Film Reviews

OPEN SHORTS 2013 - Buxton Film

Now in its fifth year, the prestigious Open Shorts competition is fully established attracting entries from filmmakers across the country.

The annual Fringe screening of the winning entries makes for a very entertaining evening with the added 'celebrity' attraction that many of the actors and filmmakers are in the audience.

The screening began somewhat unusually with a Best Film by Young Filmmakers award for Bad Element by the Film Club from Smallwood Manor prep school. This highly professional offering took elements of Harry Potter and gave them a savage twist as we watched a new boy who has been expelled from Hogwarts exact a grisly revenge on the school bully. As in classics such as An American Werewolf in London, the comedy was rich but the horror was played for real with some quite startlingly disturbing special effects.

From Little Acorns, written and produced by John McGimpsey, directed by Mike Lunt, was a touching tale in which a nine-year-old boy (a strong performance from Louis Macdonald) befriends an elderly neighbour (James Frost), who over a relatively short period shows him a new way to live.

Tigerish Waters, directed by Lucy Campbell Maguire and produced by Leigh Hunter Dodsworth, was a moving, very atmospheric film set in Donegal and following the experiences of Aofie, who is mourning the loss of her sister but is about to discover that 'energy never dies'.

The Crisp Strike, written by Keith Large and directed by Alan Campbell offered light relief and for some audience members (taking advantage of the packets of Salt 'N' Shake we had all been given on entry) an actual snack break. This wannabe Ealing Comedy about a scrap dealer whose workers have striked for lack of their favourite flavoured crisps, was a bit too creaky for my taste but raised some laughs around me.

Shoe On the Other Foot by Prince Otunze felt heartfelt in its convincing portrayal of a couple whose roles had been reversed, with the flashy working man losing his sense of self after losing his job. His partner meanwhile finds work but with her empowerment comes a growing realisation that their relationship is based in misplaced assumptions on both sides.

View from the Window, written and directed by AD Cooper and winner of the 2009/10 prequel to Cannes Short Script Competition, was my highlight of the night, an emotional film cleverly shot from the point of view of Martin, a man who is recovering in hospital from a serious car accident and is lying flat on his hospital bed, his neck in a brace. When the old man in the next bed (never seen) starts wittering on about the view from the window, Martin's reaction is to wish he would shut up, but as he slowly recovers, he comes to seek out the old man's conversation, ever more so when the ailing Harold becomes unable to reciprocate. We know something has happened to Harold when urgent shadows move across the ceiling in the middle of the night. Much later Martin's bed is moved to the window but what he sees surprises him...

The evening concluded satisfyingly with the Open Shorts 2013 Best Film, Driftwood, written and directed by James Webber. Beautifully edited and shot, I can see why this was the unanimous choice; it just didn't touch me in the same way as View from the Window. The message - the redeeming power of sport, in this case swimming - is not one that chimes with me and dare I say it, it did all feel a bit 2012. However there was no denying the skill of the filmmaking as we cut between scenes of a young man tormented by his violent father and mindless street gangs but finding glorious release in the swimming pool as he pushed his body ever harder through the water.

In the end, the magic of Open Shorts night lies in finding out which film connects with you. It is a measure of the high overall quality that there were several shorts here that seemed to reach right out of the screen and pull me in. I look forward to 2014 with interest. For those unable to attend last night, I think it is a fair bet that Driftwood at least will be screened in the autumn as part of Buxton Film's November festival.

Stephanie Billen