Monday, 15 September 2008

Sapporo Short Fest 2008

Annual events man, that's where it's at. Screw all this bi-annual, tri monthly, quad-weekly business; this weekend I ain't touching it unless it's got a 2008 on the end. Since this left me somewhat limited in my choice of activities, I decided to go to the Sapporo Short Film Festival.

The festival is split into many, many hour-and-a-half slots across six days, with the shorts split into vaguely thematic groups. Each selection is repeated a few times, and this year I managed to see three of the sets: Portraits, Imagination and the UK national selection (repreeeezentin'). It mostly takes place in the Toho Plaza cinema which is a great place, and it is staffed by super-nice, super-enthusiastic volunteers who are incredibly eager to welcome you and give you a copy of the festival programme and a voting slip and a questionnaire and... oh do you have a copy of the festival programme yet? Oh you do, and a voting slip and... oh you have that too.

I'm a goddamned liberal, white, middle-class fella so I could just eat this shit up all day. Still I reckon it was a pretty great affair all around, even though it started pretty rough as far as the films go (sheesh, that Thai transexual story...). By the end of the first selection we'd seen the eventual winner (a fantastic tragic love story called On The Line, directed by Reto Caffi, which it would appear is cleaning up this year) and we got to see last year's winning movie too as part of the UK selection. I didn't really do much digging to find this out, we ran into Motoi, who I know and who works for the film festival on the last day and he pointed all the winners and interesting ones out. Thanks Motoi (there's a picture of him down there pointing them out to Tara)! Some of the directors were there too, and they popped on stage before the screenings to say a few words about their films (through a translator), and there were plenty of talks and interviews that you could attend if you were so inclined.

Some movies suffered from the shoe-string budget on which they were clearly shot. I would imagine that so many short films are shot digitally now - it must be a way cheaper way of doing things, and it must encourage so many people to just try their hands at making films. But when it's was blown up on the cinema screen the digital grain can't help but detract a little from the movies' effect. Still the genius ones shone through. I really liked Not Available Today by Gustavo Taretto, which was quirky and romantic in a good way; and the gay Icelandic wrestling movie Wrestling by Grimur Hakonarson, which was just really good.

The movies that stood out, the really good ones were the ones that didn't feel like short films. I don't know if that sounds like a stupid, trite or obvious thing to say, but it's the best way I can think of to describe what elevated some of the movies above the others. So many short films rely on hideously melodramatic music to give the story the gravitas that it doesn't have time to gather naturally. A couple of otherwise good films were spoiled for me when the denouement was followed by a beautifully timed, poignant plink... plink... on the piano. And I'm coming to dread reading "surprise ending!" on the synopsis, because the surprise ending is invariably the most glaringly obvious thing a chicken with a metal plate in its head could have thought of.

Still the best ones really were excellent, in that they could do in 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes what some directors can't do in a two hour movie - tell a story well.

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