Short films with big pictures: the collection
Two online archives of shorts, from biopics to animation, showcase the genre’s potential to innovate and subvert.
Random Acts, Channel 4’s innovative short film programme, is a tricky animal to classify. It’s ostensibly a television series, collating handfuls of disparate short films into weekly half-hour episodes, but cinematic in spirit and scope. However, it’s online, where the films are archived following their TV premiere, that the youth-targeted project has really prospered. Not many people may be watching at midnight when the episodes first hit the airwaves, but the bite-size individual films (none longer than four minutes) are perfectly suited to streaming via social media. That they mostly hinge on stylistic novelty – the emphasis is on creative experimentation rather than standard scripted drama – helps the word of mouth along.
This year’s series started last Tuesday, kicking off on a particularly eye-popping note with German animator Brenda Lien’s Call of Cuteness, a witty, gruesomely imagined subversion of internet cat-video culture that may give the feline-inclined among us nightmares for a week.
Random is the operative word: that the series is geared mostly toward new talent lends it a spirit of suck-it-and-see browsing, though you’ll find the likes of a David Shrigley animation or a David Oyelowo Shakespearean reading nestled amid the unknown quantities. My favourite find so far: British animation duo Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling’s four-part cult item Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, a dark, deadpan, grimly philosophical sendup of children’s educational programming.
Short film tends to get short shrift in this column, so the return of Random Acts reminded me of another online goldmine I’ve been meaning to spotlight. The US-based Short of the Week is perhaps the biggest, brightest, most easily accessible shorts-oriented website around, living up to its straightforward name with a fresh weekly selection of films in a range of genres, adding to a free-to-view back catalogue of well over a thousand selections.
Slickly designed, it’s a less radical, more all-encompassing showcase for the form, with separate channels for drama, comedy, documentary, animation and sci-fi, with films accompanied by short, thoughtful critical essays. A nifty index allows you to look up films by thematic keyword, festival programming or country of origin (Botswana, for example, has one film compared with 981 from the US).
Selections range from high-profile Oscar winners such as Andrea Arnold’s mini-classic Wasp and François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy and Ludovic Houplain’s ingenious, corporation-baiting animation Logorama, to more buried treasure. I was transfixed by a chance discovery in American animator Andy Kennedy’s three-minute Slow Wave, which examines sleeping patterns and disturbances in eerie, abstract, entirely gorgeous fashion.
A section of “classics” (mostly at the modern end of the spectrum) lives up to its title, offering Todd Haynes’s essential, still startling Barbie-doll biopic Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, or Chris Marker’s endlessly referenced, imitated and analysed New Wave time-bender La Jetée.
Among the latest additions, meanwhile, any cinemagoers who recently caught and admired A Ciambra, Jonas Carpignano’s earthy, Roma-focused update of Italian neorealism, may be interested to check out the vivid, keen-eyed 2014 short from which the full film grew. (If anything, the short may be slightly superior.) It’s an example of how canny curation can make shorts and features – too often divided into separate houses – feed fluidly into each other.
New to streaming & DVD this week
(Drakes Avenue, 12) Placing deservedly high on many mid-year best lists, German film-maker Valeska Grisebach’s superb study of migrant worker tensions in rural Bulgaria brings something of a John Ford sensibility to modern European politics.
(Second Sight, 15) A good week for German film: this gargantuan, limited-edition box set of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s extraordinary 16-hour Döblin adaptation will be a major object of cinephile salivation.
(Universal, 12) Lion director Garth Davies suffers a second-film slump – albeit in very tasteful fashion – with this beautifully mounted, emotionally flat and only notionally feminist revision of the Passion.
Erase and Forget
(Mubi, 18) Streaming exclusively on Mubi, Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s strong, insightful documentary profile of Vietnam killing machine Bo Gritz works unexpectedly as a pointed critique of Trump-era politics.