in that finale, but it’s a meaningful piece that’s worth seeing if you can. It would’ve been a worthy winner.

Facing It

The three other finalists were … Tight Spot (2018, Kevin Haefelin, USA & Switzerland, English, 4 mins, ★★★★☆), a comedy bit about a shoe shiner and a suspicious customer, which was amusing albeit a little predictable; although it did, again, look nice … When Voices Unite (2017, Lewis Coates, UK, English, 4 mins, ★★★☆☆), a mini tech thriller that was suitably tense in places, but really needed some kind of twist or final development to give it a reason to exist … and Facing It (2018, Sam Gainsborough, UK, 8 mins, ★★★★★), which presented an imaginative visualisation of a relatable social difficulty. Rendered in a mix of live-action and stop-motion animation, it’s by far the most technically impressive short here, but all in service of telling its story and conveying the requisite emotion. Another one that would’ve been a more than worthy winner.

(You can watch Gladiators on Wheels and When Voices Unite on Vimeo. Sadly the others aren’t publicly available, although there is a short making-of for Facing It which I recommend for appreciating the filmmaking skill on display there.)

Of the other shorts I saw, my favourite was definitely Pleased to Eat You! (2019, Adrian Hedgecock, UK, English, 7 mins, ★★★★★). It’s a beautifully designed and hilariously funny musical comedy short… about cannibalism! Its colourful and clever staging evokes the handmade movie-reality worlds seen in films by the likes of Michel Gondry or Charlie Kaufman, while the full-blown song-and-dance number is like the best of old-fashioned Hollywood musicals, albeit twinned with a pun-filled cheekiness in its subject matter. An absolute delight from beginning to end.

Pleased to Eat You!

If I were to rank all the other shorts too, I’d probably put Woman in Stall (2018, Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Canada & UK, English, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) in second place. A very timely thriller, it sees a woman innocently enter a public bathroom cubicle to get changed, only for a man to turn up outside and start chatting, her wariness of him trapping her inside. Is he a predator she’s right to fear? Or is she just being paranoid? Part of the short’s cleverness lies in the way it plays with our emotions and expectations, swinging us back and forth into where our trust should lie. Working with a limited setting, it’s neatly shot — never dull, but without going OTT to try to jazz things up — and gets edge-of-your-seat tense as it goes on. Regular readers will know how much I love a “single location thriller”, and this is a perfect mini example of the form.

Quince: Fifteen (2018, Peiman Zekavat, UK & Peru, Spanish, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) is a real-time single-shot drama about a 15-year-old Peruvian schoolgirl whose carefree PE lesson turns into a tumult of life-upending dismay in just a few minutes following an unexpected discovery on social media. It’s another timely issue, and this is mostly a well-made short — I do love a single take, and the real-time aspect puts you in her shoes quite effectively. Unfortunately, it’s a bit inconclusive — it just stops, with no hint of how she’s going to deal with her new problem longer term, or what’s going to happen to her beyond a handful of initial reactions. It’s not bad as it is, but there’s also more to be told here.

Quince: Fifteen

On a snowy winter’s day, a postie makes his rounds on a London estate. Meanwhile, one woman anxiously awaits his arrival… With its brief running time, Special Delivery (2018, Robert Hackett, UK, 4 mins, ★★★★☆) almost feels like an extended edit of one of those soppy commercials the big retailers always put out at Christmas — you know, the ones that have just started to pop up on the telly. Nicely shot in 2.35:1, it evokes a Christmassy feel without being overtly festive, and manages to avoid becoming quite as saccharine as those adverts, instead earning the story’s sentimentality. A sweet little slice of romance.

Coming just behind those frontrunners would be Spooning (2019, Rebecca Applebaum, Canada, English, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a one-woman-show of a mockumentary about a theatre actress who specialises in playing spoons. Not “playing the spoons”, like a musical instrument, but anthropomorphised spoons, like in Beauty and the Beast. It’s basically a comedy sketch as a short film, but it was largely funny so I don’t begrudge it that.

I’m six films deep into this loose ranking now, but that’s not to discredit Allan + Waspy (2019, James Miller, UK, English, 8 mins, ★★★★☆). It’s about two working class schoolboys who hang out in the woods on their way to school each day, observing a bird’s nest full of chicks hatching and maturing — but one of the lads clearly has problems at home, and it all takes a very dark turn. Initially it’s a likeable slice-of-modern-life tale, managing to find an element of old-fashioned bucolic childhood even in a modern inner-city setting, and unfurling at a gentle pace by mixing shots of the surrounding world into the boys’ activities. But then there’s a thoroughly glum ending. It kinda ruined my day, but I liked it as a film nonetheless.

Cumulus

A young Welsh girl runs off from her dad and encounters a talking gull who’s worried about his kids leaving home in animation Cumulus (2018, Ioan Holland, UK, English, 9 mins, ★★★☆☆). Naturally, they both learn something from each other. It’s always nice to see 2D animation nowadays, especially when it’s as prettily designed as this, though it’s a shame that some of the movement is a little stilted and animatic-y. It’s also a bit longer/slower than it needs to be, but it’s still mostly charming.

Perhaps the most disappointing short was My Theatre (2019, Kazuya Ashizawa, Japan, 5 mins, ★★★☆☆), a documentary about an 81-year-old in Fukushima who closed his cinema 55 years ago but keeps it alive as a kind of museum. That’s mainly what I gathered from reading blurbs before viewing, though, because the short itself lacks any real context or conclusion, just presenting vignettes of life in this rundown old movie house. It’s perfectly pleasant, but ultimately unenlightening. My Theatre is listed on other festivals’ websites as running 20 minutes, so perhaps the five-minute version submitted to FilmBath is just an excerpt — that’s certainly what it felt like. A longer edit, with more of a sense of why this is a place and person worth observing, would’ve been better.

Finally, Terra (2019, Daniel Fickle, USA, English, 6 mins, ★★☆☆☆), which received some very negative feedback from a few audience members who didn’t feel it was appropriate for the film it was screened before, Honeyland. That’s a documentary about a traditional European way of beekeeping on the wane, whereas Terra is ostensibly about the tumultuous romantic relationship between two young Americans. The clue is in the title, though: it’s a metaphor for humankind’s relationship with Earth. Personally, I thought the analogy was a bit on the nose, but it seems others missed it entirely. The photography is quite pretty, in a no-budget-indie-drama kinda way, but other than that I didn’t think there was much to it. Other members of the FilmBath team were more impressed, so I think it’s fair to say it’s a divisive little number.

Terra

As I said at the start, there were 46 shorts screened at the festival, so this is just a small sampling of what was on offer (less than a third, to be precise). Although I didn’t love them all, I did enjoy most — and considering they would have entirely passed me by were it not for the festival, I’ll definitely take the handful of letdowns as part of the parcel for getting the good stuff.

The Fluctuant Monthly Review of October 2019

October was very nearly my weakest month in almost a decade (9½ years, to be precise), saved from that fate at literally the last minute, as the story of what may very well be 100 Films’ most fluctuant year continues…


#130a Fifteen (2018), aka Quince
#130b Cumulus (2018)
#130c Pleased to Eat You! (2019)
#130d Special Delivery (2018)
#130e Allan + Waspy (2019)
#131 Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans (2019)
#132 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part Two (2012)
#133 For Sama (2019)
#134 The Fear of God: 25 Years of “The Exorcist” (1998)


  • So, I watched four new feature films in October.
  • It was very nearly just three, until I watched that Mark Kermode Exorcist documentary (which was freshly added to BBC iPlayer for Halloween) late last night. And whether or not that counts as a film is debatable. (The one on iPlayer is an extended cut that Kermode calls the “festival cut” because it was only shown at film festivals, which I think means it’s a film, so it counts.)
  • As I said at the start, you’d have to go back 9½ years, to April 2010, to find another month with so few films.
  • But for four you only have to go back to June this year. Nonetheless, that means October is tied as the lowest-totalling month of 2019 (for now…)
  • Unsurprisingly, it’s not even close to any of the usual array of averages I mention, and so it brings them all down — taking October’s average from 14.0 to 13.2; the average for 2019 to date from 14.4 to 13.4; and the rolling average of the last 12 months from 15.4 to 14.4.
  • The run of shorts I watched at the start of the month almost doubles that tally for the year. It was a FilmBath thing, which also means there’ll be more next month.
  • Neither a Blindspot nor a WDYMYHS film this month, which leaves me with quite a few to catch up (seven in total) with just two months of the year left.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched only Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (see Rewatchathon).



The 53rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A film that, frankly, I might’ve overlooked were it not for most of the rest of the FilmBath office talking about how great it was, Channel 4’s hard-hitting war documentary For Sama.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This is an even easier choice: of course it’s Breaking Dawn: Part Two.

Favourite Short Film of the Month
Sorry to recommend this when I don’t think it’s freely available to see anywhere, but Pleased to Eat You! is bloody brilliant. Look out for it. (If you’re in the area, FilmBath are screening it before Little Monsters.)

Most Disappointing Non-Appearance of the Month
Not meaning to spoil anything (it’s kinda shown in the trailer anyway), but the storyline of Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans involves amassing different iterations of the Titans from across the multiverse… but that doesn’t include the cast of the live-action version, Titans. Okay, it might’ve been hard to integrate them with the animation, plus they’d’ve had to actually get the cast together, but it still seemed like a missed opportunity.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Even though I’ve been posting a lot less recently, my number of monthly hits has stayed within the same range — but, over the past few months, the number of unique visitors has started dropping a lot. This month, it dropped to its lowest level since June 2017. Well, fair enough. But what I find weird is that the ups and downs of both views & visitors have always been in sync before, so I don’t know why they’ve started separating. Anyway, this is meant to be about this month’s posts. Despite going up just 38 hours before October ended, the winner is this month’s TV column.



Things aren’t looking any rosier down here. I should be at #41 by now, but instead all I’ve got is this…

#24 Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018)

My brief review (linked above) possibly doesn’t do justice to my feelings about this movie (i.e. I love it!) I mean, I didn’t even mention the guest voice cast, which has some superb cameos. Partly that’s to do with not ruining gags and surprises, I guess. Still, I feel I could’ve and should’ve done better on that one. I did include it on my best-of-year list, at least.


No cinema trips this month, so I’ve missed a bunch of big releases, not least the super-discourse-provoking Joker; the third attempt at Terminator 3, Dark Fate; the inevitable flop Gemini Man (and it was showing in 3D HFR near me too, which I’m never likely to have a chance to see it in again); and the second Shaun the Sheep movie, Farmageddon.

More big-screen misses resurfaced on disc this week, namely X-Men: Dark Phoenix (in 4K) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (in 3D). I also picked up a handful of Criterion titles in a Zoom sale (Do the Right Thing, The Magnificent Ambersons, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, and Panique); a selection of Asian movies (re)released by Arrow (Oldboy, with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance) and Eureka (King Hu’s The Fate of Lee Khan and three films with Sammo Hung (Eastern Condors, The Magnificent Butcher, and The Iron-Fisted Monk); I finally managed to get a great deal on the Spider-Man Legacy 4K set (containing Sam Raimi’s trilogy and Marc Webb’s duology); and I ended the month with Arrow’s new release of An American Werewolf in London, which made me glad I never got round to upgrading from DVD to the previous BD. (Whew! That’s quite a lot, really, isn’t it?)

Finally, there were a few big name releases on streaming this month. Most discussed was probably Netflix’s Breaking Bad sequel, El Camino. Well, I’ve still not seen any of Breaking Bad, so it’ll be a long time before I watch that. Higher on my watch list are the new Steven Soderbergh, The Laundromat, and Eddie Murphy true-story comedy Dolemite is My Name, which looks like a lot of fun. There was also In the Tall Grass, which I’ve heard mixed things about. Amazon had no brand-new additions to equal that lineup, but I did spot a few archive adds of interest, including Robin Williams sci-fi thriller The Final Cut, arthouse classic La Dolce Vita, and Liam Neeson’s latest revenge thriller Cold Pursuit.


FilmBath Festival should guarantee a tally over ten films, as the rollercoaster of my 2019 monthly totals continues.