In short film Naughty Spot, Brazilian 30-something Tonio arrives in Corsica. He goes on the usual hookup app, but finds no one here shows their face. He contacts a man going by the handle The Oracle, who shows him the real Corsica for queer men, in the cruising spots by day and night.
This is a film about sex, yes, but also belonging, safety, differences in generations and culture, and change, or lack of change, in society. Tonio is used to the freedom found in big cities, back in Brazil or even in mainland France. But Corsica is not that. It is an island, with a population of only 300, 000 people. Here, cruising is still the way you build trust in your encounters. Offline, no digital record, face to face.
Tonio grows to appreciate this older way of making sexual connections, as he has also experienced the downside of hookup apps, the bodyshaming, the racism. As the Oracle speaks, the beauty of Corsica opens up to him, and why, despite the fewer freedoms, you would stay in this beautiful place.
There is a Ghost of Me is a visual poem mourning the lost opportunities for betterment on both a personal and political level. The director muses on his rotting teeth as his wisdom tooth extraction coincides with the election of Trump. The rising rot in public life is mirrored in his body, and the death of his dreams for a better society becomes a ghost of what could have been, haunting places of political strife. In protests in the US capital, in the burning buildings of Lima in Peru, across the world, we are being haunted by the ghosts of our failed ideals.
Will My Parents Come To See Me is about a young man going through his last 24 hours in the prison system.
Farah is an inmate in Somali jail. A police officer arrives to walk him through his final day. She is an older woman, whose face has a calm and steady countenance that belies a sense of determined weariness. Farah is a scrawny teenager, barely a man. He looks to be all of 18 or 19. His eyes are set back in his face, his neck is long with a jutting throat, he looks like a baby bird, rather than hardened criminal. Next to his escort, he looks like a son with his mother.
As the story unfolds, you realise Farah is here for terrorism, a crime you can’t really square with his gentle demeanour and frail frame. To be honest, he seems a bit slow. But then you realise, that’s exactly who these bastards recruit, young boys, lost kids, those who can be convinced to do their bidding without question. You see Farah pray, and you think, he’s heard people promise he will go to heaven, and he’s heard people promise he will go to hell, he is probably wondering which ones were right. You just look at him, and despite everything, you just think 19 is not enough time to earn a place in hell. How can you fuck up your life so badly in such a small space of time?
This doesn’t just feel like Farah’s last day. Despite having almost no lines, the police officer’s silent presence conveys a wealth of strain. While ostensibly appearing unmoved by the process, you get the sense that this is a final day for her too, that this is the last time she can do this.
Podesta Island is a tiny island supposedly glimpsed by a sailor in the 19th century off the coast of Chile. Its existence has been in contention ever since. Chile claims it as its territory as an expedient way of extending their waters for economic reasons. It’s on Chilean maps. But it has never been found or even photographed.
The filmmaker uses a documentary style to convey both historical truth, popular rumour, and a fictional drama about castaways on the island. The effect is spooky. Among the bits of folklore about Podesta, the director weaves a story of three people lost at sea. The missing who have an unknown existence end up on an island with an unknown existence. This liminal state between living and dead, between real and unreal.
The film is about our constructions of fact and fiction, our separations into legitimate and illegitimate narratives of reality. The Chilean state’s recognition of an unevidenced island because it is useful to them, is emblematic of our post-truth times, where reality is whatever the government says it is. Equally the fictional story of those missing at sea reflects back on the true story of the Chilean state’s disappearance of hundreds of people under Pinochet. Many of those who were detained and tortured, were tied to railroad sleepers and dumped out of helicopters into the ocean. Their remains were never found. All those real people in the sea that the government denied the existence of, while recognising the existence of an unreal island.
The film ends on a retelling of a Slavic myth about an island which can appear and disappear at will. Those who find it are said to be granted all they desire. For those without conclusions, it seems a happy fate.
Naya is a short film following the life of a wolf, nicknamed Naya, who was fitted with a GPS tracker as part of an academic study, and found fame as the first wolf in Flanders in 100 years.
The film is composed of CCTV and other surveillance footage. As Naya travels from Germany to Holland, we follow her through the myriad byways lined with cameras. The subtitle, Der Wald Hat Tausend Augen, translates as ‘the wild has a thousand eyes’. At the beginning of the film we are told it is from an old German hunters’ expression, “In the wild, you are never alone. One pair of eyes stares into the forest, a thousand eyes stare back at you”, but it also used here to show how our surveillance society is not only impacting human beings, but others species as well. Much has been made about the detrimental effect of surveillance, whether it be from the state, private companies, or our own omnipresent recording of each others’ lives, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it framed as yet another harmful intrusion into nature. While we have long been warned about expanding urbanisation and dehabitation, this is the first time I’ve really thought about how the human gaze is being pushed further and further into every corner of the wild, and the risk that puts on those who inhabit it.
Naya is fitted with a GPS tracking collar by well-meaning but short-sighted researchers, who are only looking to learn about wolf migration patterns. Naya travels over a thousand miles to settle in territory in Flanders, and the story makes the news. As a Valentines fluff piece, the story goes out that Naya is a lone young female looking to mate and that this could mean the return of wolves to the area after 100 years. Naya becomes a local celebrity, with numerous false sightings, and the surrounding woodland being peppered with spycams. People start going on more rambles, traipsing through the forest on wolf tours, in hope of seeing Naya. And before much longer, every guy with a small dick complex shows up to shoot her, and bag themselves a wolfskin trophy.
A short film that provides a lot for thought, about our technological life as part of the ecosystem, and of the violence of our gaze.
Her Violet Kiss is a short film made from salvaged footage from a lost film, Pawns of Passion. Pawns of Passion was a German film from the 1920s, starring a Russian ballerina who searches across Europe for her lost love after the War. It actually has a great name in German, Liebesholle, meaning ‘Love’s Hell’, which, why wouldn’t you use that for the English title? That’s awesome.
Bill Morrison, the director, rescues old nitrate film, and tries to preserve, as best as can be done, fragments of these lost films. Her Violet Kiss is a reworking of some of the salvaged footage. As the original is silent, this one is put to a beautiful score by Michael Montes. The film comprises a ballroom scene, a masquerade, where the young and beautiful heroine oscillates between joyful play and dancing, and feeling overwhelmed and swept away in the pressing crowd, a sense of ominous foreboding emanating from the watchful eye of a masked figure.
Morrison uses this scene in 2021 to evoke the longing for the carefree, crowded socialising that so many missed during lockdown. Equally, the moments where the protagonist feels overwhelmed by the surging crowds communicates so clearly that sense of being out of control the whole pandemic created, in the moments where you were among people, even just at the supermarket or on public transport, the sense of being pressed in on too close, generating the bubbles of panic. The masked figure which stalks her from the shadows reminds me of the hooded figure in The Masque of the Red Death, another film about a plague. He stands as the pathogen itself, waiting to strike upon anyone, as they play and dance and embrace others in happiness.
As the film starts to dissolve and warp, the images are lost in this chaos, there is a sense of a world coming undone. The fragility of that merry world, being broke in upon by the forces of destruction echoes our own alarm at the fragility of our social system in the face of this microscopic virus.
Only 5 minutes long and has no dialogue, but communicates so much.
Powerful short film using interviews with Belarusian protestors who were attacked and tortured by the authorities to reverse-engineer a ‘handbook’ for oppression.
When dictator Lukashenko once again declared himself the winner of a stolen election in 2020, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest, despite knowing it would make them a target for violence by the secret police. There were mass arrests, people were rounded up, imprisoned without charge, and subjected to torture.
The director, Pavel Mozhar, had to watch it unfold on the news from his bedroom, under Covid restrictions in Germany. There, he made this film, his own act of defiance, to show what was inflicted upon ordinary people whose only crime was opposing tyranny.
He clears his bedroom to make a featureless, anonymous space. Dressed in the black of the authorities, with balaclava and baton, he demonstrates with uniformed volunteers how to put people in stress positions and where to hit people for maximum painful effect. He stares down the barrel of the camera, this is for our instruction as the audience. The effect is unnerving, chilling, and sickening.
As the audio narrates the testimonies of victims, the instructor demonstrates each movement, from placing detainees in a stack, so the ones of the top are beaten, and the ones on the bottom suffocate, to handcuffing people behind their shoulders to cause extreme pain. When victims describe being packed in, dozens to a tiny space in a roofless cell or van, a diagram appears on screen, giving measurements of a van or cell, like in a manual.
I Gotta Look Good For The Apocalypse is an animated short film, mixing painted real world scenes contrasted with the CGI of video games. Lockdown provides all these spookily absent landscapes, while we fill our social needs through gaming.
Where the painted scenes of the real world are still, soft focus, silent, empty of human manipulation, the online world is bright, crisp, loud, action-packed and solely centred on the will of human actors. While real life gets all too real, with arguments, loneliness, and malaise, the online world is ridiculous, full of extravagant wish fulfillment, venting of aggression in shoot-em-ups, and pairing through dating cartoonish avatars. The unrealness of lockdown is made doubly unreal by our disappearance into CGI fantasy.
Really good wee film conveying how bizarre lockdown really was.
Done with an experimental mix of clips from across the spectrum of visual media, All of your Stars are but Dust on my Shoes looks at how light, and the control of light in public spaces, is a weapon of police and state control.
Immediate thoughts were of the feature All Light, Everywhere, from earlier in the festival, and how complementary this is to its themes. But where All Light, Everywhere focuses on photography and videography, All of your Stars are but Dust on my Shoes focuses on public lighting, like street lighting, floodlights, and using electricity to control what can and can’t be seen by the public and by the police. It’s really interesting, because public lighting is not something I’ve ever given much thought to. It’s just there. Like, pavement and roads. But like everything else, it’s political, where it is and why it is.
The film opens with these beautiful shots of whales sleeping lying upright in the sea. Over this image of stillness, peace, and freedom in this open expanse, comes narration of how whale oil was harvested for lamps in the 19th century. In direct contrast to the harmony of the image, the narrator says, “Whalemen turned creatures of darkness, these God-spited vicious monsters, into the sources of light.”
The analogy doesn’t have to be taken any further. Later in the film we see whale lamps burning, and 19th century police lamps, which could be used to illuminate the patrolled neighbourhood, or be covered to plunge it back into darkness. The rest of the film is full of examples of police invading communities to use force against their vilified inhabitants, in the name of producing civilising results.
A central thread of recurring footage is from the filmmaker’s own Lebanon, where corruption and kleptocracy has led to a shutdown of the national grid, leaving people in total darkness. In the protests that followed, government repression was swift. And you see the same images from protests the world over, protestors holding up their mobile phones like a light in the dark, multiplied across a sea of people. As the police and tanks roll in, you get green laser pens shining at them, and fireworks kicked in their direction.
Meanwhile we all know the iconic images of police use of light and darkness, the torch shone in the face of a suspect, a bright lamp use during an interrogation, a pitch black cell. But the film goes further, making us see that it’s not simply the moments of action, but the status quo which is highly politicised. Where street lighting goes, who gets it, and what it’s for are all decisions that are made by those in power to serve their own interests, long before an innocuous street lamp is turned on in your neighbourhood. Lights that watch you back is like the stuff from rejected Twilight Zone ideas, but smart lights are increasingly being brought in under the guise of being energy saving. Making them seem benign through greenwashing, these lights are monitoring the spaces they are put in for activity, and reacting accordingly.
The title is from a clip of a woman speaking from her hospital bed. She says, “We do not scare nor do we cower. All of your stars are but dust on my shoes. To that dog of Brigadier General, to that deposed Minister for the Interior, we will take our revenge with our own hands.” Like a fucking badass. While this film might be about the structures of control and repression, it is named for these words of defiance, and the inextinguishable spirit of those who fight it.
A energetic and amusing animated short film, about a boy finding his identity in a tug of war between his parents.
Told without dialogue, the boy is shown growing up between his mother’s place, a greenhouse full of plants, where she grew him in a pot, and his father’s place, a car garage, where he constantly tinkers on motors while chain-smoking. Equidistant between is a tree with an old tyre swing, surrounded by croaking frogs. This the boy’s favourite place, lazing on the tyre and croaking back at the frogs.
The father attempts to involve his son in his passion for cars, sneaking him away without the mum knowing, to take him rally car racing. In this funny animation, all sorts of hijinks ensues, with his father literally forcing him like a square peg into a round hole.
With gentle humour and playing on the ambiguity of the relationships we have with our parents, Sierra is about how our parents indelibly shape us, but how we can nonetheless find ourselves and our happiness.