This year’s edition of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (30th April – 9th May) comes to a close today. After three years of the pandemic, the 68th edition of the festival finally got back to the small city in the Western part of Germany. The oldest short film festival in the world has long been known as a place where more experimental, video art pieces, can sit side by side with more conventional short films. This year, Oberhausen gathered around 800 guests and screened around 600 short films, with panels and workshops running on the side. Though after the pandemic, the festival decided to have a hybrid edition, running the online competition before the physical start, as the film industry was inevitably affected by the changing habits of cinema-watching. Here’s a personal list of the best films that were screened at the festival.
Tank Fairy – Erich Rettstadt
SXSW 2022 – WINNER *Midnight Shorts Audience Award*
Imagine a Cinderella story set in Taiwan where the fairy godmother is instead a gas tank delivery lady with sass in which a young boy struggling with his daily life at school and a conservative mother at home is in need of encouragement to set himself free and show his true identity to the world. The resulting short Tank Fairy (which picked up SXSW’s Midnight Shorts Audience Award back in March) is a delightfully cinematic vivid coming-of-age story full of sass, gas, and vogueing.
Saving Some Random Insignificant Stories – Anna Vasof
Greek architect and video artist Anna Vasof uses a personal tragedy as the basis for her latest work Saving Some Random Insignificant Stories. When her childhood home was flooded and the family had to be rescued by the boat, Vasof returned to the destroyed family house a couple of days later with a video camera and used humour and the damaged personal items to tell the story of her past. We get shots of an architectural book given to her at university that was more used as a joke to hit someone with it, a euro bill with the number 168 on it with which you were able to get into some underground parties, and a collection of bizarre-looking frames collected by her mother. It’s a film that is often fun and very personal but at the same time, tells a universal story of looking back over your history.
For Lilith – Mariam Elene Gomelauri
Georgian audio-visual art student Mariam Elene Gomelauri was clearly inspired by the 90s video artists. In an opening shot of For Lilith they project themself on an old TV, while filming themself at the same time with a video camera. A young generation from Soviet, post-communist bloc countries will be able to relate to their story of coming out, where even to this day, it’s not easy and sometimes dangerous to be a part of the LGBTQ community. Using their own old elementary school video footage and excerpts from the older Georgian films, Gomelauri questions how homosexuality and gender are perceived in a still conservative society.
monologue of a hit man (Monólogo de un sicario) – Nadia Granados
Colombian performance artist Nadio Gradanos in her short film monologue of a hit man, which was presented as part of a video installation, uses a variety of media from video games to archival material to tackle the theme of violence in her country. The main character of the short film is a hitman who narrates the whole short in a computer voice, providing an explanation as to why he chose the path of a paid killer. It’s a film that on the surface might look absurd and nonsensical, but one which reveals the reality of a country that is full of corruption, with men using violence and illegal means to live the life of their dreams.
Tashi’s Sheep – Yin Yu
The Chinese film Tashi’s Sheep is set in a remote village where a man is accused of shooting the bellwether sheep of the leader of the town. Featuring performative acting that is reminiscent of traditional Chinese opera, Director Yin Yu shows us the absurdity of unfounded accusations with the villagers looking like local gang members who are actually scared sheep themselves.
Sekundenarbeiten – Christiana Perschon
First, on a black screen we hear the voices of two women in conversation discussing the camera setup. One of them is a filmmaker Christiana Perschon, and the other reclusive artist Lieselott Beschorner who was one of the first women to be accepted as a member of the Vienna Secession. In this beautiful black and white documentary, shot on 16mm film, we see glimpses of an older artist who is still creating art despite her failing eyesight. Perschon cleverly constructs Sekundenarbeiten by using sound on a black screen and beautifully shot silent footage of the artist doing what she does the best – creating art.
Searching Heleny? (Cadê Heleny?) – Esther Vital
When considered alongside the majority of this year’s competition films which take a more experiment approach to film language, Searching Heleny? might seem like a very conventional stop motion animation piece. Nonetheless, this debut from Esther Vital, who has a working background as a textile artist and psychologist, does a fantastic job of creating the setting for this documentary realised through puppet animation. Because of her background in textiles, you can sense Vital’s intimate knowledge of the materials she uses, with the the set crafted from different fabrics stitched together. It is a film which makes great use of its chosen medium and the voices of people who still remember her to tell the tragic story of Heleny Guariba whose activism in opposition to the military dictatorship in Brazil saw her kidnapped, brutally tortured, murdered and disappeared in 1971.
Weathering Heights – Hannah Wiker Wikström
After seeing Hannah Wiker Wikström’s film Weathering Heights, I was definitely struck by the thought that it conveyed a feeling similar to Ali Abbasi’s fantasy feature Border. Wikström’s short walks us through a magical experience where she explores the relationship between human beings and nature. It’s a stunningly beautiful art film, using different camera lenses and shots to show the macro and micro perspectives of humans trying to figure out why they exist in this world.
Soapy Faggy (Bóng Xà Bông) – Phạm Nguyễn Anh Tú
With Director Phạm Nguyễn Anh Tú taking on the central role of a gay superhero who uses his first-ever queer memory in different forms to ponder the power of memory, Soapy Faggy analyses stereotypes of the LGBTQ community as displayed in Vietnamese media. It’s a film that you’ll either love or hate, which uses low-quality aesthetics and mixed media to create a satire that has an underlying layer of a much heavier subject – acceptance of LGBTQ people and their representation.
The Wind Probably – Yuri Yefanov
When Ukrainian filmmaker Yuri Yefanov was making his experimental film The Wind Probably he didn’t expect that the setting of the apocalyptic scene would become the reality of his country and the city of Kyiv where he lives. After the Crimea annexation in 2014, many Ukrainian filmmakers began to document and talk about war and the events unfolding in occupied parts of the country. Continuing that notion, Yefanov’s animated apocalyptic future sees a human attempting to orientate themselves in a disaggregating realty with an artificial intelligence being the only one who he can discuss it with.