Back in the spring/summer of 2020, which was last week (right?!) the impressively hard-working small team at Devon and Cornwall Film put together a brilliant film festival that was, of course, very much online and I was lucky enough to be invited to be a judge on a selection of films sent my way.
Below is my personal Top 3, and then reviews of everything I saw! There really was a wide range of topics covered, always with different and interesting ideas which tells me… the future of film is in very good hands, minds and eyes!
This is Part 1 of my reviews, with Part 2 covering even more indie films right here!
The Drop Off – Aden Barwick, 12 mins
Two guys hired to drive and get rid of a dead body for their violent boss. When something out this world occurs, they must think on their feet if they want to get out of this alive: https://vimeo.com/242589069
After a pounding title sequence in the veins of Nicholas Winding Refn or Harmony Korine, all neon and electronica scored, I was expecting something different but, happily, was still positively surprised, in what became my absolute favourite here.
A killer, comic short tale, a touch of Shaun of the Dead and an essence of Extra Ordinary (highly recommend the strange Irish supernatural comedy if you’ve not seen it), two likeable leads in Grant Lang and Tom Dixon offer us up an oddly captivating and mysterious enough story to really want to know what on Earth is going to happen next. Laughed out loud more than a few times, and honestly….I want a full film. Superb work from Robert Marshall, Aden Barwick and their team.
The Sunny Side of Pluto – Zoe Jones, 11 mins
Made as part of their Screencraft module at University, they were tasked with creating a 10-minute sci-fi film that had to be shot within a set they’d built and dressed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6fRq2kU6Wg&t=16s
I really didn’t know what was going on to begin with but considering Zoe Jones, and the whole team, built the set from scratch and created this strange, warm film within set perimeters, it’s got a unusual captivation throughout. Set on a spaceship, with humans and an android with a human voice-box, there’s tension, progression of narrative and even that ‘space-like’ distant humming to expand the emptiness outside the vessel. I liked the ‘my only space within space’ moment as well. This was ambitious and oddly honest, you feel like Jones is one to watch!
Undertow – Jack Hockaday, 11 mins
A male university student with aspergers syndrome is invited out for coffee by two female peers. As we get an inside look at his stream of consciousness, he struggles to find common ground with the girls, and begins to wonder what is more important: friendship or integrity? https://vimeo.com/307119711
Jack Hockaday’s short looks great and is also snappy, insightful, and smart. They put in an early disclaimer to say the main character is a look at Asperger’s syndrome for this specific character, and as they’re aware, this is an important distinction. It offers up a genuine, perceptive of how different people deal with their life day-to-day but with a comic undertone, but never understating the seriousness in equal measure. We take the literal, literal and this is a very watchable, and likeable, short film that’s frankly a pretty darn solid piece of work.
South of Here – Ryan Mackfall, 16 mins
A U.S. Marshal travels abroad to confront a Texas fugitive hiding in England.
Watch Exclusively with CP, your password is S0uth1 – https://vimeo.com/306559702
The cinematography (Ryan Sharpe) for South of Here is absolutely stunning, turning the Moor/heaths of Cornwall into a black and white world of its own, picking out every line of the country like a wrinkle in the face, and the opening sequence of the darkness creeping in across the screen is utterly compelling. Ryan Mackfall and Tim Seyfert’s interesting story is also set out of its usual habitat and felt a lot like the conclusion of a feature-film and the big finale. That being said, because it’s a short, I also felt some of the stand-off chat repeats itself a little bit and thus loses the natural tension built up by the beginning. There’s no faulting the actors involved though, you believe their journey and the additional open countryside and vastness of their surroundings adds to the occasion, sometimes with a literal echo of their angry confrontation. The only thing that knocked this out of the top choices is the slightly over-long conversation, as a few cut beats would have kicked up the friction, and maybe those scenery (dead plants and such) could have added to the story, considering the location, instead of being a separation. (If you like this, check out The Dig by Ryan and Andy Tohill)
Counsellors – Dom Lee, 3 mins
Four Counsellors try and help a man in love….
Oh man, Counsellors is SO MUCH FUN. I hadn’t seen this ‘til now but saw it won 2020’s Exeter Phoenix 48 Hour Film Challenge. Starting with a chap seemingly on a couch with their psychiatrist, it all seems quite normal and serious… until his love for lettuce is revealed and it’s a musical. Now, I’m not always a fan of these but Counsellors is so full of warmth and silliness, it’s impossible to ignore. Filled with an upbeat homage to his lettuce love, and a cabbage, you’ve got to experience it and admire everyone involved, plus Dom Lee directing and keeping the feel-good throughout.
Mass Perfection – Florence Brown, 7 mins
A collage film exploring the human quest for physical perfection and obsession with beauty
Florence Brown’s collage film piece really does build intelligently. At first I wasn’t sure if I’d connect, I love a good documentary and I was clambering for an interview/insight break, but the visuals and voiceover actually become a little addictive by itself. Merging archive shots of health-routines from the past, present and (possible) future, this story is all about our very vision of other individuals, and the question ‘can a person be perfect?’ in how they look.
Occasionally uncomfortable, because I personally dislike the obsession with beauty that some lose their lives to, but because of this, I wanted to hear more. I’d like to see this with interviews, some reflections from people on both sides of the beauty spectrum but one thing was clear: Browne has a natural talent for telling the story, alongside the clever timing and editing.
Delays Imminent – James Cotter, 7 mins
A drama with romantic themes and also tackles disability (ASD)
While Delays Imminent doesn’t have the most complicated theme at its heart, one of a boy and a girl, there is natural chemistry between the leads. While the synopsis mentions a look at ASD, I didn’t see a lot on display here (unless it felt too real to my life), despite it maybe alluding to something else happening, that we never fully learn about. Bar the awkwardness of the characters, which also feels quite normal in your teenage/late teenage years, this has a good intention at its centre.
Mantis – Benjamin Schweimler Ricca, 13 mins
A surreal, erotic thriller about sexual awakening and the duality between dreams and reality.
I was intrigued by the description of what’s to come but unfortunately didn’t feel that Benjamin Schweimler Ricca’s ever quite hits that promise. While it’s clearly representing the latter stages of a relationship, and the girl fantasising about another lover and possibly a more exciting life, I wasn’t really taken in by the supposedly surreal element.
They cut scenes by using different colour gels, white is basically every day and then pink/purple/reds are daydreams, but if anything, it’s not surreal enough for what it could be, especially when we’re talking about dreams/reality and the negotiation between the two. Potential but, for me, a little lacking in a sharper theme.
A Time and A Place – Samuel J Sellers, 7 mins
Set in late 1930s England. A classic English tale of madness and eccentricity in an aristocratic family.
Samuel J Sellers short looks great, he’s re-created the era cleverly, with the use of the South Devon Railway near Totnes, and it’s also well filmed but didn’t really fit my taste. If you’re a fan of the old-style English eccentric comedy, then you might find something interesting here but I just never attached to the characters, unfortunately!
Plymouth in Lockdown, Red Air Media inc Red Air Drones – 3mins
A unique look at Plymouth during the Covid 19 lockdown.
The unique part of this short, documentary-like film is that it’s drone footage of Plymouth during the current lockdown. It’s heavily scored, I didn’t know the piece but very post-apocalyptic in its approach and huge sound. I liked the start, opening in the old bombed-out Charles Church with all its eerie emptiness and concrete streets in the old centre of Plymouth. However, after that, we move to more shots of the city but with people dotted around, which takes away the drama it creates at the start and makes it become just normal drone footage of Plymouth on a quiet day, which really isn’t that exciting at all.