Matters of gravity

A report with some thoughts on this year’s Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival has been posted at Little White Lies. A few more:

Last year, when Encounters announced a move from November to September to enhance awards eligibility for the films being shown, it looked like part of the constant jockeying for position among film festivals, a subterranean grapple that sometimes breaks into view now there seem to be three festivals every week of the year.

But since then a larger picture has also emerged from the political fog, an overhaul of Britain’s international film festivals that’s closely tied to the BFIs funding review. During the consultation process the Institute has made positive noises about the security of the four headline international festivals — London, Edinburgh, Sheffield and Bristol — and even more positive noises about the likelihood of a network of regional hubs to be the focus of activity once the funding dust settles.

Bristol’s Watershed must surely be on the inside track for a place at that table. The BFI is unveiling the final figures imminently, and at Encounters there was conspicuous optimism from some who sit where Encounters and Watershed overlap, who are no doubt in a position to read the tea leaves. The truth will emerge shortly.

Even if the daylight hours hadn’t shifted, Encounters would still have felt different this year, since newly installed live-action programmer Gaia Meucci steered the line-up in a subtly different direction. Out, for the most part, went that sub-set of short films backed by larger production companies featuring bigger names. There were exceptions — Care made by Warp Films with Gina McKee as a conflicted District Nurse was one — but nothing to match the regular appearances of people like Michael Fassbender and Jonathan Caouette and Matthew Holness and Chloë Sevigny and Tony Grisoni that characterised last year.

This time round the programme tilted towards the earnest. Nothing wrong with that as a guiding principle; short-form filmmaking attracts serious minds with serious things to say, and Encounters featured several talented artists doing just that in animation and live-action. But laughter, actual unforced fun, was harder to come by than it had been.

Notes From Underground, Isabella Eklöf’s film about a Danish paedophile with a young girl in his cellar, divided audience opinion — I was pro; others were emphatically not — but more to the point the film would not, I think, have appeared in a daytime screening slot in the international programme of Encounters previously. It wouldn’t have fitted well in the festival’s late-night sections either, which tend to go for genre shorts and exercises in excess rather than authentically challenging material.

I’m not sure Old Encounters would have known what to do with it, not that that’s automatically criticism. New Encounters knew exactly what it wanted to do with it, not that that’s automatically praise. In either case, the festival is evolving, along with the film infrastructure around it.

One exception to everything I just said. Till Nowak’s The Centrifuge Brain Project involves an engineer designing fairground rides unhindered by the laws of physics. If only the High Altitude Conveyance System, a ride so complex that one circuit took 14 hours, could really be built; and if only people could sometimes miss their exit and have to go round again. I’d be laughing for a week. I laughed for nearly a week anyway when I realized that the scientist, who looks like he might be related to Professor Denzil Dexter of the University of Southern California, is actually played by the man who really is HR Giger’s US agent. Beat that.

Up next Paul Grist interview (This interview with Paul Grist was originally destined for another venue and presented here as-is, house style and chronology intact.) The first Terry Gilliam vs Pauline Kael “…If you don’t respond to Sam Lowry’s plight, the picture has no core, but it’s hard to worry about whether somebody will get killed if he doesn’t
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