Review: Cambridge Shorts

Zoe Barnes 14 February 2019
Image Credit: Wildlife of Lundy - Seabirds from Cambridge Shorts via Facebook

★★★

Watching the ninth installment of the ADC’s termly Cambridge Shorts screening was odder than I thought it would be. While the Shorts was once an invariably sold-out affair showcasing a vibrant and competitive film scene, presented with great sardonic flair, this latest iteration fell short of my expectations.

Although the attendance was above standard for an ADC late, the auditorium clearly felt half-empty rather than half-full. The most obvious cause for this is the hosting duo Tom Nunan and Marika von Snatch (James Coe). Introduced by a competently produced yet unglamorous stop-motion animation, neither of the pair seemed to commit to their role in the way required to inspire sufficient excitement.

Nunan’s typically endearing brand of vintage charm has clearly been stretched thin across a range of high-profile roles this term; his performance was adequate, but not much more. Von Snatch committed to a stronger aesthetic and racier gags, but ultimately fell short for the same reasons. Neither of the pair succeeded in exciting me for any of the films they introduced; their dismissive, satirical remarks were not particularly funny.

The majority of the films shown shared this lack of polish and glamour. On the most part this is not a criticism; it does offer a pertinent insight into the current state of the Cambridge Shorts and the student film ‘scene’. Almost all the films were small-scale projects from unfamiliar individuals; it was their ‘début’ into this platform. This is largely encouraging: it is good to see student film being represented by an increasingly diverse group of people who refuse to be inhibited by their inexperience either with filmmaking in general or with the Cambridge film scene specifically.

However, the relatively ‘fringe’ nature of this Shorts, with its small casts, small production teams and refreshing range of names did not seem to constitute a ‘film scene’ as much of a disconnected range of projects. Past Shorts have generally succeeded by the self-promotion of those involved, resulting in the enjoyable but rather insular impression of a Big Event.

As for the films themselves, the standard was mixed but the eclecticism of the bill was welcome. Opening film Haze showcased an impressive set, enjoyable choreography and strong production value as a dance piece/music video. Although its strongest elements could have been explored further in cinematography, editing and choreography, it was a good start. Queer Voices In China was unique, overlaying autobiographical voiceovers from anonymous members of the queer community in Chengdu over a montage of shots taken from the city. It worked well as a testimonial documentary, highlighting minority voices. Hourglass was a short narrational piece. The voiceover was well-implemented and the production demonstrated Harry Redding’s compelling interaction with physical space, but it still suffered from an underdeveloped premise and terrible lighting. Maudslay’s Lionguard was rescreened from a past Shorts as a last-minute replacement for another film, but was a welcome presence with its comic performances, cinematographic fluency and, from a student writer, unusual sensitivity to the intricacies of a screenplay of ambivalently weighted content. The highlight of the night, however, was Wildlife of Lundy – Seabirds by Joshua Harris, a ten-minute nature documentary made up of breath-taking shots and Harris’s enthusiastically earnest presenting style, which was a real relief given the cynical, snide tone fostered by the hosts.

The final film, Zébulon Goriely’s A Day In The Mind, offered a five minute encapsulation of depression as a Cambridge student from a personal perspective. Meticulously edited and well-scored, this piece was relentless, gripping and highly comfortable, yet ultimately uplifting in its creative scope. It ended the night on a strong, concise note.

On the whole, I was glad to see the various films of Cambridge Shorts the Ninth, regardless of inconsistencies in their craft and production value. But I still feel that both the event and the film scene in general will have to adopt a more pro-active, positive ethos in the future if it is to return to its former standards of prestige. Cambridge film is now more disparate and more frequently inexpert that in previous years. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but its chief platform should seek a fresh means of engagement and presentation.