Film is often, unfortunately, often one of Cambridge’s more underappreciated, or at least undiscussed, methods of performance. Therefore, it was so refreshing to settle down in St John’s Picturehouse to enjoy Cambridge Shorts, an evening showcasing six student films of less than forty minutes each. I will only discuss a few that particularly impressed, although each film offered different and thought-provoking ideas and techniques.
The shortest film, Greyfriars, was less than four minutes long and made up of pure atmosphere. Director Cameron Brown chose to set it in an abandoned monastery, editing in ghostly figures and faces which were made harder to see by shifting mist. The feeling of dread was heightened by a haunting soundtrack, created through experimental flute-playing which exploited the flute’s full range. The film reached its climax with shocking, unnatural flashes of black lightening against a white background.
Signed, Brontë was set in Switzerland, a location which director Chiara di Fillippo took full advantage of. The film’s cinematography was beautiful, with stunning shots of the Swiss mountains interspersed with works of art, whether those were the main character’s and her grandmother’s, or professional works in a Genevan art gallery. There was also a fascinating language shift in this film: starting in French as the main character argues with her mother about the usefulness of art, it switched to English when she visits her more liberal grandmother. It was particularly interesting from a British perspective to see English as a symbol of freedom, since the stereotype is of French as the freer and more artistic of the two.
Beth was an incredibly moving film. It depicted a young woman who struggles to deal with the news that she is infertile, surrounded by friends who refuse or forget to listen. Directors Megan Harding and Seth Jordan pulled off some technically very difficult shots, and used Beth’s dancing, interspersed with her unsmiling face, to highlight her inner sadness. This happens twice in the film, once in a club and once in her room as she drinks alone and grieves for the children she cannot have.
The final film, Their Story, was a documentary about homelessness in Cambridge. The makers of this film were almost totally invisible; each person interviewed was given the centre of the screen and the freedom to talk. It was a really sensitive piece of filmmaking that, instead of focusing on statistics, heard each person’s story, their daily lives and their plans for the future. We were reminded that our circumstances do not and should not define us.
The evening was well structured, with a question-and-answer session with the directors after each film. Hosts, Jade Franks and Rohan Sharma, were funny and relaxed, really settling nto their roles, once they’d put down their scripts. All in all, it was an enriching evening, and a privilege to discover what Cambridge filmmakers have to offer.