With the winter wind drawing near and nightfall eating ever more of the day, Edinburgh Short Film Festival’s theme of “Escape” is perfect for a frosty Friday night in November.
The proceedings begin with Fox and the Whale, a quietly stunning animated film from Canada about a fox searching for something lost in a dream-like wilderness. There’s something really special about this film: it’s soft exploration of looking and loss nestles in your memory long after the screen fades. This is followed by the delightful Italian comedy fiSOlofia about a retiree’s quest for absolute knowledge. The scenes of three old men asking the big questions in life (while enjoying a spot of daytime drinking, of course) are delivered with Nicola Palmeri’s charming shots and witty acting. Even the credits are remarkably stylish. Next comes an unconventional piece, Films to Break Projectors, which discards the usual tropes of plot, characters and dialogue. Instead, it focuses on the very act of film making by retrieving unprojectable celluloid and hand editing it into moving collages. It’s a daringly different choice, but in a night that’s all about films it is a good move to turn the lens on to the cameras themselves. Turquoise, an Iranian film directed by Roozbeh Misaghi, depicts the violent effects of a competition to win an unknown prize. This film was shot, as the Q and A with Carys Evans later reveals, in a rural village in northern Iran whose elderly residents were eventually persuaded to star in the film. Moving back to Scotland, Salt & Sauce by Edinburgh College of Art is a highly relatable and well-acted piece about waiting for “real life” to begin. The final short before the interval is Drone by Robert Duncan. In this comedy horror about a messy flatmate driven insane by an unstoppable noise, Duncan builds suspense to breaking point before exploding it in the funniest moment on screen all night.
After the break we return to Time to Go by Gregorz Mołda, a Polish drama about a girl who has to choose between her imprisoned boyfriend and her morally dubious father. Brown Terror eases the tension of Mołda’s film with gloriously unsophisticated humour in the parody of trashy crime report documentaries. It’s a surprise to find this in a film festival, and a good one at that, as it dispels any preconceptions people might have about short films being pretentious. Keeping on with the comedy is My Life for Ireland by Kieron J. Walsh. Walsh’s Hitchcock-inspired piece about one man’s sloppy struggle for a free Ireland makes brilliant use of awkward physical humour. The night ends with Serval and Chaumier: Master of Shadows. This beautifully shot film set in eighteenth-century France is a fitting close for the night: by portraying two street performers displaced by the invention of film, it reminds us of the threat of irrelevance from developing technology and looks to the future of cinema.
This evening of films is unusual for a festival because there are no weak links: every single piece is outstanding in different ways. A special mention goes to one of the ESFF organisers, Carys Evans, for her extremely intelligent questions to Roozbeh Misaghi and for summing up the entire evening in one line: “There’s nothing small about short films”.