Eye For Film saw films remotely. One advantage of coronavirus restrictions has been an improvement in videotheque or screener access for short film programmes, and Ca' Foscari was able to provide us screeners for 30 short films. That's no small thing to keep track of, and events with full-time professional staff can and do struggle. Those lucky enough to attend in person saw films at a variety of venues across Venice. Beyond the films in competition a mixture of workshops and other programming added depth, but from this distance we can only hope that they were as pleasant to attend as they looked. Among the sponsors and supporters of the festival were WeShort, and these platforms are increasingly useful to fans of small film.
The International competition was open to student films - each of the 30 associated with educational establishments, and many if not most of the filmmakers are correspondingly early in their careers. Short film is very often a proving ground for student talent, the alumi of Edinburgh's College of Art have been well represented among the award winners at Edinburgh Film Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival. The overall quality of the selections was very high, and we do not envy the juries the difficulty of their decisions.
The overall winner was The Other, based on a short story from Vienna but Iranian filmmakers Ako Zandkarimie and Saman Hosseinpour more than successfully relocate it to the Kurdish mountains. It is a striking piece, beautifully constructed, and a worthy winner. Three animated films won plaudits. The Balloon Catcher for best soundtrack, doubtless helped by the sharpness of its foley work. En Rang Par Deux may have had local advantage, but the multicultural sensibilities in its tale of the friendship between two musical immigrants to Rome are notable. Dayfly was given special mention for innovative language as well.
Where The Leaves Fall
The International Jury had three members: Laura Aimone (programmer/director, Italy); Philippe Claudel (writer/director, France); and Tony Grillo (animator/producer, USA).
They described winner The Other thus: "An engaging story of pain, compassion, and the struggle between love and madness. Painted with a sober and sparse palette, it depicts the fragility of human misery with dignity and grace, drawing you into the private lives of a grieving family."
Their special mention for The National Museum of Cinema's "contribution to expression" went to Where The Leaves Fall. They said that "Every frame feels balanced, each shot is carefully composed and delicately choreographed. Our protagonist navigates the familiar, lived-in home of his youth, seemingly designed to seduce him back into its womb. Lush photography captures serene, harmonious settings while drawing your focus to the lonely protagonist, disconnected from this world." Xin Alessandro Zheng, a student from NABA of Milan received a prize of a book, museum tickets, and a glass plate.
Another special mention, for Guang Hua Cultures et Media was made for best experiment with film languages. It was won by Yi Baoxingchen, student of the Animation School of Communication University of China, for the film Dayfly. Actress Jun Ichikawa presented the award, a Murano glass plate. The jury said: "A delightful and enlightening series of contrasts, Dayfly employs a dreamy parade of loosely-connected animation styles and visual media that somehow fuse into a cohesive and compelling story of the perseverance of being. At once meditative and urgent, humorous and sober, it illustrates the inevitability of life and death with a hand-drawn charm that simultaneously conveys mature contemplation and childish wonder."
The Levi Prize for the best soundtrack (including music, speech, noise), was assigned by a special jury. Levi Foundation technical director Roberto Calabretto, composers Daniele Furlati and Paolo Troncon chose The Balloon Catcher. The fim was produced at Tama Art University by Kaneko Isaku. The prize (again a piece of Murano glassware) was presented by the Director of the Levi Foundation Giorgio Busetto. "The sound environment evokes in an effective manner the narrated story in ways that are functional to the dramaturgy of the film."
The Days of Light Special Mention for the best photography came from a third special jury: Journalists and film critics, Luca Pacilio and Gabriella Gallozzi and artistic director of the The Days of Light festival, Donato Guerra. The Mention went to Yard Kings by Vasco Alexandre of Middlesex University "For how it manages to restore freshness and ingenuity to the gaze of the child protagonist and, at the same time, seeing the best of social realism cinema, for highlighting and giving naturalist depth to the most urgent and problematic aspects of the narrative."
The last prize of the International Competition is the"Pateh Sabally Prize, offered by the Municipality. It is dedicated to his memory, a boy from Gambia who tragically died in the waters of the Grand Canal. It was awarded to the Italian animation short film En Rang Par Deux by Elisabetta Bosco, Margherita Giusti and Viola Mancini, produced by the Experimental Center of Cinematography of Piemonte. The award, a unique piece of multicoloured glass also by PROMOVETRO – Artistic Glass of Murano was presented by the president of the Municipality of Venice, Murano and Burano.
"The film tells the stories of two African boys who arrived in Rome and are united by music, which helps to overcome differences and mistrust. Mixing the lines of the animation with live shots helps us understand the dimension of being together and to understand the value of hospitality and integration."
There were supplementary awards the festival's parallel competitions, one for music videos, another for high schools students. Perhaps of more interest a script prize with an award of 3,000 euros. This competiton was open to the directors of the International and music video competitions, so had not fewer than 39 potential entrants. Chosen by a jury of Domenico Scimone, general manager of Carpenè-Malvolti (Italy's oldest sparkling wine manufacturer, and the award's sponsor), Alessandro Loprieno, CEO of WeShort, and Eduardo Fernando Varela, screenwriter, the winning script will hopefully be filmed with that budget. Inheritance by Alphie Velasco, whose short A Toy In The River was in the International competition, won. Domenico Scimone himself presented, stating: "An intimate narrative, fictionalized with a great deal of respect and sensitivity, which emphasizes and exalts the ethical principles of the Carpenè family and the founding values of the historic Carpenè-Malvolti company."
In a programme as strong as the 2021 Ca'Foscari it is never easy to pick favourites. Among those not awarded but of which Eye For Film is fond are A Pillar of Salt, The Boy Who Walked Barefoot, and Termites. That is to do no disservice to the winners, all worthy, all works of great talent. As mainstream Hollywood releases extend ever further short film represents not only its traditional role as an incubator of talent and a creche for creativity but a stark alternative to the tyranny of the two-hour mark. The only measure by which these cannot compete with features is length, but as is so often the case it's what one does with it that counts. Ca'Foscari's selectors and programmers put together a great selection for their eleventh edition, and the juries have picked worthy winners. If you get a chance to see anything screened here it is likely to impress, but for every film mentioned here that becomes a racing certainty.