Last weekend the 8th annual LSFF served up a helping of visceral horror-nasties, overbearing mothers and strangely judgemental mimes.
The wonderful thing about short film screenings is the applause that follows the fade out. There is a sense of pride that lingers in the air, as friends and colleagues celebrate their achievements. But at this year's London Short Film Festival, the audience branched beyond the industry and media circles to include the general cinema-loving public.
Every year there is at least one charlatan film that edges its way onto the bill but, sitting through three screening sessions this weekend alone, there were no outright duds to be seen. No vacuous ellipses or unnecessary use of the French language, no anti-drug allegory and not a crying clown in sight. Indeed, this year's LSFF was an entirely sophisticated affair, with self-contained stories boasting tangible narratives.
The presence of short films that smack of art installations can overwhelm festivals like the LSFF, but such films were absent from this year's eclectic programme. This year the move towards more conventional storytelling was especially true of 'Fucked Up Love' on Saturday 8, an event which was so heaving, punters were sprawled on the floor of the Curzon Soho. Most relationships are defined by a few significant moments and so the short film is an ideal vessel for a director to present a love story.
As the lights came up, all that could be heard were audience exchanges about Dave Alexander Smith's In The Meadow. When the film began, you could feel eyes drooping across the room in anticipation of a story of vagary as a dowdy man and his mistress set down for a picnic in near-silence. But, surprisingly, it all went a bit Kubrick as the couple wakes up to discover they have been robbed by two mimes. Slowly, the story grows into a wonderfully sinister study of morality as the mimes interoperate their unseen sex scene and present the male character with a stolen picture of his children.
The film relentlessly takes you places you didn't expect to go, each scene offered all the more impact by Smith's keen sense of pace. It's not easy to discern what Smith is trying to say but judging from his protagonists behaviour, it seems that sex breeds selfishness.
The less thrilling included Sebastian Aguirre’s Leave Him – which played out like a Calvin Klein ad directed by Werner Herzog. While it looked eerily beautiful, it didn't have the substance to survive its padded supernatural angle. Still, Aguirre had a lot of competition in that regard.
The most common (usually undead) vein running through the festival was that of the post-apocalyptic shtick. For the most part, these attempts were a bit derivative (is it possible not to be?) and many of the entrants were patrons of the Edgar Wright school of comic camera swipes. Although Once Upon a Time on Earth by Ian Hothersall was probably the biggest transition nabbing culprit, it was hard not to enjoy his ambitious micro-War of the Worlds complete with computerised explosions.
Next up was 'Shorts in the Dark', an initiative which will stretch beyond the festival as the Rio Cinema in Dalston has pledged to promote short films, screening before their weekly Midnight Movie. 'Shorts in the Dark' was a bang-on programming choice by LSFF who are clearly tuned into the London voices crying out for late night cinema. The result was a heartening communal film event.
The most persistent offering of the evening was To My Mother and Father, a furiously filmed horror. Director Can Evrenol's ominous work has asserted him as the king of uncomfortable viewing showing rough pregnancy sex, voyeuristic children and an eviscerating alien scene that would make Sigourney Weaver squirm.
The film moves from odd to abject as a little boy, Jimmy is accidentally forced to watch his parents go at it through the frame of his voodoo mask. The nine-minute film watches like footage that should be encrypted on an illegal hosting site, but still feels more advanced than your average video nasty. In other words, it's an absolute mindfuck, but one executed with the horror-full gusto.
Finally, the sobering effect of the 'Family Affairs' bill came as a perfect piece of timing on Sunday 9. The screening opened with the Freudian pastiche, Marigolds,by Stephanie Zari. Unfortunately for the rest, its originality, density and slow reveal managed to transcend the rest of the collection.
Marigolds stares at the complex sadness of an unappreciated housewife. The female lead, Susannah, captures the feel of the film single-handed; her life’s troubles etched into every line and wrinkle on her face. We see her snap off the Marigold gloves, rinse the dust from her hair and scrape on ageing mascara as she awaits her son's arrival. When he finally does, an Oedopian undertone rears its creepy head. This deviant story, set in such a painfully normal environment, makes for one beautifully disturbing film.
It may be early days, but ode to the outside-the-box actions of the LSFF programmers, 2011 is shaping up to be a brighter year for short cinema.
The LSFF runs until January 16 across London. For more information head to shortfilms.org.uk