With more Brits than scores of actual British towns, usually concentrated around the (now-debatably) hipster neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukölln, Berlin is a natural outpost for showing off the best in British and Irish cinema. As a perennial British expat myself — living in the leafy-green suburb of Grunewald (and close-ish to the British-style International Club and the Berlin British School) — with no immediate intention of leaving the city, I find perusing the yearly selection available at the British Shorts festival – its 15th anniversary edition running this year between the 20th-26th January – a wonderful way to connect to my homeland, both in its vibrancy and its multifarious issues. This year’s offerings are no different, touching again on racial strife and Brexit like last year, while also offering Irish horror, Scottish surrealism and a smattering of star names. The result is another fascinating temperature check of a national cinema and mood often veering between tragedy and humour — sometimes within the same movie — and finding stories of hope, resilience and community in the process.
// Middle Britain //
Finding Dad – Alana Hutton-Shaw
Two Londoners delve into deepest Chingford to find Anita’s long-lost father in this touching tale of familial identity. Using its Christmas setting to provide sentimental gloss, the film is supported by fine writing and the acutely-rendered friendship at its heart.
Tea – Sam Walker
Sam Walker’s dark and intense exploration of a broken seaside town, Tea sees a Polish teen relentlessly terrorised by two racist youths. While post-Brexit cinema exploring the xenophobic breakdown of Britain can be found all over the place now, Walker finds a novel (and joyous) way to flip the misery-porn script.
Pop – Margo Roe
Stephen Graham, one of Britain’s most interesting actors — able to uniquely shape stories through his sunken shoulders and melancholic presence — excels in Margo Roe’s Pop, playing a mysterious ex-convict who forms an inappropriate relationship with a curious youngster.
The Clearing – Daniel Robert Hope
Stop-motion films are almost always a delight and Daniel Robert Hope’s whimsical tale of an eccentric outdoors rambler indulging in his own legend while attempting (in vain) to re-woo his partner is no exception.
The Bayview – Daniel Cook
The Bayview takes us to Britain’s furthest reaches, exploring a diverse fishing community working in North East Scotland. Both a portrait of precarious circumstances and a touching exploration of connection along the way, it draws attention to the migrant population keeping Britain’s fishing industry alive.
// And Beyond //
Egúngún (Masquerade) – Olive Nwosu
A London-based Nigerian returns home for the funeral of her mother in this reverse culture-clash drama, buoyed by a dreamy tone, close attention to tradition and an often unreadable central performance.
Man or Tree – Varun Raman & Tom Hancock
Easily the most experimental film on this list, Man or Tree imagines a Scottish man hallucinating that he’s a tree… or is it a tree hallucinating that he’s a man? Either way, its innovative transformation of still images and spirited narration make it a bizarre and deeply entertaining trip.
Read our Man or Tree interview with Varun Raman & Tom Hancock here.
6:23 AM – Geoffrey Breton
But for a post-trip high, it’s worth checking out the lovely four-minute vignette 6:23 AM, capturing that moment where two people realise they have fallen for each other. Two women sit and share stories on Primrose Hill, before realising they can’t quite remember each other’s names… resulting in a heartfelt romance with shades of Before Sunrise.
The Black Cop – Cherish Oteka
One of the first Black people to break down barriers in a notoriously racist London metropolitan police force shares his story in this well-researched and smoothly cut documentary from Cherish Oteka — exploring the ways oppression can perpetuate itself as well as the ways the cycle might be able to end.
Read our The Black Cop interview with Cherish Oteka here.
Bainne – Jack Reynor
Jack Reynor must’ve been taking notes while acting in Ari Aster’s Midsommar in 2019, providing a moody A24-like “elevated horror” experience with Bainne, starring Will Poulter as a young man trying to get through the worst of the potato famine. A fascinating, black-and-white take on a British-engineered genocide.