Belfast Film Festival : Short Documentary Films 2017


Documentary Short films 10 only. In order of screening at Queens Film Theatre 2 April 2017

Introduction 
The Festival organisers this year decided to separate the Documentary Short films from the general submissions to create a different dynamic. One was the resulting drama, theatrical, visionary output of Shorts as entertainment and of a closer connection to Mainstream Cinema and independent’s of the previous days showing. Foremost among new filmmakers is the notion that they have a new story to tell and hence avoid finding replicant’s of films we are familiar with. The Short delivers a condensed story form or idea and scrutinises it with a particular scenes of occasion. A long form film does this also at times but can construct in the pyramid many routes to the same end. Documentary Shorts are a difficult medium also as there have been numerous exceptionally good ones over recent years. One in a style specific to itself, Amy, several other musical ones, the Iggy Pop one, Gimmie Danger and then there are the ones Notes on Blindness and Life, Animated. These were outside the realm of TV documentaries also confined to a set one sitting viewing. The tendency with Art, History and Science Documentaries is to chapter them. The recent brilliant Andrew Graham Dixon series – a trilogy on the Gothic willing my view for it to go down as a masterpiece of a study on the current sociological vicissitudes, and angst born out of the modern era where money and patronage gave leave for writers to produce ‘analysis’ on past times and create future visions. Post Dante and post figurative art. All these lead into the medium of Film. Exemplified by Frankenstein and Dracula with Hitchcock exploring along with the Gothic of Psycho the psychology of the species.  

Here goes.

The following are not exactly tending towards any sense of the gothic but they are oddly enough in many instances paying homage and advancing Gothic themes or ways of thinking.


I call to the Living and Mourn the Dead 

Very often a tragedy during the ‘Troubles’ – that misconstrued inadequate word for our recent history, is explored and it shoulders a responsibility to maintain in its purpose some truth seeking. This film is of a family torn by internal loss of a brother who fled Northern Ireland for fear of being shot. 

Told by his brother the narrative brings in Bombay Street, Ballymurphy as props and timelines. Neither event directly involving the family. Certainly being in the midst of it it implies may have provoked brother Kevin into IRA activism. Kevin became an on the run. We never hear what became of him nor do we get any insight as to the rights and wrongs of Irishman fighting Irishman. Both residing in Britain so Brit fighting Brit? It was a loss of identity or clamor for identity which drove the conflict on top of Civil Rights, supported by both sections against Unionist hegemony. In this film that intangibility is evident though very thinly explored. People do not as individuals represent the ‘Nation’ but people around them convince them they do and design a politic to suit the cause without sight of the consequences. Like the United Irishmen of 1798 the IRA who had none of the nationalist support of the unique United Irishmen had and Ireland in mind but not a United one. This is a film about everything except the troubles but is enclosed in telling a story about a particular family, a sense of remorse and loss, and a head shaking excessive in why? without any particular vision nor with any disclosure about what happened to Kevin. It was not like the Boston tapes which sought/seek to reveal what is unheard. This was a simplistic version of reality though in itself explains many families still are trying to work out what went on and how they were caught up in it others seeking justice and who will never stop through generations quite rightly seeking the truth on those dark dark days.


Forever roars the Atlantic

This is a stupendous alternative view of the North Antrim Coast as seen through adventurous divers, climbers with a good sense of a dramatic frame and larger appreciation of the wilds of nature that form our coastline. Like birds they fly into the air but as humans drop like stones into the breaking waves and surf crashing into the rocks. The depiction through the new equipment of go-pro lightweight cameras which have their own memory card and possibly new gimble aided cameras provide a brilliant active film of high quality and definition. To give gravitas to the adventurous by acknowledging what this awesome coastline is about – which after all is capped by the explosion of the North Atlantic Plate and The European Plate tectonically providing us with this habitat we know as Ireland – at the Giants Causeway – is extolled by the filmmakers and delivered – partially – by a 200 year old MacGonagle? poem itself a homage to this rugged active terrain. Except it to is not up to the task. Forever roars the Atlantic. That is not even close as this film will testify. The Atlantic is our definition of the Ocean formed after this Coastline took shape in the manner crudely described above. The Forever part is also untrue. These adventurers come to a place where for thousands of years these waves have repeatedly on the aegis of the moon cyclically been crashing in more or less the same way over a vast time. Seasons and moon cycles their driver. So it is to this beauty and awesome place we enter in a different way than we would otherwise see it through these filmmakers and it is a testimony to the gift it is to be witness of it or a part of its immense creation. The film reaches another level of understanding and it’s brevity is one possible reason it did not hold the interest entirely. It would have been interesting to see a greater variety of locations and people if holding the impression it was isolated and became a extreme sports film more than a locality, people driven film.


The Wee Shop

In Belfast the corner shop is a disappearing social staple. The Shop around the corner and later You’ve got mail by Nora Ephron are story films of the urban shop while in Belfast the Irving St John who belonged to a deaf family in Euston Street wrote the very funny play Boyd’s Shop which created a very portrait of the community focal point these places were on basically every road and inner city tributary. They even existed in the backstreets and their lights were on until near nine o’clock to provide for the essentials such as milk bread and sugar and non essentials such as cigarettes, lemonade and ice cream, the weekly pools coupon and a florid diet of gossip. The faltering entity is now a shadow of its former self as this short film makes a collection of a small number of stoical shopkeepers lament themselves about the struggle to remain true to the community corner shop provision they sustain on modest returns. Aside from the butchers and Chip shops and street cafes and fast food outlets they are seldom able to compete and this film is a tale which brings mostly dark humour out with the resolute frank telling of past times. Patsy on the New Lodge Road has plenty in common with her fellow shopkeepers Bill and Norman of Sandy Row and the Shankill respectively. The sorry demise of communities driven to the wall by successive governments undermining through lack of investment in all sectors of community life, the housing, schools, infrastructure, transport and a determination to structure destabilisation through housing allocation and lack of provision for families within communities is seen in these very shops which act as a last connection with the troubled communities they serve and served. By giving as one Shopkeeper explained Consuelo the bigger stores are allowed free access to a market through scale and mainly car accessible shopping. Monster supermarkets out of scale with communities and frequented by out of town bound custom heading to the dormitory habitations which provide identikit soulless housing on former farmland and undeveloped hinterlands of small villages. The film is a marker as were photographs of the same shops and former shopkeepers which provide another outlook and insight to the life of a passing community key. 


Seán Hillen Merging views 

This new short documentary portrait observes artist Seán Hillen as he creates a beautiful new photomontage. He shares thoughts about his work and recent personal discovery. The choice of making a work in the small studio of Seán Hillen is a tool adding emphasis to the incredibly interesting subject which is part of film making achievement; the detail the intensely focal frame.

The intensely imaginative world of Newry native, Séan Hillen in his present home of many years in Dublin is entered as if stepping into the imagination itself. From the immediacy of an introduction to the dark outside and the loved fat bastard of a cat getting a food treat offered with profanity, a source of warm engagement and audience laughter enters the film theatre as The Wee Shop did with its non stop mix of pathos and humour striking a chord here in Belfast. It is a rare thing indeed to see an artist in a studio and while Warhol identified a niche to have photographers, artists, authors committed to coming to the factory and making their written and visual record of it itself became product. Like the late Basil Blackshaw who eschewed the rigmarole of publicity and never courted it Séan Hillen is similarly not keen on intrusiveness. When filmmakers of the aptitude and moxie of Paddy and put it to you they want to make a piece about your work it’s a different matter altogether. The work too becomes an artwork. I was reminded of the groundbreaking film following Francis Bacon back from The Colony Rooms to his house and his immediately getting prepared to paint in the wee small hours of the night. Bacon took time to ignore the witness and get on with the work in his mind whereas there is a participation advanced here in this film, to welcome in the viewer to the processes which attest to their inherent honesty. 

To carry out an explanation of how he works Séan gathers together an assembly of thoughts surrounding a new piece of work. In common with the photomontage works he has been making for nearly thirty years it is a leap into the unexpected each time it would seem and is as I perceived it a conduit of his mind extrapolating for us our own heralded metamorphic conjunctions on possible truths of previously upheld views. His explanation and it’s not given as a foundation but possible source of our connection with his work, is our brains priority in placing – seeing as believing – first ahead of further analytical deconstruction. The eye tells the mind to believe what it sees. Given the mind is relying on a chemical reaction which is fed though light onto chemicals transmitters and is a part of the brain itself we are in teleportation land. In the depths of the oceans we know of creatures that have no eyes. We are aware of the senses prioritising light and colour followed by sound smell taste and touch so reality exists to be broken down intuitively when we encounter only the two dimensional figurative statement of a photograph. Ireland has a complex narrative as does ever inhabitant of it.  

Those in the past have questionable histories so why not confront alternative functions for those times and perceptions because memories lie and people do. Mythology is an art form in Ireland from the pipers lament handed down through millennia to our Newgrange polemic ancestory. We have an Eros of harmony in our lives which is equated with that ancient Greek goddess of discord and the sister of Ares. To the turbulence of the universal rules and reliances we bring construct more often than not based on simple untruths be it, democracy, loving, civilisation and fellow treatment of all living things. To this is the melee we have to call discord, identified with the Roman goddess Discordia. In Séan Hillen’s work – most notably Irelantis this discordance is highly prevalent. The discordance which Séan Hillen relates to and with in the film is his relatively recent knowledge of his having the Asperger’s condition which has performed a cathartic revalation for him to the extent previously unexplained attributes were held at arms length rather than their current state of becoming part of the reasoned dialogue.  

To an artist this must be a great benefit as well as a perpetual commitment to the Aldous Huxley doors of enlightenment. Huxley was taught by his father of the possibilities the mind could extend to. The Prelude And Præterita of Aldous therefore were built in his DNA along with the affinities the mind constructs. Seeing here is the artwork progressing along those very lines. Such was the source of the Huxley concepts of cosmic and social order to effect a transformation in Western thinking parallel must be held appropriate in advancing towards recognition of viewpoints we are yet unable to understand but have a belief they are of such magnitude as to affect our present existence in unknown ways, we are basically staking our whole existence past present and future on that construct being manifest. Whether it is true – and these art works as well as many other artists works – tend to that possibility – that we are not yet able to see it – is what allows us the freedom to make such conjectures. Ireland, Eire has Greek connections to the word Peace the opposite of discord ironically. 

There was a palpable stunned silence as the revelatory images became clear and that we were witness to a photomontage which proposed the absurd to not only to be a possibility but had certain other occurrences happened, they could not be dismissed as mere juxtapositions of intangible fluid thought and were reminders how we perceive things alive and active. Advertisements and the land of fictional representation, the apparel label logos identity symbols and members of the semiotics of visual language. While many are on the parameters of fictional forces there are others which are disablingly, perplexing and of deep embedded truth telling however ‘inconceivable’ they might appear. Our consciousness is at a place we’re we are incapable of dismissing them, as perceived certitudes divide us and make us what we are. In preparation for God it seems our goal is to seek out beauty in harmony with the universe. This simple aim is difficult for the human as existence is made all the more confounding by the Bible quotation of God being sorry for making us this way… ‘failing’ you becoming ‘sorry’ in the KJB. 

The Irish Film Festa10 asked of Paddy Cahill 3 questions 

Why did you choose to make a film about Seán Hillen?

I’ve been a long time admirer of Seán Hillen’s work but it was last year, as I visited him at his home to buy one of his prints as a present, that I knew I wanted to make the film. I wrote to Seán right after asking if I could make a short documentary about him and his work. Seán has an amazing backstory, which should be told in another documentary, but I was really fascinated by his home/studio where he creates his amazing work.

The film is set in a small room:

How did you work in terms of frame composition and editing?

When we filmed it was just myself and Basil Al Rawi, our director of photography, in the house with Seán. It was very important to me that we would be a tiny crew, although not much more would have fit in the room anyway! One rule I tried to keep was that Seán would only talk or answer questions while he was making work. That way it would be less like a traditional documentary interview. I thought that watching Seán work while he spoke would be more interesting to the viewer. This also gave Basil the freedom to get right up to Seán’s shoulder and compose some really beautiful cinematography.

And how long did the shooting take?

Along with producer Tal Green we were planning the filming for quite a while but the actual filming was over the course of one night only. I wanted the audience to have the same feeling we had when we filmed as if they just dropped in one night, to this unusual house on a normal looking terrace street in Dublin and got to watch Seán create one of his works.


Oor Wally

There is a pride about Elena Taylor as this film shows about her beloved Stenhousemuir Football Club. In the introduction she tells the unseen cameraman and us, ‘This is the Toilet’, then shuffles along fully kitted up as Stenies long in post, mascot Oor Wally. Or Wally if you prefer. Being a Wally is an unfortunate choice but like the Broons, and Oor Willie they kit the name out with further embellishment so as not to frighten or lull the away supporters Wally is a push over. Decorum is very much Elenas take on it. She is a woman on a mission and gives her all to the role. She takes the cameraperson up the bread aisle of her day job in – well it looked like Asda – and into the toilets. On the wall are framed awards, the latest has yet to be mounted. The Frozen foods aisle brings us and the camera person back to earth as Elena spreads her cheerful banter about her workmates like jam on a scone. When you see Elena sans outfit she is a normal middle aged lovely heart warming person with a radiance she likes to hide, well most of the time, under her alter ego Wally. Once the bloomers are sorted the undergarments correctly in their place on goes the outer shield of the Stenie shirt and leggings. Then Wally the presence, the overlarge head. Then all sorts can be expected. When she walks to the ground past folk going about their business she hardly causes a stir – other than a cherry hello – but on the contrary would be missed if unsighted. As a mascot she takes on dangerous tasks as a meeter and greeter with contact with away fans a thrill no doubt of any day. Newcomers to the home end are easily spotted and welcomed along with the regulars. Defeat is often considered up to fifteen minutes before a match and then a switch is flicked and defeat is out of the question. Warm up coaching of senior players, (l doubt she would berate a younger player) is a forte. Hitting balls over the bar doesn’t go down well and admonishment comes fast and flavoured. This is a memorable film unlike the season they often have. To survive is one thing but to live the dream is another. This is a delightfully made, sincerely felt, no half measures Film – grit loss victory treated just the same – but overall it is a portrait of a lady who goes out of herself to provide an added dimension to the 90mins + added time and long may her reign and Stevie’s need for support continue.

Roys Story

Along with the film below this is similarly voyeuristic of a delusional. A rural storyteller in this instance who is no Len Graham. Being a short it sets up a middle aged man in a field with a microphone to tell his stories which all involved se some stength in. I came to the conclusion swiftly it was a waste of time. Sorry but this was banality writ large.


Raymond

There is something exploitative of finding a lonely old farmer whose lived in face and accumulation of history and things is penetrated for its Irish eccentricity. The director has become aware of this man who lives almost hermit like and who makes a life for himself with the fishing and stores he has in isolation. Maybe he is able to sell some of his catch. Sell some potatoes and vegetables. Instead of this existence the portrait is portrayed by the whims of the existential needs of the filmmaker as it could sit nicely in contrast with the nature surrounding the elderly gentleman. The hubris of an elderly man putting his hand on the Bible unprovoked I presume and him telling a story of empty confused allegiance to an almighty or faith element is an infringement which I found it both unedifying and plain damnable by a filmmaker. To see this old man and hear what he supposes a reality from the living while they are the stuff of delusion and an uncritical perturbed complex mind is a travesty. To see it got and it does not surprise me in the least. There is always an appetite for this voyeuristic cannibalism of the form which is painted over with the smoothness of wet bogland, rivers coursing, banks of standing reeds and is as unpoetical and pretentious guff as they come. It is no great insight to rural Ireland and though it records away of life which hopefully is on the decline, there are numerous colonies of self-formed groups living ‘off grid’ but this is quite common in the face of rural agricultural land ownership and immigration. Indeed this man is a returnees so has plenty of experiences which are contrasting. 


Casion : A Chiptune Documentary.

For the second time in this Documentary set we see an art film and a well considered vision of a section of music rarely encountered. The niche is electronics made with Game Boy and Computer Game sound effects. This is like the Seán Hillen work an analogue type of art form. While extensively digital it is conversely instrumental as it is the controls of the devices that enter the latitutude and longitude of the scales and contort, conspire to be a cascade of sound. Set in the environs of public performance in a small club – having been introduced to the subject by the protagonist, player, Jamie Belvedere of his standard nomenclature of Chipmunk this sideline is a very attractive creative outlet which reaches into the aural space of a small rom with familiar vote and sense of alternative sources for of sound. The audience are appreciative and get it, the cinema experience can only touch the edges, and they shuffle, look around and take in this vibe with knowing connection. The intensity of the raw sound and its boundaries are well captured with editing filling in direction of travel. From production to trepidation and worry of ‘will it work’ to it coming together joyfully in a club as an essence of a particular module of electronica. Itself limiting that’s not really a concern but it’s conception as a medium is uniquely choreographed for the reasoning of musics own art form and it’s seemingly unlimited contagion. I enjoyed this dark and driving film with its new delivery of a niche. If it receives attention beyond short film viewers and sound freaks or everyday avante garde travelers then it surprise a few but it’s unlikely to get to reach very far unfortunately.


The Fashion Show
I’ve placed this film short high on my list of preferred films over the Festival. It’s unasssuming erudite, irony and clever depiction of a rural moving on timepiece of a Summer Fete is of a pathos, humble, Ulster form self parodying and reflecting on the time taken out to be at ease and just have fun. The camaraderie is placed on top of a headline (McDonnell – Glenarm) Scots-Irish backdrop. The fact the estate is so large and festivities are a local staple annually preserve the falsehood of landownership while being a countenance to its presence and inadvertently provides a soft landing for its ugly sequestration. The hero of the film is the stoically alert, intelligent, wide thinking Ruth Morrow who contests herself into becoming an alter ego in the form of Game icon. Super Mario and sidekick Luigi. Luigi is taken off field duties leaving an upset mum. This is temporary but Mum is unaware of this and weaning is not easy. You’ve guessed who fits the bill for Luigi’s part?

In The Fashion Show is caught a bright light in the world of Ruth Morrow trainee shepherdess and the Gamer heros were a breathe of fresh air too. The sublimity – (solid to gas to solid again seems appropriate) – of the world of a rural community letting its worries pass into the afternoon sky temporarily was a lovely escape exquisitely creative and insightful. The surreality of the theme developed was a natural phenomenon and a really enjoyable watch, thoroughly well done by a burgeoning talent. The way it took us through the fete was itself an insight without being intrusive. For example we never learn who the ‘entertainers’ they give a massive swerve to are and likewise no morality or judgement is passed. Only the curmudgeonly like myself who set about seeking a higher meaning or sense of displacement onto other things, by attachments, sentimental or otherwise, have occasion to appropriate the message of entertainment in a simple form. It’s just it is done very smartly and with a beginning, middle and an end which is itself an achievement for a short film. The view from the estate is wonderful and it is something all love to be connected to despite it being in someone else’s ownership – perhaps that is why the Sea has its draw.  Any answer Ted Hughes from far?


Martin 

Established and busy photographer Donal Moloney of Dublin noticed on his frequent movements around the inner City a homeless person who on meeting him turned out to be Martin who disowned the title homeless as his home was underneath Pearce Street Station under arches. Donal was attracted to Martins presence Ashe was a fixture of this locality and was intrigued enough to investigate. We have the resulting film which follows on in perverse logic some photography work with the ‘homeless’ Donal Moloney had been engaged in over many years. Father Peter McVeery who is a Catholic Priest who makes it his life’s mission to help Dublin’s homeless and disadvantaged. The Arrupe Society in Summerhill being the probable source of food for Martin and the biscuits he crushes under his boot for pigeons around Pearce Street. I did not hear his name crop up or did I miss it? This instead avoids spirituality as a hindrance to proper discussion. It takes the dubious philosophy and delusion of happiness into acceptance on the part of the Director for its scenic unmaterialistic value set yet adds tokenistic view of society from the perspective of a person who lives on its fringes while spending time reading in a library in the worst of times. Weather beaten and with pure instincts for survival Martin has become a model inconvenient tag ‘homeless’ person to partner with Donal’s photographic skills so identifying a product and a placement which the pair have contrived as a contribution to art. It removes itself from definition, parody or pathos as a singularly lax story, I can’t think if one is more deluded than the other but as a film of a nomad on the streets of Dublin whose sadness and rejection of the assistance is temporal according to him, one of rejecting help is sanguine, almost sanguinary imploding as a mystery, is of little merit given the conditions of crime, poverty, addictions, child abuse and societal hemorrhaging seen as a white canvas to invent illusion upon. The Belfast Film Festival Documentary Judges Committee came up with this as the joint winner amongst all the above with Raymond. They, to my mind, share the same insensitivity, and intrusive voyeuristic tome required of insensible unconscious filmmaking. There was not a creative moment to be had beyond contrived happenstance.

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