By Richard Foster
Last week I caught a screening of the 2015 BAFTA shorts at the ICA– nine short films with a combined running time of 118 minutes.
The longest two films at 25 minutes each were the Olivia Coleman fronted The Karman Line and Nick Rowland’s Slap. The Karman Line had a fantastic premise, but sadly relied on a sole visual gag that began to tire after a while. It was cleverly crafted and well-made, but could easily have played out at fifteen, if not ten minutes, and have been a much punchier proposition.
Slap too suffered from repetition and, whilst the acting, direction and overall production can’t be faulted, I can’t quite see the justification for its length. It felt like a trailer for an on-going drama series – and one I’d happily watch – but here (just like the make-up for our poor protagonist) less really would have been more.
Next in line for duration was Three Brothers, Aleem Khan’s true story about three boys abandoned by their father after the loss of their mother, coming in at 17 minutes long. The three young actors were excellent and the set was believable as the home of a destitute, dysfunctional family.
The chicken metaphors ran a bit thick throughout and if the film lost five to seven minutes, this analogy would have been more nuanced. But time and again the egg was, quite literally, rubbed in the viewer’s face.
The two strongest films of the night both came in next at 14 minutes run time. Boogaloo and Graham is the endearing tale of two brothers growing up in 1970’s Belfast presented with pet chickens by their soft-hearted father.
The chicken metaphor here worked perfectly, reflecting the subtle changes in the family that echoed the wider changes in a highly militarised and uncertain Belfast. There is also a moment in the film that’s so tense I almost clucked in fear.
Also at 14 mins was Emotional Fusebox— a silly title for what was equally one of the strongest showings on the bill. Simple locations, terrific characterisations and a strong cast gave this not-much-happens-but-draped-in-meaning film an endearing quality and a memorable mental aftertaste. A grandma on a skateboard added a touch of very British humour to the events.
Down at the shorter end of the scale we had a puppet monkey dreaming of space travel for 9 minutes in Monkey Love Experiments, with so much signposting that it felt a tad patronising (and I must admit, I found the central animal quite disturbing).
However, The Bigger Picture (at 8 mins) deserves huge recognition for the complicated melding of full-size animation, modelling and stop-motion design to bring to life a story-of-our time about elderly relatives in genuine style. It also discovers a believable tone and language that are equally deserving of praise.
The final, and shortest film at 6 minutes, was Marcus Armitage’s My Dad. This animation focuses on a young boy growing up with a football-loving, England obsessed father, with his journey veering into racism and nationalism through a colourful palette of impressionistic sketches that both amaze and disturb. Fascinating, but I’m glad it was short.
So, what can we take from this experience? There’s no silver bullet for duration in short films, but perhaps scriptwriters have to think more carefully about what’s necessary to tell their story and directors must be more bold in the edit to give their narrative the space to shine.
And please, let the audience read between the lines. However short a film, no one wants to be spoon-fed metaphors.
To conclude I’d like to share the ever-perceptive words of Homer Simpson:
“I like short shorts”
BAFTA Shorts 2015 are being shown the length and breadth of Britain over the coming weeks – find out if they’re coming to a cinema near you and you can judge for yourself: