London Film Festival 2021 is now well underway and, as I mentioned in my preview article, the festival has returned to a format of both in-person screenings and widely accessible online events. Fortunately for fans of short film, the festival’s entire shorts catalogue is readily available as part of those online events for free on the BFI Player during the 11 days of the festival which takes place from Wednesday 6th October to Sunday 17th October. So, if you’re reading this between those dates make sure you head over there and check out some of the great work being made by emerging and seasoned filmmakers from across the world. This article is here to serve said navigators as a primer of our favourite work being screened – in compliment to our Best LFF Features selections. It’s also worth noting that some of the excellent filmmakers DN has spoken to in the past who are present at the festival have films we’ve not included in this list in order to create more space for work we haven’t yet featured. But, just as a reminder, do check out Play It Safe and Femme along with John Ogunmuyiwa’s Precious Hair & Beauty, which we’ll be diving into soon. For now though, here are our ten must-see short films to catch at London Film Festival 2021.
For Love – Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor
A love story amidst the trials of immigration, Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor’s humane drama For Love is a black, queer and female-led story that rebels against the dehumanising process of seeking asylum. Gharoro-Akpojotor beautifully captures the joy and love of her characters as they celebrate their relationship the night before one of them is heading to the home office to apply for asylum. She presents her two leads with direct, portrait-like framing, allowing the audience to face the emotionality of her characters head on. There are also moments that echo the same sense of euphoric freedom we saw last year in Steve McQueen’s masterful Lovers Rock where Gharoro-Akpojotor proudly centres the joy of black love, pushing the looming presence of marginalisation out into the cold.
Know The Grass – Sophie Littman
There are remnants of Saint Maud and Blood on Satan’s Claw in Sophie Littman’s folk horror Know The Grass. It tracks three siblings in a rural town as they head out to a local rehearsal. Littman curates a haunting atmosphere through the gothic textures of her environments and the warped, low framing of her characters. All of which build towards the impressively executed dreamlike finale, which points towards the true mystery alluded to throughout the film and the dark familial secrets buried beneath the surface.
Nsenene – Michelle Coomber
Michelle Coomber’s Nsenene is a documentary chronicling the nightly gathering of grasshoppers in the town of Masaka in Uganda. The film has a slow, meditative energy as it takes you through the visually stunning natural occurrence which Coomber shoots through a slow-moving close perspective, leaving plenty of room for the viewer to the ponder its beauty. She does this whilst overlaying the voices of local residents who offer insight into how the local community decipher its poetic meaning. A really interesting documentation of a natural phenomenon.
Pork – Gareth Lyons
Animated work holds a small corner of the London Film Festival’s program so anything selected is usually of a high calibre, and Gareth Lyons’ idiosyncratic animation Pork’s illustrated aesthetic combined with its dark and reflective subject matter make it a wickedly fascinating film. It’s the story of a broken marriage as narrated by a slaughtered pig and Lyons packs the screen with a variety of scenarios, often juxtaposing the processing of the pig’s innards with that of the rollercoaster-like drama that comes with a modern marriage. Make of that what you will…
Inherent – Nicolai G.H. Johansen
Gothic horror meets small town romance in Nicolai G.H. Johansen’s short Inherent. It’s a tale about desires in the face of fundamental ties as a young woman seeks to escape the evil presence that resides in her home. What’s impressive is how Johansen sustains the gripping tension that seeps in throughout the film’s 16 minute duration. It feels classical in its composition too as it operates mostly as a silent film, featuring no dialogue, only a prominent and sinister sound design. Certainly one for October.
BABYBANGZ – Juliana Kasumu
BABYBANGZ is a short documentary by Juliana Kasumu about a natural hair salon in New Orleans where self-care and intelligent discussion intertwine. The salon itself is run by Anastasia Ebel who promotes a notion that her duty as a stylist goes beyond hair and into therapy and discourse discussion. Kasumu captures the warm embrace of the salon through tactile and grainy film stock cutting between images of group discussions and a stylised rural-set photoshoot. In doing so, the film itself captures the essence of the salon, being both an ear and eye into understanding the salon’s communal energy whilst also being a slick and stylish document.
At Night We Fly – Gert-Jan Verdeyen
Gert-Jan Verdeyen’s short drama At Night We Fly is a snapshot look at three non-binary friends as they navigate the dark, empty streets of Belgium late at night. The film avoids any major plot railroading in favour of a comfortable looseness, a hangout movie of sorts, with the three individuals dancing, laughing and crying as they saunter throughout the evening. This almost gives it the overall tone of a mumblecore film with Verdeyen striving for honest realism with his characters’ performances, making it difficult to tell whether the dialogue is scripted or improvised. A liberating yet melancholic look at finding the space to be free.
Happiness is a Journey – Ivete Lucas & Patrick Bresnan
A dual screen documentary centred on the working lives of warehouse workers on Christmas Eve in Austin, Texas. Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan’s short is a fly-on-the-wall look at the humanity behind the overnight process of newspaper delivery from warehouse to home. It begins with a wider look at various warehouse workers as they pack papers to be ready for delivery. There are shots of small playful moments between colleagues paired with tired, overworked individuals who have fallen asleep mid-job. The film then solely follows Eddie “Bear” Lopez, whose uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus feeds into the honest realism of the film, as he finishes his deliveries in the early hours of Christmas Day. It’s a film that succeeds in its un-judgemental approach to presenting the reality of these workers, who work seven days a week, 365 a year.
Love, Dad – Diana Cam Van Nguyen
A heartfelt personal essay between a daughter and her estranged father. Czech-Vietnamese filmmaker Diana Cam Van Nguyen mines her fractious relationship with her father in search of understanding him and herself. Nguyen compiles her film in scrapbook fashion with images, postcards, and cultural reference points all animated across the screen in a cut and paste manner. It gives the film a personal feeling, allowing you into Nguyen’s perspective as she wrestles with the supposed culturally specific reasons for her father’s absence in the wake of leaving her Mum whilst she was pregnant.
The Fourth Wall – Mahboobeh Kalaee
A surreal POV short through the eyes of a young boy with a vivid imagination as he wanders around his family kitchen flitting from one thought to another. Mahboobeh Kalaee embraces the unfocused drive of a child as the camera traverses the kitchen from one odd occurrence to the next. It’s part live-action, part-animation which aids the film’s chaotic nature. One moment you’ll be watching a ball bounce along the floor, the next the walls are folding out and the boy’s mother is giving birth via her washing machine torso. It’s wonderfully imaginative and impressively smooth.