On the last day of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival I attended the Iraq screening, a Comedy screening, and a Drama screening; each was consistent with the high quality that has graced the whole weekend. The festival has widened the city’s artistic links – 39 countries have participated this year – and has proved that York is an exciting place culturally as well as historically. York is lucky to have such a festival.
The chosen theme for the film workshops held in Iraq by Human Film was children. The short films are consequently centred around children and their individual everyday experiences: sitting down to draw; looking after doves; a football match at school; a new female teacher/sexual awakening; and a birthday. Each film inevitably has the backdrop of war and in some it is more visceral than others. In Children of God we see a wheelchair ridden football fanatic: the devastating effects of war are visible not only in his face but his body. The film however is far from morbid or miserable, rather it’s a celebration of making the best of a situation. Nesma’s Birds and Happy Birthday have a similar message with spunky lead characters, 11 year old Nesma who refuses to accept that something is off limits simply because she’s a girl; and 5 year old Sameer who has a touching experience with the ghost of a little girl on their shared birthday. The representative of Human Film said that their future aim is to have films “stand up beyond the war and the chaos” and if these films are anything to go by this goal is already being achieved.
Like the best comedy sketches, these comedy shorts manage to pack in lots of laughs and memorable characters. Tea at Haworth went down very well – the person behind me was even clapping their leg. Something about the insensitive but well meaning grandma must have resonated with the audience. Anne Reid is perfect as Jean, a woman more concerned about her friend missing their dinner date than her having cancer but thankfully the tomato soup – “good for cancer… or is that colds?” – is sold out anyway. My Imaginary Life ponders on the futility of life – especially when it’s spent travelling between divorced parents living on different planets: it’s dead pan, quirky, and entertaining. Entretien D’Embauche is perhaps the one that will stick in the students’ minds, the main character being a recent graduate and experiencing the worst – and funniest – interview of all time.
The Dinner Party aside – it’s Hugh Bonneville in a snow globe, what’s not to like? – Screening 13 was quite a depressing affair. From a geriatric ward to the Croatian government’s eviction of ‘unfit’ citizens during the war, the films tackle serious issues and prompt important meditations. To Pratyusha Gupta’s credit, her film about an young Indian prostitute turned maid, Safar, could easily have been extended into a feature film, the subject matter and characters more than enough to hold your attention past its 25 minutes. Los Dinosaurios Ya No Viven Aquí was definitely the most surrealist piece – almost Lynchian – which made a nice change from the gritty realism of the others. But gritty realism can be great, especially when it’s of the quality of Red Stains. Magdalena Lauritsch’s short film is one of the best executed films of the festival: great performances, great direction; great cinematography; and a great concept. If this is the standard of the Drama shorts submitted no wonder Aesthetica needed 14 screenings.
I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend one of the new Fashion screenings but here is a just a glimpse of what they have in store: