A Round-Up of the Awards from the 12th London Short Film Festival

The 12th London Short Film Festival closed last weekend, after 10 jostling days of playing in two of London’s nicest venues (the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Hackney Picturehouse). And the festival’s first screening of the British Council Best UK Short Award Nominees made very clear the level of talent that was going to be present. This award understandably went to Cannes-selected Leidi (dir. Simon Mesa Soto, Colombia/UK, 2014), a London Film School short that felt like a feature. It’s tale of a teenage mother, her baby and two plantains was so well-rounded. And it subtly carried beneficent critiques on how Colombian culture causes a girl, baby and two plantains to go astray. Soto also has great skill for framing shots, and this short will find him future backing.

Next came the Loco Award for Best Comedy Film, won by Two Dosas (Sarmad Marsud, UK, 2014). Now the second outing for Two Dosas (after the London Film Festival), this short revolves around teacher Pavan telling his two colleagues about his date with “English rose” Chloe. But his game plan to enchant her with his exotic charms backfires, and she out-Indians him in every respect. The dialogue that results is priceless, and not since Goodness Gracious Me has Anglo-Indian comedy been this good. This short also wonderfully shows Britain’s cultural crossovers today.

The Lomography Award for Best Lo-Budget Film then went to the similarly comic Two Horrible Little Girls (John Jenkinson, UK, 2014). This film is a dizzying, closely-filmed romp through upper middle-class suburbia, as some barmy neighbours impose themselves on Barbara (a grieving widow). Jenkinson’s talent for creating larger-than-life characters is clear to see; but Two Horrible Little Girls also has that VHS-camcorder feel you sometimes long for. At the opposite end of the spectrum was Pulse (Ruth Paxton, UK, 2014), which won the Women in Film & Television UK award for Best Women Director. Commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society (as part of their New Music Biennale) this Scottish filmmaker’s work was sleek. Shot in black and white, Pulse had a beautiful motif of pulsating light, like halogen bulbs flickering into life; and a pulse of maddening anxiety. The oneric events we see never fully make sense, and are charged by the musical score from British-Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova. This soundtrack brings an oriental hint, and makes what we see seem like one big (enjoyably abstract) Japanese avant-garde dance.

Equally black-and-white and Scottish was the animation Monkey Love Experiments (Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson, UK, 2014). This piece of retro, fuzzy, stop-frame film is enchanting (and recently BAFTA nominated). It captures animation’s ability to speak to your inner child, telling as it does the story of a monkey (named Ghandi) captivated by the lunar landings.

But as Ghandi is also the incarcerated subject of animal testing, the short demonstrates animation’s ability to be moving and incisive too. This made it a deserved winner of the Encounters Film Festival Award for Best Animation. Another well-deserved winner was The Interpreter (Kyla Simone Bruce, UK, 2013), which took Shooting People’s Award for Best Student Film. This story follows Ramzi, an interpreter working at London’s immigration court. Far from mindlessly pounding upon the anti-immigration drums, however, this film takes us deep into the moral quandary of immigration law. We sit between those “just doing their jobs” and Ramzi, who cannot help but be affected. Another London Film School production, Bruce’s film certainly is a breath of fresh air in a country whose media seems determined to exacerbate the demagoguery of the far right.

M.O.T.H or Man of the House (O.T. Fagbenle, UK, 2014) seemed less socially incisive. Instead it seemed a piece of good old zombie fiction. However, like all good zombie fiction, M.O.T.H is social critique too: The revenant theme of urban decay twitches before us, whilst London’s newest metaphor of rampant capitalism, the Shard, burns on the horizon. Mercifully, M.O.T.H has no macho swashbuckling either – instead it adds another twist (how many twists can there be?!) to the zombie apocalypse, imagining it from a child’s perspective. Already starring Tamzin Outhwaite, this short is to be followed by a feature.

LSFF retained its tradition, then, of championing British content, despite taking international submissions for the first time this year. A trend slightly resisted when another international co-production, Sleepers’ Beat (Anastasia Kirillova, Russia/UK, 2014), won the Sheffield (international) Doc/Fest Award for Best Documentary. This film, an almost informal interview with workers on the unfathomably long-distance Trans-Siberian Express, is magical. Turns out trains chugging through the bitterly cold expanses of Russia is revelatory. Such films make it interesting, then, to see whether LSFF will widen its global outlook next year. Either way, this opening note for British film was a melodic one.

19 January 2015, by Thomas Humphrey