Top 10 Shorts of Leeds International Film Festival

A belated final post from Leeds covers the best shorts from the 30+ I saw at the festival this year. As expected the range of short films was diverse both in content and style and the shorts hailed from all over the world. The short programmes I saw were the 6 Louis Le Prince Award programmes as well as the European Documentary Shorts programme. This was barely scratching the surface of the shorts that were on offer this year but there were far too many to fit in! Here though is my Top 10 Short Films of Leeds International Film Festival 2013.

A Better World | Sacha Feiner | Belguim | 2012 | 24 min

In a dystopian future people live in tiny apartments in tremendous sky scrapers. They go to sleep in tiny rooms and do not dream because dreams are banned. Henry, the film’s protagonist, works for the state watching CCTV screens for signs of suspicious activity and labelling such dissidents ‘SUSPECT’. On the evening news the reporter announces that smiling has been banned as a counter-terrorism measure; “finally!” says Henry. Henry himself almost cracks a smile when he receives a medal for informing on his family. But the following night disaster strikes as revolutionaries liberate the country and Henry’s beloved totalitarian regime is toppled. The people lay turf in the sterile streets and turn the city into a park, they dance and laugh but Henry goes to work, day after day typing ‘SUSPECT’ into a broken computer in a derelict office. A funny, charming short with a very unique twist on the genre. The production design, considering the budget, is a marvel.

A Story for the Modlins | Sergio Oksman | Spain | 2012 | 26 min

At the end of Rosemary’s Baby there is an actor in the party scene called Elmer Modlin. He is a young man who has been trying to break into Hollywood for several years but after this unnamed role he appears to have had enough. He moves with his wife and son to Madrid where they shut themselves in an apartment. Decades later a package full of photographs and video is found on the sidewalk after Elmer and his wife have passed away. Oksman uses these materials to try to piece together the story of what happened to the Modlins, relying mostly on stills and narration to tell the story. It’s a fascinating tale and we gain a glimpse into the Modlin’s unappreciated, and hardly seen, artistic pursuits as well as the strange effects of their self-imposed isolation. Oksman’s story isn’t necessarily entirely true – he is after all piecing this together as best he can – but it is a terrific story nonetheless.

Balcony | Lendita Zeqirah | Kosovo | 2013 | 20 min

A young boy perches on the edge of his balcony shouting abuse at passers-by, most of whom are less offended by his words than they are terrified that he is going to fall. First the police are called and then the fire brigade and a small crowd gathers to watch and also to berate the police for not knowing what to do. Balcony is filmed in one take, starting with a boy leaving his house and then peeling off when he gets to the apartment block to concentrate on two girls phoning the police. The camera flows from person to person eavesdropping on their conversations and as more and more people arrive and the scene gets busier the camera jostles in and out of the crowd. The crowd is essentially a cross-section of society and arguments break out across class divides and between the police and the civilians while the firemen bicker over who should be taking charge of the situation.
It’s a funny and gripping sequence with outstanding direction and camerawork. I don’t know if the sequence was mostly improvised or carefully staged but it is exceedingly impressive in any case. My favourite short of all.

Emergency Calls | Hannes Vartiainen, Pekka Veikkolainen | Finland | 2013 | 15 min

Made up of recordings of real emergency calls played over satellite images of the earth or images of radio frequencies, radars and occasionally actors reciting the calls, Emergency Calls is an undeniably chilling short. One call is from a ship sinking at sea and the nearby boats that are trying to help coordinate the rescue operation, another from a teacher sheltering his pupils from a gunman, another still from a husband whose wife is giving birth before they can get to a hospital. The outcomes of these situations aren’t relayed, the audience just hears the voices and tries to imagine the situations behind them. Its power is in its simplicity, it will no doubt leave you shaken.

Just Before Losing Everything | Xavier Legrand | France | 2012 | 30 min

This year’s winner of the Louis Le Prince award and a worthy one. While her children pretend to go to school their mother Miriam, picks them up. In the car is a bin bag full of clothes and we see her daughter saying a tearful goodbye to her boyfriend. Miriam drives to work – a large supermarket on the outskirts of town and explains to her boss that she is leaving town to escape her abusive husband. She needs money and he agrees to fire her with a severance package. Miriam phones her sister and explains what’s happening – she agrees to pick up Miriam and the kids but it will take a few hours to get there. Thus begins the long wait. Around lunchtime the husband arrives wanting to talk to Miriam and wanting to know why she isn’t on the tills…
Legrand builds his characters carefully, we are immediately drawn into their lives and once we reach the half way point the tension is near enough unbearable. In just half an hour Legrand crafts a terrific thriller, I expect we will be seeing a lot more from him in the future.

Kakara | Kimmo Yläkäs | Finland | 2013 | 13 min

A rude and obnoxious biker takes his girlfriend to hospital for an abortion – while she goes in for the treatment he lounges in the waiting room, intimidating the other people so he can be left alone. A young girl races up and down the corridor playing hockey and try as he does the man cannot get rid of her; instead she starts to taunt him in return. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that the two start to bond as the hours wear on but it is nevertheless very well handled and touching as we realise the man’s arrogant nature is just a cover for his conflicted feelings regarding his girlfriend’s pregnancy.

My Guide | Barnabás Tóth | Hungary | 2013 | 12 min

At first I found myself irritated at this relationship drama that takes place over consecutive car journeys between a bickering old couple. The wife constantly berates her husband’s driving while he tries not to snap at her. But as the film reveals where they keep driving to, and why, you begin to realise just what it’s getting at: that these annoying habits of our loved ones are some of the things that make them so familiar and recognisable to us. A sad and honest film.

Two Weeks Tops | Danny Hecht | Israel | 2012 | 26 min

Gome is a poet and a writer who at the beginning of the film is unceremoniously evicted from his flat for not paying rent. He pleads with the landlord that he has nowhere to go; which isn’t at all true. However Gome comes from a successful upper-middle class family that he seems to entirely resent and having to move back in with his parents is a prospect he certainly doesn’t relish. Gome is sarcastic, often witty and certainly petulant – in many ways he’s a thoroughly unlikable character. But Two Weeks Tops is hilarious, an early scene where Gome sees what his mum has done to his room is a particular highlight, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wild Haggis | João Nicolau | Portugal, France | 2013 | 20 min

Taking place at a summer camp a ten-year old boy balances attempts to woo one of his classmates (most directly with a hilarious rap song he and his friends perform as part of a talent show) with taking revenge on the older group of boys who keep trashing his dorm and looking for the Bigfoot-like creature that keeps appearing around the camp. The fantastical element is handled in an entirely matter of fact way, there’s no build up and no soundtrack queues; it’s just there. As a result Wild Haggis has a curious overall mood, somewhere between realism and surrealism, but one which I loved – the filmmakers really understand what it feels like to a kid of that age and its nonchalant mix of fantasy and real-life works wonders.

Zombie | David Moreno | Spain | 2012 | 13 min

An old man suffering from dementia decides that the constant care he requires is too much of a burden on the rest of his family and decides to kill himself. However he keeps messing it up – an attempt to electrocute himself in the bath just blows the fuses and leaves the house without power. His daughter is both exasperated by him and terrified of losing him and is entirely at a loss as to what to do. Though it sounds grim Zombie is actually a delight, its light-hearted, touching and never depressing – it’s more of a celebration of family than a painful look at death. You’re more likely to laugh out loud than cry.

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