Sebastian Godwin's The Rain Horse
After a day off for university work, it was back to the 14th Encounters Short Film Festival for Jona and I. With the festival in full swing, Encounters is alive with activity ranging from networking brunches to technical demos to competition screenings, and the Watershed Cinema is full of young filmmakers.
Our day starts at a panel discussion hosted by UK Film Council/Lifesize Pictures representative Rebecca Mark-Lawson. The talk is geared to showing potential filmmakers the routes to getting funding for short films via the UKFCs various avenues, punctuated by some well-chosen clips from short films funded by the UKFC, which included the opening of the darkly-comic animation The Surprise Demise Of Francis Cooper’s Mother (dir: Felix Massie) and a scene from Soft (dir: Simon Ellis), featuring an alarmingly prescient image of a brutal attack by youths captured onto a mobile.
Following the discussion we went Digital Generation 1, a showcase of UKFC shorts which played to a packed room. First up was The Rain Horse (dir: Sebastian Goodwin), an adaptation of a Ted Hughes short story about a family trapped in the wilderness by a mean-spirited horse. The production team should be commended for their ambition and their achievement in making the horse genuinely scary. Cardboard-style animation Bus Stop Boogaloo (dir: Gus Hughes) is an amusingly farcical story about unfortunate misunderstanding of a man waiting at a bus stop – extra points go to this film for the post-credits dialogue, “I hate my life”. Curfew (dir: Kate Aidley) is a tale of two youth gangs fighting for dominance in a Neverland-esque adult-free countryside setting, until the protagonist Tom falls for a girl in rival gang, the River Boys. It is always a shame when a great premise doesn’t fulfil its promise and sadly Curfew falls into this category, suffering from knowingly twee-dialogue and a trite ending.
The other half of the Digital Generation line-up is dominated by the theme ‘unsatisfied male’, with three films enjoying varying degrees of success. At the better end of the scale, the bittersweet Tandem (dir: John and Tom Turrell) manages to convincingly and entertainingly portray an alcoholic’s birthday with his sister, without resorting to melodrama. Boy (dir: Joe Morris), meanwhile, shows the sexual confusion of a middle-aged man and his feelings for a teenage boy in a way that is both creepy and predictable. Crimson (dir: Piers Hill) strikes out in a different direction from the other two films by having a young male protagonist just ending his teens. A confused lost boy, not knowing what to do with his life and fantasising about a girl, Jake is supposed to be sympathetic; unfortunately he is also a deeply unlikeable smart ass. Like its protagonist, Crimson feels very immature, using hamfisted black and white and colour symbolism to separate fantasy and reality, and ending on a denouement both ridiculous and dumb. I could go on but that would be an act of biting the hand that feeds for an aspiring filmmaker.
Esther is an enjoyably honest and informative speaker, covering her route as a filmmaker, openly discussing troubles with producers and the difficulties of the industry. Esther also has a film entered into the Best of British short list, September, about a discontented thirtysomething who glimpses a girl performing psychic abilities in a field. Shot through a delirious haze, September is a story about change and marks her out as a bright hope for the future of British filmmaking.