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Manchester Lift-Off Film Festival – Day One Shorts, Part One

James Gill covers the first set of short films from the Manchester Lift-Off Film Festival

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On March 27, the Lift-Off Global Network brought its film festival to Manchester for the first time using the wonderful Texture in Norther Quarter as a venue. The Festival, which has nine other iterations worldwide in cities such as Seoul, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris, prides itself on supporting grassroots filmmakers to make it in the film industry. Day one saw 11 short films and one feature length film on display — six of those shorts will be covered below.

Man on Layby 52

Man on Layby 52 was the first documentary short on show at this year’s festival, shining a light onto the life of Charles Ingram. Charles rose to prominence for occupying the titular layby on the A9 in Scotland, one of the countries’ busiest roads, for three years. Directors Ruaridh and Beth captured his stories about losing his business, losing his mother, and his unique way of life.

Based upon the opening few minutes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a strong contender for the Best Short Documentary category at this season’s awards. The introductory ariel footage backed by music transitioned superbly into Charles sharing his tales with the audience. From there however the quality quickly diminished. A lack of direction led the film to become aimless, wandering in search of the next stage of the narrative, which culminated in the immensely disappointing ending. A needless and petty dispute over a girl which left neither side looking favourable — a poor finish to a short with such high initial promise.

Directed by Ruaridh M Turner and Beth Woodruff

Strongboy

Fantasy is an understatement for Keon Hedayati’s Strongboy. It surrounds legendary fighter John L Sullivan as he plunges into madness after rejecting his powers. A messenger of the gods then approaches John, and helps him to regain focus. This short climaxes with a fiery duel between John and another, surrounded by the Masters of the World.

Hedayati is seemingly a jack of all trades in this, his second directorial effort, displaying directing, writing, producing and acting skills. Fortunately he does not buckle under the weight of all these roles, and the result is a remarkably polished short. Perhaps a little too surreal for some, it is an intense assessment of our society, increasingly reliant on technology and losing touch with reality.

Directed by Keon Hedayati

Nan’s Army

Nan’s Army consists of a collection of interviews with several women who lived in Bristol during World War Two. The women went into detail about their lives during the war, the lasting effects it had upon them in the subsequent years, their view on current day wars and a look to the future. The stories are interwoven with animation, differing in style depending on the emotion the story conveys.

Films like this, I feel, are a necessary part of the documentation of war and its effects, but also in its prevention. Hearing first-hand experiences of bombings, evacuations and the fear of death from the mouth of those present is a poignant reminder of an event relegated to the history books. One of the women made an interesting point about how we should be thankful that war occurs far from us in the present day. I would extend that to a deep-rooted apathy for conflict far away, caused by the over-saturation of today’s media from the internet and other technological advances. Any conflict happening beyond our own borders is quickly forgotten, and it is only until an internal conflict arises that we truly begin to feel. This is in essence the message of Nan’s Army, to avoid history repeating itself.

Directed by Lucy Werrett

Hope

An interesting twist on the well-established zombie genre, Hope’s zombies lack the taste for human flesh. Instead they are condemned to wander the Earth for eternity, purposeless. We follow as Karl, our focal zombie, is leered at and attacked several times by the unwelcoming uninfected, eventually being buried alive by a couple of prepubescent female thugs.

Karl’s story does not end there, as he is saved by another zombie, and the two fall in love. We watch as they dance and laugh together in a local park before sitting down on a park bench. It is here that the world, once again, changes. The two girls who buried him alive return and shoot Karl’s girlfriend in the head prompting him, and all of zombie-kind, to seek revenge. Fleshy revenge.

This short took me completely by surprise, ending up as my personal favourite of the shorts programme of night one. Zombie films of late tend to lack originality, fading away after the initial hype disappears. Hope distinguishes itself from the crowd in this respect, a unique premise commandingly executed by director Adam Losurdo.

Clear parallels can be drawn to director Edgar Wright in terms of comedic style with Losurdo emulating his comedy techniques such as the humorous entering and exiting of the frame and the use of music synchronised with on-screen action. The latter is seen towards the end of the film during a brilliantly shot standoff between the girls and Karl. References to Spaghetti Westerns are peppered throughout this scene, from through-the-legs camera angles to the backing soundtrack. Overall this was a fantastic short with immense replay value, a must-watch for all zombie fans.

Directed by Adam A. Losurdo

Body Language Zone

Body Language Zone was by far the most left-field, off-the-wall short on display during day one. It explored, inevitably, human body language in an office environment and was split into four ‘zones’: Body Language Consult, Touching Instructions, Body Language Management and Guaranteed Free Flow. Each zone involved the lead actress completing a dance routine with voice over instruction layered over.

After finishing this short, you will probably be left feeling one of two ways. Either you’ll think ‘Wow, what an incredible depiction of how, with the increase in touchscreen and other electronic devices, the use of using our bodies for communication has disappeared. The exacerbated dance routines by Kim Saarinen humorously serve as a guide to the next generation, who will fail to understand body language as an art.’ Or ‘what the hell was that?’ A short as polarising as this one is sure to have fewer but much more passionate fans, which is evident by the large amount of awards it has won.

Directed by Kim Saarinen

Spaceman

Rupert Madurski is a young man with a dream. To become an astronaut and go into space. Except there is no manned space shuttle program anymore, and hasn’t been for some time. This does not dampen his spirits however, if anything it spurs him on to be the reason they bring back the program. In his mum’s garage we watch as he endures a ‘rigorous’ training regime of lunges and curls, in order to be ready the exact moment NASA requires him. It is for this reason that he, apparently 24 hours a day, dons several dubious looking jumpsuits, as he never knows when his time will come.

After filming his own training video, he somehow manages to convince Lucille, a school teacher, that he is indeed an astronaut in training and to let him speak to her students. Whilst some believe him, most, rightfully, do not. This leads to mockery when he tries to assert his ‘first-hand’ knowledge on a film set he again manages to blag his way into.

Scott Nelson is a revelation in this it seems, his first role of any kind in cinema. It would be a crying shame if this was his last venture into it, and I hope we see more of him soon. The opening scenes where we watch Rupert’s fantasies acted out before soberingly returning back to reality as his mum shouts him were hilarious. One of the more realistic portrayals of human fantasy seen in recent times.

There is a clear influence from Wes Anderson in several parts of the film. The art style of his fantasies, the jumpsuits he wears and fast paced dialogue are all reminiscent of Anderson. Spaceman is a highly original short but at just 18 minutes in length, it is just a little too short.

Directed by Christopher Oliva