Edinburgh 2014: Shorts strand review

Edinburgh Film Festival is renowned for showcasing the best new feature filmmaking talent and hosting premieres of new work by established directors, but what's less well known is the outstanding shorts programmes, curated by Lydia Beilby and her team of programmers. Though the Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival is frequently referenced as the best place to see quality short filmmaking in the UK, its arguably in the Scottish capital that the most carefully selected programmes are screened, with each collection of shorts curated to themes that emerge through the viewing process, ordered thoughtfully with attention to tone, length and aesthetics.

Of the seven programmes under the title Vistas, a selection aimed to 'lead the eye towards evocative landscapes and introduce(s) characters who are electrifying and mesmeric by turn', we caught Restless Memories and Light in Flux. Each programme was international in content, with work from Austria, Germany, Romania, Argentina, Greece, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, the US and the UK. Restless Memories included the latest film from Our Beloved Month of August and Tabu director Miguel Gomes. Redemption uses archive footage to create four fictional portraits of actual political figures, told in first person using a script written by Gomes and regular collaborator Mariana Ricardo. Gomes typical wit and dexterity with the blending of fact and fiction proved a strong opener to the programme. Next, Ana Johann's News of the Queen looked at generational interdependencies through performance, archive and documentary, centred on an exposed sound stage set, and props used both for their symbolism and aural qualities.

With The Muse, fashion photographer Tim Walker demonstrated the same combination of whimsical narrative and recognisable actors as in his 2010 short, The Lost Explorer. This time round, obsession with the unreachable comes in the form of British actor Ben Whishaw as a director obsessed with his departed lover, seen enraptured by footage from his last film about an enigmatic, but perilous mermaid. In keeping with a watery theme, The Fish Tamer (El domanor de peixos) by Roger Gómez and Dani Resines delightfully portrayed a lifetime of maritime appreciation, documenting the dedication of a land-bound sailor who trained a carp to eat from a spoon. Finally, the spirit of early Linklater emerged in Rectangibles by Colleen Kwok, which focused on the obsolescence of 8mm.

In Light in Flux, the celebration of analogue film continued, beginning with two reels of Bolex 16mm used to capture the pilgrimage of Patti Smith to the grave of Jean Genet to bury stones from the prison at Saint Laurent, a place sacred to the French writer. Smith's weary but sincere voice over narration conveyed both the rough and impulsive nature of the project, and the sense that this is just one of a lifetime of meaningful experiences. In Flying, Katharina Woll's Bela Tarr-inspired cinematography communicated a very human story of reaching out of the ordinary, and Noema by Christiana Perschon created a beautifully fluid portrait of an artist adjusting to new forms of expression, when eyesight becomes impaired, and the memory of gesture replaces the accuracy of perspective. Fresno by Leandro Listorti, in its frenzied cuts, depicted a riot of foliage - a three minute, 16mm, highly tactile exploration of nature.

Graminoids, in its silvery black and white cinematography made the invisible, visible as the wind passing over grass on Arthur's Seat, appeared like the waves of a rough sea, in a piece in which image and sound are composed seamlessly together to rapturous effect. Light in Flux concluded with Perennial Plants by Roxana Stroe, another black and white effort and a film within a film in which the premise of an elderly woman inviting a film crew into her home to protest the usurping of her burial plot by local officials, reveals at set-up where the construction of narrative is playfully exposed. With such exceptional work on display, the shorts programmes at Edinburgh are often the best place to see truly innovative new filmmaking, with plenty more to see over the festival's closing weekend including Ethics (29 June, 18:30), which promises experimental documentaries that 'open a space for personal reflection'.

The 68th Edinburgh Film Festival takes place from 18-29 June 2014. For more of our EIFF coverage, follow this link.

Harriet Warman


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