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SHORTS COLUMN | British Filmmakers Reign Supreme at North America’s Three Biggest Short Film Fests

SHORTS COLUMN | British Filmmakers Reign Supreme at North America's Three Biggest Short Film Fests

From June 12 to 17, the Canadian Film Centre hosted the 13th annual Worldwide Short Film Festival, inviting 265 shorts from more than 30 countries to screen in Toronto, Ontario. Two months later in California, 332 films from over 40 countries screened at the 2007 Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films (August 23-29), followed a month later by 700 shorts at the 11th annual LA Shortsfest (September 5 – 17). With such an overcrowded field, it’s remarkable that UK filmmaker Simon Ellis walked away with both the Best Live Action Short Award at the Canadian fest and the Best of Festival laurel at Palm Springs for his fifteen-minute drama, “Soft.” While Ellis went empty-handed in Los Angeles, London-based commercial director Daniel Barber received LA Shortfest’s Best of the Fest nod for “The Tonto Woman” while Donald Rice made some noise with his Best Comedy Award-wining UK short “I Am Bob.”

“Soft,” which was commissioned by UK Film Council and Film4, made its North American premiere at the Canadian Film Centre‘s Worldwide Festival. A story of suburban violence, the tense drama is a modern day “High Noon,” with a bullied father and son having to confront teenage thugs who terrorize the neighborhood. Shot on 35 over a five-day period, “Soft” was filmed in Nottingham, England with a budget of 50,000 pounds.

Based on a classic Elmore Leonard short story, the 35-minute “The Tonto Woman” is a Spaghetti Western shot in Al Meria, Spain about a lady and a cattle rustler. The short, which also won Best Live Action Over 15 Minutes at Palm Springs, stars the late Anthony Quinn‘s son, Francesco.

“I Am Bob,” which previously played Tribeca and Seattle’s 1-Reel, is a 19-minute comedy staring Sir Bob Geldof as himself, or rather a very cranky version of himself. Accidentally stranded in a remote British village pub, the Live Aid founder finds himself taking part in a celebrity look-alike contest against a younger, more enthusiastic impersonator. The two Bobs duet on the Boomtown Rats 1979 classic “I Don’t Like Mondays” and then square off on a Geldof trivia contest in which fake Bob does better than the real deal. Not to give the ending away, but a surly Sir Bob doesn’t win over the hearts and minds of the locals.

With 37 British shorts screening at Palm Springs alone, the British invasion was particularly strong at the desert fest.

Osbert Parker‘s seven-minute noir-themed “Yours Truly” (which garnered an honorable mention in the animation category at CFC’s Worldwide) was a personal favorite of Palm Springs juror John Dahl. Playing Palm Springs’ opening night was Aardman Animation‘s “The Pearce Sisters,” a 10-minute sibling story from director Luis Cook. The stop-motion tale previously won a Special Jury Prize at Annecy International Animation Festival.

Other UK shorts showcased at Palm Springs include “Specky,” a 22-minute personal doc about eyewear by nearsighted Scottish director Anne-Claire Pilley; Duncan Wellaway‘s 12-minute “Always Crashing In The Same Car,” starring Richard E. Grant; “The Cleaner,” Noel Kearns‘ 13-minute crime drama set in a London Hospital; and “RedBlack,” a five-minute taxi cab confessional shocker by Mal Woolford.

Several UK shorts that previously played the 2007 Sundance Film Festival won over the Canadian audiences at CFC’s Worldwide Fest, including the Scottish 10-minute trailer-park comedy “Trout” by Johnny Barrington, Tom Harper‘s 10-minute teenage gang lord drama “Cubs,” and Daniel Mulloy‘s eight-minute dysfunctional adult family drama, “Dad.”

World-premiering at Worldwide was the wonderfully-titled “The One and Only Herb McGwyer Plays Wallis Island,” James Griffith‘s 24-minute rock and roll fable written by and starring Tom Basden and Tim Key. “Herb McGwyer” also won Best British Short Film at the 2007 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

“Soft” director Simon Ellis also had another short at the Canadian festival, “A Storm and Some Snow,” a two-minute experimental piece about the weather. “A Storm and Some Snow” previously played Tampere. A very personal film selected by the Worldwide programmers is “My Life at 40,” Royal College of Art animator Laurie Hill‘s eight-minute rumination on how his childhood-self pictured his adult-self as “a suave Lamborghini-driving conservationist, and world authority on Anglerfish, of course.” Hill also has another childhood-remembrance short, the 10-minute “My First Taste Of Death,” which played LA Shortsfest.

And perhaps the silliest of all the British shorts played both Palm Springs and Los Angeles: Kengo Kurimoto‘s six-minute “Yoga Noga Reyoga; The Enlightenment Competition,” which is (in the words of the filmmaker) “a computer-generated animated short about two young monks’ somewhat shambolic attempt to find peace and unity.”

Immature monks, Bob Geldof tribute artists, and hooligans beaten back with a cricket bat, this is what you miss if you don’t keep up with the newest voices of British cinema. Can’t wait to see what next year’s crop will bring.

[Kim Adelman is the author of “The Ultimate Filmmaker’s Guide to Short Films.”]

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