Film & TV Muse

The appeal of Aesthetica Short Film Festival

Jasmine Onstad reflects on the major highlights from this year's ASFF and how powerful these short films can be

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Image Credit: Hope Kemp, 2014

Another year, another Aesthetica Short Film Festival comes to a close. This weekend, York has been overrun with filmmakers, industry professionals and cinephiles, easily distinguishable by their bright yellow lanyards and bleary eyes from trying to cram too many screenings into one day. In its 9th year, the festival celebrates the best in independent filmmaking, having grown to provide masterclasses from the likes of Aardman, the BBC and the BFI and even virtual reality film labs. Although there are a few opportunities to view a selection of feature-films, shorts are the bread and butter of the festival.

Over the course of 5 days, some 450 films were screened with around 25,000 people in attendance, proving that there is still a hunger for cinema that deviates from the blockbuster. Since they are very rarely given cinematic releases, festivals such as Aesthetica give film lovers the opportunity to properly appreciate the medium of the short film.

One major highlight was the ‘Director’s Pick’ screened at the opening gala, showcasing impressive storytelling and directorial style. Kofi and Lartey by Sasha Rainbow rightfully won the Best of the Festival Award. Set in Agbogbloshie, an electronics waste dump in Ghana, two young boys (Kofi and Lartey) are given cameras to document their own lives. Their mentor, Abdullah, runs a children’s centre and is determined to give the young people of what is sometimes referred to as ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’, the chance to improve their lives through education.

The beautifully shot film exemplifies the need for more stories which allow Africans to create their own narratives: we learn more from this than in any of the tired ‘white saviour’ examples that have come before. Seeing the catastrophic amount of electronic waste is visually impactful, next to the toxic fumes and mountains of dirty, discarded wires and plastic. It stands in stark contrast to the image we have of technology in Britain, often clean, sleek and sexy (think of a new iPhone ad). When we mindlessly upgrade our tech, the discards most likely end up polluting the homes of children like Kofi and Lartey.

Another highlight was the Bounce Cinema guest programme screening, which showcased some outstanding work from black filmmakers. Bounce Cinema is a London based pop-up cinema which screens films that might not otherwise get the chance to be seen by general audiences. Appreciation, a short by Tomisin Adepeju, was the standout of this particular selection, reducing me and many others in the audience into blubbery tears. In the aftermath of her son’s death, an African pastor has to come to terms with her loss as well as her responsibility as the figurehead of her church. A familiar story, from a point of view that we do not often get to explore, this was an example of masterful tension building and cinematic confidence.

The final screening I attended was the University of York TFTV student screening, which displayed the work of students on the course followed by a panel on challenging cinematic convention in the medium of short film. 1.2 Million was a standout. It tackles the prevalent issue of chronic loneliness in the UK. A young empathetic postman discovers that an old woman is being emotionally neglected by her busy grown-up son and decides to take matters in his own hands. His act of kindness displays the importance of intergenerational relationships, which is gravely missing from our society. The director, Anastasia Arsentyeva, attended the panel and gave advice to young filmmakers in the audience on everything from not casting your friends in your films to the pitfalls of trying to pursue originality.

For film makers starting out, short films are often the first port of call. They are cheaper to make than feature-length ones and can often be used as a calling card to showcase what you can do with a camera and give a taste of your narrative voice. Smaller, independent and often more experimental films keep cinema alive as they have the freedom to break cinematic convention. A short film could be anything from 2 to 45 minutes, could be expensive and ambitious, or extremely simple and punchy. Many of us are crippled by the sheer amount of content that is out there to consume. Championing short films could be the answer the problem that haunts us all: so many films, too little time.

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