Exeter Phoenix‘s #TwoShortNights film festival began on Thursday (18th) and runs through to 26th February. This wonderful independent film festival celebrates the best of indie filmmakers and so much more. As part of their coverage this year, I was lucky enough to view two (out of five in total) of their film themes ahead of the festival, with each theme containing a selection of submitted short films from very talented up and coming filmmakers.
Originally published on the Exeter Phoenix website, it felt right that these reviews were also shared on my website, to give the films as much coverage as they can and I definitely urge you to head over there now and watch them in full for yourselves:
In Second Chances and Altered Perceptions (head here for those), you’ve got a veritable banquet of original storytelling that stretches across every medium of film, with all kinds of degrees of insight, uniqueness and originality. While there’s always a slight variation in the level of quality, depending on what equipment and production backing (money!) you have going into a short film, I always find they represent all walks of life, offering personal stories and creating new worlds to dive into, and this collection is no different.
Whether it’s a change of heart, a shot at redemption or just a big night out, sometimes life offers you a second chance. The real question is, will you take it?
Shorts #4: Second Chances
What in the World – Jamie Fraser, 2019, UK, 13 mins
Driving down a country lane and lost in a world of loud, classical music, Tom Meeten’s character is stopped on the road by an outwardly happy-go-lucky young lady (a charming turn from Charly Clive), who wants him to photograph her stood next to her car. It’s a strange request, of that there’s no doubt, but he obliges. While you’re a little suspicious of her intentions, things take a turn for the peculiar as she reveals why she’s there and what she’s commemorating. No spoilers from me but Fraser’s short is unexpectedly compelling, touching, full of secrets and funny moments, all wrapped up in a welcomingly weird and dark stylistic. Also starring Branden Cook, I relished it. (P.S. Meeten is an indie legend – See him The Ghoul.…)
Girl’s Night – Ismay Bickerton, 2020, UK, 4 mins
This partly-animated short film tells it tale through the medium of lips layered over real-life flowers in a garden. As the title implies, it’s a brief encounter where a group of young women talk about things they’ve done in their lives, including their views on men’s hairstyles and facial hair choices, and it’s all in the guise of spending the night in each other’s company. They discuss things from their past, their future and have quick jibes at each other. While I’m unsure if this is natural or scripted, it feels like the latter and is a little disjointed. However, they hit the target of what they’re aiming for, even if there’s not much depth to unearth.
Newbie – Ieuan Coombs, 2019, UK 14 mins
Newbie has a lot of promise, and some fun ideas, but is somewhat let down by a dated guitar score, which distracts and doesn’t add to the story. While we follow a young burglar who is robbing a house at the same time as another one, this element seems like it’s coming before it happens. Having said this, the central story has the bones of something greater. Cut a few minutes, take out excessive swearing and bulk up the script with quicker one-liners between lead pair Sam Adamson and Nick Delvalle, who work well when there’s more of that going on, because once it kicks off, it’s much sharper and with those few tweaks, you’ve heightened its conviction.
S*!T – Simon Wegrzyn, 2020, UK, 2 mins
After a guy (Liam Ballantyne) follows a girl home that he shouldn’t, he wakes to find himself outside of his body and in a ‘spiritual’ gateway with Laura Evelyn’s character questioning him. With decisions to make, this micro-short gets right to the point with a deeply satisfying outcome, and full of the right relevance. This is how you make an impact in two minutes. Superb.
Pile Poil (By A Hair) – Lauriane Escaffre & Yvonnick Muller, 2018, France, 20 mins
Set in a world of manicure, pedicure, and a butcher’s shop, we follow Madeleine Baudot’s Elodie who works with her Dad (Grégory Gadebois) in the family business but is also studying to become a beautician, and clearly has her mind on other things. In an early sequence, she heads to a gig in a local venue on the hunt for something, but we don’t know what until later. This is an incredibly well-told story and one I don’t want to spoil. It’s intriguing from the very start, filmed in a way that makes you feel part of what’s going on, and gives Elodie and her Dad huge depth of character. Not only is the Father/Daughter relationship effortlessly natural, but there’s also a wealth of invention in the storytelling, great performances and an equal measure of comedy and tenderness. Absolutely adored it.
2025: The Long Hot Winter – Jake Lancaster, 2019, UK, 9 mins
At first, especially after 2020, this is a bit of a kick in the ‘aaah, the sunny outdoors’ but, here’s the twist, this narrative is set in the winter of 2025, where the sun is out, the UK is hotter than Spain and everyone is loving it… aren’t they? There’s little doubt of Lancaster’s underlying climate change storyline but as this is sold as a documentary and is told via interviews with groups of friends in various locations, you’re encouraged in to listen to their stories. While most discussions appear to say about lovely the weather is, each conversation lingers around the reality of the situation and just as it gets serious, the characters are distracted, which is very shrewd. This is a new perspective, which is welcome. Well filmed, interesting subjects, clever cinematography. If we ignore Climate Change, it’ll just go away, right?
Satanic Panic ’87 – Bryan M. Ferguson, 2019, UK, 4 mins
Starring Arran Totten, Yuki Sutton, Amy Clydesdale, and Yoshie Campbell, this horror is an 80s-inspired nightmare that kicks things off with animal sacrifice but if you’re squeamish, don’t worry, you don’t see that, just the blood. After that, we’re thrown into a heavy-metal-accompanied family story of secrets, devil worshipping and neon-clad-aerobic-workout-demons. It’s utterly mad, it’s undoubtedly surreal and disturbing but Ferguson doesn’t waste a moment of creating this world, which gets right to the point with every visual.
Anna – Dekel Berenson, 2019, UK, 15 mins
In the second short film with butcher connections, but this time set in Ukraine, we follow Anna (Svetlana Barandich) who works at a local meat factory and leads a simple life, living with her daughter Alina (Anastasia Vyazovskaya). It’s indicated she’s a kind soul because she leaves meat for wild dogs on her walks home, especially beneficial in cold weather. After hearing an advert about American men coming to town to look for partners, she signs up in the hope of something a little more exciting. Although Anna isn’t what they usually look for in these types of things, as suggested by the women who interviews her, she gets involved anyway. When the moment comes though, it’s as weird as you’d expect, Berenson’s film is very probably a comment on a nasty nature of American’s (or anyone) with too much money thinking they can buy what they want, and probably do what they want as well. It could also be a statement on the huge differences between these cultures, where people can be matched up and promised things that might not be true. Barandich in the lead is outstanding, this is a gritty lens but with a thoughtful, honest projection and one to ponder over for sure.