Category Archives: On The Short Film Circuit

Who like short shorts? We like shorts shorts!

The Sandman (1992) – Short Film Review

“Mr Sandman, bring me a dream”

More like bring me a Nightmare…

The modern perception of The Sandman legend is a creature that uses sand to bring dreams to sleeping children. Like the character from Rise of the Guardians, he is the protector of children and giver of pleasant fantasies. Yet in director Paul Berry’s dark vision of The Sandman, he is a creature to be feared indeed.

 The short opens looking over a mountain filled landscape. We come to a small house where a sewing woman and a boy, (presumably her son) sit. As the clock strikes eight, the woman gives the boy a light and sends him to bed. Clearly afraid, the boys makes his way up the dark, dank staircase to his room. In bed, the boys lies restlessly looking out at the moon. The creasant moon soon morphs with the curved nose and chin of a sinister creature. The boy rubs his eyes in disbelief and the creature disappears. He tries once again to go to sleep but the creature is now inside the house.

He creaks the stairs and makes eerie noises to frighten the boy, who pulls his covers over his eyes. Slowly his covers are pulled back by his mother who gently tucks him in. Once alone the creature steps out of the shadows to approach the bed, the boy opens his eyes and comes face to face with the horrific creature.

In shadowed silhouette, we see the creature violently steal something from the boy before returning to his home. On the moon the creature returns to his nest where three of its babies await. Only when he opens his pouch to feed them is it clear what he has stolen from the boy. We return to the boy and see him blindly join other children who have shared the same horrific fate.

Director Paul Berry worked as an animated under Henry Selick on The Nightmare Before ChristmasJames and the Giant Peach as well as Monkeybone. Here he takes the directors chair for a film that was inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s version of The Sandman legend.

 Image result for the sandman short film

The films visual style has borrowed heavily from German Expressionism. Like Burton’s Vincent short, it is characterised by jagged edges and surreal proportions. Every set piece has a sharp edge that warns of foreboding dread. Shadows stretch out across the screen as if reaching for something and darkness contrasts the small sections of light used.

His two human characters, whilst the innocence of the film, also have a Gothic edge. With dark circles around their eyes and angular cheek and chins. The Sandman himself is a grotesque being. With exaggerated features on his body and a style of movement that brings to mind the child-catcher of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Balletic but mencing. With the feathered upper body of a bird and a chin/nose that mirror the creasant moon he calls his home.

The short contains no dialogue but mixes an eerie score with silence and diagetic sound. Foot steps and creaking stairs are all used to build tension and suspense.

A short film that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Eerie yet beautifully imagined, its a sinister take on an established myth. Paul Berry was clearly a talented director as well as animator. Sadly, Berry past away in 2001 of a brain tumour. But the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short and stands as a testimonial of Berry’s talent.

Happy Halloween!

Family Happiness (Short) – BFI London Film Festival Review

Stories of family dynamics and relationships will always feature heavily in narratives. Characters haunted by their pasts are also a familiar plot and both are features in short Family Happiness.

Romily (Whishaw), leads an innocent yet isolated existence. He calls his sister Fiona (Englert), who arrives, despite protest from her unseen partner. Whereas Romily lives alone, Fiona is married to an older, possessive partner, who soon calls her wanting to know her whereabouts. The siblings talk over their past and current lives, while an awkwardness lingers between the sensitive brother and complicated sister.

Alice Englert, who  is more known for her on screen roles in films such as Ginger and Rosa and Beautiful Creatures, writes and directs here. Her short does not have the strongest of narratives arcs but this is much more a simple observation piece. We see the two siblings relive their past, while trying to connect their present. While Romily tries to connect with those around him, Fiona is purposely cruel to others. Seen in her unprovoked treatment of a Jehovah Witness and her recounts of shopping in high end shops.

In terms of the dialogue, despite a good screenplay, what is not said is more powerful than what is with its leads. The edging around questions, the false answers to questions and the awkward silences. This is due to its to performers and their joint chemistry. They each offer multiple sides to their characters, despite a fifteen-minute running time: Englert makes her cold character feel vulnerable and Whishaw gives more depth to his straight forward older brother.

Despite the absence of a full arc, the film is a simple interaction of a complicated relationship. The actors lift this above its story with their intensity and make for intriguing viewing.

Family Happiness is out BFI London Film Festival! 

British by the Grace of God (Short) – BFI London Film Festival Review

British by the Grace of God is an intimate short set during the summer of the Brexit referendum in Scotland, focusing on Irene (Kate Dickie), a middle aged woman who has nothing but love and support to offer, but is often shunned for it. Be it her cold husband, her distant son or her judgemental friends, she struggles to find her place with any of them.

British by the Grace of God is a very tender and gentle film; it captures it’s small scale well and is beautifully crafted to be a slow and quiet piece. Kate Dickie is fantastic in the lead, and the film has such a gentle touch to it. It’s very well paced and feels completely ordinary, never once becoming convoluted or contrived and sticks to what it’s doing so well.

Having said that, I’m not entirely sure what I was supposed to take away from this film. There are some…Interesting moments, let’s say, that feel very out of place, and I’m wondering if it’s because the short length does it no favours. I’m not entirely certain of the relevance of the Brexit backdrop, nor if I understand what this film builds up to, or perhaps if it’s purposely vague.

Of course, I could just be missing something in what is otherwise a tender and emotional film that has an excellent lead performance and knows exactly what type of film it’s aiming to be, and nails it in it’s direction and editing. British by the Grace of God is great output from Sean Dunn, who is clearly a talented filmmaker, and we’d hope to see more from him in the future.

British by the Grace of God is playing at BFI London Film Festival! 

Comeback Kid (Short) – BFI London Film Festival Review

Comeback Kid is the chilling story of a man who comes home to find his wife cheating on him, and dies shortly after as he attempts to get away. 16 years later, he’s been re-incarnated as a teenager, and finds himself back in his old world in the most horrifying way.

Comeback Kid is brilliant; it’s been a long time since I’ve seen something to make my skin crawl, but this truly nails it. I really don’t want to give too much away, but almost effortlessly, the film establishes a weird and creepy atmosphere, that only gets more and more uncomfortable as it goes on. It relies heavily on dramatic irony to freak the audience out, and is just one of those films where you want to scream “No don’t do that!” repeatedly with the information you’re given. It’s almost unbearable to watch, but the way the plot unfolds is sheer genius, and it’s a concept that you’d kick yourself for not thinking of.

Huge credit to Tom Cawte for an exceptional performance; as young Hugh, he makes the transition from innocent teenager to the damaged young man he becomes following the film’s overwhelmingly messed up events so seamless. It’s a very natural progression. It’s not at all forced or unbelievable, and whilst I’d love to go into detail about why it’s so well done, I couldn’t possibly without giving the ending away, and it’s imperative that you don’t know how this unfolds.

On top of all that, it’s very well shot, has an interesting use of graphics and is just by far one of the most unique and disturbing short films I’ve ever seen. Check it out any chance you get, because it really is something special.

Comeback Kid plays as part of Gits & Shiggles at BFI London Film Festival! 

Screwball (Short) – BFI London Film Festival Review

It’s important that short films make the most of their short run time; we’ve all seen short films that should be longer – and to be fair, we’ve all seen features films that should’ve been shorts – but the best short films are the ones that not only entertain and engage in their run time, but also take advantage of their run time. And personally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a short film use it’s run time as well as Screwball does.

Natalie (Savannah Baker) and Ryan (Alhaji Fofana) are two young teens about to make the important next step. Problem is, neither of them can even bring themselves to say the word; they’re excited, but nervous, and full of raw emotion as they attempt to make things more intimate, but the night doesn’t quite go as they expected.

I’ll come right out and say it: Screwball is flawless, and that’s even more impressive because it could have easily been bad in so many places. It could’ve been cheap and lazy, with no real heart or ambition, because stories like this are so easy to churn out, but this is something different. In 12 minutes, the film covers all bases, and takes it further than it even needed to go. The two young leads are exceptional; what they bring to these roles that’s 100% essential to this film is their innocence. This is of course a nerve wracking life experience that gets talked about so much in so many different, that it’s impossible to truly expect what’s going to happen. Fofano and Baker are at all times believable and genuine, as is the entire film which can be so hard to pull off.

Perhaps the most charming part of this film is it’s opening that sees our leads gearing themselves up for the night ahead; it throws us straight into what’s happening without any set up or exposition, just establishes it’s theme and it’s mood instantly, and from there, it’s hilarious. It’s impressive for a 12 minute film to have successful running jokes, but there’s two in particular that you can’t help but giggle at, and the film is just so fluid that it never lets up and you sink deep into this situation. Where this film truly deserves praise is it’s shift in the climax that changes the focus onto some larger, more impacting issues regarding gender and society, because with everything that came before it, it could have been so easy for this part to be very jarring. It could have come out of nowhere, and feel very shoehorned and convoluted, but there’s a very natural segue that doesn’t feel forced or set up. It carries into it perfectly, and this is important because without this section of the film, Screwball would just be a cute comedy that ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, everything that comes before it is wonderful, but had it not come to a head the way it did, it would’ve felt a little bit pointless. Luckily, the writing is outstanding, and it doesn’t fall into any traps nor does it ever lose sight of what it’s aiming for.

Screwball is a perfect short film; it achieves everything it sets out to do, uses it’s time to it’s absolute best and never lets up on the entertainment value or the important message it puts across.

Screwball plays at BFI London Film Festival 
As part of the Gits and Shiggles programme! 

Black Barbie (Short) – BFI London Film Festival Review

In short Black Barbie, filmmaker Comfort Arthur explores the concept of lighter skin equated to beauty and the effects it has on young women. Through spoken word, in just four minutes, she relays a young women’s journey, when beauty standards sadly exclude you.

Black Barbie is an animated poem about a young girl’s experience with skin bleaching. As a child she is given a black Barbie doll by her mother, to reflect her own appearance. The young narrator rejects the Barbie, in favour of a white doll, which she believes is beautiful. The girl recounts her experiences of living in a society that tells ethnic women their skin colour, hair texture, and features make them less desirable. With no sense of worth in her appearance, the narrator eventually succumbs to skin bleaching.

The short was written, directed and animated by Comfort Arthur, a young British, Ghanaian film maker and is narrated by Ama K Abebrese who tells her story from self-hatred to empowerment.

Simple this may be but the individual and personal account from a young woman, who has grown up in our society is telling. The effects that having little to no representation in film, TV, theatre, magazines and even in toys and animation can have. The narrator attempts to change her appearance, first through hair straightening and then later with bleaching creams, to conform to society’s narrow beauty standards.

In a short few minutes, the narrator and animation takes you on a journey of pain and isolation through to self-discovery and empowerment. Effective and poignant, the short will give those who are lucky enough to get physical representation an insight into what it is like without it.

The film uses a simple, childlike form of animation to relay the girl’s journey, almost as if the child that begins the story is drawing her own path. This may not be ground breaking but it feels real and suited to both the poem and voice over.

With only one voice heard throughout, narrator Abebrese has injected the poem and short with a whole spectrum of emotions. The frail and isolated girl that begins the poem relays her truths yet finally breaks and builds into a strong woman, free of society’s biased standards. Building her energy to the shorts triumphant end

A short, poetic yet poignant account of how society’s obsession with Eurocentric beauty, can affect ethnic women. Told in simple, yet effective, animation form.

Black Barbie is at BFI London Film Festival 
See it as Country A-Z shorts programme!