It’s always hard to pinpoint what it is the short films of London Film Festival share because, as we’ve witnessed time and time again, the selection is always so eclectic. Short films of such varying budgets, genres and tones sit side by side with one another, a refreshing change to see at such a prestigious film festival. It puts precedence on an ideas-led cinema as opposed to one led by technical innovations and the flashiest kit. That’s not to say the shorts at LFF don’t look good or have great production value, because they do, but it’s more about what this says to up-and-coming filmmakers who don’t have massive resources behind them. It tells you that all you need is to be clever with what you have around you and you can have a film playing at the UK’s biggest film festival. With that in mind, DN has selected ten films below from London Film Festival 2023 that we believe highlight the best of what the festival has to offer in its short film programme.
Wildmen of the Greater Toronto Area – Solmund MacPherson
DN alum director Solmund MacPherson makes his first appearance at LFF with social satire Wildmen of the Greater Toronto Area. A film that takes aim at the cost of living crisis, imagining a world where people could forego their personhood and register as ‘wildmen’, essentially allowing them to live outside of society in remote rural areas. The film is told from the perspective of a young woman who’s struggling to gain housing and work and is contemplating registering as a wildman herself. But as she witnesses her friends sign up, she begins to observe how being outside society doesn’t fully remove you from its problems.
Making Babies (Faire un Enfant) – Eric K. Boulianne
A couple, many years into their relationship, decide to take the leap and try to have a baby. The pressures, however, of this supposedly exciting act bring upon them a whole host of challenges. Eric K. Boulianne’s comedy drama is a look at the trials and tribulations of attempting to conceive. There are moments of spontaneity and excitement, and there are moments where it all gets too much. It’s also a short which looks great too, captured with warm hues on grainy 16mm.
Essex Girls – Yero Timi-Biu
Essex Girls cleverly subverts the stereotypical image of Essex to tell the story of a young black girl who finds herself struggling to fit in. Bisola has friends who like and care for her but they only see the world through their experience. Then, one day, after a racist encounter with a teacher, she meets Ashlee who shows her the kind of social encounter she’s been longing for. Yero Timi-Biu captures the internal turmoil of being a teenager brilliantly, showing the good and bad in every situation Bisola finds herself in. It’s such a subtle film too with small lines of dialogue or a quick interaction between two people revealing so much about our social order.
Now and Then – Harris Alvi
Harris Alvi’s Now and Then sits in the overlap between a drama and a thriller. It concerns a middle-aged Muslim woman who discovers old VHS tapes of her partner’s previous girlfriends. Once she begins to watch them, they become an obsession that she can’t stop thinking about. There’s a palpable tension to the film and once the obsessive behaviour begins you feel yourself become locked into finding out how everything will resolve. It’s not entirely a thriller though and there’s a strong heart to the short which comes through in its cathartic finale.
Strangers – Rob Price
Whilst walking her dog in the middle of a vacant field, Claire encounters a strange man who tells her a disturbing story. Then, as the tension between them builds, she starts to question his honesty. What’s so striking about unsettling thriller Strangers by Rob Price (whose existential bath-set debut What Is Ian was an impressive piece of minimalistic filmmaking) is how he uses the sparse environment around his characters to generate a rich, dark atmosphere. As Clare and the man talk in the middle of the field they have the looming presence of tall pylons behind them, almost acting in a similar manner to a foreboding woods in a folk horror.
The Garden of Heart – Olivér Hegyi
In anticipation of his interview for the Academy of Fine Arts, a young man attempts to centre himself with meditation. The character’s pervading anxiety, however, has other ideas and manifests itself in strange and surreal visions of creatures, ranging from an enormous slug to a nervous mole. I’m a big fan of this psychedelic, hand-drawn short and how it captures the hyper-aware sensation that comes during a state of pure anxiousness. Filmmaker Olivér Hegyi takes on multiple roles too, acting not just as a writer/director but also as a voice actor and composer.
The Walk – Michael Jobling
After his bus route is cut, every Wednesday Amar faces a 24 mile round trip in order to get to the job centre. Michael Jobling’s solitary drama is a story about a man who is both on a pilgrimage and going through purgatory. Not only is Amar battling for his financial support but he’s also dealing with the buzzing phone in his pocket which will mean facing a conversation he’s not ready to have. The Walk is a film told through a subjective experience brought together by a commanding central performance from Adeel Akhtar who conveys his character’s inner turmoil through small gestures and his tense body language. He’s an actor who we’re always glad to see lending his talents to shorts such as his excellent turn in Ron Eyal’s The Therapist, which DN premiered earlier this year.
Pu Ekaw Tnod – Rebecca Culverhouse
Taking visual inspiration from the distinct colours of Italian Giallo cinema, Rebecca Culverhouse’s trippy horror short Pu Ekaw Tnod is an unsettling film about a couple who find themselves sucked into a waking nightmare. What’s so impressive is how Culverhouse (who we previously spoke to about her Random Acts social media horror #eatpretty) utilises her editing tools to keep you on your toes as a viewer. You never know what’s real and what’s a dream and that makes it a thrilling ride to watch.
Tempo – Yu Araki
Yu Araki’s humble film is an elegant piece of slow cinema about an elderly store owner, Mr. Yagi, who goes about his daily business during the last days of the autumn season of his shop. It’s very much a quiet, observational work that shows Mr Yagi as he sits at his desk, interacts with customers and changes the calendar on the shop wall. The power of the film lies in its meditative approach, offering the viewer the chance to ponder and interpret the imagery at hand.
The Singer – Cora Bissett
Amongst the bustling streets of Glasgow, deaf Song-Writer Joe meets Busker Andy and the pair learn to communicate with one another over their love of music. Cora Bissett’s intimate musical drama feels like a lost John Carney film in how it depicts music as a bridge which can connect two people. Everything is shot handheld and carefully sound designed in a way that takes you into the subjective worldview of these characters who Jamie Rea and Jack Stewart, as the co-leads, bring to life with excellent chemistry.