One of the most neglected parts of the official festival programme is usually the short films section, even if it is competitive. In many cases it is not justified. Discoveries could have been made sooner if the critics looked more carefully into the short films presented.
I tried the experience with the Montreal World Films Festival. The quality of the feature length film competition was above average and some of the works shown were outstanding, but the most powerful impressions came from the preceding shorts. Out of 80 short films from all festival sections only 15 were chosen for the official competition.
Tradition was made in Germany by Peter Ladkani, born in Hungary and settled in Munich after New York and the Philippines. The film is without dialogue (not to harm national pride and sensibilities, said the director, introducing the film). The story is universal, even if presented as belonging to an oriental civilization. A ten-year- old boy seems to be the center of a family ceremony. At the end he gets a box and leaves. In between, we see a young girl and her boy-friend in a tender, but not too intimate interaction. There seems to be no apparent link between the two narrative flows till the last episode. The boy arrives at his destination to see, as we understand now, his sister and… revenge the family honor by killing her – there was a pistol in the box. The message is clear – some traditions kill. My memory is still impressed by the confrontation between a gun and a welcoming smile, happiness and the price to be paid for it, and some of the Eisenstein kind of montage.
Happiness is the title of a short film made in the USA by Sophie Barthes, a French film maker with Middle Eastern and South American experience. The East of Europe in the film is represented by Elzbieta Czyzewska – a former Polish film star, ageing in New York. “Happiness” is a small box, bought in a discount store. Instead of opening it, the heroine gives it back and buys a pair of shoes with high heels – a more sure way to achieve happiness and impress colleagues at the factory. Small pleasures of life are more harmless than illicit love.
Three short films deal with the impact of global history on individual destinies. The most original of them is Three Towers set in a small Italian village and co-produced by Italy, UK (home of one of the directors, Emily Harris) and Israel (native land of the other – Yoni Bentowim). This black and white fable tells the story of the monotonous life of a couple of farmers, shattered by the news of the fall of the New York towers, told by a Scottish tourist. The argument between the elderly spouses – were there two or three towers falling down – kills the family routine and leads to radical changes in behavior. Satire joins Apocalypses.
In a more conventional way Jonas Rejman (a Czech living in Germany) in a French – Czech co-production, Monitio, shows several strangers converging to a common death in a train station terrorist attack.
Ben Phelps in Checkpoint (Australia, Jury award) shows how a mock confrontation between soldiers and an Australian-Lebanese family in a car turns to violence and tragedy. The director underlined the frustration with the current political situation in his country (I would say – in the world): anti-Islamic bias leading to an escalation of violence due to the official power structures. The story is dramatically compelling and humanly understandable.
The high point of this part of the programme was a Belgian film symbolically called Revolution (Main Jury award). In this virulent satire, Xavier Diskeuve shows how a dull bureaucrat and his homely wife, emancipated by pornographic reviews, radically change their lifestyle.
A whole world evolves, is reflected and artistically transformed in a small selection of short films by more or less young filmmakers with contemporary global personal experiences. It is more than we can say about most feature films.