As of March this year, Manchester’s Northern Quarter held the independent film festival of Lift-Off for the first time. Just back from hosting the festival in Seoul, South Korea, the co-founders James Bradley and Ben Pohlman made filmmakers, journalists and students alike feel involved in the the whole event. These are five of the shorts shown the first night at the venue.
The Last Laugh
The Last Laugh, the first short on display at this year’s festival, surrounded three renowned comedians: Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe and Bob Monkhouse. The setting is Tommy Cooper’s backstage dressing room, just before the show that would be his last at Her Majesty’s Theatre. In obvious bad health, the camera seems to intrude on Cooper in an intimate moment of self-loathing. Over the next eighteen minutes, two of his comedic counterparts enter his dressing room and a discussion into the intricacies of their profession then ensues.
This fast-paced short does a brilliant job of bringing the three men’s era of comedy back to life, the dialogue much like a comedy sketch itself, immerses the audience entirely. Typically British, the tone is constantly sarcastic and cynical.
Each of the comedians share their jokes, old and new, but this light-hearted atmosphere suddenly turns heavy as they begin to speculate on their purpose and drive to ‘always search for the next laugh’. These men have spent their whole lives working towards getting a laugh louder than the last. But underneath the jokes, there is a constant fear of the next laugh being their last.
Directed by Paul Hendy
After a night of drinking, a young woman walks aimlessly in search of something she does not yet know she needs. Coming across her deceased grandmother, she assumes she is hallucinating, but does not look too much into the matter and goes along with it. What happens next is an intergenerational conversation of lost ethics and new burdens, comparing the choices these two women at the age of thirty-three had to make.
One of the main topics this short investigates is the luxury of choice. Hee-Kyoung complains of her lack of interest in her partner, that they aren’t ‘in love’. Her grandmother jolts at this, relating to her at the same age during a war, ‘surrounded by hunger and death, love is trivial’.
A stand-out aspect of this short was the cinematography. One scene in particular involved the lead actress dancing, putting her grandmother’s advice into practice. With a new way of expression and a new understanding of what is important, she seems at peace with herself.
Directed by Graham Holford
This short follows a successful young businesswoman over the course of an evening. Within about a minute of film, we learn that she is fluent in at least three languages and holds an important position of power. Nevertheless, she seems to lead a lonely existence at the very top of her field.
What started off with a gripping premise quickly became utterly devoid of meaning. It must be said that the cinematography of Faustine was impeccable throughout. The beautiful shots of Hong-Kong at night underlined the protagonist’s isolated lifestyle.
The most memorable scene occurred at the beginning, involving an interaction between her and an underprivileged young girl selling flowers. Our main character Annika approaches the young girl in a soft, unstartling voice, asking how much the prettiest flower is whilst handing over a thousand-dollar bill. This interaction suggests that Annika also grew up in an impoverished background, wanting to give back to where she came from.
Sadly, the short loses its strength from this point onwards. Going back to a luxurious, empty apartment, the two interactions that follow take place over the phone, both quick and concise. The direction loses itself in the last few sequences which are of Annika roaming around her apartment alone. For such a powerful character, the storyline we witnessed fails to satisfy.
Directed by Jeff Gabriel-Yu
The Wolves Beyond the Timber
Madeline’s little sister is seriously ill, but they do no not have the funds to keep her under hospital treatment. Her prayers unanswered for too long, Madeline resorts to help anywhere she can find it, even from strangers.
Joining a strange, dangerous cult-like group that call themselves the “Strangers” in order to make quick money, Madeline is initially pushed to her moral limits. The whole story calls upon the question of “means to an end”, as her promise to join the “Strangers” can only work for her if she holds up her end of the deal.
She enters a world of broken people fuelled by drugs, sex and violence, and eventually loses her inhibitions. Why shouldn’t she rob a gas station? Doesn’t her dying sister need the money more than them?
The “Strangers” become Madeline’s new family who help her numb the feeling of being alone and hopeless, instead giving her the illusion of power and freedom. Dark times call for dark actions, and in Madeline’s eyes her sister’s wellbeing could now only come at the expense of her own.
Directed by Brock Keller
An illegal Chinese immigrant living on the streets in Korea, subject to terrible racial abuse, Lee Kwang survives by stealing dogs from shelters and selling them to butchers. This short begins with his finding of a golden retriever named Bori that makes the lonely cruel days on the streets a little more bearable.
Lee Kwang is offered a mediocre price for this golden retriever that is apparently “no meat, all fur”. Deciding to keep Bori, he becomes more approachable to passers-by, bringing out their generosity with his “Need money for dog-food” sign. This man, once alone in the world, now has a companion and dare I say a friend.
Personally not one for stories that revolve around animals myself, this short stripped any mawkish or slushy connotations from what one could expect, as the situation at hand has absolutely nothing maudlin about it.
The themes of homelessness and companion, or lack thereof, were impeccably illustrated by director Joo Hwan Kim. Dialogue was equally convincing, through the praise-worthy performances in ‘Retriever’. Lee Kwang’s relationship with Bori comes to a harrowing and emotional end, but what follows is all the more powerful.
The director deserves praise for avoiding what would have be an obvious ending, instead choosing a route that evokes far more realism and empathy than the events proceeding it.
This was my personal highlight of the first night of Lift-Off, and if you must only see one of the night’s selection, I highly recommend taking half an hour to watch this.
Directed by Joo Hwan Kim