The last few years have been a weird time to be British. Whenever I tell someone where I’m from I usually go straight for “London”, avoiding any mention of Britishness at all. Between the ongoing fallout from leaving the EU and the disgusting fans at the Euros, being British (or more specifically, English) is something of an embarrassment. Nonetheless, if the Brits have been falling into ignominy since the so-called mythical highs of the 2012 Olympics, we’re still rather good at diagnosing our issues, whether through humour, absurdity or subtle character-driven dramas.
Taking a vantage point from afar, the Berlin-based British Shorts programme – spanning a competition programme and horror shorts, and counting DN co-founder Rob Munday and long time alum Mark Jenkin among its 2021 jury – offers a diverse look at a nation undergoing a strange transformation, while also throwing up some fascinating juxtapositions. Ahead of the festival’s run between the 5-11th of August across the city, here are ten particularly great shorts, split in two thematically, that you should check out.
// Thorny Relationships //
Two Single Beds – William Stefan Smith
Daniel Kaluuya has made such a substantial mark in flashy Hollywood productions like Get Out, Widows, Black Panther and Judas and the Black Messiah, that it makes you wonder if he’ll ever go back to British soil. Two Single Beds, which he wrote, makes the case for a more naturalist mode, telling the simple story of a stand-up comedian from London tempted to be unfaithful after a gig up north. Opposite the equally strong Seraphina Beh, this short romance excels in its local detail and piercing subtlety.
The Last Jeff – Ben Robins
A daughter’s trip to a mental institute to enquire after her father takes a bizarre turn when he enters the wide frame totally naked, creating an incongruity between the seriousness of the doctor’s consultation and the strangeness of the situation. It shows humour and sadness are not polar emotions but can be conjoined in the most fascinating of ways.
Tin Luck – Beatrix Blaise
As an epic tracking shot on 35mm of a tightly-knit housing block in London, Tin Luck would be worth recommending on its formal technique alone. But the film’s Altmanesque achievement involves the way it folds a narrative within this difficult Technocrane set-up, providing a stirring portrait of masculinity within a community where everyone knows each other’s business.
The Octopus Nest – John Michell
Adapted from the novella by Sophie Hannah, The Octopus Nest feels like a Patricia Highsmith novel filtered through the sensibility of Caché-era Michael Haneke, putting bland contemporary adult thrillers like The Woman in the Window to shame in its unsettling premise, razor-sharp execution and savage critique of marital life. Best to go in knowing as little as possible.
Channel X Cartoon Show – Robert Morgan
Watching television has rarely seemed as scary as in DN alum Robert Morgan’s Channel X Cartoon Show, the best pick out of the British Shorts Midnight Movies section. Blending stop motion with a shape-shifting, deeply creepy black-and-white light-show, it gathers its terror from its uncanny evocation of shadowy figures lingering just out of frame, ready to appear at a moment’s notice.
// Not So Great Britain //
Running Man – Chris Turner
Dive deep into the dark side of the early 90s rave scene with Running Man, replete with bucket hats, sports jackets and classic dance tunes, as a group of unlucky lads take part in a drug trial straight after a night out. Works better than any drug PSA you watched at school.
The Long Goodbye – Aneil Karia
In Aneil Karia’s The Long Goodbye, Riz Ahmed isn’t mincing his words about how he feels towards the UK, painting a terrifying portrait of a country falling into fascism. Starting with unforced naturalism ahead of a family reunion, it believably morphs into a picture of racist mob violence — ending with a powerful Ahmed monologue about British-Indian identity.
Swan – Sophie King
The absurdity of national pride is taken to glorious proportions in the allegory of Swan when a native Brit passes his citizenship test with flying colours and is given the chance to literally turn into one of the queen’s protected animals. An obvious allegory for Brexit, it uses a mockumentary camera style to investigate our national obsession with steadfastly sticking to terrible decisions.
4×6 – Jamie Gyngell
A malevolent presence lingers behind film photographs in Jamie Gyngell’s effective horror 4×6, taking a simple Goosebumps-like premise while cleverly unveiling the horrors underneath. Best watched on celluloid…
Don’t Walk – Hannah George
The eternal struggle between runners and walkers is given the Sightseers treatment in Don’t Walk, a delightful black comedy with a supernatural edge. It’ll make those planning a stay-at-home vacation this summer reconsider the malignant edge of the British countryside.