Abertoir Part 2: The Short Film Competition

How It Worked

Three years in and my local Short Film Competition just hit the big time.  In recognition of the consistently high quality of entrants, Abertoir has become a part of the European Fantastic Films Festivals Federation.  From now on the winning film goes through as a nomination for the short film section of the prestigious Melies D’Or at the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival.

As Abertoir has grown the number of entries has flourished, with submissions coming in from people all over the world.  With so many competitors vying for position the cream of the crop had to be split over a two day period.  Those eligible for nomination were shown on the first day and those that did not fit the Melies D’Or criteria were shown on the second.  (There was no noticeable difference in quality, but rules are rules.)

Spectators could gain access for the princely sum of zero pounds and no pence, soak up the strange artistic visions in all their fanciful glory, and then feverishly cast their votes in the thirty-odd seconds breather between each film.  I have to say, as a cinematic experience it was a real treat to walk in and have absolutely no idea what I was about to see.  With the longest film a mere 19 minutes long it moved along at an energetic pace.  Props have to go to whoever pulled together the running order as well for the way they shook up the styles, themes and genres.  It kept things fresh and interesting throughout and made it a lot easier to judge each film on their own merits.

So much for the background, here are a few of the films that really stood out for me, with brief synopses and a few thoughts as to what made them successful.  Where they are available for you to access them (or trailers for them) I’ve put in links.  You may need to download a codec or other technical scary stuff, so sorry if you can’t watch all of these…

My Pick of The Bunch

Best of the Best

The Elemental dir. Robert Sproul-Cran – 12 mins – WINNER of Melies D’Or Short Film Nomination

In a decaying Scottish city block a woman forces herself to face the sick parents she’s neglected and a childhood terror that lurks still in the shadows at the bottom of the stairs.

Mixing kitchen-sink social commentary with gut-wrenching horror this was the most accomplished film by far.  Layering his themes of neglect and manipulation throughout the director manages to evoke his horror as much through the everyday as with his shock tactics and nightmare creature.

Manual Practico del Amigo Imaginario (Users Guide For Imaginary Friends, Abridged) dir. Ciro Altabas – 19 mins – WINNER of Abertoir Fantastic Short Film Competition

At a motivational conference for imaginary friends we learn the secrets of Captain Kiloton’s success and witness his decline and fall as romance blossoms for his Real friend.

A heart-warming and very, very  funny film.  I loved the relationship that the twenty-something everyman had with his childhood friend, Captain Kiloton.  The Cap himself is ridiculous, exactly the kind of hero a child would want but totally inappropriate for a grown man.  Think Drop Dead Fred – but actually good – with lovable characters and a fabulous sense of humour.  I would love to see a feature-length version.

Interview dir. Sebastian Marka – 19 mins

Alone a journalist interviews the man he believes to be a serial killer.  A moral maze, full of twists and turns.

This was a grower for me.  It started off unpromising and was undermined by some overly familiar elements, but gradually I found myself drawn in deeper and deeper.  The structure is complex, twisting your perceptions with each new reveal.  The one-upmanship is straight out of Silence of the Lambs, but with more rather more subtlety, and although the mystery box screamed Se7en at me I was flummoxed right up to the end.  The story as it unravels is simple but compelling and the acting is superb.

Beautiful and Disturbing

Les Besson del Carrer de Ponent (The Twin Girls Of Sunset Street) dir. Marc Riba, Anna Solanas – 13 mins

Animation depicting the kidnap of a small child by two cruel and warped women, what he sees and their ultimate fate.

I was blown away by this one.  The greyscale stop-motion was fabulous, the stylised characters quirky and creepy and the sets were beautifully designed.  Plumbing depths of cruelty and depravity that was genuinely chilling this had the tone of an historical crime rather than an invented horror, and it was made all the more creepy for being in a traditionally child-friendly format.

Ingravido (Weightless) dir. Oliver Kracht – 9 mins

Innocence begets tragedy as a young governess and her wards discover the beauty and danger in a forbidden fruit.

Sumptuous film set in what looks to be the nineteenth century.  It has the essence of a fairy tale, though no magic is evident.  There is something about the cinematography, something about the colour palette used, the costume, the symbolism that reminds me of the Brothers Grimm.  Giddy, enchanting, dark and haunting.  A film that stays with you, particularly if you are a parent.

Pokayoke dir. Timo Suomi – 15 mins

An intense and damaged young photographer stalks the city drawing inspiration from unlikely sources, and is in turn stalked by a shadowy figure.

Story-wise I was not especially overwhelmed but there was something in this east-european film that grabbed hold from the get-go.  The use of shadow and perspective really drew me in.  The photography, capturing moments of life, the sense of back-story built in through the dialogue and use of naturalistic actors all lent a reality to the piece which taken purely on story terms is a little bit hokum.

Laugh Out Loud

Choreomania dir. Louis Paxton – 9 mins

The medieval dancing plague hits Scotland in a surreal take on the zombie genre.  Social commentary and giggles in one.

I found myself grinning throughout this one, a movie that is so ridiculous and almost Benny Hill-style with its double-takes and comedy bosoms, yet it had real charm in its leading man and a sly wit behind it.  The technicolour rock’n’roll routine at the end was a bit of a surprise, but it brought a touch of class to a bit of silliness and wrapped it up beautifully.  Worth catching if you can, despite playing more like an extended gag than a proper story.

Dead Hungry dir. Will Bridges – 10 mins

Stylistic homage of American B-Movies, putting an incompetent zombie centre stage in a sweet and achingly funny quest for brains.

Hard to pin this one down really.  The first laugh was in a kind of choking horror but the rest came with a sense of hollow wryness as familiar situations are given the zombie spin.  To be honest most of the time I was thinking ‘you poor bastard,’ but there’s no denying them damn thing was funny.  The actors were wonderful, bringing pathos and a subtlety of emotion that I wouldn’t have previously thought possible to a walking corpse.  Body horror meets romance to the music of the screaming teens.

Nelly Et Lio dir. Etienne Langlois, Eric Reynard – 11 mins

Wacky stoner comedy bringing two girls and a serial killer together in a radio station.  There is running and lots of blood.  There is also the oddest case of animal magnetism you’ll see this year.

Really I don’t know what to say.  Every time I thought I knew what was going on it turned out I was wrong.  The gags are outrageous, the silliness infectious and the moose just gorgeous.  It was so different to anything else that was shown it just stuck in my head and won’t go away.  I‘ll never eat a bag of bon-bons again.

Honourable Mention

Lorraine dir. Julius Amedume – 15 mins

The new girl at school just wants to fit in, but she’s chosen the wrong crowd and things are about to get decidedly nasty.

I have to mention this one because it was simply so striking.  The schoolgirls involved are utterly believable – ordinary looking, foul mouthed, bad tempered and bitchy.  The way they torment the teacher, their classmates and each other was something that I’ve simply never seen on film before and yet chimed exactly with the kind of girls I was a school with – every inch the match of the boys.  How this fits in to Fantasy is unclear to me, unless it is simply the heightened sense of unreality that we share with Lorraine as events spiral out of her control.  Perhaps it is the gang leader acting out her own fantasy of revenge against her boyfriend?  However it fits in it makes for compelling drama and challengingly un-judgemental come the end.

That’s a Wrap

So, of the twenty-four entries these were the films that stood out for me.  For a full list of what else was on offer check out the Abertoir site.  If you are interested in submitting a film for next year’s competition please e-mail Gareth Bailey on [email protected] who will furnish you with details.

Finally if you’re interested in hearing about next year’s events as they are announced you can follow the festival on Twitter @AbertoirFest or badger me and I’ll post stuff up on GS.

That’s about it from Abertoir for now, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be back next year.  Who knows, with any luck some of you will join me there…

Until then I reckon I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to horror.  You should too.


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