November 12th marked the end of the 7th annual Aesthetica Short Film Festival; a Bafta recognised, 5 day cultural binge which takes place in and around the centre of York. Being a complete newcomer to the festival, but hearing it so highly recommended, I decided to enlighten myself and attend the opening day. This year, the 300 films screened were divided into genre, and then by themes within genres, with slots of shorts lasting around an hour and a half. The films were screened in 18 different venues across the city centre, so if nothing else, the festival is a lovely way to encounter tiny pockets of York you might never otherwise be exposed to ('1331' was my favourite example of this: a cocktail bar with a tiny 20-seater cinema upstairs making for incredibly intimate screenings). Since I was exposed to almost 30 films over the course of the day, I have compiled a short list of highlights, which hopefully convey a sense of the huge array of themes, styles and filmmaking techniques available to see from the festival.
After the Volcano
A reimagining of amateur film footage discovered in a number of archives in France, After the Volcano portrays a surreal universe in which humans must take to the forest after their village is threatened by natural disaster. Directed by Léo Favier, whose work revolves around the relationship between documentary and fiction, the film delightfully presents a comedic distortion of the real world into one of magic and fable. Reconstructing archival footage to melt around a new, dreamlike narrative, Favier employs the use of several narrators to drive the story in his own direction. The film constructs a picture of a quaint French community at once harmonious and disjunctive, with the vague sense of disconnect between found footage and fabricated sound enhancing the unreal sense of the film strangely and beautifully.
A seven year project born out of the garage of animator and filmmaker Astrid Goldsmith, Squirrel Island was my favourite film of the day. Concisely described by Goldsmith as ‘a stop-motion sci-fi action thriller about squirrel apartheid’, the film follows Dot, a grey squirrel, and her unlikely friend Mr Acorn as they navigate an island full of the grey squirrels' murderous red counterpart. With Goldsmith shooting on a 1969 Bolex film camera (Fuji Film announced just 4 weeks into the shoot that they were ceasing production of 16mm film, leading her to panic purchase every roll she could possibly find and store in a conventionally sized fridge) and creating all of the puppets, backdrops and sets herself, the result is an incredibly charming, bizarre mixture of sci-fi thriller and whimsical wildlife tale set in the woods. The film is at times an exercise in the endless possibilities of the manipulation of materials; Goldsmith creates virtually all of the special effects herself on camera using the likes of smoke bombs, gelatine and latex. Goldsmith’s talent is a respectable opponent to the world of CGI.
Several of the films shown at the festival are short flashes of brilliance; films which would be hard pushed to stretch beyond the 15 minute mark, but which employ their concepts precisely, and in the case of Einstein Rosen, hilariously. A Spanish film by director Olga Osorio, it is a succinct snapshot of summer in both 1980 and 2017, depicting one boy’s supposed discovery of a wormhole, and his older brother’s incredulous response. To hear children under the age of 10 discuss the intricate science behind such a phenomenon, especially if incorrectly, is always entertaining, and the sharp dialogue flitting between the two brothers is one of the film’s highlights. For me, the ability to watch the humorously competitive relationship between an older and a younger brother progress over several decades was equally as compelling as the prospect of the wormhole itself.
Alongside films screened over the 5 days, the festival offers masterclasses and industry talks, among opportunities to mingle with filmmakers during coffee mornings and drinks receptions. With dates already in place for next year’s event, the festival is set to return with another programme that truly celebrates the ingenuity of cinema.
'The Aesthetica Short Film Festival' took place from 7-12 November 2017 and will run again next year.