Big city lights are no match for a small spa town’s ambitious shorts festival.
[dropcap size=dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first ever Leamington Underground Cinema film festival took place on the last week of September, at a number of venues across the regal town of Royal Leamington Spa. Screening a total of six feature length films and over 80 shorts, the event was a seven day movie marathon, showcasing talent from all over the world.
The festival kicked off at LAMP, one of Leamington’s newest and most exciting music and arts 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 the walls. Quite literally then, cinema surrounded festival goers, creating an immersive visual experience which was second only to an impressively loud sound system. The first evening set a precedent for the week, with LUC staff bringing out extra chairs to accommodate for a large audience, the hustle and bustle of which added to the friendly, home-grown feel of this pop-up film festival.
Amongst the features, Anders Rønnow Klarlund’s The Secret Society of Fine Arts stood out for its mesmerising use of not-quite-still-imagery. The film undoubtedly draws its inspiration from Chris Marker’s La Jeteé, an avant-garde short which tells its story almost entirely through a series of photographs, but The Secret Society updates and revises this narrative form for the digital age, with each of its stills featuring moving parts. Don Hertzfeldt’s funny but poignant It’s Such a Beautiful Day also drew a significant crowd, no doubt comprised of cult fans eager to see the feature length incarnation of his trademark stick-man style of animation. What is more, the week finished on a high, rounding off with Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson’s Sound of Noise, a film about a group of audio-terrorists who take on the establishment by performing a number of percussive masterpieces, using the city as their instrument – think Das Edukators meets the Blue Man Group, but without the shiny, bald heads.
The feature films were just half of the entertainment on offer however, with over 700 entries for the festival’s short film competition. LUC’s curators had the daunting task of picking just 85 of them to be shown throughout the week, and then the even tougher job of whittling these down to a short list of 10 – all of which were up for LUC’s £1000 Short Film Prize. The winner was the visually stunning, The Hungry Corpse. Starring Bill Nighy as the (under)world-weary zombie who is unable to satiate his appetite, and Stephen Mangan as a kind hearted but lonely pigeon, The Hungry Corpse is a moving story about isolation and friendship. Although Nighy and Mangan’s characters appear in three dimensions, they stand out against the scenery and the other characters, which take on a flatter and less refined aesthetic, pairing the pigeon and the corpse in a world in which they do not belong. Nighy delivers his lines with his usual laborious tone, depicting an ancient and exhausted soul, whilst Mangan conveys a jittery but sunny disposition through his staccato mumblings, providing some light comic relief. Visually stunning and emotionally captivating, The Hungry Corpse was a well-deserved winner of the week.
Whilst not winners, the other shorts from the festival were by no means ‘losers’. Notable entries included Ian Jones’ Jazzball: An Urban Odyssey, a mockumentary about a fictional urban sport and devastatingly accurate parody of the BBC’s documentary series Panorama; Antisocial, Sam Wildman’s tale of revenge, served with an ironic dose of justice worthy of Roald Dahl (you can watch the film and read Short Sighted Cinema’s interview with Wildman here); and Saskia Quax’s Jumpcut, a dark and tense look into the world of bondage, which explores the themes of control and pleasure through a simple but powerful visual metaphor, inviting us to question our preconceptions about BDSM culture. Another short that stood out was Nida Manzoor’s witty and surreal Arcade in which we watch two teenage girls engrossed in an arcade game, their virtual shoot-‘em-up figuring as the focal point for a tenacious and callous conversation which covers everything from comic book idols, to sex-positivism and slut shaming.
The festival also dedicated an entire night to animated shorts. Although it wasn’t the strongest collection of short films screened throughout the week, there were some gems to be discovered – of which Lottie Kingslake’s The Blood of The Bear was one. A simple story about a young boy letting go of his dying father, the film takes place in a world resembling a scrap-book of William Morris wallpaper where even the birds and snow are endowed with ornate floral patterns. Touching and compassionate, The Blood of The Bear is a heartfelt fantasy that comments upon a very real and worldly set of experiences, relevant to anyone who has (or will) experience the loss of a loved one – which is to say, that it is quietly universal in its appeal. It was a pleasure to see a whole evening of animation, and praise should go to the LUC organisers for providing a platform for this medium, a form which is all too often not taken seriously and is assumed to consist solely of children’s stories – something shown to be false by the morbid tone and gentle pace of the festival’s winning (and animated) short, The Hungry Corpse.
All in all LUC’s first ever festival was a rousing success. Showcasing a huge variety of different shorts, the standard was consistently high and there was something for everyone. Although it wasn’t one of films offered as part of the week’s official programme, it was actually LUC’s production-title video which made one of the more lasting impact on viewers: Shown at the beginning of each evening, a train rushes through an empty station and the camera sweeps towards a sign boasting the words ‘Leamington Underground Cinema’, swinging and creaking in the wake of the roaring locomotive. The message couldn’t be clearer; ‘We don’t need big city lights,’ it said, ‘our small town projectors shine brightly enough’.
In honour of the seven days of great shorts screened by LUC, I’ve chosen seven films that stood out over and above the rest for special attention. You can read my reviews of them here:
Part 1: Leamington Underground Cinema Festival 2013
Part 2: ROMAN // Michiel Knops & Koen de Winne
Part 3: CHATROULETTE // Alexander Thomas
Part 4: DECAPODA SHOCK // Javier Chillion
Part 5: THE FIFTH // James Lloyd
Part 6: WILD LIFE // Kevin Maynard
Part 7: 82 // Calum MacDiamird
Part 8: WIRE AND FLASHING LIGHTS // Victor Haegelin