James Gill reviews five shorts from the final day of the Manchester Lift-Off Film Festival
Sadly all good things must come to an end, and that includes the wonderful Lift-Off Film Festival. Day Three saw ten shorts and one feature film, five of those shorts will be covered below.
Meat on Bones
On a windy day in coastal Wales, Gwyn, an inexperienced council worker, struggles to climb a steep hill in order to deliver a court-ordered eviction notice to the caravan of Dai, a middle-aged alcoholic. Naturally he doesn’t take kindly to this and in a fit of rage abducts Gwyn and ties him up inside the caravan before knocking him out.
After the red mist clears and Gwyn comes to, our perception of Dai begins to slowly change. He isn’t this angry alcoholic as his initial portrayal suggests, rather a vulnerable and self-destructive man who has lost his home and his family. We watch as the pair unexpectedly grow close, in spite of their violent first meeting.
Meat on Bones is a fantastic example of how a large budget isn’t a requirement for a gripping film. Director Joseph Ollman uses the natural beauty of Wales as his setting for this realist film, including a sequence in a cave which is a fitting metaphor for their individual isolation.
The two actors, Jams Thomas and Matthew Aubrey as Dai and Gywn respectively, give very convincing performances as the leads and create a warmness and empathy uncharacteristic of the situation they present.
Directed by Joseph Ollman
Duke’s Pursuit is a revenge thriller set in Iceland. It follows Duke whose deep-set principles lead him to seek revenge against a former colleague. After arriving in Iceland and meeting his guide he travels to the small town where his intended victim is currently living. We follow the unexpected twists and turns Duke’s story takes as nothing goes to plan.
In terms of style this short is reminiscent of the Coen Brother’s with its snappy dialogue and dark humour. The cinematography is also in the same vein with fantastic landscape shots as well as framed interior shots. For a 16 minute short there was a surprising amount of character development from visual and spoken cues. In addition the more subtle cues such as body language made the film have more depth than would usually be present in most of this length.
Directed by Charlie Edwards-Moss and Joe Williams
In a post-apocalyptic world, every choice must be carefully evaluated, for one wrong move and your life may very well be over. Therefore the decision to abandon your family to increase your own personal chance of survival is not one that would be easily taken.
Our protagonist, aptly named the Survivor, takes refuge from the hellish environment in his hideout. In the corner of his room lies a radio. It is from this radio that we learn of his identity, of his family, and of his selfish disappearance from the voices of his children calling him, pleading for him to come home. His will is pushed to the limits as he tries to resist risking his life to return.
What is fantastic about Ascension is that we never see the world outside his room, because nothing we would see could ever live up to our own imagination. This allows the viewer to imagine the world in their own way while also keeping the film within budget, in this case a shoestring £220.
The climax to the short plays into the viewers mind once again, leaving the fate of our protagonist open to debate. While this is understandable due to budget constraints I would have liked to see a little more information about the background and fate of the Survivor. I feel this would have led to the audience having a deeper connection with the short, ultimately enjoying it more.
Directed by Rajnish Sharma
For most people, a staple part of any night out is the taxi journey there and subsequently the taxi journey back. One is full of excitement for the night that awaits and the other’s outcome is entirely dependant on the how the night pans out. Shot in the perspective of those who drive taxis in Manchester, we learn of their unique experiences, both good and bad.
Cabby is the third and final documentary short at this year’s festival and sits squarely between the two in terms of quality. The film has the good fortune of being shown in the city that it celebrates, which I feel really deepened the audience’s interest. It features multiple interviews from the drivers pieced together with well-shot footage showing various parts of the city. I do think pacing was an issue at certain points throughout the short but for a student film it is a great effort.
Directed by Daniel Watts
Return of the Hat
A flat-cap and a silk scarf rest upon a mannequin in a charity shop. Here they live a peaceful life, watching their favourite VHS films every night when the shop closes. That is, until they are both individually bought. In order to return to their home they must kill their new owner and be donated back to the shop.
Return of the Hat has a very original concept at its core but unfortunately this is where the positives end. A repetitive storyline quickly causes this initial excitement to disappear. The acting does very little to distract the viewer from this with every human character feeling either extremely overemphasised or entirely wooden. When the best performance of the short comes from a flat-cap there is certainly glaring issues.
Directed by Alec Birkbeck