Directors Notes is back at Aesthetica Short Film Festival in several capacities this year. Firstly, we’re here, in this article, to spotlight a selection of short films from the lineup we deem to be especially worth your time and secondly, we also have a presence in the festival with DN presenting the Dark Hearts, Unhinged Minds programme at this year’s Aesthetica – showcasing a selection of DN alum shorts which all relate to each other through their shared sensibility of a darkened, unsettling spirit. Each short film featured in our guest programme has been covered on this site so once you’ve seen them you can find out how they were made right here on our pages. Also, our very own Editor-in-Chief MarBelle once again joined the ASFF team as a programmer for the comedy and drama sections, as well as chairing the ASFF The Role of the Executive Producer masterclass with Lizzie Francke, Senior Development & Production Executive at the BFI Film Fund. Although the in-person aspect of Aesthetica wrapped up last week, the virtual festival runs until 30th November which means you still have plenty of time to check out the full programme of masterclasses and films, particularly the ten tantalising titles we recommend below as a starting point for your viewing.

7LBS 8OZ – Yoo Lee

Yoo Lee’s short animation is about a young mother moving into a neighbourhood in New Jersey and the local inhabitants she encounters on her first day. It’s only when a potential crime unfolds that the young mother can see who these people really are. Lee captures that overwhelming feeling of moving to a new community and being unsure of your new surroundings, casting quick anxiety-motivated judgements on those around you. The stop-motion form allows the small details of the character’s perception to shine through, creating an overall piece that celebrates the importance of diversity in communities.

Night Ride – Todd Karehana

Filmmaker Todd Karehana’s documentary short follows the director and his mother as she routinely goes to feed the stray cats that live by their old house. What starts off as a quiet observation of a seemingly strange task quickly becomes an excavation of grief, trauma, and loss between the pair. They talk over painful moments of their history, which are interspersed with moments of typically dry New Zealand humour and everything is captured at night, a time of darkness and contemplation, which Karehana paints in a cinematic monochrome palette.

Blood and Gold – Yamin Tun

Another film from New Zealand, this time a period thriller set in 1861 amongst the snow-capped mountains. It’s a short which begins in epic fashion with vast and sparse mountainous landscapes providing the backdrop of an injured woman fleeing on a stolen horse. This epicness becomes grounded however in the cold and harsh reality of a horrific scene taking place by a nearby river. It’s a visceral and unrelenting watch but is told with carefully considered camerawork and humanity.

Public Pleasure – Ruby Cedar

A quiet conversation between two women outside a party reveals their search for the erotic in the everyday. Cedar shoots these women in ultra close-ups concentrating on their eyes and lips as they discuss their sensual occurrences with each other. This approach brings the audience into their world, allowing the importance of every word and gesture to be felt and seen. Underpinned by music as alluring as the moments in question, this is a film about concealed feelings taking place in a concealed space.

Patched – Wibout Warnaar

A superb and hilarious comedy about a follicly-challenged young man. Hugo is searching for love but is overly self-conscious about his hair loss and is doing anything he can to prevent his potential matches from finding out. Warnaar’s short is really funny and self-aware, exploring that constant state of fear of being seen for who you really are. It’s captured almost exclusively from a locked-off point-of-view perspective, which works technically as both a comedic choice and a reflection of Hugo’s intense fear of being exposed.

Molaphone – Daniel Padró

In this short thriller, Daniel Padró presents the uncomfortable everyday task of having to call a provider to cancel a phone contract. However, in Padró’s film, this seemingly simple task becomes a dreaded Kafka-esque nightmare of privacy and paranoia as the protagonist’s real life and contractual obligations become an intertwined maze of deceit and exploitation. A short film brought together by a really tight script that ups the intensity with each line of dialogue and a brilliantly panic-stricken central performance from Dafnis Balduz.

The Circle – Jack Spring

Clocking in at just under four minutes, Jack Spring’s animated short manages to pack a resounding heartfelt punch. We watch a playful boy grow into an anxious teenager then into a young man in love before becoming a parent and then a grandparent. It’s about the circle of life, love and relationships that take us over. Beautifully animated in a hand drawn rawness too, the sketch-like form allows the animation to flow and bend into each chapter of the boy’s life, culminating in a heartbreaking yet honest finale.

Where I Lay My Head – Miles Blacket

An insightful look at life literally on the edge of society, Miles Blacket’s short doc takes a look at a community experiencing the effects of devastating coastal erosion and the lack of response they’re receiving from those in power. Blacket carefully centres his documentary on an individual, Malcolm Newell, who intimately paints a picture for the audience of the life he led with his late wife and the decisions which led them to move to the Isle of Sheppey in the first place. The real impressiveness of Blacket’s film is in how he captures the joy and life of Malcolm’s family alongside the melancholy of the ongoing battle they face.

All Girls – Anastasia Bruce-Jones

Four teenagers head off into the wilderness for an inter-school competition but the stakes are raised when one member of the group’s ruthless ambition takes hold. Anastasia Bruce-Jones has crafted a brilliantly twisted look at the pressure to succeed in contemporary society. It’s best to go in with as little knowledge as possible with this short so I’ll leave the plot description there but it is a work that boasts well-crafted cinematography, sound design and performances that all feed into the film’s darkly hilarious heart.

A90 – Olivia J. Middleton

Olivia J. Middleton’s short romantic drama taps into the age-old cinematic lineage of the brief encounter. Set in a roadside cafe in Scotland, it follows a young waitress who develops a connection with an unavailable woman. It’s a film of moments and gestures, and the tension between them is palpable which is down to the combination of Middleton’s intimate direction and the quietly emotive performances from Marli Siu and Sinead Macinnes.

You can find more unmissable films, like the ones featured at Aesthetica Short Film Festival, in our Best of Fest collections.

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