Short Cuts By Mariska Graveland

in 35th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Mariska Graveland

Promoted this year to the status of “a festival within the festival”, the short-film section at the International Film Festival Rotterdam has distinguished itself more and more from the feature-films. A concentration on one single location (the cosy Lantaren/Venster cinema), a separate award-ceremony on the fifth day and thematic, non-overloaded programs were the main innovations of the Short Film Festival, aka ” Short: as long as it takes”.

The three Tiger Awards for best short film, nicknamed Tigra, were given to the cleverly surprising Beginnings (Roy Villevoye, The Netherlands) and two British animation films Rabbit (Run Wrake) and Who Am I And What I Want (David Shrigley, Chris Shepherd). Partially set in Papua New Guinea, Beginnings plays a clever game with our presumptions by filming two completely naked Papuans while they stroll through the forest. Halfway we discover that they don’t do that for free and the filmmakers are not just innocent observers. The two winning animation shorts are very much alike: in these well-made dark tales things rapidly spiral totally out of hand. Both shorts were produced within the British ‘Animate!’ program, which may explain their similar feel.

The fine Belgian short Meander, made by Joke Liberge, won the Prix UIP, which provides automatic entry to the European Film Award Competition. With a keen eye Meander observes a group of teenagers who enjoy a summer’s day out at the riverside, where the idyllic atmosphere is soon to end.

Around 40 programs and film performances (by Wet Gate, Guy Sherwin and Metamkine) were presented at the Short Film Festival. One example of the thematic combination of shorts is a program called Current, in which filmmakers appear more like scientists who study the laws of nature in their own unpredictable way. Elements (Dariusz Kowalski, Austria) was made with footage from the Alaska Weather Camera Program, which observes the desolate snow landscape during the year. Needless to say, there’s not much going on out there – and we have all the time in the world to watch the emptiness. A short that also plays with time perception is 76-108 (Viktor Hoffman, Germany), a film like a heart beat that lingers between fast and slow motion, and between photo film and stroboscopic effects. Motion Studies # 3: Gravity (Jake Mahaffy, USA) does exactly what the title promises: a man hanging on a tree ‘studies’ gravity by kicking away the ladder beneath his feet. Self-sacrifice for the sake of science. On the soundtrack we hear mission control communication with Soviet cosmonauts, including V.M. Komarov as he died re-entering Earth’s atmosphere on Soyuz 1, 1967.

Two more shorts worth mentioning, for their twisted anthropologic look at daily life, are Blockade and Pick-up. Blockade is a collage of Russian film footage on the siege of Leningrad during World War II, which is edited in such a marvellous way that the era really comes to life. Accompanied by a delicate soundtrack, the awful events seem to be set in the present. The French short Pick-up takes a close look at older people who have nothing to worry about. Location: Benidorm, Spain. Events: slow dancing, beach ball, gymnastics, reading The Sun and The Daily Mirror. No dialogue necessary. Rather less impact was made by the 20-minute short by Abbas Kiarostami, Roads of Kiarostami. In a voice-over Kiarostami tells us nothing new about the metaphors of roads and travelling. His photo film doesn’t need this kind of explicit explanation.

Not successful at all are the two films made within the Meet the Maestro section, an initiative that has nothing to do with the Short Film Festival, but consists of two shorts that were commissioned by the Rotterdam Film Festival. The staff asked German filmmaker Jan Krüger (from the Tiger winner Unterwegs) and Danish director Jens Jonsson to make a film inspired by Michael Haneke. The first problem with this idea is that you can’t expect a filmmaker to copy the signature of another. The second problem is the result: neither films are at all intriguing. Jonsson’s Linerboard has some appeal, but Krüger’s Tango Apasionado is dreadful. Both films will be put on a DVD, released by the festival, but there are a lot of films at the festival which deserve this special treatment much more.