Startsladden: The Swedish Short Competition 2013

in 36th Göteborg International Film Festival

by Alison Frank

This year marked the tenth anniversary of the Göteborg International Film Festival’s ‘Startsladden’ Swedish Short Competition. 8 short films competed for a prize of 938 000 kronor (over €109,000) in equipment and funding for the director’s next film. This year’s winner was ‘The Day my Dad was Shot’ (‘Gabriel och Lasermannen’, dir. Babak Najafi), a documentary about a young man whose father was injured in a gunman’s shooting spree.

The ‘Startsladden’ films are screened all together at a gala followed by a special awards ceremony. They are then repeated, both as a programme of shorts and individually ahead of Nordic features in competition for the festival’s main Dragon Award. This is a wise approach to scheduling as it prevents short films from languishing in a ghetto, where a large segment of the audience is made up of the films’ creators. As GIFF pairs short films with longer films, audiences who go to see the features in competition get to see a short film as a bonus: this may whet their appetite for short films in general, or give them a sneak preview of feature filmmaking talent to come.

Sometimes, the Startsladden film was better than the Nordic competition feature that followed: this was the case in the combination of ‘This is Now’ (‘Så här är det nu’, dir. Anders Jedenfors) and All That Matters is Past (Uskyld, dir. Sara Johnsen). The feature was the most innovative of the Nordic competition, telling the story of a bizarre love triangle among childhood friends which builds to a tragic conclusion when they reach middle age. However, the story and emotion felt contrived when compared to the four simple black and white shots followed by a shot of the ocean that made up Jedenfors’ short film. Each of the four shots shows an elderly person sitting alone in his or her flat, while their voiceover explains in poignant detail the loneliness that old age has brought them: they miss, for example, having someone to curl up with in bed at night. You can watch one of the film’s four sections online, though the full impact of the image’s grainy beauty is lost on the small screen:

In other cases, the intensity of a short could reduce the shock of the most violent feature. 8-Ball (8-Pallo, dir. Aku Louhimies) told the story of a young mother who goes through a terrifying ordeal in order to keep her baby daughter and leave drug addiction behind her. This aggressive feature came across as a tale of wild optimism after the chilling recreation that preceded it. Feeling agonizingly long for a short, Jenifer Malmqvist’s ‘On Suffocation’ baldly presents the horror of execution by hanging. As two men attempt a passionate kiss before they are killed, it is clear that they are being executed for love rather than any real crime. While the film was well-intended, it is hard to understand the point. ‘On Suffocation’ contains just one artistic metaphor, linking a pleasurable opening shot of feet in flip-flops on a beach with the painful image of the same shoes slipping from the same feet onto a concrete floor as the two men are raised up by their necks.

Apart from this opening shot, ‘On Suffocation’ offers no more than an execution scene, creating the uncomfortable illusion of a snuff film. Rare is the political film that brings about real-life activism, and it’s hard to say whether this short would shock homophobes into a more compassionate attitude. For everyone else, the feeling is one of emptiness, as we are presented with images of a horrifying practice which we could already visualise all too well.

Alison Frank