Programming an evening of shorts on the one Saturday evening of your film festival might be a bold choice, but Melanie Iredale’s decision this year speaks volumes on how far Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival (BFMAF) has developed under her leadership. To be sure, the inaugural shorts competition, sponsored by slow holiday company Inntravel, encapsulated the themes and concerns running through the ninth edition of BFMAF: cultural contradictions, intergenerational disconnects, familial dysfunction and the not unproblematic nature in which Berwick relates to the Nordic regions.
The eight finalists of the shorts competition – judged by critic Nick James, curator/artist Anna Linder and filmmaker Eva Weber – screened to an extremely receptive Saturday night audience. A mixed bunch from my personal vantage point, the octet nevertheless boasted consistently high production values and demonstrated the diverse range of expressions the short form offers.
Two of the films unfolded like lengthy music promos. In the case of Chris McLean’s Beyond The Scars (UK), surfers ride the North Sea waves in absorbingly shot fragments edited together to the percussive rhythms of a poem. Magnus Renfor’s One (Ane Brun) (Norway), meanwhile, is a 17-minute high-concept visualisation starring and based on music by Ane Brun. Played across two acts with bookends, the film’s saturated yellow and feverish tone heightened its associative symbolism; though high on energy, its ideas wear thin and it suffocates eventually under its own atmosphere – a formal control notwithstanding.
Simone Bennett’s Motor (Netherlands) was also steeped in atmosphere, presenting to us the exterior of an apartment block before entering the fragmented, disparate spaces of its many interiors. Lynchian in tone and eerie in its sonic textures, Bennett’s short doesn’t do much in its nine minutes except to ‘pass comment’ on the apparently unspoken fears that define our private spaces. I-D Iceland (Iceland) was a much lighter experience, in both time (one minute) and tone (director and fashion photography Klaus Thymann meanders incongruously and amusingly around the Jökulsárkón glacier lake).
Sitting somewhere between these latter two films was Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken’s The Devil’s Ballroom (Norway), a dark comedy that draws attention to the mythmaking charade upon which a Norwegian explorer’s legacy is founded: arriving at the North Pole only to find he’s not the first discover it, our protagonist (Batzorig Chinbayar, who in the film at least could be taken for James Cameron) offs the native and secures his place in history as the first man to reach the centre of the Arctic Circle.
The best three films on display couldn’t have been more different from one another. Juha Mäki-Jussila’s Suddenly, Last Summer (Finland) repurposes the Tennessee Williams play of its title with stop-motion plants voicing its lines – with audio lifted from the 1959 film with Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift – to resemble something as weird, funny and terrifying as Lynch’s The Alphabet (1968). The film deservedly received a special mention from the jury, claiming effective second place to Gunhild Enger’s eventual winner Premature (Norway), a single-take 15-minute short taken from the inward-facing viewpoint of a car’s dashboard.
Picking up their son and his new Spanish wife, two middle-aged parents bumble their way through outwardly and excruciatingly polite conversation as they probe their new daughter-in-law on the perils of pregnancy, as well as presenting her with a grossly misjudged gift. A claustrophobic riff on parental clumsiness and the insidiously patronising airs from which tensions emerge, the film was heartily received by its audience and there were no complaints when it was awarded the prize.
Personally, though, my favourite of the evening’s programme was Johnny Barrington’s Tumult (UK), a culture-clash comedy horror in which three authentic Norse warriors returning wearily from battle happen upon a Ewen’s tour coach on its way from Aberdeen through the Scottish Highlands. Language barriers are the least ofboth tribe’s troubles: while the warriors think they’ve been visited by an iron chariot to take them to their death, the snap-happy tourists assume they’ve hit lucky with a battle re-enactment group. Blood and hilarity ensue.
Conversely, as awards go, the one thing that had the room audibly stirred – a doublebeheading, to be precise – was the one thing that might have worked against its chances of winning Inntravel’s £500 cash prize. Still, Barrington’s expert control of atmosphere and comic timing suggest the UK has a future award-winner to boast.