On Tuesday evening, a packed Studio 74 at the Phoenix sat down to watch the last year’s BAFTA shortlist for best short film and animated short film. Of course, as always at these events, there’s one thing on people’s minds; the future. Which of these short filmmakers is going to make it big, break out into the larger feature world? But I think to focus solely on that is to diminish the importance of the short film form itself. The short is a form where a world can be compressed into a few minutes, requiring a distinct sense of precision and confidence. Though the showcase had a number of interesting features, these four films particularly show how the short is still an important and relevant art form in its own right. They show how it’s still delivering powerful messages and exciting ideas in a compact, precise way, and across a wide range of styles. They show why it’s still just as crucial as ever.
A Drowning Man (dir. Mahdi Fleifel)
This quietly powerful bit of work follows a Palestinian refugee, ‘The Kid’, on the streets of Greece. Though other shorts on this subject matter tend to contain big, harrowing shock tactics, this piece’s strength is in its crippling mundanity, and almost numbing melancholy. The protagonist spends its entirety trying to gain a few euros to eat and smoke, going to great lengths just for the chance to buy himself a snack. The way the character treats this as matter-of-fact, the idea that this ritual of stealing and selling is probably his every day, is the horror in itself. A resonant snapshot of the struggle to keep afloat in a world that’s constantly pushing one back under the water.
Have Heart (dir. Will Anderson)
A looping GIF has an existential crisis. It’s a killer one line pitch. But this animated short is more than just one line; it’s a clever, warm and witty exploration of how the pressure of day-to-day working life can take its toll on us, and how we navigate from there. It features a duck GIF that gets fed up with its everyday work of falling to pieces again and again, and begins having a breakdown, losing his job and increasingly straining his relationship with his (also duck GIF) wife. Though it’s got a charming, cute centre, there are scenes that are drenched in palpable fears – the image of the duck trying to break out of his world’s black bars creates a real sense of struggle. But most of all, it’s very, very funny, and uses animation in a genuinely new way, showing that like Spider-Verse last year, the form can still offer surprises.
Work (dir. Aneil Karia)
A look at a young female London dancer’s perspective of a world entrenched in toxic masculinity. There’s a sequence on a bus in this film that’s one of the most discomfiting things I’ve seen in a cinema in a long time; the way in which focus is played with, going in and out of gazes, both leering and normal, creates a disorientating sense of anxiety. Punctuated by intense, visceral dance sequences, this is a real punch of a short that makes sure you feel every glance or threatening gesture that penetrates its protagonist. To anyone who says men don’t need to improve, I point them straight to this.
Wren Boys (dir. Harry Lighton)
Concerning an Irish Priest and his nephew driving to a Cork prison, this film also explores masculinity, but this time along with sexuality and religion. The result is something moving and very shocking, putting into question the prejudices of Irish culture – though to say any more would be to ruin it. During a post-screening Q&A with director Harry Lighton, the moderator noted that in the film’s eleven minute runtime, there are multiple turns that throw the audience. Though the compelling narrative of the piece leaves you blinded to this technical feat, it really is an impressive achievement to create that level of investment and engagement with characters in such a short space of time. A piece with real staying power.