The Shortest Nights, the annual film festival from Short Sighted Cinema is taking place on, you guessed it, some of the shortest nights of the year (29th-30th May). It’s a festival that specialises in the best of British short film, celebrating filmmakers from all over the country in front and behind the camera. We’ve featured their showcases for the last few years now, which have become a staple in the DN calendar for checking out some of the best short films being made right now in the UK. The Shortest Nights always seems to capture a quintessential Britishness too, whether that be through a self-deprecative comedy or an insightful documentary about prejudice and common misunderstanding, there’s always something on display that’ll move you or make you laugh. We’re also proud to see that this year’s edition includes work from multiple DN alumni like Behnam Taheri & Gideon Beresford, who bring their signature comedic A-game with Seeds of Love, Idris Fassasi with his denouement of prejudice SHE, and Adam Palmer’s subversive queer take on modern masculinity JudasIt’s a festival with which we’ve always held a strong connection, and we’re here to recommend a selection of shorts from this year’s programme to hopefully give you a taster of what to check out.

Tap Boy – Will Kenning

‘Cuckooing’ is the term used when drug dealers take advantage of a vulnerable person to use their home as their den. Will Kenning’s Tap Boy is a short film centring on a young man who has become trapped in a den, dealing for a group, whilst also befriending the vulnerable, older woman whose flat they occupy. It’s a crime drama with surprising elements of dance thrown in, as the young man and the older woman bond over old Fred Astaire movies. He embraces Astaire’s movements as an escape from the oppressive regime he’s found himself in, the result of which culminates in a wonderfully cathartic finale. A tense yet beautiful film which embodies the uniqueness synonymous with the work The Shortest Nights has come to showcase.

Ill, Actually – Zoe Hunter Gordon

Zoe Hunter Gordon’s Ill, Actually is a documentary about invisible illnesses. It focuses on three unique individuals who all foster illnesses that seem invisible to those around them. A bodybuilder who looks like Thor with cystic fibrosis, a disabled cam girl, and a YouTuber with lupus each share their stories, offering insight into what it’s like living with their respective condition, and the social impact they deal with on a day to day basis. It’s an enlightening look at prejudice and common misunderstanding, and a pertinent reminder of the wider need for empathy still missing in contemporary society.

Trifle – Mike Callaghan

A human drama about the pressures we put on ourselves and the layers that form. Mike Callaghan’s short film is a cleverly scripted slice-of-life. As we slowly learn more and more about Alice, who is portrayed with a wonderful sense of vulnerability by Amy Manson, we begin to understand that the issues building in her life will soon be too much. Callaghan channels a universal part of human nature to tell Alice’s story and it’s captured with a real sense of understanding and compassion.

Clown – Shane O’Neill

“Laughter blows the dust off your soul”. Clown is a documentary looking at the history of the clown traditional through Mattie the Clown, as he looks onto retirement. It’s an insightful look into what was a staple part of children’s birthday parties and entertainment culture from yesteryear. What’s most interesting is how Shane O’Neil’s film feels like a respectful tribute to the profession, highlighting the happiness clowns can still bring in the modern age.

Triangle – Peter Engelmann

We’ve all seen those videos where a group of strangers get together and ask each other personal questions, revealing the intimacy and connection that can be achieved in such a short amount of time. Peter Engelmann takes on that concept with a trio of individuals who share a hidden secret. His short film Triangle, which he made as part of his graduating year at Arts University Bournemouth, is an unnerving pot boiler that cleverly blends documentary aesthetics into narrative storytelling. It’s a really impressive feat of student filmmaking and we can’t wait to see what he makes next.

Lesbian. – Rosemary Baker

Commissioned as part of Channel 4’s Random Acts Lesbian. is a narrated poetic short film interrogating the heteronormative notions of sexuality. Rosemary Baker presents this through a form of constructed imagery where women wear painted images across their faces, blending them in with the walls behind them. These images hold potency on the embedded connotations of the word and what it has come to reference in society. The narration by Lisa Luxx, however, confronts these concepts, powerfully articulating the need to shift the problematic nature of the status quo. A powerful call to arms.

From A Strange Land – Caroline Steinbeis

A small slice of comedic joy. Caroline Steinbeis’ From A Strange Land sees an inquisitive neighbour heading over to greet a new family who have just moved onto her street but as we crosscut over to their moving-in process, we see the family playfully frolicking totally naked. Soundtracked with a crescending opera, these two situations meet in a hilarious bout of simultaneously shameful and shameless realisation. A piece of typically British humour (of the Richard Curtis kind) that’s bound to bring a smile to your face.

Behind the Mask – Simon K Matthews

A DN alum whose previous comedy shorts had us laughing and cringing in equal measure, Simon K Matthews’ Behind the Mask is a surreal deconstruction of the acting profession. When two actors get together to play a scene which requires them to flex their abilities, egos begin to get in the way. Matthews’ short pokes fun at typical on-set banter and the constructed image of the actor. It’s really fun and playful and well-performed by both Amer Chadha Patel and Elena Saurel who cleverly twist the grandeur of the profession into a hilariously misguided competition for bragging rights.

Read our Behind the Mask interview with Simon K Matthews here.

Joseph Turns 42 (Or the Inconsistency of Wonders) – Paul Maziere

When Joseph arrives in France to celebrate his 42nd birthday, he clearly has no intention of enjoying the plans he’s had set out for him. The people around him are obnoxious which leads to him venturing off the beaten path. Here, he encounters a man named Gonzo (sporting full Hunter S. Thompson attire) who offers him an alternate reality. Joseph Turns 42 plays out like a fever dream with Joseph walking cluelessly from encounter to encounter, confronting a series of random individuals each as more perplexing than the last. The whole film is a wonderful character study, exploring the pits of a midlife crisis and director Paul Maziere made it whilst studying at the London Film School (whose graduate showcase impressed us immensely earlier in the year).

Pelicans – Ellie Heydon

We close out our recommendations with Ellie Heydon’s Pelicans. Which is an apt fit as the film itself plays out like the cathartic finale from your favourite indie comedy-drama. As a group of friend gather to mourn the loss of a friend, they each process their emotions in different ways. It’s beautifully shot and acted and, despite its eight minute runtime, Heydon is able to establish each of these characters in a heartfelt way. Fingers crossed she gets to expand her story or tell more of it in the future.

You can find more unmissable films, like the ones playing The Shortest Nights 2021, in our Best of Fest collections.

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