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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 27.May.20

The Uncertain Kingdom: Volume I  
Reviews by Rich Cline | 1 of 2
The Uncertain Kingdom
prd Isabel Freer, Georgia Goggin, John Jencks
release 1.Jun.20
20/UK Verve 3h55

strong is better than angry
This commissioned collection of 20 short films includes fiction, documentaries and experimental work exploring the fractured nature of the UK. After the Brexit referendum in 2016, there's been a massive increase in hate crimes as well as everyday bigotry and prejudice, so these films touch on poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia. And with the coronavirus pandemic, coming after a decade of Tory-driven budget cuts to public services, health care and safety nets, these shorts take on an even greater urgency. Yes, most are pretty grim, but many offer fresh bursts of hope. See also: VOLUME II

Motherland dir Ellen Evans
with Ken Morgan, Tremayne Brown, AT
20/UK 13m


Motherland An intimate documentary, this short follows three British citizens who have been forcibly returned to Jamaica, where they were born. But none of them consider it to be their "home country", as they've lived in Britain for most of their lives. Each of them thoughtfully speaks about how difficult it has been for them to settle in a place that has never been their home, raising questions about their heritage and identity. Separated from friends and family, their stories are shocking. One young man was simply put on a plane, not allowed to pack or say goodbye, his passport revoked. An older man who is classified as part of the Windrush generation, supposedly guaranteeing the right to settle in the UK, was denied re-entry to Britain when he returned home.

The film is beautifully shot and edited into a visual stream of consciousness as these men thoughtfully recount their stories in voiceover. On-screen, they sit in quiet isolation, exiled from home, treated as foreigners by the locals. The film also includes an account of Britain's history in Jamaica, grabbing the island nation in the 17th century, using slaves to strip it of resources, then leaving it undeveloped. And it seems that little has changed, as the British government thoughtlessly makes decisions that destroy peoples' lives, leaving them no options at all. This film is an eye-opening depiction of the reality of Tory immigration policy, and a powerful plea for compassion.


Acre Fall Between dir-scr Antonia Campbell-Hughes
with Mark O'Halloran, Antonia Campbell-Hughes
20/UK 12m

Acre Fall Between  

Acre Fall Between There's a dreamy tone to this Northern Irish short odyssey, which grows increasingly haunting as it continues. A man (O'Halloran) is trying to get home to his wife and kids, walking along the highway after his car breaks down. But when he arrives in his small town, it's oddly deserted. As is his house, apart from the family dog. He discovers that not only has his wife's phone been disconnected, but the livestock has vanished from local farms, as if everything was gone in an instant. But he keeps looking, desperately.

Skilfully shot in dramatic locations with spectacular landscapes, deep woodland and angry seas, the endless emptiness makes the film feel like a post-apocalyptic thriller about a man and his dog. As they get to the ocean, this man makes a couple of strange discoveries that are clearly loaded with meaning. Although it's unclear what the message is here, aside from perhaps a comment on how the earth will recover from the horrible things humans do to it. And it can also perhaps be read as a parable about the impact of Brexit.


Camelot dir Alison Hargreaves
with Kurtis Baldwin, Ryan Bethell-Davies, Cohan Edwards, Cody Harris, Harley Harrison, Finley Jones, Keith Jones, Ethan Thomas, Raith Williams
20/UK 12m


Camelot Loose and very vague, this documentary short is set in a primary school in the Rhymney Valley, Wales. It opens with unintelligible narration by a young child before following kids around their homes, in the streets and on to their school, where they are putting on a play about King Arthur and the sword in the stone. Their parents and/or teachers also provide muddily recorded voiceovers that are impossible to make out.

There are some lovely shots of the kids in the surrounding countryside, including fields, woods and ponds, as well as onstage. And the play itself is awesome, hilariously rendered with spark and energy by these bright young students. It explores some salient ideas about destiny, asking whether it's pre-set for us or if we can choose our own, which is a fascinating concept to explore through a child's eye. But the film is edited to distraction, cutting between the play and outdoor adventures, accompanied by badly recorded narration and some random vox pops. There are very strong ideas in here, and clearly some great material, but it's difficult to pry any meaning out of what we see on-screen.


Ernie dir Ray Panthaki
scr Ray Panthaki, Simon Fantauzzo
with Paul Kaye, Steven Berkoff, Ossian Perret, Modupe Adeyeye, Hester Ruoff, Ruhthie Choudhary, Jaden Tucker, Freddie Smith, Alexander Mackenzie
20/UK 21m


Ernie Despite very high production values, this short looks very grim and feels even worse. It's so relentlessly downbeat that it's difficult to watch, even as it addresses a series of hugely important issues. The story centres on Ernie (Kaye), a lonely and jittery school janitor. It's understandable that the students freak him out, because back home his imperious, dying father Arthur (Berkoff) makes his life hell. Arthur is a raging bigot who has thrown his "African" carer out of the house. No wonder Ernie is terrified to come out to him, hiding his sexuality by hooking up in secret with a rent boy.

Where this story goes is informed by riotous clashes on the television in the background, because all of this is taking place during the campaign for the Brexit referendum. Britain's health care system is already failing due to Tory budget cuts, immigrants are being callously thrown out of the country and prejudice is surging in the streets. Amid the film's relentless nastiness, there are moments of tenderness, but the overall effect is deeply chilling, with added wrenching sadness and a drift toward violence. And the most worrying thing of all is that it's starkly truthful.


Swan dir Sophie King
scr Sian Docksey, Sophie King
with Mark Addy, Sally Bretton, Kirsty Bushell, Mark O'Sullivan
20/UK 8m


Swan A sarcastic comical satire, this short makes us laugh at its outrageous absurdity but also carries a serious thematic kick in the way it explores the idea of patriotism. It centres on Ian (Addy), who has achieved the level of "Advanced British Citizen" after taking a UK immigration challenge. As a prize, he gets to be transformed into a swan. His wife Donna (Bretton) is fully supportive of him, although she's also clearly dubious. And Ian's friend Ted (O'Sullivan) is so proud. To prepare, Ian switches to a grain-based diet ("Lots of variety!") and wonders about the details of his new life, such as what kind of footwear swans use ("Can I wear socks and sandals when I'm a swan, like some sort of vegan?").

The film is shot and edited like a mock-documentary, with expert production values across the board. And each of the actors adds hilarious touches to his or her role, including little glances at the camera that acknowledge how ridiculous all of this seems. But it isn't until the final moments that the pastiche takes on its razor-sharp meaning. Sophie is annoyed that Ian doesn't want to travel outside Britain when he's a swan, so maybe they should delay the transition to work out the details. But transition means transition!


Strong Is Better Than Angry dir-scr Hope Dickson Leach
with Morayo Akande, Michelle Scott, Sibyl Adam, Mandy Thomas, Camilla Anvar, Kasia Prochalska, Nicole Brandon, Odile Mbias Gomes, Loretta Dunn, Elaine Gallagher
20/UK 11m

Strong Is Better Than Angry  

Strong Is Better Than Angry Beautifully shot with a focus on a group of wonderfully full-of-life women, this documentary short cleverly captures the zeitgeist of this moment in British history, hinging on the question, "What makes you angry?" Opening with a series of faces talking about seriously terrible people, the imagery expands to reveal that these women are in a kickboxing gym, venting their rage at the system on a punching bag with David Cameron's face. Their main frustration is at how this government has taken advantage of the most vulnerable in society: the poor, the migrants, ethnic minorities and women.

Best of all is the burst of optimism, as these gorgeously resilient women speak about taking on the challenges and finding peace in overcoming them. The point is that anger is crippling, and that it forces all of us to make a choice about how we will respond. So if we don't allow it to crush us, anger can make us stronger. With ace camerawork by Kirstin McMahon and a terrific score by Marty Hailey, filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach assembles this with a superb sense of attitude and humour, offering hope at a time when life often feels overwhelmingly difficult. And it leaves us feeling empowered, pondering who we would like to punch.


British People dir Lab Ky Mo
scr Ming Ho
with Jennifer Lim, Siu Hun Li, Pik-Sen Lim, Lynn Hu, Christopher Huong, Jan Le, Zannah Hodson, Gary Webster
20/UK 13m

British People  

British People Jane (Lim) isn't running for office because she wants to to become the first female British-Chinese MP, she wants to be taken seriously as a Conservative candidate. But her liberal brother Jun (Li) feels like she has lost a sense of her identity and what her candidacy means. Their wryly matter-of-fact mother Linda (Pik Sen Lim) is annoyed by their bickering, and also that Jane has planned her wedding based on her campaign, while Linda is visiting family in Hong Kong. Linda can see that Britain has changed in the decades since she came here, with more open bigotry in the streets. And Jun thinks Jane needs to speak up for immigrants.

Shot on a budget in a hard-edged verite style, the film intercuts a bit abruptly between the present and a school incident when they were children, as Jun (Huong) stuck up for Jane (Hu) when she was in trouble. Each conversation feels extremely pointed, such as when they discuss their accents: from Scotland, the actor Jun says he'd only use a posh English accent if the part demands it, to which Jane replies that being a candidate demands it. The opposite approaches these siblings take to their ethnicity is fascinating, even if it feels overloaded into this short drama.


Grit/Oyster dir Rebecca Lloyd-Evans
with Erica Russell, Francesca Walsh, Liberty Antonia Sadler, Olivia Norris
20/UK 16m


Grit/Oyster This experimental short combines documentary elements with fantasy. It opens with the return to earth of Astarte (Russell), the ancient goddess of sex and love. As she colourfully makes her way through London, three women discuss the issues that affect their lives, including witnessing horrific abuse from men and the struggle to understand their own body and sexuality. The anecdotes are honest and revealing, sometimes funny but also quite horrific in the case of one woman who recounts how her father systematically abused her little sister.

The film is very nicely shot, with scenes of Russell roaming in the streets and indulging in wildly florid poses intercut among actress playing these three anonymous women as they go about their everyday lives. Their thoughts are offered in voiceover, openly exploring their attitudes to sex and the events that formed who they are today, including the fantasies that swirl around their imaginations. They also infuse their comments with pointed political thoughts and feelings, making the connection between male-dominated governments and the daily lives of women, an impact felt far beyond health issues. At its core, this is a cry for more unapologetic feminine sexuality at every level of society, levelling the playing field.


We Are Not the Problem dir Dominika Ozynska
voice Jacek Pietrzak
20/UK 3m

We Are Not the Problem  

We Are Not the Problem This brief short animates comments from a real Polish man named Adam (voiced by Pietrzak), who gives his opinion on the hot potato of immigration in the UK. Adam came to Britain for a fresh start in life, planning to stay for five or maybe 10 years to save up some money. He argues that Poles are hard workers who have a lot to contribute to British society, and feels that Poland contributes much more to the British economy and culture than it takes away. The problem, he says, comes from non-white immigrants who come simply to ask for free handouts.

Yes, there's a rather bold provocation at the centre of Adam's comments, which clearly wants to deflect the criticism that fuelled campaigns for Brexit and the anti-Europe Tory government. The eye-catching animation is hand-drawn and colourful, cleverly capturing Adam's personality with a cheeky attention to detail, even though the drawings are loose, like a child's story book. it also artfully depicts the usual iconic images of London, from the Tube and Big Ben to pubs and street protests. This is a fascinating depiction of multicultural London, including things Londoners take for granted, like the availability of Polish food items in Turkish shops. So even if the central thesis is rather disturbing (Poland good, everyone else bad, Germany equals Hitler), but it's always helpful to look through a challenging perspective.


The Conversation dir-scr Lanre Malaolu
with Onyemachi Ejimfor, Lauren Anthony, Wunmi Malaolu, Jack Trueman, Faye Stoeser, Hannah Woodliffe, Lauren Stewart, Navena Stojkov, Beth Stoddart
20/UK 13m

The Conversation  

The Conversation Telling its story through dance, this beautifully choreographed short is packed with huge issues. So as it works through them, it becomes stunningly moving to watch. The film opens on a date between a Tyrone (Ejimfor) and Christine (Anthony), he's black and she's white. She feels that they are the same, seeing him as a person regardless of his race. To explain his own perspective, this switches to a very physical dance performance, revealing a range of emotions while placing his vulnerability and helplessness alongside her joy and power. Then things twist even further.

This is skilfully shot and edited to convey feelings through the physicality of a gifted group of dancers. It's visual and very expressive, making clever use of an abandoned warehouse in which the performers play out various moments with raw, earthy energy. Filmmaker-choreographer Lanre Malaolu evokes familiar iconography along the way, including things like Black Lives Matter, and even adds a feminist touch. This makes it feel perhaps a bit pointed, but it's a gorgeous way to address the enormous impact of being marginalised


cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Jan.20 / 27.May.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall