After 4 days and many, many films, talks and panels, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2017 draws to a close, but it didn’t go out without a few more shocks and surprises.
Many of the final day’s screenings could look pretty familiar by now, with pretty much all of the festival’s screenings having taken place at least once. One of these is the generally strong selection in Animation 4: Changing Lives. Alongside the tremendous Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant was the slightly divisive but acclaimed Johnno’s Dead. Chris Shepard’s telling of an innocent man serving twelve years at the expense of a mysterious “Johnno” was vividly articulated, allowing the psychological trauma experienced by the victim to become extremely theatrical. With echoes of Baz Lurhman’s cinematography, this short was fast-paced and entertaining, potently capturing the urban underworld. The screening’s other standout was Ahmad Salah’s Ayny, a poignant reminder of how war-torn countries are not the place for children. With some stunning symbolism, we are reminded that the evils of war so often defeat the hope and optimism of a child’s eye. A mention must also go to the flawed but hard-hitting school-shooting drama The Sunshine Boy, by Naaman Azhari.
On a lighter note, the festival’s close was marked by plenty of laughs too, in Comedy 3: Bad Neighbours and Comedy 4: Alternate Realities. The day’s comedic highlights came from Icelandic oddity Fucking Bunnies and James Dethick’s equally bizarre Flake! Dethick’s film follows a young woman in search of her fiancé who teams up with a couple of questionable characters along the way. With an excellent drunkard performance from Dethick himself, Flake! has some truly hilarious moments, but loses its way slightly in perhaps being a bit too odd for its own good. One of the most wholly successful comedies on shows was Social Networking Socially – Society Through Technology, a very short but sharp takedown of modern social practices, wherein our lives revolve around social media and quite often being horrible to each other. It is slight, but barely puts a foot wrong with its great satirical energy. The day’s surreal humour comes in the form of Luke Jeffery’s Hell’s Bells, in which a detective questions a young woman about what she has been up to of late. The answer to this, is that she has been taken in by a nefarious cult. This could actually be the plot of one the thrillers at the festival, if it wasn’t for the fat that the cult in question is a troupe of Morris Dancers. Despite coasting on its great premise a bit, this is still entertaining viewing. The absurd also find its home in Helen Bolter’s The Dead Dog. Two TV crew members travel to a country pub in order to film their “Britain’s Best Boozer” show, but find that this particular ale house is really rather odd. Blending hilarious farce and interesting satirical comment, it is another strong entry into this year’s comedy programme.
As there has been throughout the festival, there was plenty of bite from the documentary selection on the final day. Documentary 6: A Hard Day’s Night lacked the fun and bounce of The Beatles’ song, but comes with plenty of insight into heavy themes. Adan Aliaga and Alex Lora’s The Fourth Kingdom gives an insight into the lifeline that waste plastics give to New York’s immigrants. Tal Amiran’s Sand Men also has its focus on immigrant life, but this time across the pond as it gives a glimpse of the day to day existence of Romanian men who create sand sculptures on the streets of London. Simple and natural in its approach, it is an effective portrait of life’s hardships. Tough times are also faced by titular subject Piotr, who defies stereotypes in his life as both an artist and an MMA fighter. The standout, however, is Lindsay Brown’s sensitive look at a mother caring for her daughter. With the girl completely reliant on her mother, the problem of what the future holds is looming. Both heartwarming and upsetting, Brown’s film achieves its aims well.
There were also, due to the vats number of them, plenty of “Drama” screenings too, including Drama 6: A Sense of Duty. In a very strong bunch, the most haunting work here was Brian Brook II’s The Waste Land. The story of a bullied teen and his spiral towards violence, it is utterly chilling in the sympathy it creates for the would-be murderer. This is because it does not just show as an unstable individual and shock us with horror, but probes the reasons behind these atrocities. The role of video games and other media, bad parenting and guns in school shootings are hardly new topics, but Brooks weaves them into a very short runtime quite impressively. The film’s close, leaving us with facts about weapons in America’s school is most effective of all and highlights the crucial role of bullying in American school violence. Better functioning human relationships are the basis of the sort-of romance Respirando from Mar Olid. A good score and performances elevate a simple yet affecting tale of a man caught between two loves. Relationship breakdown is also key to Richard Yates’ short story No Pain Whatsoever, adapted very movingly in Alex Kendall’s short film. The longest and most in-depth drama in show is perhaps Antoine Delelis’s Árborg, the story of a man returning home to a family he abandoned years before, only to face extreme scorn from his two younger brothers. Living up to this screening’s title, Árborg effectively examines multiple forms of duty, as the brothers have to deal with each other as well as their disabled sister and dying father. The love and strain of family relationships is impressively encapsulated in a promising work from Delelis.
So, with, as promised, 300 films shown across 5 days in 18 different venues, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2017 comes to an end. We have seen all sorts, from German politics to David Bowie, from dedicated monks to Satanic sex cults. Varied, exciting and unexpected it was a year of immense talent and much hope for the future of cinema. A year of laughter and tears. There were so many screenings and genres that it was hard to keep up. But no matter how much you saw, Aesthetica was always worth a visit; and that, as they say, was that.