Awakening

Beautiful animated short film based on a Scots Gaelic folktale. A hunter sets out to kill a monstrous loch creature, but is transformed into a black dog. With the aid of a selkie, they set out on a journey to break the curse.

Gorgeous visual style, with really textured paper animation, and an absolutely beautiful score. Loved the use of silhouette – the majority of the film is in monochrome. In the same manner as folktales, in reduces things down to their essentials, yet at the same time builds a world that is resplendent and wonderous.

The hunter tries to slay the loch monster, but despite being beheaded, it does not die. Instead it curses the hunter to become a black dog. A selkie takes pity on it, and tells it how to break the curse, by going to an island in the centre of the loch, there to find a white deer, white bird, white fish, and white egg. In chasing after all these things on the island, the hunter is taken through the marvels of nature, the intricate and interconnected worlds of every ecosystem, sees life from the perspectives of those who live in other forms. While there are many lessons you could take away from the tale, one is that a good hunter must have a reverent appreciation and respect for all life.

Just a beautiful short film.

Bahar

A mother is haunted by her dead daughter in short film Bahar. This is a ghost story about grief and guilt.

Narges is an Iranian-Glaswegian woman who lives in alone now her only surviving child has left for uni. She was widowed young, and had to raise her kids alone, and when her daughter Bahar was killed in a car accident at 6, it left her with only her son Navid. Now he is gone too, and the house has the uncomfortable stillness of an empty nest. Despite being quite conscientious of dusting Bahar’s room, she ignores the large patches of damp mould growing on her walls.

Whether the haunting is real or just in her mind, the marks on the walls have come to represent the shadow of Bahar in the home. Narges will wake from a dream of Bahar and mistake the marks on the wall for her standing by the bed. Her ghost is not frightening, it is longed for. But as Narges’s persistent cough reminds us, there is a price for holding on, and this way of clinging to the dead is unhealthy and harming her.

The haft-sin she put out for Nowruz has now sat too long. The symbols of renewal, and hope for life ahead, are starting to wilt and rot. The hyacinth petals curl, the apples are bruising, in the mirror we see reflections only of Bahar’s ghost. Bahar’s name itself means spring, expressing not only how was she cut down in her spring, at such a young age, but also that she represented new hope and life going forward for her mother, and her end was the end of those things for Narges. The rotting tableau embodies the stagnation of her grief, now garnering a corrupting air, which denies the natural cycle, and has left her hopeless.

Her son Navid visits home to spend Bahar’s birthday with his mother, but he has life pulling at his sleeve, whether it is friends or uni work. He tries to be there to support his mum, but the intensity of her grief a decade on shames him, as though he should feel guilty for moving on. It’s clear the way she is wed to her grief is not only harming her, but her son too.

She says, “Your maman joon used to tell me that having children was feeling guilty for every choice that you make”. Narges is stuck between the guilt of moving on from Bahar’s death, and the guilt of poisoning Navid’s life with her grief. Ultimately, she must a decide which she chooses.

The Stone Age

An experimental short film combining dance, music and on-screen text to make a visual poem.

A dancer in trackies and a fleece dances by the seaside, while a figure in ancient folk costume looks on, and the words appear on the screen, a poem describing a dialogue debating notions of place, personhood and perspective. Sparingly designed electronic music hisses in the background, as shots of the wild and craggy landscape are interspersed with shots of the dancer, weather-whipped beside a moody and mercurial sea.

It’s weird, it’s like a music video for a poem.

The Fox

A dialogueless, experimental and humorous short film about a Glaswegian woman coming home in buttoned-down business attire and transforming into a sexily clad ‘fox’, complete with ears and snout, before going out for the evening. The riotous violin music and lo-fi film style are reminiscent of early silent films, where farce and fantasy were an open playground. Also watching the the fox-woman apply makeup to her besnouted face gives a giggle at the performance of gender.

If you like this…

Red Room

Red Room is a short horror film about two friends recounting an instant of possession of a third, something which has had a lasting effect on everyone involved.

So there are things about this that are great successes and things that are less so. And weirdly it was the opposite of the stuff I expected. Normally the hard part to do in horror is the scare, while setting up a group of likeable people is pretty easy. In Red Room, the best parts are the scare, the ominous growl from unmoving lips that you know you are supposed to feel in the centre of your chest rather than hear, the figure that presents as a human shape but is not. These things are all pulled off with aplomb, excellent use of lighting, colour, visual effect.

Instead it is the characters themselves that seem flat. It’s difficult because we only see them on the evening of the possession, and discussing it later, so there is no pre-event status quo established. It’s hard to see how things change when you miss the beginning and only have a middle and end. Also, Orla speaks throughout like a spooky witch/obnoxious student with their first tarot deck. Daniel seems forbearingly weary of this at every stage, although clearly a bit more upbeat in humouring it before Tom’s possession. By the time we first see Tom, he’s already in the grip of something supernatural. Neither are the relationships between the three established. They seem like friends, Orla claims Daniel fancies Tom but nothing indicates this besides the awkwardness of Daniel’s denial. Also, given the distance between Orla and Daniel, they both appear to have been friends of Tom’s, rather than with each other.

While I’m happy with leaving some stuff unanswered, like who or what possessed Tom, and how the supernatural draw started, I felt like some clarification on other things would have helped, like what happened to Tom? He collapses after his possession, but from the way Orla and Daniel discuss the incident, he does survive. While Orla needs to talk about what happened, and Daniel really doesn’t but provides her with a listening ear anyway, Tom’s reaction to the event is absent. Also, Orla and Daniel discuss the aftermath on the phone in this really static pose, so nothing is really being shown of their reaction, it’s all tell in the dialogue, with Orla describing herself as haunted as opposed to being shown to be haunted.

A qualified success, with really good visual horror, but hampered by underdeveloped interpersonal relationships between the characters.

If you like this…

The Dead Are Jewels To Me

The story of a ruby is narrated, going from the empty fitting on the hand of an anonymous cadaver, back through generations of the owner’s family to its formation in the earth. It has a melancholy air, seeming to ask if people can be haunted by what they own, can what they own be haunted by them in their passing? Interesting little tale woven in this 5-minute short film.

If you like this…

The Bayview

In The Bayview, Susie runs an unofficial hostel for the local migrant fishermen in Macduff. I say hostel, but it is a home, Susie makes sure of that. That is her goal, to give these sailors a home away from home. You see her cooking Ghanaian dishes, trying to get the recipe just right, so they can have a home cooked meal like they would at their family table.

The Bayview is one of those documentaries that shines a light on the extraordinary kindness that goes unremarked as ordinary life. Susie is an American who took over a derelict hotel in Macduff on the north-east coast of Scotland. There with her family, Jim and Matt, she lets the local fishermen come and stay while ashore, giving them the opportunity to sleep in a proper bed.

I know nothing about fishing or sailing, so it hadn’t really occurred to me that sailors who work in the UK, but are from abroad, are limited in their time onshore. It’s mad to me that if you’re working in this country, contributing to this country, there should be any issue or restriction on you actually setting foot on it. Migrant fisherman account for almost a quarter of Scotland’s fisherman – that’s a huge number! – but many end up having to stay on their ships, even while at port, sleeping in bunks, eating in whatever passes for a cramped galley. Susie’s is one place they can go where none of that is an issue.

I loved Susie, she patters about this big house that has that really good cluttered feel of a well lived-in home, full of different people’s knick-knacks and stuff and personal decorating touches. It’s a place that is the opposite of a sterile showroom, or anonymous facility. It has that good mismatched jumble your gran’s has, where you’re welcome to add your own. She’s always making herself useful, cutting hair or cooking dinner, or sitting to chat with the guys.

Her son Matt is the most laid back dude ever. He is this really softly-spoken but hefty built Tongan-American guy. A gentle giant, he helps his mum deliver care packages to the sailors still on the ships and similarly keeps the place up for the ones who come to stay. But while she has a bit of bustle to her, he is super chill.

You can tell the appreciation the fisherman have for Susie, calling her Mama. It’s the simple things, like when they have difficulties with renewing visas, or figuring out how to comply with rules and regulations, it makes them feel less alone when someone says, come over, rest at mine, relax.

A lovely short documentary about the wee heroes who make life better for others in small, unobtrusive ways.

If you like this…

Field Notes On Love

Field Notes On Love is a short film essay on a filmmaker finding a language in which to describe their love for an ecologist. Although told in the third person, it seems to be autobiographical, a documentary quoting diary entries that interrogate the ambivalence of overpowering love.

The setting of the film is a walk through Scottish coastal forest and wild meadow. Juliet Stevenson’s sultry voice narrates both the filmmaker’s romantic reticence in her diaries and the reflective academic ecological journal article subjects. Both question the possibility of whole identity separate from interrelationship in contextual life. And while there will always be conflict, in the push and pull for difference and dominance, that is part of the bonds that hang together, the dynamic which holds co-existence in its ever-changing equilibrium.

A nice little film.

Life of Riley

Life of Riley is a short, black-and-white film about a homeless guy who is jumped and his dog is injured defending him. The dog is his only companion, and the vet’s prognosis for the injury isn’t good. The film follows his emotional turmoil as he comes to terms with what has happened. Grim.

Too Rough

Absolutely excellent short film. Too Rough is about Nick, a young guy whose boyfriend Charlie accidentally oversleeps at his house, and is witness to the chaos of Nick’s dysfunctional and abusive family.

The film opens with Nick and Charlie at a house party. Nick feels out of place at this party full of openly queer people, all a little older and a lot more middle class. While Charlie navigates the party with ease, Nick is withdrawn and drinking in the corner. He clearly feels like he is Charlie’s bit of rough, and swings between a crippling sense of inferiority and imposter syndrome, and a drunken sense of bravado when he feels threatened by another guy talking to his man. It’s this bravado that causes him to give in to Charlie’s requests to stay over at his place for a change.

When Nick awakes to find Charlie still in his bed, all that bravado melts away, and sheer panic replaces it. Ruaridh Mollica’s performance as Nick is absolutely excellent, from the tremor in his hands to the catch of his breath. The sense of shame is palpable as Nick openly resents Charlie for staying until his family were up. “I hope you’re enjoying your trip to the zoo,” he tells him, as his drunken parents begin their dawn-to-dusk screaming match. Because he knows Charlie will see that he is not some tough, but actually a scared boy, trembling with fear in anticipation of blows always about to fall.

Charlie clearly has no idea what a life like Nick’s is like. Charlie is too laid back, speaks too loudly, and initially rolls his eyes at Nick’s requests for him to sneak out. He treats the fact that he’s slept in as no big deal. It’s only over the course of the day, hiding out in Nick’s room listening to the arguments rain down like artillery fire, that he begins to understand just what Nick is dealing with. As Nick tries to push him away so he won’t see his shame, Charlie only holds tighter to him.

This is a love story. It’s about Charlie seeing part of Nick that allows him to love him on a deeper level, and Nick experiencing for the first time a complete sense of acceptance, and support. In this way, despite its bleak setting, it is a hopeful story.

Honestly just an excellent short film.