Glasgow Short Film Festival has established itself as one of Scotland’s most consistently interesting and ambitious film festivals, through an imaginative programme with an international reach.
Short films often – essentially – break down into two kinds – short narrative films made by younger directors as calling cards into the industry, which may often repeat the sins of le cinema du papa, on more straitened means; and films which take advantage of the flexibility and commercial freedom of the form to strike out on their own, and find new means of expression. For this type of film, length isn’t about how much you can afford to shoot, but how much duration you need to best express yourself and make your point.
Since we’re dealing here with radical film, we’ll be looking at the latter, a form of short film which this festival champions. Indeed, the first film I was supposed to see, Kevin Jerome Everson’s Park Lanes, lasts eight hours, making the longest short film I’m aware of. An attempt to simulate the experience of work, I took the day off work to try and see it, only to miss it by trying to catch up on my own work. Everson has kindly sent me the film, which sits ominously in my inbox – maybe I should watch it in the office.
Kevin Jerome Everson’s Park Lanes
Everson himself was one of the absolute highlights of the festival, holding court in his inimitable, brutally frank and funny fashion on aesthetics and politics. The first programme of his films I saw were an intriguing set of what, at first glance, appear to be fairly conventional, if poetic, documentaries exploring aspects of African- American life, mainly work and historical memories of the great migration from the country to the cities. Everson, however, brilliantly turns some cliched tropes of documentary on their head. If many docs, however well-meaning, condescend to their subjects and can inadvertently turn them into victims, Everson encourages his subjects to play and imagine aspects of their lives, so that the viewer is subtly disorientated, and unaware of exactly what’s true or false, even while the films feel utterly authentic to their subjects. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in Fe26, a droll day out with some ex-gang banger metal thieves stealing manhole covers – actually sculptural props made by Everson himself. As he brilliantly puts I, he wants to make films where the people onscreen are smarter than their audiences.
One of the most prolific filmmakers currently working in the States, other programmes investigated other aspects of his practice, such as Sugarcoated Arsenic, a recreation of the discourse around race at Southern universities in the 70s, or IFO, a lyrical documentary about African- American encounters with UFOs. The man himself is as brilliant and wide-ranging as is films, leading one of the liveliest masterclasses I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.
Kalampag Tracking Agency – Rust
Everson claims to have no kinship with current American cinema, and to feel far closer to the extraordinary work coming out of the Philippines at the moment. Certainly, with their interest in duration and use of real people to pay testimony to their histories, to create a new kind of political cinema, Everson and Lav Diaz have something in common. The evolution of Filippino cinema was brilliantly explored in Kalampag Tracking Agency, a a#collection of avant-garde shorts form the late 80s to the present, that was something of a revelation. Kalampag is Tagalog for ‘bang’, and these films live up to the description. As the Marcos regime was crumbling and the country falling into chaos, the Goethe Insitut was funding young Filippino directors to create some of the most subversive work imaginable. What the German connection is, I don’t know, but directors of the stature of Harun Farocki and Werner Schroeter were filming and teaching there, and the films live up to their example. Roxlee’s ABC is a brilliant animated attempt to imagine the alphabet, as scatological as it is rebellious. Cesar Hernando, Eli Guieb III & Jimbo Albano collaborated on Rust, a found footage film cutting together violent, sometimes pornographic images from exploitation films into one of the most ferocious anti-colonial tirades I’ve seen. The contemporary work just didn’t have this anger or energy, but it’s always a pleasure to see films by the likes of Raya Martin.
Two things that GSFF does very well are to represent Scottish work, and put on gigs. A programme of no-budget Scottish music videos by Blueprint showcased a variety of work, some of it more no-budget than others – that Mogwai vid looked pricey, for a start. While the quality of these varied wildly, its always a pleasure to see and hear Sacred Paws’ Everyday.
This was originally to be a gig for Franco-Scots band Babe, but they couldn’t make it, so Glasgow’s Pleasure Pool stepped into the breach. One of the most mysterious bands in the city, in that they absolutely refuse to use social media, or have an internet presence, they’re also becoming one of the most talked-about. Their set at Civic House effortlessly demonstrated why; frontman Andrew Robertson a magnetic presence as he lurched and flailed over a punk funk soundscape modulated by keyboardist Finn O’Hare’s intricate electronics. You’ll be hearing much more of them, not least at Radical Film Network, where they’ll be performing a new live soundtrack for a rare Pierre Clementi film.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul addresses his audience
The most anticipated event however, had to be the all-night screening of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s shorts. Apichatpong is a filmmaker who relishes shorts as much as he does features, and his SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL at Rotterdam Film Festival was one of this year’s most talked-about cinematic events, a continuous screening of his films in an environment designed to provoke a dreamlike event in the viewer, where the sounds and visuals would resonate on a subliminal level, exploring different modes of consciousness. The Glasgow screening was more low-key, and only had to rely on beanbags rather than a custom-built installation, but was still pretty dreamlike. Apichatpong couldn’t attend the festival, but provided a filmed introduction to get spectators in the mood. These shorts ranged over all his career and thematic concerns, filmed in various formats from more elaborate 16mm films to digital fragments. Apichatong himself was often an engaging presence in the films, whether joshing with guys in the back of a truck or hunting down a mythical vampire bird in the jungle. The cumulative effect was as intoxicating and languorous as all of his work, and while the films did tend to blur into each other in a hazy fever dream, some did individually stand out.
A Letter to Uncle Boonmee
Originally presented as part of an installation, Primitive, this is one of the greatest short films of the century, an investigation into memory on the site of a massacre of Communist insurgents in the 60s, where ghosts and monkey spirits haunt the peripheries. This would, of course, be the springboard for one of his most celebrated films, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, testimony to the fertile dialogue that can exist between short avant-garde films and more mainstream, commercial work.