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Saturday Shorts Screening At BFI Future Film Festival 2024: An Electric Selection Of Personal Stories, Rooted In Universal Resonance



Saturday Shorts Screening
The Competition Shorts Saturday Screening at BFI Future Film Festival; image courtesy of BFI Future Film Festival

The Saturday Shorts Screening event on Day 3 of the BFI Future Film Festival 2024 was an exhilarating mix of films that were deeply moving in terms of their content and breathtakingly beautiful as regards their formal experimentations. Running in its 17th year, the Future Film Festival, pioneered by the British Film Institute, aims to showcase short films by emerging filmmakers from across the globe aged between 16 and 25. Some of these short films beyond being remarkable debut pieces are also exquisite submissions by film students whose works seem duly informed by a rich visual arts pedagogy and fuelled by an authentic passion for telling stories that are deeply personal, yet universally resonant. 


Curated from hundreds of submissions, the short films screened this year were neatly cast into eight thematic categories ranging from ‘Relationships’ to ‘Towns and Cities’ to ‘Family’. Every category had a wide range of pieces which included breath-taking and whimsical animations, fabulous stylistic experimentations and docu-fictions that went from exploring the complex burdens of adolescence in the modern digital age to experiences of cultural dissonance as part of the diaspora experience to the temporal frailty of human relationships. As is the case with most first-time films, some of these seem definitively inspired by great works of cinema that have come before. Be it the Jordan Peel-esque treatment of Henry Fish’s sepia-drenched The Darkling Fox, a starkly cold cautionary tale on our relationship with nature, or Alex Matraxia’s Dream Factory, which looks like the love child of Midnight Cowbody (1969) and Gaspar Noe in noir that eventually turns into a fever dream on cinema screens as age-old sites of desire and violence. But despite these sometimes obvious homages, every short screened had the unique distinction of an authorial voice that was robustly assured and brimming with the promise of future excellence. 


Having gone through 20 spectacular shorts within a span of a little more than two hours, here are some of my favourite films (in order of screening) from the festival that were in equal measure stirring, jarring and above all promising with the potential of great film-making. 


  1. The Last September by Sophia Si (USA)


Little is voiced and loads is left to sheer, expansive, engulfing silence in Sophia Si’s short which explores, almost in a deliberately queer fashion, ideas of identity and belonging. Two male friends in the USA, perched on the precarious verge of submitting their college applications, discuss the possibilities of getting through some of the toughest academic programs that the country has to offer. The catch? One is a nerdy South Asian first-generation immigrant and the other an African-American. The experience of being an outsider is etched large on both their individual and collective experiences of being a teenager in a modern-day America that continues to fester with issues of xenophobia and racism. As the boys attempt to navigate the possibility of their own academic futures, they are also forced to confront the role of their own latent identities in determining their future academic destinations. 


The film, with the effective use of tightly knit close-up shots and jarring piano-forte insertions, remains little content with the implications of such identity politics. Instead, it prods us, and its protagonists, to also ask what is the fatality of the politics of two young boys, and their mutual attraction to each other, in the face of their eventual, and inevitable parting of ways. A poignantly edited final sequence establishes Daniel, the South-Asian immigrant gazing at his Black friend, and it is in this silent framing of two innocent boys on the verge of adulthood that Si conveys a queerness of desire that is deft film-making at its finest. As the boys make their way around their high school campus, musing over the future that is to come, my heart yearned for them to in some miraculous way find a way of embracing each other, on their journeys of embracing their true selves. 


  1. First Night by Haneol Lee (USA)


From the opening dedication to his parents, the viewer is aware that Lee’s short is going to be a personal affair of the heart. Except it is not just matters of the heart that Lee presents before us. In this achingly beautiful 12-minute short, shot in warm swathes of night lights and the steely coldness of delis, First Night follows an immigrant Korean couple and their young son, on a car journey, as they set out looking for food. As the film sets off, we see the parents attempting to navigate digital maps and figuring out a road map. They struggle with their navigation device and just as the camera begins to leave us convinced that this is perhaps a story about two people in love, the gaze is flipped. We are introduced to their child, the third, and so far silent, occupant of this car, through his innocent gaze it is that we have been looking at the couple in the front. 


As they stop by a deli, the Father attempts to communicate with the owner of a sandwich bar, about his urgent need to procure food for his hungry son sitting in the car. At first, he asks for soup, only to be told that there is none. He uses his dictionary to ask for a menu, only to be told that there is none. Despite the best mimetic efforts of the waiter, the Father simply fails to understand what a sandwich is to begin with. As a majority of the viewers in the screening burst out laughing at this scene, I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into my seat while viewing this extremely felt depiction of what is a lived reality of almost every immigrant from the global South. The linguistic violence of such a cultural clash could have taken a turn for saccharine sentimentality easily. But it is to Lee’s credit as a filmmaker in absolute control of their material that this film never loses track of its primary objective. 


By the end a discovery has been made for the future, and as the deafening thumping of the young child gives way to the joint euphoria and laughter of the parents, we know, that in that perfectly imperfect moment, in the words of the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha, “newness” (as Bhabha calls his immigrant populace in the essay How Newness Enters The World) has truly entered the big world. 


  1. London’s Rocketship Launchers by Julia Mervis (UK)


Shot on a camcorder, this ingenious documentary is a rip-roaring laugh-fest that lasts 8 minutes. The film follows the narrator as she goes about different parts of London, interviewing real-life people about their knowledge of now-abandoned, former rocketship launchers which continue to stand peppered across the length and breadth of London. 


Mervis, who frames this material with a Borat-like sense of humour, is however trying to place their finger on something deeper at play. Person after person they speak to meets her questions with either confident misinformation or absolute disinterest in something that they have just accepted to be a part of the visual language that dominates the exchanges of their daily existence. In an attempt to find what these launchers truly are and what is the point of their continued standing in today’s day and age, Mervis crafts a scathing critique of public apathy and disinterest in institutional politics that makes this film an absolutely urgent and essential viewing for all. 


  1. Bird Drone by Radheya Jegatheva (Australia)


If anyone from the Pixar HR or creative team stumbles upon this review, please take special note. There is an urgent need for you guys to acquire Radheya Jegatheva right now. 


This animated short, with stylistic excellence and narrative pathos to go down with cult classics like Wall-E (2008) and Lava (2014), follows the story of a crane who falls in love with a–wait for it–human-operated drone. With an Ugly Duckling-like exposition which grounds our protagonist Crane as a perennial outsider in their own community, the film traces the journey of their love—from desiring the drone to coming to peaceful terms with their own physical incapacities. Jegatheva’s hand-drawn canvas goes from plush shades of aqua blue to the deeply aching shades of an acrylic sunset and eventually ends with a heart-breaking indictment of man’s invasion of the natural world with violent tools of technology. 


There is an almost-Icarus-like quality in the way we see our Crane chasing the drone who insists within them a passion they have and will never know. In chasing something that is seemingly so full of life and yet is little more than a heap of lifeless metal, lies the true fallacy of this doomed love affair. There is so much yearning in this film, and so much passionate chasing that one is almost left with a smile and a void in your stomach pit, when the final stretches quite literally relay that finding love is largely about finding yourself in the subject of your desire. 


  1. Seeing Read by Natasha and Beth Perkin (UK)


This 7-minute short, with a Shiva Baby-inspired production aesthetic and treatment, is probably one of the smartest films I have seen screened at the festival this year. Following the protagonist on an internal, psychological spiral after she asks a guy for drinks, Seeing Read is a funny, yet thought-provoking take on modern-day relationships that are forced to exist in the realm of digital interactions. With effective use of classical music, rapidly juxtaposed tracking shots in slow motion and unsteady, aerial-view close-ups, Perkin and Perkin craft a tale that is at once pitiable as it is relatable. 


But beyond and above, it is a sensorial usage of the form of the short film itself in terms of its electric combination of a one-line story, varying stylistic perceptions and creation of a mood that lingers long after the final credits roll. I do not know what future projects Perkin and Perkin will produce, but I hope someone commissions them to create high-budget ad films in the future, as they demonstrate a true and rare understanding of the short-form narrative.


 

Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor


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