Belfast Film Festival Shorts 2019

It is a few weeks since this event at Queens Film Theatre took place and I have not been diligent enough through other events and Easter, the orthodox one is this weekend 28 April 2018 – Bulgaria Greece and other places celebrate it according to their calendar, and I have progressed to having I hope done justice to each film seen at the Short Film Festival day which was superbly well supported by an appreciative audience. The festival continues and here is an event worth checking out.
On Wed 8th May at 8pm in the @BFFBeanbag BFF are screening THE CAT.
A cat from outer space teams up with a young alien girl and her knight, along with an adventure novelist named Wisely, to fight a murderous alien that possesses people. £3
(link: https://belfastfilmfestival.org/films/the-cat)
belfastfilmfestival.org/films/the-cat
In true blog style I’ve mentioned or wedged in Schrödinger’s Cat to my bag below. Read on it’s pretty obvious where you will find it.

Stigma

Set on the coastline of Co Down at the iconic St John’s Lighthouse near Killough, which Brendan Behan once painted (temporarily) its signal yellow and black hoops are like a wasp warning of angry inhabitants maybe. This short film is visually beautiful while using the still existing heritage to often good effect. By its location at the metaphorical edge of land and water, the changing surfaces made raw by weather, time and the period in which it is set, is a casting back towards a more institutional rigid time not far removed from religious intransigence. Playing on the notion people are in the lap of the gods and mystic unknowns Stigma presents a story of loss and return.

The innocence of a child is used very effectively by the young engaged actor portraying a boy seeking answers from everything he casts his eyes on. He finds a washed up garment and gets chastised for bring it back home. It perhaps contains in the adults thoughts an apprehension. Apparitions occur and the twists and turns are delivered here with tension and hold the viewers attention not least because the cinematic overtures are seen at their best on this large screen showing. It is about borders and boundaries I felt, much as the exhibition I recently saw at the Mac International 2018 and the black and white coastal people bounded by sea. Renata Poljaks images and videos are intense and similar in some ways. It’s called Yet another Departure.

The star of the piece is undoubtedly the locality. I have loved this place and the nearby St John’s ruin of a Church or Meeting House – actually like a temple – it is profoundly able to throw you back to the ancient perils and dreams this landscape must have held many years ago. For dramatic effect only the static framing and painterly type realism of the type seen in work by Peter Greenway jars slightly. I was taken back to one of my all time favourite films Ordet though there is barely any comparison due to the singular nature of the either. Ordet takes surrealist dramatic overtures to places never before encountered, where the personalities of the people are similarly vexed and confounded and the coastal location is in all conscious in the same place mentally. Stigma is a very good short film and while it is limited in its projection of thoughts of stirred reality and imagined themes. It only sent a chill into my bones when the hand held element of a beach scene develops. It became a different type of film only then and evaporated in a mist.

Stigma holds an imprint of the hand of God, obedience and renewal with stigmata often conveyed in terms as stigmatise, this is anything but and is an excellent film if somewhat stilted in its mystery.

***** 4

Aines Place

It’s always difficult to come up with a convincing and none too stretched narrative to present a short story but this film found itself able to deliver in a short time a tense, thoughtful, warm yet disturbing scenario well held in some parts, particularly the props, with scene setting and occasional moving objects or one particularly. One minute an object there, the next gone and so forth set management trickery wth subtlety.

Very well edited directed and acted it hosted a story of a young ‘Holiday let’ visitor finds herself bombarded in her quest for tranquility and brochure led scenic isolation which presents something of a nightmare. The complexity is found in encountering misconceptions and falsehoods and is disturbing slowly. This is about a visitor and my graphic – photo as with all the ones here – is just a visual headers and not part of the films imagery.

The concept of creating a warm environment, all pastel shades homely cottage, Yankee candles etc, held the pleasing perceived outlook for only so long. It looked as it should but dropped its psychological hit in a similar non threatening way. Maybe the need or want was not to make it too dark as an entertainment.

Ballykissangel ‘orishness’ crept in, in too many ways unfortunately and it jarred with its simplistic stereotypes, though complex and relevant in terms of predation and harm, given the lost unanswered travellers this island has and probably many others have in their closet. Recently there have been warnings of ‘stalking’ or ‘criminal’ intent and outcomes with ‘lets’ in properties in the press and this film is in that context a small cautionary note.

A thing I was able to take from it came from an unusual source yet instantly ubiquitous with our country and symbolism used in other lands. It was the dolmen providing a context a trinity of stones with supporting the slab of humanity on top. No reading of dolmens is fixed and I have found that theory for myself and you may accept or discard it, of the trinity being air water earth and simultaneously Father Son and Holy Ghost or their tokens of the times they were invoked or passed on.

*** 3

Land of Winter

The relationship with religion once again is explored. Set in the bottle neck of drinking in Temple Bar a young man returns to a festive time in Dublins evening with the shimmering reflective Liffey and swan neck Halfpenny Bridge his backdrop. I thought the booze culture had moved in the new millennium but the milieu of escape by drowning in the black stuff reigns on and so the pubs visited turn the taps on of possibilities. For all the type cast Temple Bar elements this film shoots higher and beyond the bars and confines of the grand canal. It is very very engaging and in no small part due to the lead actors portrayal of their respective lives. When Gerard is befriended or picked up by a girl with smarts enough to discard her drunken happy bunch of work companions, she ensnares herself and her new companion on a journey in the nighttime taken up with life’s harder questions. It is a talented burlesque and brazen epiphany like journey which is a joy to watch and allows you to be carried along with the discoveries within the characters and of each other. While shades of Yeats and Joyce were present it was not pretending to be other than a story of a present day pair of lives connecting beautifully, to strong a word perhaps but a synergy is apparent while they are alone and together for a short while. The thought occurs of the night time presenting the best time for discovery but there is a dawning, literally, and a fresh beginning to be encountered. So the conversation held at four o’clock in the morning which you and others may have prematurely held their hat on is (almost always?) lost in the new days resurrection of self.

An accomplished well paced, edited and not insignificantly, excellently scripted piece filmed to within an inch of believable resonance.

**** 4

Hindsight

Set in the present and in a Prison Visitors room a picture is presented of a young family dealing with one coming to terms with his mistakes. The man Tony is in his early thirties and his wife Paula comes to visit with their young daughter Tilly taking it all in her stride – life has introduced no alternative – Tilly knows they are having some problems and finds herself locked in prison of sorts herself with her dads absence and all are understandably locked in a situation which creates uncertainty and disorder. While this is not a prominent feature of the film it is resonant. The film conveys this with good insightful elements while growing the main new situation of a relationship conducted with a prison between them. Tony has become a drug addict and is showing signs of recidivism but it’s signalled there may be a reintroduction to his past habits and dealing inside is another dilemma which has consequences.

Having sensitivity and a good script takes this story to believable places and mental pictures present externally as well as those seen in play, so we are able to bring connection and engagement with things you do not normally see conveyed or are exposed to through cinema. The emotional content and context is the core transporting element in this film and it is delivered with skill and intense dramatic effect by its cast and crew. The agency of some sort of a budget was not wasted and this is a complete piece leaving questions and empathy and concern in its insight to the justice system and family.

Challenge is paired with hope.

**** 4

Early Days

When it comes to creating a meaningful story as a short film this ticks all the boxes.

I found the nature and this is a natural subject of a new life entering the world, touched me with its insightful cadence and deliberation on new motherhood. Post natal depression is unlocked and that is hopefully too much of a spoiler. The programme paragraph states its contours similarly.

Kate is cared for by loving visiting parents and is bedded into life as a new mother to a wonderful child, – this is a star in the making as the well behaved baby plays a baby infant so well even down to the feeding routine! – and we clasp the intensity of emotional warping which is hosted here in this natural phase of childbirth. There are flashbacks and disturbances seen and unseen. The merging of the real and imagined is totally convincing carrying us along and into this tenderly directed, conspicuously adept conception. Birthing a story and baby in the one compass is thoroughly and provokingly immersive. I was taken by the strangeness and irregularity of the crossover play with our emotions as well as the ones being portrayed. That being the merging of real and imagined which Kate herself is going through. The father is also pulled into our attentive grip. The baby is never left outside the story and this core is essentially what drives it.

When it comes to providing answers along with discoveries it also gives advice and insight. Some advice comes from an unexpected source and is beautifully rendered.

Consummately held this story was able to carry and there are many variations possible on this theme with all kinds of motherhood working on different planes, this is a presentation of how post natal depression sometimes appears and this is a very convincing telling however unique this one was.

***** 5

Finding Shakespeare

Last years winning short at Belfast Film Festival was set in a boarding school. This is also set in a school, one which is so clean and tidy and spotless it could be be taken from the land of make believe which it leads us towards. Those familiar with Shakespeare are asked how does this compare with life today. Always. Will S has set for us a bibliography of languages roots and minds workings in complex accessible narrative in play form, to last as long as man inhabits earth. Only children of a certain age don’t always like being brought to the party. Schools are where learning happens and Will S has enabled generations of deep mining for clues to our mortal coil while setting our heaps of quotable expressions. He has provided experts and careers aplenty.

Before google was invented it was often impenetrable but with predicative text and numerous other things we seldom can equate reality with what is and not question it. A quote is predictably going to cover that.

This school is the setting for a visitation and a kindly one. A puckish character arrives to help the children learn. The classroom is a hornets nest of buzzing teenage melancholy and energy replete with growing certitudes soon to be prevailed upon by marauding adulthood discoveries. Maeve is the central schoolgirl who is not for stereotyping and is proprietorial of her latent wisdom and not wishing it to be disrupted by interlopers such as the bard or even classmates or indeed home. Individuality is key and these differences are the metier and scope of all of Shakespeare’s work.

When teacher sets a task to discover the inner workings of the any play in the bards repertoire the anxious pupils devour and pulp the fictions according to their own personality and preoccupations. Romeo and Juliet is a core candidate for one or two.

In a Puckish aside; Will S has made this expression our enabling evocative phrase, imagination comes to the fore and presents the essence of the nature of forming extraordinary stimulating ideas and concepts often contested in the new found encyclopaedia of search engines. Newspapers, archival libraries and definitive conjecture speculated by ‘teachers’ is brought into play here, literally, by the films central premise. The contest of language and AI is witnessed.

I thought this was a film which would best suit a young audience though it clearly would be found equally warm and engaging to all generations. Guilty as I am, I use in front of younger folk, along with many others I guess, the foresight of knowledge obtained through attention to Shakespeare’s vast worldly contribution in a presence of wise counsel as an adult. It fills a huge hole in our wisdom no matter how tenuously you approach it. We take the wondrous gift often for granted and use it everyday in some manner or other.

By skilfully and well constructed, colour-filled, luminous, playful containment to the Shakespearean themes the filmmakers give a delightful treatment of our own preconceived ideas and positioning when it comes to Shakespeare. K. Branagh has it in spades and digs for the treasure, though in flexing his filmic skills he lately has indulged a bit to far without licence. So into it he begins transgressing! This film does nothing like that and creates an original – though it is heavily influenced by the axiom of the work itself – perspective.

Is the meticulously kept Holy Child Primary School actually in use or is it in measures?!

Now what is Measure for Measure really about?

**** 4

Hold the Line

Holding the line of 12 minutes and keeping it paced and moving smoothly for a short film is a difficult line to travel. This film does it superbly in many distinctive and authoritative ways. The use of line as a metaphor is something henceforth unavoidable!

With another announcement on the daily news today (15/04/19) of a new Belfast call centre beckoning young people to their cause, it is ironic as this film launches an interrogation of what it takes to be nice on behalf of corporations in customer service. A theory, not here presented, is that good manners are a deceit and hide any credible concern as unconcern or something along those lines. Hold the line traverses the perceived and expectations of civility in today’s commonly confrontation filled driven life.

Laura O’Shea who plays the call centre operator, M; she withholds her name for logistical and personal reasons, is also the writer and co-produces with Karen Millen this no or low budget adventure. Because of its conversation based premise, it holds its key in the daily communications of answering all comers queries, it therefore hits a few sucker punches to a person whose own rights and privileges are invaded and abused. The menial task of call centre work is a depersonalised persona vial of an often found vile house.

M (Emma) is in a room with few symbols of corporate wealth. Acting as the outreach arm of a broadband provider – a subtle communications nod – M is first found answering a call from a young male whose patience is nil and profane and abusive behaviour his default. Laura O’Shea immediately in her tiny facial movements and attentive eyes and body language shows the anxiety brought to her in an everyday situation. The symmetry of her face and hidden dexterity is palpable as she emotionally expresses all our own thoughts and perceptions in reaction to this private/public conversation. It is a conversation we all are familiar with and the exploitation of the power dynamic is put across in uncomfortable and very believable terms in this brilliant piece. There is a soft beauty in Emma’s face and we are conscious of this isolation through Kate O’Shea’s subtle delivery.

Without it sounding preachy or finger wagging this is a piece which doesn’t over-egg the cause of creating an interesting thought provoking tale and one which maybe is able to indicate to the wavering, the need to be civil wherever or however you conduct these conversations were the end receiver should not personify the ‘agency’ ‘corporate’ entity your having a problem with. It is too often the case.

I liked the Converse shoes and direction was crisp and contained in a claustrophobic confined boiling kettle of a brew so this came across as a short film with answers of a kind and aspects of kindness thankfully emerge in its delivery.

***** 5

Her Very Own

In a country where parents are brought to court or fined for keeping their child away from school for unexplained or improper procedural reasons it is a place where some thought is needed in realising the undercurrents often at play.

This film looks at a mothers single parenthood and her boy Benjamin is a component in the stress and compression of feelings in a broken family situation. Maeve is a woman in her thirties whose home is like a prison and she is only holding down agency work and its impermanence which is part of present spray culture makes her depression and anxiety manifest in OCD type behaviour. It is a hard watch as there is no opening to empathise as the film keeps you on the outside. Perhaps that is variable and personal.

Automatically school protocols and institutional formality enter. In each scene dealing with an authority figure the frame is a head profile signifying confrontation and the meetings are similarly framed with there being boundaries set and metaphorical walls erected which bring the problems to a heightened level and inevitable consequences arise. Whether it was that or the serious subject given a treatment which was hard hitting and convincing it made me uncomfortable and prone to lock out the morals of the tale. I followed the story and took in the mental disturbance centrally in Maeve’s world. Setting herself insurmountable goals and trying to perfect through OCD all around her felt an inexhaustible exercise but one which offered some hope albeit condensed.

A very well made short film well delivered by the small cast and it probably accomplished its compressed goals in a smooth production.

*** 3

I am not a monster

We are taken into a privileged place. A period manorhouse where the flock wallpaper and Farrow and Ball paints, Sanderson patterned curtains and wall mounted stuffed animals are all ingredients which may go someway to explaining the characters we are to meet.

Enter the house one hooded paranoid young man who identifies himself to his mother on the doorstep as Ambrose. He is not expected by her or his brother whose presence at the manor is due to his impending engagement to a very attractive girl called Catherine who must wonder what exactly the gene pool is like in this family.

Ambrose is not dissimilar in appearance to David Thewlis – actual name David Wheeler, and by now a formidable talent seen to effective credit in Fargo and Ode2Joy.

After awkward greetings and excuses are made the film begins to unravel its beastly narrative. Dealing with a mental illness and paranoia Ambrose is unsettling to everyone and his place in this otherwise happy reunion, intended as a welcome to the bride to be it disturbs in its throes of engagement. Pun intended.

It helps if some of the characters can be tangential and offer some way to compensate for their – generalities are part of the restrictions short and feature films often send you towards – unlike-ability – no connections or sympathy is, without effort, made possible.

So the story takes on a dark funny comic potency and though it is dealing with the mental problems of its central character it is led to the use of absurdity and superficial instruments. It was a good in everything it set out to achieve I would imagine but it’s became a victim of its narrow and highly contrived situation.

There are several promising indicators regardless of this one viewpoint on the probable success of the team given another more reasonably formed story. It was in places executed extremely well and throwing curves is only successful when there is another twist or curveball or two in the mix. So onto the next one.

*** 3

The Owl

I will set out the very paragraph taken from the programme to begin a discourse.

A man Nick played by Emmet Kirwan arrives uninvited to his best friends birthday party, where he discovers why his friends have abandoned him.

This is a dark film which builds to a shocking conclusion in its limited orbit.

Arriving at night at a rural farmhouse with his guitar the period of Midsummer’s eve comes to mind and immediately that pagan festival is thought of through the fireworks of a group of youngsters seen in the distance silhouetted against the embers of their bonfire. Ireland has its affinity with this time period and here it is possibly in use. The still honoured tradition is found in Mayo for example across the bays fire illuminated the night sky. The kitchen is deserted when he reaches the house and music resonates from another room.

That is the setting and introductions for something more problematic is in play. The tension is provided in noises off and when he uses some smokes of another occupant of the house who then appears. This is Tracey played by Aoife Duffin and director of another short film, Sister, whose drugs he has just helped himself to.

The owl is the harbinger or carrier of death in many eyes and this shadow falls across the film and the Director Neil Winterling whose cv is lengthy and impressive (The Shore being one) brings heft and disturbing contemporary thinking into this horrific piece. It’s not a genre of any kind just a highly individualised and compressed short story delivered with formidable credulity and it shocks and haunts beyond its minimal visit to the screen.

**** 4

Troubles

Being an entry in the Belfast Film Festival the immediate presumptions need to be thrown away. This is conspicuously not about the Troubles although – and its hard to fathom – it might refer to a parent long gone. It’s never clear.

It begins in a quiet rural pub at night with all the lights out and a concerned young man crouching and hidden from sight asks someone close by him to be silent as the knock on the door comes. It follows a car pulling up outside and seems a harbinger of some bad intent perhaps in this otherwise tranquil place. With the title a deliberate and perhaps tangential (mis)lead the thoughts f malevolence and perhaps violence come immediately to the front of this film.

The story is about a group of musicians and it centres on the course of them continuing their session after this interruption. They are young people with a way of making their own craic and defining their space in life by their joyous engaging symbiosis. Playing traditional music that is. After some initial catching up the visitor and returnee he is outside with his drink having a smoke and is joined by one of the group.

As we have reached this point it is realised, and its not a spoiler in any sense giving the lead up to it, the pair have a lot of past to unpack.

One of the most memorable parts of any of these short films is their musical contribution and the song it closes with seems to transport the watched and watching into a past where requisition is called for. Response to the past and avoiding avoidance. It is superbly rounded in its simple format and only briefly through the mistake referred to of leading your expectations to what might be signalled concerning the ‘troubles’ without enough clarity, it is an excellent piece of thoughtful filmmaking. Powerful in many ways.

There is an air of young people making sense of things together without the outside and past being too invasive. It is present though and they are aware of it and the lineage of traditional music and sean nos is captivating in al senses of the word.

The talents of Bronagh Taggart are again seen in this production; partner Jonathon Harden directs. Those fingerprints are definitely touching it with emotions forward and convincing, the nerves being on its creative pulse. The DoP duties performed by Ryan Kergnohan is positioning this team in a strong way as filmmakers again. Work is seen as collaborative including the cast skills and the visuals are still and framed unfussily but with the deft lighting and shadowy darkness the story is invoked strongly.

**** 4

Juggle

In the continuous heavenward ascent of the Commercial Capitalist up-reach of Dublin’s squalid businesses the focus is here on a company director on the take and make. Having shafted a computer designer he has apparently shafted another and is asked to pay the consequences. As the Guinness Observatory once gave solely the view spread from its costly Protestant brewery across the city beneath, towards another, BusArás, a Michael Scott flagship – and homage to departures near the Custom house – now the Spencer Docks and new Financial section herald an embrace of all things greed orientated. Whether this is the premise and intent it is a salutary tale excellently told about the dislodgement of apparent ‘reward’. As various battles currently play out over mainly slices of the people’s needs, housing, medicine, transport, communications and new technology, the emphasis is on shifted from the internal ‘chancers’ to the invitation to more international chancers.

With AI coming to the fore maybe that was the software paydirt. The first actual marketable robot was manufactured back in the early eighties and Adam 12 were made, Eve 13 where made and Ian McEwan reminds us in a recent book Eve sold out and the character in his novel could only obtain an Adam. So this is, for the sake of this review, a computer programme minting it for the Juggler who has to decide how to deal with the outcome of one of his session.

We are getting replaced and the buildings are temporarily hosts to aspirations in the cloud or clouds. It’s the robots that need to be taxed. The Tesla car could eventually solve some energy void but it needs to be built as do all the other fragments which make up our existence. Few will be needed to make the assembly lines function.

The story is captured mainly in an empowered woman whose chutzpah or smarts, show the juggler to be out of his depth.

The film is annoying in the sense the juggler is annoying and you wish he would behave and cease his nonsensical vibe. As a premise it just about gets away with it and in its closure someone gets to find a future not necessarily on this plane.

*** 3

What Betty Sees

Opening with a shot of a woman striding out on the Belfast streets we are taken to 1979 and the woman stops to examine some indistinguishable chalk graffiti (washable poster paints are available – the only misstep!) on a brick wall and family waits gathered to greet this fortune teller. With a brew having been made three girls of a family in which there are 12 siblings altogether Mother needs to be indulged by the 3 girls seated and pressed into submission for the forthcoming tea leaf reading. Brilliantly handled by Director Colleen Forward whose first film this is; you would never have guessed it at all, it is summoning skills of recollection and wishes in this true story. As a group of three the girls could not be any different and they are shy, confident, practical. They exchange these elements on different scales at times. This introduction to fortune telling for them is full of peculiar expectations where the scales of life are to be encountered in tea leaves. The mother is conspiratorial in leaning towards the prospect of babies. I used to live close to a house where a fortune teller lived and you would see a pair usually, of an older woman accompanied by a younger one in their Sunday best and often on a Sunday step through the front gate and knock the door. An hour or so later they would emerge looking down and deep in a conversation with their futures revealed and no longer in the mists of conjecture.

The three are told their futures, while the flashbacks, flash forwards, shows Colleen using her imagination thoroughly, with deft insightful storytelling easily woven, though it is due no doubt to hard work in the crafting in the creative process and well spent time. Strong attention to detail is apparent, in for example a nod to 1979. Spellbound is a band Forward has a connection to and there is a leaflet on the mantle piece advertising this, her fathers band.

The tea leaves blow in this order for, 1. Bernie, 2. Theresa, 3. Marie away.

The vibrations of their different connections to the reveal, reverberates in the senses of the watcher. It is a bit like a visit into a very private space and the mystery is taken as read and counterintuitive thinking is temporarily discarded. For the sake of imaging a future the perils are pronounced as are the beliefs and superstition in play in taking in a form of belief or advisory for cautious reference.

Very well acted and imagined it was a production deposited in a few minutes with slick editing and smooth dialogue and ease of entry to the unfolding story.

There are obvious markers made in the capacity of all involved for other engaging stories and it won’t stop here or at lest that’s what the tea leaves say as I stare into the tea brewed uncommonly with loose tea in this 21st century. The future and past seem wrapped up together here.

***** 5

The Man who shot the Ket

This is a bonkers short film which in the black and white noir style of a comic book crime thriller is hallucinatory ket dust by Rian Lennon and his assembled Belfast ne’er do wells. He orchestrates a stand-off on mega proportions which grows in absurdity as it continues delivering in only the way, genuinely, Belfast speak is spoken when hot wired to eejits of low intellect but full of Street creds.

The opening is a knock on the door in a run down tenement and a young man, The Man who shot the Ket is questioned robustly and thoroughly working on the absurdity, by a young smart girl. Theresa is her na,e and texting is her game. Both are in danger of falling over in trying to keep up the persona granted by low expectations and low returns on life.

The big deal is a missing item which is worth very little whatsoever in real terms but people could die over its mishandling given the narrative telling of this enclosed and tightly shot scenario. Beautifully coherent in filmic and noir terms along with several one liners any Belfast novelist would pay his TV licence for.

In a fix wouldn’t be in it. The fix is one which the antagonist/protagonist – don’t know which to believe is playing it straight as a version of Ricky Gervais in bad light might seem. Office it ain’t but it’s all I have to go on. Dickhead and lots of sweaty profanities are exchanged as the head melt continues to a bizarre loss having been realised and that’s where the Ket came in. It’s not a Cat is Ket. On yesterday’s bus I was talking to a couple who were smuggling Schrödinger’s cat but it turned out to be hidden in a handbag, (there is no cat we have no cat!) enroute to its home where cats are banned. This gameplay with the Ket is almost verging on the possibility that quantum physics are in play, and its a Larry Cowan intervention as Producer maybe, of a thoughtful theme of a state known as a quantum superposition as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event integral to the plot that may or may not occur. Or possibly not.

The Ket exists but will our friend Stevie find it. In glorious black and white this story is picture compared and boxed to within an inch of its credibility and delivers a complete and brilliantly rendered and portrayed joyful escapist twang of a short. Elasticity is needed to take you with it. A lot of Orson horsin’ before closure.

It’s a bit like finding your uncle was an alligator and that’s what made him snappy all clues were there. The writing and directing of Rian Lennon is a very comment treatise of the genre with lots of Belfast scurrilous behaviour. I wonder how it might appeal elsewhere as there are no compromises and there shouldn’t be by adapting it for wider consumption. The wonder of it is local or wider?

Regards the drugs, give me some Dulce and Yellowman any day as it is as much stimulant as my man can take. I’m utterly affected after this.

**** 4

A film about Sandhoppers.

What’s it about? You’ve not been mislead. These are intelligent creatures the microscopic lens of Nicholas Leogh is savouring it it’s tribute to a little skillful high jumper that for some reason requires propulsion that no other creature really needs. Predation must have happened early and seeing in close up instillation these charm and lead to a charmed existence in this extremely short lived film. Their lives are not brief but the condensed probably correctly identified priority of mating is invoked, I wanted to avoid that word but the shortest film of the day gets it and it is a love story with a shell of an outlook but symmetrical drawn.

**** 4

One new friend

Gemma lives in a house of fundamentalists who supercharge her moral outlook with rigid boundaries. So when she seeks out friends, as is the present default/dilemma, it is done on-line to a large degree. With a video-cam clipped to the monitor on her hom computer she sets about the web and the text alerts are framed on our screen as questions and frameworks form and fix.

By taking a dark subject by using the device of a short story this is a shout out to pay attention. Predation is soon encountered and made physical. There is a meeting which is possibly stretched too far but is acknowledged as one that might easily happen though it’s quite remote I would have thought. A plush apartment, maybe a booked AirBnb is a scene of discomfort and danger.

Where it goes is probably easily predicted given the tells as it progresses. It was very cohesive and carefully handled but lacked the authority for me of a convincing believable story no matter how close and real thes situations are. It needed perhaps some jeopardy on the part of the instigator and fell a bit short for me.

*** 3

Vegetables

Vegitarianism is on everyone’s lips but not necessarily the item itself.

In a dystopian context in a Wicklow forest a set of zombie types are in the fields searching for their daily bread. Give us this day our daily beetroot or carrot or turnip. Taste doesn’t matter but availability does. There is a set of three who are first aware of the other people who are boobing up and down. We have seen them and they are the zombie like ones. Rooting literally at the edge of their decomposition for vegetables to live and they have hit pay dirt.

The film takes time to hit pay dirt as the climax or core part is a confrontation when these sets meet each other. The set on the outskirts are like the custodians in the Handmaids Tale those seeking out and securing for themselves through weaponised means their predatory needs. This is perhaps after the control elite colony has collapsed or been cast outside. The queen bee perished. Her the wings of the weaponised ones are brought sharply in and they find dealing with what they find disruptive and unclear.

Zombie films are not my favourite though Train to Busan, the South Korean one is superb. Lobster wasn’t bad either but wasn’t as dystopian as the local The Survivalist shocking treatment. This avoids cliches and tropes of the form and is therefore putting out a very well thought out set of ideas and it leaves the viewers with satisfying engagement which carries beyond the Cinema door.

**** 4

Fifteen

Taking the true unjust imprisonment of Paul Hill and his treatment while incarcerated as it’s purpose this is a claustrophobic and dark but realistic interpretation of the well known saga of long term lack of justice in British and Northern Ireland justice system. The betrayal of us all by thugs in Government and on the streets committing needless murder and maiming is palpable in the few short minutes of this films existence.

Fifteen years to obtain any sort of justice. Both sides of the Irish Sea people let this boil and spill out. Those who knew the wrong people were convicted and said nothing while the pretence of peace was on the agenda, got on with their own scripts of endeavour. Police and Prison officers fell for their forces propaganda and dealt out their own justice.

Paul Hills years are spent most of the time in solitary confinement and his jailers use of methods of torture in their own sickening deeds conflicted with their job as duty officers charged with restoring prisoners others put inside by ‘The Crown’. Lord Longford knew the radical restorative aims missing in British prisons and campaigned to resolve it.

Here though the years are tabulated chronologically and episodically and the central thee conveyed is the immense injustice involved. Also present is the human capacity to approach new stages of life while trying not to unpick or discard an unshed-able agony.

The parts that best played out in this for me were the closeness and personal focused elements. This is a formulaic approach which only veered into the surreal as close up aspects were explored but I wanted more of the surreal as the years for us that have grown up with the troubles as part of our person close or removed at times, have built a saturation of thoughts that appear every tine such treatments appear. It’s not that they are not welcome, all insights are worth it and are needed more and more but this was a fairly well trodden path though immense and in it its short timeframe remarkable.

**** 4

Burnt Oranges

Spun off in one minute and thirty seconds this is a tale of a man coming to confront his imprisonment and what is behind it. It is a psychosis and a grippy misread ion his own skull is combined with a score of some strength. It was a dubious and unaffecting film for me.

** 2

El Hor

In a homage to the fulcrum of black and white photography and motion study this is a visual feast. At its centre is landscape of the universe in its patterns so synthesised and binary yet kaleidoscopic. The binary is not a universal norm but here the division of the screen is complemented by a pair of Saluki dogs. The Dog Star is summoned. The eyes of the Saluki are studied. The flow of their white long haired coat is studied. By seeing the fluid motions of these beautiful creatures it is something of a ancient philosophy incurred in the bred having occupancy of transposition in ,a s mind of their harbouring more than we can imagine. There are certain dogs such as collies whose intellect is such they can after a few years; ask any dog behaviourist it’s true!, be aware of words humans speak and respond accordingly. So these Saluki get to be top dogs because of their looks and a modicum of intelligence transpositioned by humans.

The score is a synthesised and electronic score which is synchronised with the film and is after its rising to the fore around midway places the film into an enveloping complexity of symmetry and the dogs are seen only in patterns and cloudy shapes. The landscape of the Wicklow Hills is another player with its rivers and narrow valleys and wondescape of again Irish ancient mutations.

Directed by Diane Lucille Campbell this is a highly accomplished film with lots of very fine tuning and allowing for the worshiping of the Saluki – Herons – Giraffes and all creatures great and small (NI hymn!) have a role in the appreciation of the universal truths in front of our eyes everyday – it does form a distinctive and therapeutic diversion. Significantly by using black and white the focus intensifies and it is a as a lovingly film and performs homage on to our world in a small but in itself a complete way.

**** 4

No Place

There is a breakdown on a scale which is devastating for a young family in this modern Ireland where the hubris and ecstatic content of the Politicans ignorant and ignoring the devastation of bailing out corruption by citizens who have washed their hands of and have Courts and Politicians rinsing of remaining residue is viscerally exposed in this treatment. In hotel accommodation and out on a limb with no meaningful assistance Angela has her two very young kids to keep from harm by their social situation. If it’s an eviction or an estrangement from a marriage or even both it is a set of circumstances only the fittest and with contingencies and family support could address. Angela does relatively well but comes a cropper when the work she is still holding onto is cut off. She has been dealing with an agency doing in the present day ‘third party’ devolved employment responsibility, one without rights or protections – Government has seen to that – the question is why this country has allowed this to happen and how it affects so many mostly women? At a crisis point it has the appearance of a normal set of circumstances but it’s not and is a surreal 21st century collapse of social cohesion and its effects are staffing.

Faced with being single parents in their cris the margins are gossamer thin. This is a very clear and disturbing important film in its small scope as a short but it’s message is palpable and real.

In terms of how the construction of the story and its evolvement there are scenarios the filmmakers will have set aside and they run with just the one set of ideas and outcomes but have been it is clear choosing one out of many such is the variable scenarios they could equally have formed. Perhaps there is a place to put a short set of stories as common parallel but totally unconnected otherwise – stories of say half an hour or even one hour where each tells a story of modern Ireland and locality not ‘universality’ is foremost and able to put across the rural and city based stories that are haemorrhaging the Island. North and South have situations caused by different issues and this focus on Housing and repossession is just a taste of what might arise in future societies.

Laura Kavanagh and Michelle McMahon are to be applauded for this work and hopefully they have more opportunities to expand and create more eyeopening narratives.

***** 5

First Disco

Brace yourself for teenage bullying and troubling coming of age. In a world where appearance is bought and traded as the opium for a successful life those whose difference from standard issue trademarking ideals are found to have them exposed at every turn. The period detail in this short is the most interesting feature for me as the clothes and music are in my mind not as bad as they now appear retrospectively. The film shows them in a better light than they were in my view! To ,any well cared for artefacts maybe. Even blockbuster mainstream film has a tendency not to harm the props. No dirt no soiling. No torn or half worn items are seen – it’s not the fault of the filmmakers here alone – they like many others need a continuity and an authenticity runner. So it’s a comically and dark at that comedy at times tale of a young girl going to, see title. Her friend is a fan of pop and the music just streams out. Too shy Too shy is a case in point Katchagoogoo. Sums up the teenage angst which google is not around to sort out. Friends are the only go to. Trauma with bite is what this entails. Teeth bridges are a strain on looks and pickupability. One of the school has a look which is Elizabeth Taylor made, or in the younger style of said actress. She is the focus of the Male gaze. Her looks are strikingly attractive and she causes ripples around the playground. The colourisation is very uniform – the colours are great in other words – and sharpness is a detail not lost here.

Without hammering this fairly narrow concept into a corner the story is probably informative in many ways to those unfamiliar with the way things were and still are. The purpose is well fulfilled and delivered in cinematic conventional ways and the streets have names. Avocado Avenue, Avoca Place. Bono is not far from here, thinking of new lyrics for U2 having nearly worn the Avoca Streets out in his early years in this Dublin setting. Warm sun eventually falls from the ever-present daylight it shows throughout upon the young girls affected by this angst and it concludes in Shakespearean circumspection.

*** 3

Under Growth

Keeping up often in the issues a lot of these films address, the coming of age and angst ridden days feature as when new family situations are thrown upon children and their ways of coping are carefully examined in several diverse ways. This is the territory of a girl whose estranged father is a man in need of the Alka-Seltzer often and sits at home watching the snooker. It begins with Hayley played by Soraya Abbas who is very plausible and hoovers over the possibilities giving you ample latitude. In terms adjusting to this set up and an indoor life which is in limbo she is now looks to be content making up games and angers her father who tells her to go outside. This is Waterford territory resplendent in its outsider status. This is set on an estate which has an outside and she soon is in woods and this adventure talked on new meaning. Stephen Jones playing the father gives it a gripping edge which is commonly the exploration of filmmakers Dreamboat and Evin O’Neill.

It is a sensitively crafted film with the plausibility of the situation not a hinderance yet it carries bite and resonance which is spookily real. Another film made by Dreamboat – Brothers Evin and O’Neill. I was struck by the direction particularly as this was a film with fantasy interwoven with splendid ease and with Soraya Abbas at the helm of the scope of the film it was the capable and astute cinematography of Narayan Van Maeve providing the visual spirit seen in abundance. The roles of the others and there are four parts are taken by Dad Stephen Jones, Mum who delivers her to her unwitting adventure Fiona Lucia McGarry and the creature of whom we have said little played by Dmitry Vinokurov.

The surreal element was somewhat an escape mechanism and it fell short only by a hairbreadth of being volumous, universal, fable or ancient lore. It was without doubt imaginative which is why this film has been so successful at Festivals.

**** 4

Spook

Trippy films come out of drones and landscapes with the latter lending their evolving nature upon our eyes. Seeing only about 5% of what is taken onto our eyes little cellular biological receiver – the other 95% is made up of the itinerary of experience and brains functional memory – it transports us into a new way of seeing in microscopic detail at times.

In Lyndsey Dower, Cillian Jacob and Natasha Everitt there is an ensemble whose actions are intwined with the Waterford landscape they inhabit. The meadows and glens are where a pair of millennials sit and observe each other separated by onlynthe wind and the grassland. Jess, Lyndsey Dower is the girl who is spooked by the guy Alan, Cillian Jacob whose vibe is one of nonchalance well as some incredibility by way of not having any everyday intelligence. His matter of fact illusion is crafted on purpose perhaps and Jess is compelled to stalk Alan and his early morning wandering bring elements of discovery. Innocence is transportable and overhead is a UFO – is that not often the case after a pint or two in Tully’s? The hallucinogenic symmetry of roundabouts seen from the UFO or the drone camera are spectacularly mesmerising in keeping with this imaginary other world Jess is thinking Alan is from. Alien only in the sense he is not understood, Kess has to find out his truth.

Darkly sinister in only a modicum of spookiness the film is imaginative and closely observant of the separating of humans and the galaxy beyond. Being a part of something we are only able to touch inside occasionally we are in this short taken to observe our own perceptions via. the incredible space observatory of a drone accompanied by land based cameras. This is the valley of the possessed – on the outskirts of Waterford.

There is a lot to explore and this is carefully conceived as a beginning and the approach is beautifully rendered at times.

**** 4

Violet

In a familiar claustrophobic province beset with religious difference portrayed as separateness it is recognisable once the opening provides an election leaflet as a calling card. In a household stuck in the dark ages, pre-enlightenment, the scope of the movie is pointed fore squarely at stereotyping of families. Because this province (NI) uses religion in a way David Hume (atheist philosopher) whose inspired advance that spiritual oneness is not reached or received without internal examination, the sense of others in collectives is found as the default. Francis Hutchenson Ulster’s most forgotten philosopher who inspired Washington and the Declaration of Independence and therefore well regarded in the US, is oblivious to the mindset seen here.

Discussion and reasoning are our place in the world in order to fathom its immense questions before attaining some possible truth.

Love is not the parents problem but their way of dealing with it is imprisoned in their comparing themselves and their position in a community as paramount. It conflicts with their ideals when a discovery is made of their daughter’s sexuality. Very ably played the journey of the film will be familiar to teenagers dealing with their own sexuality and how the outside world reacts has a very pronounced affect on their acceptance of themselves and their feelings. Caught in a situation which is god fearing it presents a view through religion of how damaging fixed attitudes pervade and destroy even when love is at the heart of the parents own values. This conflict is visible in the parents and they have to come to terms with this home based dilemma of outlook and belonging. Which family do they belong to? The ‘brethren’ or their own flesh and blood?

None of these notions or precepts are overplayed and indeed they are carefully registers as not to become – dare I say it – preachy. Contexts are examined though stereotypes though and fundamentalism is described as code without deviation. Often films will fall down on using some standard avenues and this one jars slightly in having some of those demons.

The modernity of the pairing of young women whose friendship becomes intimate is very well played and thoughtful and is almost a separate element of the bullying hectoring and demonic passages it takes to get to their loving relationship. They are scenically in a literally abandoned place, one which is comfortable and representative of simplicity and necessity. Siobhan Kelly and Emily Lamey are fine actresses whose high level of dramatic intelligence cautiously delivers the tragic circumstances of self awareness in a closed society framework.

Magnificent music by Ross Johnston pours out along the narrative with illuminating cadence and resonance merging the mawkish internal thoughts of a young woman who is in turmoil and has few religious avenues to put her own spiritual meaning alongside her sexuality and being. That is common enough and the sensitivity of self alongside religious spirituality is a difficult place gay Christian people of both genders particularly find themselves when the election calling cards are dealt with prejudice and malice in mind, such as the DUP presently cling to.

Christopher Whiteside and Madi (Madeline) Graham provided artwork for the film as well as directing it.

**** 4

Mr Spice

For a change in the society we are part of the Indian Community is put into the forefront of a dramatic piece of cine,a which is not racially based or following tropes of racism in narrow minds but one of terrorism and blatant racketeering underpinned by the viewpoint of a businessman Mr Spice who plies his trade from a shop on – recognisably Sandy Row in Belfast.

Director David Moody has found a very able central actor in Philipson Cherian and the situation of running an ethic food shop is used for a scenario where trouble in the form of intimidation is rife.

When a young man, Fintan Woods as Michael seeks refugee one night from violence he has been subjected to his pursuers come knocking on Mr Spices door. Mr Spice sees his duty as a decent man to administer some assistance to Michael in his hour of need. There follows a series of interactions – between the injured and Mr Spice and his customers, Aimee McGoldrick plays a woman customer and music is woven into it through the talents of Ganesh Kumbla.

The community of any neighbourhood is never evident from a first encounter and underlying themes are found everywhere. This could be anywhere and happens to feature a shop well know to gastronomes. Mr Spice is a new fictional representation of how human beings can and do look out for each other. Fear is brought by the ‘hoods’ – actors faces are not seen so here’s a credit in case you weren’t recognised – head hood Callum Carragher, junior hood Lee Ross. Outfitted and predatory to the gilt these guys do confront Mr Spice with a mindset of real threat and menace.

How you react is important and this is the key to the story as it delivers some thoughtful items to ponder. Fairly believable and convincing in its characters it was a nice side step into bringing forward some international aspect to the Belfast film screen.

*** 3

The Family Way

For your convenience there is a morning after pill or if too late for that and you’ve a funny feeling then predictor strips are a go to instead of the Doctor. For a family of practicing heterosexuals Mum and Dad are knocking on forty and their daughter is knocking on eighteen and they share a house. When a predictor is called upon for both, they make the mistake, or one of them makes the mistake of hiding in the same place the test and therein is created a non discreet journey through smallsville suburbia.

Nuno Bernardo calls upon several and many well known faces (18 are cast!) to carry across this farcical comic episode. Clara Harte is the daughter Ruth, Ciara O’Callaghan is the mother Julia, and Steven Gunn, his real name honest, is the Dad. But who’s expectations are whose? Roisin Kearney has constructed a fine script and plays the characters against their predicament on a road trip ending in a harmonious and family way. Dad Robert is confronted by the boyfriend of Ruth who is unexpectedly – there are plenty of jokes within the film itself, made aware of something in the oven. His rugby mates come along for the craic and support. Even a priest is invited into the home crisis. There is a soothsayer and he’s directed a few glorious films himself and his part is in the engine-room of the driving story. Ruth and Julia go in search of confirmation. The Priest is not involved here. They circumnavigate parts of the town Swords might be the place, and look out for Chemists – the local one is gossip central – and a few visits start the telling of the tale but the tests don’t. Rosie O’Grady”s pub becomes a focal point where they can retreat to discover mode.

Trouble is around every corner in this well paced comedy of errors. Eventually the carry on comes to its conclusion, sort of and all is fine at home again.

**** 4

The Invention

Back in the day when Gallahers, Woodbines, Embassy, No.6 Cigarettes, were all the rage youngsters looked about for their first drag of a cigarette. In keeping with tradition there is a trade off to be made and the older lads get to find out who has the smarts in their streets. Older actors than the apparent age slightly deflect from the believable story. They are guys who are not old enough to get a hold of cigarettes from the local shops but are old enough to play poker all day and in their hideout of a club of sorts.

Frankie is no ordinary kid and has his own likes and dislikes along with a cleverness his mates or the older ones don’t possess. His record player is his finest treasure and he needs to buy records so needs to explore ways of making money.

Leo McGuigan assembles a decent crew and cast with a young smart kid as principal well chosen and Luke Walford portrays a young boy protective of his family and cleverness his passage in life. There’s nothing too difficult or problematic.

As a son of a devoted father he becomes aware of his fathers debt to a local criminal played by Frankie McCafferty who chooses for back up the shapes and menacing height of Larry Cowan as a sidekick. Larry is as soft as marshmallow. The production is superbly realised with authentic though the cleanliness is not something I associate with 1968, but the film brings home a lot of bacon as the ploy is to take the cigarettes from the grocery while the prized ham is sliced and wrapped at the back of the shop.

Necessity is the mother of invention and Luke Walford as Frankie is splendid in his invention and gets his father out of a scrape. No mean feat and wonderfully directed and photographed as the warmth of infinity prevails and some standards of decency emerge.

This film has been all over the planet and got some rave reviews in film festivals of note. It is good to see the work in its home context.

**** 4

Hope you can go find these and enjoy them.

John Graham

30 April 2019

Belfast

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