One rarely forgets just how little the film industry cares about short films. It can happen in Drama, a small Greek town where time seems freer than any place else. Here, the consciousness of leisure, of siesta and of the night – in other words, the time that belongs to the people, that already clichéd Mediterranean-Balkan dolce far niente – cannot be affected by the industrial reasons that naturalized the feature film as a visual convention. I have never seen so many locals sitting – just sitting – enjoying every minute of the play of light and unmysterious landscape of a city. What we often call a school of looking seems to be a home of looking here. Of course, short film festivals can be held everywhere, but it’s not just anywhere that they can seem so natural, free of demagoguery.
As we know, the discourse on the short film has frozen into two formulations: that it is more challenging than the feature film, more artisanal, free from the constraints of production and distribution structures; and that this freedom comes from lack, little money, few opportunities, etc. Nothing of the sort was said at Drama: not out of carelessness, I believe, but out of horror of commonplaces (it is, after all, a festival in its 46th edition, however young its team), together with the simple passion of letting things make themselves understood on screen.
About the innovation and clairvoyance of the twenty short films from the international competition, few general things could be said – not all are as daring and playful as the curator Yorgos Zois presents them. But it is clear to me that, in any other place, the freest of them, Apostles of Cinema, directed by the collective Ajabu Ajabu (Darragh Amelia, Gertrude Malizana, Jesse Gerard Moango and Cece Mlay), could never have won any prize – because their film does not resemble “cinema” so much as TV reportage, in other words, “bad taste” and lack of creativity. Be that as it may, the official jury was visionary enough to give it a prize, but not without caution: the award for best production, offered by the French network TV5Monde.
“Creativity”: the notion of “creativity” in festival cinema is always the same. Perhaps Apostles of Cinema, about pirate cinephilia in Tanzania, has none of the craftsmanship or profound meanings of a film like Manuel Muñoz Rivas’ Aqueronte (Best International Short Film), but it ultimately does more for cinema – for the consciousness of cinema – than Muñoz Rivas’ tight framing, poetry of false reality and academic mise-en-scène. For it combines a story about the unconditional love of spectatorship – the passion of the people of a small town for public screenings of pirated films, explained, or rather interpreted, by the voiceover of a famous local “DJ” – with a naive, intuitive, and in any case unimpressive aesthetic, but its energy, along with its impunity, impress nevertheless. Such a film has no place in a respectable festival: only curatorial flair could have brought it here.
The Silence of the Banana Trees (dir. Eneos Çarka, 2022) was eventually chosen by the FIPRESCI jury. The Albanian filmmaker’s documentary, a portrait of a former Hungarian eccentric reaching old age, has a special carefulness that prevents it from freezing into one way of making cinema – lyrical-portrait, found-footage, etc. Lately, more and more viewers, especially curators, are saying that they are less and less interested in perfectly made films. I feel the same way about experimental non-fiction cinema, which now has its own respectable perfection: that’s why The Silence of the Banana Trees, which works very cleanly, at the edge of schematism but not quite, at complementing one kind of image with another, seemed remarkable on the big screen, for every frame gave enough time and space for looking.
Per se, the film depicts a beautiful incomplete life, that of Mihály Fekete, who spends his old age taking care of his house – captured by memories of other times, left behind by a departed daughter –and the beautiful surrounding garden, nature without memory. Through a bold and tender gesture, the filmmaker insists on the presence of the daughter in stories, photographs, in all corners of the house, only to find out that, after surviving cancer, she broke the connection with the father. From here on, the film concentrates the emotion of this inexplicable event into a correspondence that reads between the lines, with bright archival images, patient looks at ghostly spaces in the house and a bit of supernatural fantasy that plays with an already formulated idea – that reality is never stable. No other ending could have been better for Mihály, who is waiting for just that: a small change in reality.
Edited by Lesley Chow
© FIPRESCI 2023