Review: Cambridge Shorts

Rose Aitchison 19 October 2017

The selection and combination of the short films for Cambridge Shorts, by now on its fifth event and comfortably settled in the fasti of the ADC, must, one supposes, be an effort to make a virtue of fragmentation and to construct the semblance of purpose from an aleatory tumble of submissions.

Partly this is the job of the compere. Ania Magliano-Wright certainly didn’t fall flat, and her qualifications as a film critic were most convincing. I would hesitate to compare her to her predecessor were such a comparison not sanctioned by his obvious presence, in the third row and as the butt of many a gag; the merits of Joe Shalom’s narcissistic persona(lity?) were that by devoting attention to himself he was able to make the segues more spacious and therefore more palate-cleansing, masking any ruptures in the texture of the evening. We would, I think, have gladly seen more of Magliano-Wright.

If the films screened last night had anything in common it was a taste for the bizarre, and whilst it was a relief not to see the attempts at ‘relatable’ mundanity or highfaluting microcosmography that one always fears from these things, I wonder whether this was less a breaking of boundaries and more a collective recognition of the limitations of the short film format. The best films of the evening had an air of parody, but perhaps some further essays on seriousness wouldn’t go amiss.

Without further ado, the films themselves, in order of presentation:

Lucy Cole’s The Chair added a wonderful twist of surrealism to a hackneyed format: a girl (Martha Cook) wanders around a tedious Cambridge house party to which her friend has dragged her. Camera angles and awkwardness all very Peep Show. And then she gets talking to a chair. The possibilities for the social life of a chair at the university are explored delightfully, and are surprisingly involving.

With The Girl in the Woods, Emile Burgoyne takes the evening on a darker turn. A blindfolded girl wanders slowly from the woods at dawn where she is encountered by a man in a car. Burgoyne has a marvellous eye and ear – the landscape, the light, the application of music to spectacle were all splendid – but there is perhaps a need to engage a little more thought: the tonal variation was jarring, and there was a whiff of false profundity in the closing line, the only speech in the film.

More ambitious still will be Monty, ‘a 19th century epic drama spanning the life of a dark and troubled soul’, to which we were granted a sneak preview. Written, directed by, and starring Noah Geelon and Jacob Blewett, the film gives depth to one man’s struggle to uphold his identity against society, religion, and an overweening father by the clever innovation of having the titular Monty played by two actors in tandem. The cinema release is due for December 2017, and I have no doubt it will be busting blocks.

Zest, oddity, élan, but also reverie, nay, even serenity: Johnny King’s latest offering, Pondering a Wall, is one of his neatest yet. A fascinated Loxy (Elise Hagan) stares all day at a wall in a sun-blanched suburban idyll, to a voiceover from Will Bishop that skirts tantalisingly around telling us what we want to know: why the wall? A sophisticated negotiation between ‘watching’ and ‘pondering’ is set in play: the audience watches but struggles to see quite what it is that Hagan’s character is pondering in the wall; they are left themselves to ponder what it is they are seeing.

The charm continues with One Last Chance. Written by Stephen Goss and directed in his absence by Nicholas Hulbert, this film updates the ‘Abraham and the angels’ motif to comment on contemporary social psychology. The piece drifts agreeably from realism into an allegorical unreality, as the three visitors, gilded curiously in makeup and laboured in speech, enter into, and take over, the narrative. It ends on an uplifting note, asserting that a good soul can be an overemotional one.

Finally, Some Flowers, directed by Anastasia Bruce-Jones and written by Kate Collins. It was an odd decision to end the evening with the grittiest piece on offer, and unfortunately there were some technical issues towards the beginning, but this was clearly a very competent piece. The tonal variation was attractive – it proceeded quickly from the etiquette of dead dog disposal to drugs, dissolution and a missed funeral – and the strictures of the short film were proficiently confronted, the script dropping hints to construct an illusion of depth.

An excellent evening. I look forward to the next.