Since when did ‘Shorts on Tap’, the East London based showcase of short film wonderment get so popular? Tuesday night – no football on the telly; that’s one explanation. Word of mouth and it’s free? That is another. As I sunk into the judges’ two-seater sofa for the third time (grazie, Filippo) young people started appearing at my feet. Surely, my co-judge, award-winning filmmaker and qualified sky-diver, Boris Thompson-Roylance, was not some sort of deity? No, there was no room anywhere else. It felt more like a sleepover than a movie screening. Pass the Horlics, Pia!
Pia was Pia Jackson, our mistress of ceremonies, complete with top hat and shimmering jacket. Since when did ‘Shorts on Tap’ have a compere? If I told you the short films featured such noted talent as Toby Jones (THE HUNGER GAMES), Karl Johnson (Derek Jarman’s THE TEMPEST) Edward Tudor Pole of THE GREAT ROCK AND ROLL SWINDLE, I hope my readers in the UK will be impressed.
This time there were four judges, myself, Boris, whose 12 minute short film, ‘Santuario del Collell’ won last time out, Melanie Reed, founder of Fliqio, a short film sharing website and Valeria Bullo, a production co-ordinator whose credits include MALEFICENT and the forthcoming MAD MAX – FURY ROAD (colour thee impressed). Valeria didn’t sit with us. That’s cool. She had been working for seventeen hours that day. I just came from a school meeting and had earlier scalded my mouth on a Sainsbury’s cottage pie. No apology necessary.
The theme was ‘Autumn Leaves’. I know – show some grey folk wandering about thinking about mortality and get old Larry to judge them. I have had an actual death experience (cardiac arrest) and I can tell you that it is over-rated; you simply wake up with fewer teeth.
If there was a theme that united the seven films, it was parents and children: a daughter recalling her mother in Elcid Asaei’s ‘Sun Up Sun Down’, an older man (Edward Tudor Pole) worried about his daughter in Steven Rosam’s ‘The Man on the Moor’, a young man burying his father in Ruth Meehan’s ‘The Measure of a Man’, a teacher recalling one particular boy in Marinella Setti’s ‘Sea Change’ (OK, not his parent, but an encouraging adult figure). Many of the films dealt with memory, notably Jeremy Willmott’s ‘Jonah’ about an old woman with an artificially implanted memory of the young man she loved; this featured a stunning visual effect of figures on a still photograph held by one character being alive (an image inside an image). The most stunning moment in any of the movies was the climax of Amy Coop’s ‘Epitaph’, Karl Johnson tap-dancing on his former entertainer partner’s grave. The most perplexing – and intentionally so – was Ben Roper’s ‘All of Time’, which consisted of a series of short scenes – exclamations, really – made by a young woman to a man whom we never hear speak. The final shot has the woman on a crossing; the camera reverses away from her, leaving her behind. This was ‘leaves’ as a verb rather than a collective noun. I remarked to Mr Roper than it reminded me of a trailer - all highlights designed to tease rather than images arranged for coherence.
Our job was to agree the best three films. For those interested in award ceremonies – and that excluded most of the audience as they left straight after the final film – here’s how the judging went. We all named our top three films. One film ‘Epitaph’ got four votes. We were all bowled over by the final image – the story is of an old hoofer visiting the grave of a dear departed entertainer, though why he missed the funeral is beyond me. Next with three votes was ‘The Man on The Moor’. The judges responded to the odd encounter between a man going for a walk into his own personal wilderness and an old fellow lying on the ground, who gives him some parting words of wisdom. ‘Jonah’, ‘Sea Change’ and ‘The Measure of a Man’ got two votes each (sorry, Mr Asaei). We had to pick one final film from these three?
‘What criteria should we use?’ asked Valeria, reasonably. In my role as chair (or my role squashed in a chair) I suggested that we judge on the basis on the film’s visceral impact rather than technical merits, acting, cinematography, etc. ‘Jonah’ was ruled out (sorry, Mr Willmott). That left ‘Sea Change’ and ‘The Measure of a Man’. ‘Sea Change’ was one of my favourites. It told the story of a teacher (Jo Hartley) on her last day at school being locked in and meeting a guide who gives her an experience that is part-CHRISTMAS CAROL, part-GRANGE HILL and part-ZOMBIE APOCALPYSE (well, the kids play at being undead in one scene). She realises that she wasn’t a failure at all. ‘The Measure of a Man’ was set mostly in a tailor’s shop and featured the memorable image of a young man lying next to strips of brown paper representing his father’s body. In death, there is forgiveness. For this image, ‘The Measure of a Man’ was the third of our top three. ‘Sea Change’ got an honourable mention, which I was proud to deliver.
What of ‘Sun Up Sun Down’? This featured a lot of ‘s’ words, say my notes: ‘sand’, ‘shell’, ‘sunrise’, and ‘sewing machine’. These were important because the film was dedicated to a woman, Silvia. A young woman sits in her flat and looks at a sewing machine. Suddenly her mother is there. She is sewing a white dress for a small girl; she puts the dress against the girl’s body to check the fit. In a memory-scape, the adult woman holds hands with her mother. The image fades. We see graves. I would have preferred the mother’s passing to be represented by a line of the daughter’s dresses from childhood to a final black dress, rather than the image that Asaei arrived at. Nevertheless, his sincerity is real. He crafted a heartfelt homage.
After that, anything else is an anti-climax. I conversed with the couple who brought a picnic rug to a movie screening, Ben and Jo. Ben asked the most questions of any audience member, mostly about music. He was a fan of techno, that’s real techno not the supermarket stuff. When I enquired about exponents of this form of music that one might admire – he told me about New Year’s Day parties that bled into 2 January – he was reluctant to name and praise. I couldn’t find anyone he mentioned on google though Jo, a sculptor, mentioned Adam Beyer (a remix of ‘Let’s Go Dancing’ is apparently ‘big’).
Larry Oliver goes techno? I wouldn’t know what to do with my scarf.
Shorts on Tap ‘Autumn Leaves’ took place at Cafe 1001, Brick Lane, East London on Tuesday 11 November; filmmaker Boris Thompson-Roylance is available to film sky-diving sequences for the next James Bond film