LUC‘s inaugural film festival began successfully, with staff having to bring out extra chairs in order to accommodate the large crowd of film fans in attendance. Taking place at LAMP, one of Leamington’s newest and most exciting venues, audience members were ushered into an intimate setting in which the evening’s films were projected not just onto a screen, but also onto walls left and right. Quite literally then, cinema surrounded festival goers, creating an immersive visual experience which was second only to an impressively loud sound system (I like to hear what I’m watching).
The feature film on show was the experimental The Secret Society of Fine Arts, a contemporary take on the narrative-told-through-a-series-of-stills form, first used in Chris Marker’s La Jeteé. In the spirit of the evening’s main film, the audience were first treated to 12 avant-garde short films, all of which had been entered in a bid to win the festival’s Short Film Prize. Sadly for their respective makers, none of these shorts had made it to the festival’s shortlist of potential winners, but given their high quality this is good news for those attending the rest of the festival – if this generally superb selection of shorts did not make the cut, we can only expect great things of the festival’s finalists. Having said this, I do feel a bit sorry that these films didn’t receive any accolades, so I’ve resolved to invent some of my own awards. Think of them as the medal you’d get for taking part in a school sporting event, or the well meaning but insubstantial present from a grandparent on your sibling’s birthday – a celebration of those standing just outside the spotlight.
First up, ‘Coolest Film’ of the night goes to This Way Up. Readers may have already seen this short given that it originally screened last year as part of Channel 4’s ‘Random Acts’ series, but it is still worthy of a mention. A performance piece and meditation on movement as much as anything else, this quirky little film has us follow a break dancer around the world when a magical cardboard box transports him between a number of disparate locations. Laced with a high pitched ostinato and relaxed 2/4 tempo, Apisol’s ‘Brasil’ provides the musical accompaniment, punctuating the film’s visuals with a beat that’s bound to get you gently nodding your head. Stylish and slick, this one’s for anyone who wears their sunglasses at night.
Next is the surreal Man Vs Sand, to which I award ‘Best Cinematography’. In an allegorical world where metaphors are the very stuff of reality, Annike Summerson’s mixture of hand-held and long-wides present a beach-scape bleached in steal blue tones, providing a desolate and vulnerable setting for a critique of politics, the media, and a society in the clutches of economic crisis. As bizarre as this film is (at one point we watch a politician and news presenter fornicate with spaghetti), it has a coherent and chilling narrative running throughout, commenting on the savagery of ‘civil’ society. But even if you don’t want to delve into the philosophy behind Man Vs Sand, the film’s satin aesthetic is sure to wash over you in a mesmerising visual experience.
There are short films, and then there are very short films. At one-minute-and-one-second, Kuesti Fraun’s ‘BEN‘ falls under the second camp – but just because a film doesn’t last for very long, doesn’t mean that it can’t linger. From the point of view of the back end of an accelerating tram, BEN simply shows a man chasing after some public transport which he has evidently failed to catch. What makes the film so funny (and really quite clever) is its sound work: Initially unremarkable, we begin with the indistinguishable noises of a crowd taking among themselves. But as our unlucky hero chases after the tram, a sporting commentator’s voice is introduced into the mix, describing an Olympic victory by the world class sprinter, Ben Johnson. The contrast of failure and success is all the more funny for its simplicity, and the fact that our protagonist’s face grows more and more exasperated means that just as we are let in on the joke, the film pulls a killer slapstick punch. For what starts out looking like something from Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine, BEN is as clever as it is funny, winning by a mile in the race for ‘Best Comedy’.
Most Thought Provoking Film
A somewhat unique category for a somewhat unique short, next comes ‘Most Thought Provoking Film’ which I give to ‘Jumpcut‘. A dark and tense look into the world of bondage, Saskia Quax’s Jumpcut explores the themes of control and pleasure through a simple but powerful visual metaphor. Surrounded by a group of men and shrouded in the intense glare of a spotlight, the film’s star is made to jump over a skipping rope as if she were being coerced by bullies in a playground. But as the film continues, we begin to question our own preconceptions about the parties involved, and come to see how an individual’s submission to a group might be in fact be an empowering and solitary act. Unfortunately Jumpcut isn’t online at the moment, but Quax’s impressive graduation film has quietly been making waves, and was even selected for the 2013 Feminist Porn Awards. As such, I’m certain we’ll be hearing about it again, very soon.
Finally, we come to the highest award I can possibly bestow: ‘Best Film’ – which I award to Michiel Knops and Koen De Winne’s ‘Roman‘. The film begins brutally as we witness a mafia style act of intimidation, in which an adolescent’s head is held underwater by his own swimming coach. This shocking entry into the world of Roman, a quiet and successful teen swimmer is then immediately offset by a placid slow-motion title sequence in which we watch swimmers glide through the water, set to the dulcet tones of a soft electric guitar. Secrets are revealed during an awkward family meal in which Luca Renson plays Roman with a vacant weariness reminiscent of Champion from Sylvain Chomet’s ‘Bellville Rendezvous‘; hunched over his meal, blinking slowly and sadly. The film’s highlight is a surreal and climactic collision between the dull realities of an evening in with the parents, and a jaded teenage boy’s imagination in which we watch a (literally) orgasmic explosion of water drench Roman and his family. Humourous yet devastating, Roman is a simple story told majestically.
This brings us to the end of my Unoffcial Award Ceremony for the first day of Leamington Underground Cinema’s 2013 Festival, but be sure to come back to this space for continued coverage of the festival’s highlights as LUC’s festival continues throughout the week. Most of the events are free, and those that require tickets only cost £5, so you’ve no excuse not to join in on the fun! Click here for more details.