Whilst the future of filmmaking may be trepidatious, to say the least, it’s incredibly inspiring to see how festivals and institutions adapt proactively to maintain support for independent filmmakers. We’ve covered The Shortest Nights, a film festival which takes place on the longest day of the year, for a few years now. Like Encounters and Aesthetica, it remains a brilliant bastion of short film celebration in the UK. Not only have the festival organisers adapted to the current situation by taking the festival online this year but they are also offering the entire 2020 lineup of shorts to be viewed for a ridiculously cheap price.
It’s a steal, and if you’re half as much a fan of short film as we are, it’s definitely worth your time. If that hasn’t done enough to spark your interest then read on as we present a list of highlights that feature in this year’s programme. First up, we have Joy Wilkinson’s Ma’am, a period short that follows Queen Victoria in the aftermath of pregnancy. Boasting a shift in representation as the monarch’s sexuality is centralised against her reluctance to be a mother once again, it’s a complicated film which poses questions surrounding female hysteria and motherhood. Not what you’d expect on first glance.
Next is Ben S Hyland’s Talk Radio, a comedy about a wife who overhears her husband revealing the skeletons in their closet on live radio. A wonderfully scripted short that is executed with great comedic precision, taking the repressed build up of those everyday marital moments and letting them bloom with a finale that will no doubt surprise the festival’s audience.
Kukeri is a documentary about Bulgarian folkloric tradition by Daniel Ali and Jacob Schühle Lewis that involves a person donning a large costume that is covered in long, dark hair. If you’ve seen Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, you’ll know the unique visual flavour these costumes display. As a documentary it outlines the tradition, underpinning the slow historical decline in its practice, and the gendered expectations that have come with wearing the costume.
Our next recommendation is Tyro Heath’s Mash. A beautiful and humble drama about a young girl who spends the day at a scrapyard in London. Told through tactile hand-held camerawork, subtle comments and off-kilter shots, we learn the reason of why she’s really there and what her family is currently enduring. It’s a humane story about innocence, imagination and the bonds which test childhood relationships.
My personal favourite from the lineup is Fi Kelly’s slice-of-life fantasy short entitled The Last Mermaid. It’s an eco-comedy that sees the sister of the last mermaid on earth deal with the grief of losing her aquatic sibling by lining up bachelors to help her repopulate the mermaid species. An incredible premise matched by some outstanding comical performances from the entire cast, it’s worth signing up to The Shortest Nights just for this.
Samuel Dawe and Paul Holbrook’s Hungry Joe is a tale of parental paranoia. Two new parents welcome a new child into their lives who develops an insatiable hunger that they can’t keep up with. When everyone around them seems to ignore their growing concerns about their boy’s unusual habits, they begin to spiral out of control. A darkly comedic and grotesque take on the isolation and fear of being a new parent told with clinical precision and sublimely uncomfortable sound effects.
On the opposite end of the cinematic spectrum, Joëlle Bentolila’s Starboy is a Jewish relationship drama. A slow, enveloping story of a Jewish man coming to terms with inner feelings that his religion is failing to answer. It would be a disservice to the film to spoil its narrative here but Starboy is a poetic short which acknowledges and questions the purpose of religion to the individual when they encounter issues that fall outside of scripture.
Our final recommendation is Zoe Dobson’s The Cunning Man which centres on a farmer who becomes suspected of enacting the dark arts by the villagers who surround his property. Based on the real life happenings of John Harries, a trained physician who apparently had the ability to heal via magic, The Cunning Man is a fable of truth and superstition, of the logical and the unknowable. A brilliantly charming piece of folklore-inspired filmmaking.
These are our recommendations but they mainly serve as a taster of a truly exciting mix of short films on offer at this year’s The Shortest Nights festival. If you like short film, and chances are if you’re reading this then you do, make sure you catch this year’s selection of films from the safety of your sofa. Certainly not to be missed.
Discover more unmissable films in our Best of Fest collections.