Year by year, we continue to be immensely impressed by the work crafted at the National Film and Television School. The level of quality production offered by the institution to its talented students is a match well-made and the films on offer at this year’s graduate showcase display that tenfold. The exhibition itself, which takes place at BFI Southbank from Monday 27th February to Thursday 2nd March, is the culmination of over 500 students’ work towards 80 short films, TV shows, commercials and games. In the run up to the showcase, DN was afforded a preview of the films on offer across their fiction, documentary and animation strands and, in turn, has compiled the list below of the short films we recommend watching. That being said, it was incredibly difficult to narrow down the shorts on offer as the standard is so high across the board so maybe just see this list as a starting point for your viewing before venturing further into the great work on show.

With Woman – Mia Harvey

Mia Harvey’s With Woman is a beautiful and enlightening documentary, presented through stark black and white photography, about black midwives in Chicago and the challenges they face in battling the legal right to practice. The film intimately follows a midwife as she navigates a relationship with a mother she is presently caring for, showcasing the intimate conversations between her and the mother’s support group as they discuss their experiences of birth and the struggles they face in the American medical system. At its core, it’s a doc about the unique intersection of motherhood and race, and the deep importance of community and close support during the intense navigation of childbirth.

Jellyfish and Lobster – Yasmin Afifi

Evoking the same dark comedic energy of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude, Jellyfish and Lobster is a similar joyful take on life’s bleak moments. When Grace is admitted into a home following her cancer diagnosis she strikes up a friendship with Mido, another resident with whom her mischievous sensibility very much aligns. The pleasure of Yasmin Afifi’s film comes from the witty realisation of its excellent screenplay by its two leads who share real chemistry alongside a great, heartwarming sense of buoyant vitality.

Happy – The Elephant in the Courtroom – Laura Rindlisbacher

Told through a combination of archival footage and one-on-one interviews, Rindlisbacher’s documentary looks at the legal case surrounding the rights of Happy the elephant. The film begins with the history of Happy and his journey to a safari park in America before switching gears into a legal dissection of the rights held by animals in America, particularly those of an elephant. Rindlisbacher uses the documentary format to highlight the specific differences in treatment elephants in captivity face in comparison to other animals, in addition to key arguments surrounding animals and our relationship to their autonomy.

Mum’s Spaghetti – Lisa Kenney

Poppy aspires to be the world’s next great rapper. Supported by her dog Snoop, she is constantly coming up with rhymes. But when she gets caught up with a local crew who skive from school, her priorities start to shift. Lisa Kenney’s claymation short is constructed brilliantly with a well-produced soundtrack that underpins the heartfelt story of a girl and her dog.

Killing Boris Johnson – Musa Alderson-Clarke

The inner turmoil of a grieving son and the failing political tenure of the Conservatives collide in Musa Alderson-Clarke’s crime drama Killing Boris Johnson. The film takes a look at an individual’s mental descent as he traverses the process of bereavement during the height of the pandemic and in the wake of the infamous Partygate scandal. What works so well is the tension Alderson-Clarke is able to generate by following the slowly coiling broken emotional state of his central character as he slowly approaches the film’s inevitably fraught finale.

A Tale of Two Hoards – Jack Bradley

Nighthawks, a label given to treasure hunters who work through the night in order to claim items and relics without being detected. Bradley’s short documentary is centred around Shane Wood, whose nighthawk status is debated, and his reflections on a significant haul he obtained in 2021. Conversations with Wood are juxtaposed with interviews with John Browning, who lives on a property which was raided in the 1980s. The film is a fascinating case study and Bradley offers an empathetic approach to both men, ultimately leaving the audience to decide on the truth at hand.

This Is Ours – Simon London

Filmmaker Simon London’s This Is Ours is a dystopian drama in which children are put through a series of obscure tests in order to see how if they are substantial enough to progress into the world. Specifically, the story follows the relationship between two of the children, one of whom is on the cusp of advancing into the world. The friendship between the pair is the grounding of the short drama, which London brings to life expertly with intricate camerawork and dilapidated set design to embellish the true harshness of their shared existence.

Cadáver – Benjamin Kodboel

Cadáver tracks the working life of Martín Zamora, an undertaker whose main income derives from the process of collecting the bodies of those who have died trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain and then repatriating them by contacting their families to schedule their burial arrangements. The philosophical question that permeates the film is one of ethics and Director Benjamin Kodboel captures Zamora with real emotional insight, letting the audience into his personal battle with the moral difficulty of his work.

The Tornado Outside – Maria Tomazou

An ode to the beauty of chaos, Maria Tomazou’s stop motion short is about the overwhelming nature of the world outside our doors. It begins peacefully, in a quiet home with its unnamed protagonist reading a book, but then the camera tilts and it’s revealed that her home is spinning through the void of space alongside a tornado of obstacles, people, and noise. As the protagonist becomes whisked away in the madness she must come to terms with the reality of her existence. A really beautiful film that is gorgeously rendered.

Gossip – Hannah Renton

The second film in this list centring on the importance of midwives, Hannah Renton’s period short Gossip is a dramatic look at the power of community during Britain’s era of witch trials. A small, prominently female community on the fringes of East Anglia set about their daily routine but when a due mother begins the process of labour she relies on those around her to guide her through. Renton’s short does an excellent job of showcasing the important relationship mothers share with midwives during labour whilst also depicting the shadowy looming male presence that seeks to disrupt it. A prescient and beautifully rendered portrayal of patriarchal subjugation.

You can find more unmissable films, like the ones featured in the NFTS Graduate Showcase 2023, in our Best of Fest collections.

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