As we’ve mentioned in previous years of covering the festival, the focus Encounters places on short film means it easily earns its place as one of DN’s favourite film festivals on the circuit. The Bristol-based event always highlights the breadth of the short film form, proving once again that short films aren’t just a stepping stone to feature filmmaking but an incredibly exciting and, yes, important asset to film culture. This year’s edition of the Encounters Film Festival is once again excitingly taking place online throughout the month of September, offering audiences across the UK access to its programme for an entire month at the ridiculously cheap price of £10! Seriously, if you’re a film student, or have even a passing interest in film, it’s a steal. There’s also plenty to be excited about the DN alum front too, with Daniele Sherer’s Peregrine and Rosco 5’s unexpected romance comedy Seeds of Love playing the festival alongside Kristian Mercado’s SXSW award-winning animation Nuevo Rico, the creation of which we’ll be digging into with him soon. For today though, we recommend a selection of ten of our favourite films from the programme (which, in its entirety, features 150 films!) to hopefully demonstrate the breadth of what Encounters has to offer.

A Quiet Man – Nyima Cartier

Inspired loosely by Melville’s short story Bartleby, Nyima Cartier’s A Quiet Man is an idiosyncratic look into a man outside the system. The man in question is Vincent Blanchot who has left his job working in a high-rise office yet proceeds to hang around seemingly nonchalantly outside the building. The film is told from a surveillance perspective of one of his co-workers, who is quietly observing him from the office whilst questioning Vincent’s behaviour with his colleagues. This perspective mixed with an ambient soundtrack creates a really entrancing short film about the peculiarities of human nature and what happens when someone starts behaving in a way you never expected.

Monachopsis – Liesbet Van Loon

Liesbet Van Loon’s visually experimental animation is a fascinating treat. It follows the character of Sophie as she feels increasingly disconnected from the people around her. Van Loon displays Sophie’s perspective through a myriad of changing animation styles, from painted frames to handrawn imagery, and even integrating some live action backgrounds too. The evolving colours and styles imbue the fractious emotive experience of Sophie and when Van Loon offers a brief moment of clarity it solidifies just how intense the experience has been.

Marlon Brando – Vincent Tilanus

The first thing that came to mind when watching Marlon Brando was how it echoed the youthful exuberance of Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats yet became very much a film of its own merits. Two queer teens dealing with the trials and tribulations of growing up and potentially apart from each other. It’s a brilliant example of how fruitful these stories can be when they centre on friendships, and the two leads carry the film with a joyful energy. It’s also one of those stories which I could quite easily have followed for an entire feature length, which makes me very excited to see what director Vincent Tilanus makes next.

Prince in a Pastry Shop – Katarzyna Agopsowicz

There’s a moment in Prince in a Pastry Shop (Książę w cukierni) where one of the two protagonists is contemplating the presence of happiness and how it’s something we expect to experience in large swathes as opposed to recognising its presence in the small moments of joy we experience day to day. It’s also at this moment the mostly grey palette of the animation switches and small bouts of colour begin to become included in the sketch-like imagery of the film. But rather than taking over the entire frame the grey remains in tandem with the presence of colour, and as the two characters philosophise more, they encounter more moments of happiness: coloured animals, forest, food. But the grey always remains.

Self Scratch – Chenghua Yang

Self Scratch explores the character of Wen in the aftermath of a breakup and the pit of melancholy that accompanies her. Animator Chenghua Yang curiously ponders what it is that’s lost during this time of distress before coming to some enlightening and self-assuring conclusions. It’s wonderfully drawn through both simple linework and abrasive colouring which encapsulate the notions of overwhelming negative feelings that accompany the continuous existence of a self that is present and loved. Minimalistic in the best way.

A Simple F*cking Gesture – Jesse Shamata

Jesse Shamata’s bombastic comedy A Simple F*cking Gesture takes place during a tense traffic jam where a couple don’t receive their supposedly entitled ‘Thank You’ gesture from the driver in front of them. The tension escalates and what starts as a simple frustration for the couple quickly boils into an overblown exacerbation of everything they believe is wrong with the world. It’s a hilarious takedown of white middle class entitlement and the myopic perspective that road rage creates. Wonderfully performed by all the actors involved and with a script that perfectly hones in on the minutia of repressed privilege.

Affairs of the Art – Joanna Quinn

For those well-versed in the animation industry the name Joanna Quinn will be very recognisable and even more so will be her iconic character Beryl, who Quinn has based so much of her work around. Affairs of the Art sees Quinn and Writer Les Mills return to the origins of the character looking at the early years of Beryl as she navigates her way around her wonderfully eccentric family. At its core, it’s a film about obsessions and acceptance. Each member of Beryl’s family deals with a strong infatuation for a certain hobby from drawing to pet taxidermy. Quinn draws each of them with great exaggerated features and quirks, packing every frame with her trademark raucous humour. Glorious.

Read our Affairs of the Art interview with Les Mills here.

Like The Ones I Used To Know – Annie St-Pierre

My favourite kind of Christmas films are the ones that capture the deep sense of melancholy that accompany the holidays. Annie St-Pierre’s Like The Ones I Used To Know (Les grandes claques) is a short film I’ll be adding to that list. It’s set around a family reunion at Christmas time where an absent father is due to arrive and pick up his children to celebrate Christmas. It’s hard to put into words exactly what makes this film so palpably heartbreaking. It’s probably the mixture of tension, longing and awkwardness that hangs across each scene. There’s just so much unsaid. The young actors perform brilliantly too. And St-Pierre captures every relationship through such a strong, non-judgemental lens.

Read our Like the Ones I Used to Know interview with Annie St-Pierre here.

An Invitation – Hao Zhao & Yeung Tung

Set in the summer of 2008 a young boy visits his father in Hong Kong with the idea of applying for a permanent ID. Hao Zhao & Yeung Tung’s drama An Invitation is about the difficulty the father and son share in expressing themselves to each other yet the co-directors excellently portray those small moments of emotion that do rise to the surface. It’s also just a gorgeously shot film with colourful and emotive composition which mirrors the distant yet yearning nature of their relationship in numerous ways.

Annah La Javanaise – Fatimah Tobing Rony

A famous subject of painter Paul Gaugin, the story of Annah La Javanaise is retold here by California media scholar Fatimah Tobing Rony. Rony refocuses the relationship between Gaugin and Annah, expanding on the reality of Annah’s experience and highlighting how she was a product of trafficking. Despite Rony being California-based the film was impressively created in Indonesia with Indonesian collaborators Ariel Victor and Aghi Narottama who brought the visuals and score to life, respectively. The animation itself has a really colourful and distinctive look, and Rony is currently looking to expand her take on Annah’s story it into a full-length feature.

You can find more unmissable films, like the ones playing Encounters Film Festival 2021, in our Best of Fest collections.

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