Documentary shorts | UK Film Festival 2014 | 17-21 November 2014

November 24th, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor


Unlike their feature film brethren, documentary filmmakers cannot rely so much on snazzy camera work and have to keep a closer eye on content. This proves to be an advantage looking at the short documentaries in competition of this year’s UK Film Festival.

SHAKESPEARE’S INTERMISSION by Diana Nilles, winner of the documentary section at this summer’s “Berlin Short Film Festival”, is a portrait of the “Intermission Youth Theatre” in London, where young people at risk of offending are rehearsing and performing in a church in South West London. Shakespeare plays are one of their favourites, since they reflect their own, conflict-ridden life – and performing “Romeo and Juliet” the cast can relate very much to the fights between the clans. But acting has somehow sobered some of the hot-tempered cast members up, leading them to a more reflective way of looking at their own street life. Whilst they all enjoy acting, some of them know, that there own demons are still not conquered. Nilles sensitively draws out the young actors, and her documentary profits from brilliant editing and an innovative camera work, dealing with the rather special light in the church. Overall, SHAKESPEARE is by far the most rounded outing making an impeccable entrance. ****

THE PENNINSULA directed by Hunter Abbey certainly deserves the prize for most original approach. It is a travel diary of a group of mature bikers from New Zealand who managed to get a visa for touring North Korea. Since visas are only granted for state visits, the streets they pass are flanked by waving officials and citizens alike, giving the group’s journey through the country a very absurdist feeling. In Pyongyang, the capital, this impression gets even stronger: the city is like a gigantic backdrop to a monumental film. Somehow set between the brutal architecture of the Nazis and the “Zuckerbäcker” style of Stalinism, this city is unworldly – dwarfing the bikers, who would stand out in any other environment, into total insignificance. Abbey catches scenes from the everyday life of the citizens, who are open and very hospitable. The camera work is brilliant, particularly the panoramic shots of the mountain landscape and the impressive images of the massive buildings in the capital. An impressive chronicle of a special journey. ***1/2

Louis Jopling’s THE WILL OF HENRY BOURNE suffers a little from a very laddish approach, trying to be funny when there is really nothing to laugh about. A group of young English lads discover a will by a Frenchman in a London office and set out to France to find the heirs. Jopling tries too hard to show how much fun the “boys” had, and neglects the finer points of the little tragedy unfolding during their search in France. **1/2

Just the oppositite can be said about SOCOTRA by Charles Cardelus, a very serious and in-depth portrait of the island of the same name in the Indian Ocean which is now part of Yemen. The island was often called “the place, which time forgot”, but Cardelus shows, that incredible changes have taken place in the last decades. Apart from technical progress, Muslim teaching has been taken on board and whilst women are still discriminated against, there are no witch-hunts any more as in the past, when women were killed or had to leave the community if they were accused of witchcraft. A floating camera catches the beauty of the place, keeping up the proportion between information and images. ***1/2

Finally, BIRDMAN by Sam Clarke is a short and very English portrait of his uncles Terry and Alan. Terry, who builds his own small planes, had suffered all his life from a kidney disease making him virtually the prisoner of a dialysis machine. Since his brother has donated him one of his kidneys, he has a new lease of life and has built a mini-version of the Spitfire. At the end, we see the two brothers setting off for the maiden flight. BIRDMAN, which won this years TRS award, is lovingly created and explores obsessive brotherly love and the pursuit of happiness in the air. The flying sequences are brilliantly handled and overall Clarke creates an idyllic but never cloying portrait. ***1/2 AS


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