For the 23rd year in a row, the Leuven International Short Film Festival screens a great variety of short films. Besides the Flemish and European competition, special attention was paid this year to comedy, animation, non-narrative visual works, Polish short films and shorts accompanied by live music. Among the many good films shown, a few stood out above the rest.
My journey started quite heavy, with Dekalb Elementary (2017) directed by Reed van Dyk. At an average school in Atlanta, a mentally unstable young man prepares himself to start a shooting. The receptionist takes care of him and tries to change his mind. She succeeds and talks him through the situation, hoping it will not escalate. The whole short is filmed in this silent little room, which makes the atmosphere even tenser. The woman stays strong until the end. Until, when the police officers have everything under control, she breaks.
I rarely cry while watching a film, but sad children get to me. The Silent Child (2017) of Chris Overton is about the 4-year-old Libby, who is deaf. All her life, she is ignored by her parents, brother and sister, who are always too busy and, therefore, have no time to teach Libby lip reading or sign language. Her parents hire a nanny, Joanne. She sees the problem the family is dealing with and starts to communicate with Libby. Joanne opens Libby’s world and a wonderful friendship establishes between the two.
But then, Libby’s mother decides that her daughter has to become a “normal” child and should stop learning sign language. Meaning, Joanne is not welcome anymore. One day, Joanne passes the school Libby attends. The little girl is standing outside against the school wall, alone. She looks sad and doesn’t play with the other kids. She catches Joanne’s eye. “I love you” Libby signs. A tear rolled down my cheek.
Fortunately, more funny and optimistic short films were shown as well. Such as Giraffe (2017) directed by Janne Smidt. After a bizarre job interview, in which she had to produce the sound of several animals, Elsa is hired at a call centre. It appears that the sound of the Giraffe is the most asked sound of the moment. But what kind of sounds does this animal make? A journey filled with blaaaaah, muuuuuuu and weeeeeeeee start. Simple and crazy, but very funny.
Simple and crazy is also how I’d describe the protagonists of Punchline (2017) of Christophe M. Saber. Two wannabe gangsters have kidnapped a man, Michel. They definitely want to kill him, but, of course, in style. How? With an incredible punch line. However, creating a good punch line isn´t that easy. A heated (and hilarious) discussion right before the eyes of Michel turns into a fight between the two kidnappers. It might not come as a surprise that it is not Michel who ends up dead.
Of course, a short film festival´s program is not complete without animation. The ´Animation Nation´ section first of all showed how diverse the animation genre is, both in narrative and in style. Moreover, computers are not always needed to make a terrific result. Take Fire in Cardboard City (2017) by Phillip Brough for example, about a city where the decors and the characters are made of cardboard. One day, the city catches fire. It is up to the local fire chief and his brave staff to save the city and its citizens. Not an easy task, since everything is made of cardboard, so water too… The switch to live-action causes a hilarious plot twist and made me conscious of how I considered the cardboard world as real for a couple of minutes.
Life Smartphone (2015) of Chenglin Xie, on the contrary, has a very finely drawn style. It was the shortest film I saw at the festival, but it had a big clear message. The characters´ eyes are glued to their smartphones. One accident after the other happens. Many people die as a result. Exaggerated or is Xie’s film a wake-up call? I think we´re not far away from the situation the two minutes of Life Smartphone describes.
Not satisfied with your job? Do try this at your office! The Burden (2017) directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr is about animals experiencing boredom and meaninglessness at their job. Pigs work at a snack bar, monkeys work at a call centre, and fish work at a hotel where other fish can stay for a long time (because they want to be alone or they are left alone). They tackle their boredom by (tap) dancing and singing about their uninteresting job. And so the animals create their own happy musical, including rotating decors, in order to make their working circumstances bearable.
But what if your circumstances can´t be covered by a song or a dance? In the social drama Hot and Cold (2017) made by Marta Prus, a young woman tries to steal another woman´s handbag. The theft turns into an unexpected meeting. During their conversation in the woman´s car, the woman asks the thief to get her some drugs. She will be paid for it and the woman will not report the theft.
Since the girl, who appears to be a single mother, can use the money really well, she agrees with the deal. After a humiliating visit with her neighbour, she and the crying baby bring the drugs to the woman. She lives in a big, well-designed house. She seems rich, a person who has no worries or problems. The girl gets mad when she gets less money than promised. She finds a way to get into the house to get the rest of the money. Along the way, she comes across a photo of a man and a baby and a nice blue-and-white baby room as well. The man and the baby, however, are not there.
Finally, she finds the woman in the laundry room, trying to commit suicide. The girl saves the woman´s life, while the baby keeps on crying. Social problems can´t be seen from the outside, is the conclusion of this grey coloured, filmed in one shot short film.
The last highlight I want to mention is Boris Sverlow’s Gerontophobia (2016), screened during a film concert organised by musicians of the Music Therapy department of the LUCA School of Arts. In his short film, becoming older is regarded as a disease. A research project about eternal youth was set up in order to fight this epidemic. However, it goes terribly wrong. A toxic black cloud slowly covers the city and will kill everyone.
An evacuation is organised, but only people below 30 years old are allowed on board of this big air balloon. This separates Dante and his pregnant wife. He will die; she will live and raise their child. The film is a beautiful combination of early cinema, science-fiction and animation: something I haven´t seen before. The live music emphasised the sad atmosphere.
Shorts can make you cry, laugh and scared just as much as longer films. They can give you good advice, or warn you for either good or bad futures. That’s why it’s so important that festivals like the Leuven International Short Film Festival shine a light on shorts, and hopefully, there will be more recognition for the short cinematic form in the near future, perhaps even beyond festivals.