After ten days of screenings, spread over two weeks, the Edinburgh Short Film Festival has wrapped for another year. But, despite the long shadow cast by the sudden, tragic, closure of The Filmhouse, ESFF has kept the spirit of the capital’s beloved venue alive – with a little help from Summerhall and Voodoo Rooms.
Voodoo Rooms is a beautiful venue but the credit has to go to Summerhall, who did most of the heavy lifting here, hosting all but one of the festival’s events – including networking opportunities and film-making workshops – proving exactly why it’s one of Edinburgh’s most essential venues for fans of arts and culture.
As Scotland’s largest event dedicated to short films, the ESFF 2022 programme was, unsurprisingly, jam-packed. Across its various strands, the festival featured practically every genre of film imaginable, by an eclectic selection of filmmakers from Scotland and beyond – each with their own unique voices, experiences and backgrounds.
On closing night, ESFF crowned its ‘Best Scottish Short Film’ (Too Rough), ‘Best Animation’ (The Awakening of the Insects) and ‘Best Short Film’ (Ruthless), all worthy winners, but here, we’re going to focus on ten other films that made a lasting impression on us over a spectacular fortnight of screenings.
First up is Derek Anderson’s Induction, a powerful Scottish drama focussing on addiction and men’s mental health. Framed as the induction of a new member into a support group that’s part therapy, part social club, the story is interspersed with flashbacks of our protagonist’s past. It’s a tough watch, with themes of drug abuse and domestic violence, but the film’s closing scene – where our inductee is hugged by all the other men in turn – is powerful, cathartic stuff.
On the same night – screening straight after Induction in fact – another hard-hitting Scottish drama Press Key 5 (by Lipa Hussain) stood tall amongst a strong selection of films. It offers an insight into the job of an NHS interpreter forced by Covid restrictions to do her job over the phone, delivering a man life-changing news about his health. Emotional, yes, but it’s the silence when the call ends, and the interpreter’s job is done, that drives home the toll such a job can take on a person’s mental health.
Exploring similar themes, was Razan Madhoon’s Go Home, part of the Ties That Bind Us strand and a film that narrowly lost out to Sean Lionadh’s Too Rough for this year’s Best Scottish Short Film. Based on the writer/director’s own experience, Go Home follows a young Palestinian woman as she applies for asylum in the UK. Set over a single day, it highlights the struggles and stresses of both the applicant and the assessor while questioning the morality of our bureaucratic system, and calling out the country’s enduring, endemic racism.
All My Mom’s Phone Calls, one of many stunning animated shorts screened at this year’s festival, sees creator Liti Yli-Harja cleverly using chaotic stop-motion animation to convey the everyday stress of a mother over a series of phone calls taken in her kitchen. It’s wonderfully animated from the way the clutter and mess moves and spreads around the kitchen, to the ebbs and flows of the frantic phone calls, and is simultaneously hilarious and anxiety-inducing.
And now for something completely different. From Glasgow-based choreographer Natasha Gilmore (and the Barrowland Ballet), Hoods Off is a collaboration with the pupils of St Albert’s Primary School that mixes spoken word with hip-hop and interpretive dance. Shot entirely on iPhones, the film features honest monologues from several pupils, telling their first-hand experiences of Islamophobia and racism. An unusual film that’s part documentary, part music video and unexpectedly powerful.
Next up, a trio of comedies, starting with Reuben the Roller Roo, Will Prescott’s glorious love letter to the offbeat, laugh-out-loud comedies of the mid-to-late noughties. In fact, fans of the Will Ferrell / Jon Heder vehicle Blades of Glory will particularly enjoy the opening scene here as a washed-up, rollerblading, children’s entertainer gets into trouble for dealing drugs to kids. It’s weird and stupid but, very, very funny.
We all have that friend with a penchant for telling tall tales and A Friend’s Friend (La dote d’un pote) by writer/director Julien Henry takes that idea and runs with it. It’s just two young women, hanging out and chatting, one telling a series of increasingly unlikely stories. There’s a sort-of 90s charm and an almost anthology feel to it. It also featured one of the most surprising moments, one that had the entire audience gasping with shock and laughter.
Made at a time when the Dutch film industry was on its knees, Covid Love (René Nuijens) is a hilarious reaction to dating during the pandemic. The film is set in a restaurant, with all the Covid restrictions in place – masks, social distancing, plastic screens but pushes those familiar precautions firmly into the realms of farce – a giant table, enormous serving tongs… You get the idea. Colourful, wacky and utterly delightful.
But enough of the funny business, it’s time for some monkey business with the Spanish / Portuguese, Goya Award winning animation, The Monkey (Lorenzo Degl’ Innocenti, Xosé Zapata). When a Spanish galleon, part of the famous Armada, is wrecked off the coast of Ireland, the sole survivor, a monkey, is tried as one of the invaders. Whilst there’s humour throughout, this film is dark, very dark (think more Monkey Dust, less Jungle Book) and acts as a commentary on xenophobia, racism, classism and the maltreatment of animals. A beautifully animated film that tackles some very ugly themes.
And last, but not least, is My Friend (Michaël Bier & Hervé Piron), a dark comedy-drama that explores loneliness and mental health with a little bit of a Black Mirror twist. A chronically depressed man hires an actor through a friendship app to help celebrate his birthday. The humour comes through the awkwardness of this bizarre set-up and whilst events take an incredibly dark turn towards the end, the final scenes are quite hilarious.
This small snapshot of films shows that, once again, the Edinburgh Short Film Festival has proven why it’s a veritable hotbed of discovery. With a wonderful variety of short films that highlight established and emerging talents, both locally and from across the globe, it’s an absolutely essential experience for the discerning film fan.
ESFF will be back next year.