Slow Short Film Festival – Full Programme

Last year, the very first edition of the Slow Short Film Festival took place in Mayfield, England. It was a first, to me in any case. A festival focusing exclusively on slow films – a dream I have had since I started writing on Slow Cinema, and then this dream comes true thanks to a group of wonderful people. This year, I have joined the programming team and I’d like to present to you this year’s festival programme. Eight films from around the world, eight films that deal in different ways with cinematic slowness. What is best for long-time followers of mine and for supporters of tao films, is that you get a 20% discount on a festival ticket if you’re a tao films subscriber. And if you’re buying a festival ticket and are not yet a subscriber, you get 20% of your subscription to tao films. So, if you’re in or around Mayfield on 1 September, drop by, see amazing films, have a chat with likeminded people, and, with a bit of luck, you can also meet me! ūüôā

The following eight films will be shown:

António and Catarina. In this film from Romanian director and cinematographer Cristina Haneș, a 70-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman share a candid and twisted relationship with a deadline. Trapped in one room, António and Catarina are negotiating the terms of their relationship.

Double Reflection by Taiwanese filmmaker Wang Chun Hong. Wang records the connection between himself and photography. His works integrate fictional life experiences with self-performance, where boundaries between fiction and reality are blurred.

In Greenland, an autobiographical film from Israeli filmmaker Oren Gerner, Oren returns to his family home to pack up before moving in with his girlfriend. The process exposes Oren’s liminal place – between child and adult, between intimacy and alienation.

High Cities of Bone, by Portuguese director Jo√£o Salaviza, tells the story of Karlon, a pioneer of Cape Verdean Creole rap who runs away from the housing project to which he was relocated. Among the sugarcanes, a murmur is heard. Karlon hasn’t stopped singing.

How Do You Thirst? by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Joshua Gleason is a dialogue-free meditation set amid a growing water crisis. The film sees a lonely Japanese woman take in a stranger whom she finds passed out in the stairwell of her apartment complex.

In Investigations of a Dog, a young man, frustrated by his grim existence, decides to lie down by the river and test whether society will take care of him or let him die. Exposed to the hospitality of the elderly couple who find him, he discovers new purpose in assuaging their loneliness. The film is a work by director Aleksandra Niemczyk, a former student of Béla Tarr.

One and Many by German-born, London-based filmmaker Jonas Bak. A fly is trapped behind a window. A man lives in a new city. People’s worlds are crammed together, yet they are galaxies apart. Flies are drawn to a streetlight. Alone and together. One and many.

In 90 Seconds in North Korea, Croatian filmmaker Ranko Paulovic, who now works in the Netherlands, presents the other side of North Korean life: a world away from the army parades, paranoid leaders, oppression and fear.

A very strong line-up and I’m very proud to say that tao films will show a selection of the best submissions as part of an online festival in late September. I’m prepping the festival now to bring you as great a selection as I can! Remember, the festival takes place on 1 September in Mayfield. Early bird tickets are now ¬£8 (until 31 July), including transport to and from Mayfield, and food.

Remains – Yotam Ben-David (2016)

!!! This film is now available on tao films !!!

What remains if a relationship, if love, has hit a dead end? We have all been at this point, asking ourselves whether we’re still moving forwards together, as a couple, or if we have long reached a stage¬†when it is almost impossible to return to the good old days.

With patience and an eye for detail (in a couple’s routine life), Yotam Ben-David from Israel explores this painful stage, often ignored out of fear to face the reality and the frightening possibility of being alone again. Itamar and Thomas, the protagonists of Remains,¬†couldn’t be more different from one another. Whether it was a coincidence or not, the respective¬†size/height of each character says a lot about how they are positioned in their relationship. Thomas is a tall, almost overpowering man. He is forceful and patronising. Ben-David doesn’t show this with the help of low angles, which would establish Thomas’ overpowering nature clearly on a visual level. Instead, the director asks us to¬†read the character through his actions. This might take longer, but it is a way to get the viewer engaged without feeding them with a golden spoon.

Remains (dir Yotam Ben-David)

Itamar, played by the director himself, is the complete opposite. It seems as if he is with his back against the wall, not having enough breathing space, being unable to move, to live. Regardless of what he does, it is wrong. The relationship is no longer an intimate community of love, but a sort of boxing ring where battles take place on a daily basis. Night appears to be the only relief for both sides, until another day, another battle, begins.

Ben-David uses beautiful night shots in order to underline the idea of a period of peace. But you can’t ignore the fact that the director’s characters are shown primarily alone in those night shots, suggesting that peace can only exist if the two partners are embalmed by solitude. It is uncomfortable to watch the two men positioning themselves in strong opposition to one another. There is persistent tension between the two, which acts as a thread which leads us through the film’s narrative.

All of this is, of course, the mere surface of the film. I had watched the film twice or three times, before I realised that the film has a deeper meaning. There was something that went beyond the depiction of a relationship that has hit a dead end. In fact, Ben-David said in an interview with tao films:

All of my films have roots in my own reality and my own experience, but at the same time I try to distil and highlight certain elements from this experience in order to examine them closely through my films. In this case I was very interested in this type of role play between dominant and submissive, which is something I believe we all live to a certain degree (even if not in the same volume as in the film). I was specifically interested in the different shades and nuances between those two poles, finding power in passivity and weakness in control. I was also interested in the idea that power is both attracting and destructive.

Remains (dir Yotam Ben-David)

Remains uses its characters in order to explore the concept of power. This goes beyond the¬†on-screen relationship between two men. Quite interestingly, it has a political edge to it. The idea of an attractive¬†personality which you follow and engage with only to find out that once you’re in this relationship (any type of relationship, it doesn’t have to be a loving relationship) you are oppressed to a point where you are aware of what’s happening without being able to stop – this rings so true in current politics where the right is on the rise around the world. Or when even left politicians turn out to use their power to, quite literally, overpower.

This political aspect of Ben-David’s¬†Remains might not be very obvious. The young director is very clever in¬†hiding the obvious, asking us to search for something that is just as important as the surface¬†that plays out on screen. The short is a subtle investigation into human relationships and the power that plays out between them. Could we go as far as saying that the power Ben-David depicts mirrors societies, too, confronting one another because of their differences? Watch the film on our platform and see for yourself.

Postcards from the Verge – Sebastian Mez (2017)

My, my, my…another strong arthouse film this year.¬†And another one which is too good to be written about, if I’m honest. There are films which cannot be described in words. Sebastian Mez’s¬†Postcards from the Verge (2017) is one of those films, a film that, like postcards, takes you on a journey into a different land. That land or these lands, to be correct, are Israel and Palestine.

The film starts with a black screen and no sound. After a while, the image of a fire burning in the far background of the black frame shapes up. The camera remains with the fire, lingering on it, focuses on it. This very first shot gives us an idea, a feeling, of what the next seventy odd minutes will be like: they will invite us to observe, to be in the very moments the director proposes to be in.

Postcards from the Verge – Sebastian Mez (2017)

Mez’s film consists of chapters. Each chapter has a very specific aesthetic, especially visually. The first chapter stunned me because it felt as though I was looking at something through a third eye. The frame was structured in such a way that it gave the impression of an eye through which you observed, in wide angle shots, the landscape of Israel and Palestine. The director uses a stark black-and-white contrast for most of his frames, a contrast that is, for someone who loves black-and-white photography as much as I do, a real pleasure to look at. It’s the sort of visual aesthetic that makes my heart jump.

For a very long time in the film, there is nothing but images. Mez shows us the landscape of conflict, a conflict that has been ongoing for several decades, and which seems to find no end. There is one frame that struck me. It was a landscape shot, a slow pan, if I remember correctly, but perhaps my memory tricks me. What is important is that there is a tank in that landscape and because of the director’s use of high contrast black-and-white, you don’t see it at first. To me, this is a very good depiction of this conflict. Violence, and everything that embodies it, has become part of the fabric of those countries. Wherever you go, there is military; in the streets, at checkpoints, etc It has become normal, and no one sees it anymore.¬†Just like you might not see the tank in that very frame because it is no longer standing out in a region that is¬†in constant upheaval.

Postcards from the Verge – Sebastian Mez (2017)

At some point a voice over comes in. The voice over disrupts the contemplative nature of the images and comments on the conflict. But it’s not going into details. It’s a simple observation: “I think peace will be difficult to find because we want the same thing. The Jews want Al Aqsa to destroy it and build their own temple on it, and the Arabs want Al Aqsa to pray.” The viewer is left with this thought, an idea that seems viable but that goes beyond the complex political circumstances that we have come to know. It is an observation from the inside, with a take on the conflict that goes beyond the violence that saturates our thinking.

Mez lets us alone with this thought, and continues his visual journey through the landscape of conflict – in a letter boxed super-wide angle (does that even exist?), for example. The effect of this is interesting. The wide angle allows us to breathe. We can easily shift around our gaze on a horizontal axis. At the same time, however, the letter box around the image contracts it. It limits our gaze on a vertical axis. And the (metaphorical) vertical axis is the one of feeling and experience (if we think back to Maya Deren’s thoughts on the subject). A contracted vertical axis in a film about a conflict where feelings are numbed…

Postcards from the Verge – Sebastian Mez (2017)

Which brings me to the film’s fourth chapter, titled Vivid Memories. Overall, the film is like a photo album, and this becomes most evident in Vivid Memories. The frames are almost still images. Or perhaps they are still images. Or maybe Mez uses super slow-motion. In any case, these images are an embodiment of remembering, of vivid memories, just as the title of the film’s chapter proposes. The frames¬†felt like memories. They reminded me of parts of Chris Marker’s¬†La Jetee. There is something tangible in those images, often dreamlike, blurry at first, then becoming clearer with time.

With¬†Postcard from the Verge, Mez has created lasting images, postcards that stay¬†with you. The final chapter of the film speaks about silence. In fact, it doesn’t. This chapter is quiet, almost completely silent…

Là-bas (Chantal Akerman, 2006)

Là-bas. Down there. Down there has many meanings in this film of Chantal Akerman, her first, last and only film set in Israel. Down there Рgeographically, perhaps. Down there, là-bas Рdown memory lane. Down there, in the abyss of memory. Down there, in the darkest memory of 20th century history. Of a family. Of the Jewish people.

Akerman is not just in Israel. She is in a different world, a world of memories. She’s in the past. Akerman is like a ghost throughout the film. We can hear her make a coffee. We can hear her brushing her teeth. We can hear her footsteps. She’s there, and yet she isn’t.¬†Her body is there. Her mind isn’t.

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She’s absent. She is l√†-bas. Speaking of exile, of suicide, of spending her childhood indoors in Brussels because her mother was too afraid of letting her out. She speaks of the childhood she never had, but could have had in Israel. She’s speaking of her aunt, who received electro shock therapy in order to deal with her depression.

Towards the end of the film, Akerman speaks of a university professor who came to see her. He said: “It is difficult to get out of prison, especially out of your own prison.” Akerman’s film is almost entirely shot from inside the apartment she is living in, often through the same window, through the same curtains. Visually, this film is a prison. It hardly ever moves beyond the apartment window.

Just like Akerman herself. In a voice-over she says that she doesn’t go out much. One reason is security. One day she went out and noticed that something wasn’t right. She asked a man what had happened and he told her about a suicide attack.

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But it’s not just that. It is not just the outside world. It’s also l√†-bas, the inner world, the inner turmoil, which imprisons her. In every word, in every phrase Akerman uses – French, English or even Hebrew – there is pain. There is sadness. There is depression. After this film, after everything I felt during those just over 60 minutes, I’m not surprised about¬†the path she took on 5 October last year. It’s all there, in L√†-Bas, which she had completed nine years earlier.

There aren’t many words I have for this film. What I do have are feelings, and it is impossible to put them into words. L√†-bas made me thoughtful about many things, and I would urge my readers to watch the film if they’re not familiar with it. It is an important piece in Akerman’s filmography and deserves to be seen as such.