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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 28.May.20

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

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 I

Sucka Punch dir Iggy London
scr Ibrahim Salawu
with Amara Okereke, Ryan Walker-Edwards, Tia Costell, Nobuse Jnr, Jonny Khan
20/UK 4m

Sucka Punch  

Sucka Punch Snappy editing creates a witty flurry of ideas and references in this comical short, which explores issues about how culture affects the way we see ourselves. It opens on Ashley and Sarah (Walker-Edwards and Okereke), exposing their harshly self-critical inner thoughts and underlying paranoias as they prepare for some quiet time together. Then it flips into something else, as Sarah ushers the audience on a snarky tour of the way companies use social media to push their products at the expense of our self-image. And we retweet their posts, thinking that these profit-making groups are on our side.

The film is superbly shot in colourful sets with a sharp sense of attitude. It's fast and full-on right from the start, peppered with little details that are instantly recognisable to anyone who uses Facebook or Instagram. It's also very funny, packing a remarkable number of barbed jokes and sight gags into its brief running time. The point is that everything we do online teaches these brands who we are, so their algorithms can target us with things that will grab our attention, pinpointing our areas of insecurity. So if we don't have time to read those terms and conditions, at least we can stay awake to what these companies are trying to do to us. It's a compact, important and, yes, punchy message.


Pavement dir-scr Jason Wingard
with Steve Evets, Liz White, Tony Mooney , Mudar Abbara, Peter Slater, Richard Hand, Keeley Fitzgerald, Elinor Colman, Becky Bowe
20/UK 12m


Pavement Impressively produced in the high standard of a feature film, this quietly surreal drama makes an important point in an unforgettable way. It opens on a homeless man (Evets) begging for change in Manchester as busy bank workers walk past, barely noticing him. Security guards (Mooney and Abbara) ask him to leave, but he says he can't move because he is literally sinking into the pavement. Katie (White) stops them from aggressively manhandling him, and calls the police as a crowd begins to gather. But the cops (Hand and Fitzgerald) merely threaten him mindlessly with a fine for rough-sleeping.

Writer-director Jason Wingard deploys clever digital effects as this man continues to sink in more deeply. Katie questions why officials call him a security risk: what danger could he possibly pose? Passers-by take selfies. Authorities are menacing. Only Katie sees him as a human being, asking him about his life and trying to do something to help before he vanishes completely. The script is somewhat heavy-handed, pushing the emotions insistently while making this man a bit of a generality rather than a specific character. The lament for cold-hearted society even extends to an evocation of Blake's Jerusalem. But the idea is so clever that the film has a chilling impact.


sauna dir Stroma Cairns
with Josephine Nonyelu, Elysia Thomas, Jason Tuitt, Joao Pedro Delgado, Omatsy-Hana Ramsoondar, Clifton Taylor, LO Him
20/UK 10m


sauna In Camden, an eclectic group of people get together each evening in their local sauna to talk about their lives. Sweating in their swimwear, they speak openly about politics and religion, their love lives, social media and daily situations, then also move on to discuss issues relating to the community and the ways people connect with each other. Their conversations are friendly and funny, packed with witty observations and much darker meaning.

A fly-on-the-wall documentary, the film looks great, shot in a way that warmly captures the quiet rhythms of the streets before shifting to the lively interaction in the lockerroom, where barriers disappear along with the clothes, allowing these disparate people to explore the things they have in common. The editing is clever, capturing snippets of conversation and witty glimpses of these unlikely friends as they relax together. The variety of people includes ages, genders, ethnicities and abilities. And in their chatter, it becomes clear that their interaction helps them make sense of life, so they don't take things too seriously and remember that they're connected as one against anything that comes along.


Isaac and the Ram dir Jason Bradbury
scr Edward Cripps
with Ian Pirie, Callum Myatt, Liam Dooley, Casper Radziewicz, Chloe Okora
20/UK 15m

Isaac and the Ram  

Isaac and the Ram There's a dark, churning intensity to this drama right from the start, with superb camerawork by Adam Scarth and a vibrant score by Patrick Jonsson. It's about hard-nosed security guard Hank (Pirie), who takes in injured homeless teen Isaac (Myatt) for a night. Their conversation is spiky, as Hank berates Isaac for trying to get into his nightclub after a streetfight. "But I'm old enough to live on the streets, right?" he replies. When a homophobic thug arrives to finish what he started, Hank protects Isaac and takes matters into his own hands. And perhaps Isaac can help Hank with his own personal demons.

Director Jason Bradbury observes the details of these two characters beautifully, revealing their individual insecurities without overstating them. In fact, the film leaves much of the detail off-screen for the viewer to interpret. Both actors are excellent, quietly creating a tentative, difficult connection between these very different characters: a tough ex-skinhead and a young black gay man. Pirie reveals Hank's deeply concealed soft centre, while Myatt nicely underplays Isaac's shattered vulnerability as a kid thrown out of his home by religious parents. Where the story goes is perhaps a little abrupt, but it's gripping and ultimately moving.


Left Coast dir Carol Salter
with Dave
20/UK 14m

Left Coast  

Left Coast Set in Northwest England, this documentary short takes a fly-on-the-wall look inside a foodbank near Blackpool. The volunteer team is dedicated to feeding those whose lives have been put in jeopardy after a decade of deep government cuts. Behind the scenes, they work to move donated food around between various sites, all in the shadow of the seaside holiday destination.

The film is intercut with images of grey skies, seagulls, gaming arcades and rollercoasters alongside shelves piled with fruit and vegetables, eggs, toys, ready meals and bags of bread. And the contrast continues to radio reports about the booming economy set against the reality that more than 14 million people in England are living in poverty. Yes, this is a very bleak depiction of life in a society where the government cares only about the wealthy. At least the film offers a glimmer of hope in the ceaselessly kind volunteers who are trying to rescue people who have fallen through a safety net that is no longer there.


Death Meets Lisolette dir-scr Guy Jenkin
with Harriet Turnbull, Hugh Dennis, Rosalind Ayres, Carrie Quinlan, Andy Hamilton, Cornell S John, Simon Kane, Jim Enright, Jill Gray
20/UK 12m

Death Meets Lisolette  

Death Meets Lisolette This sunny comedy has a pitch-black sense of humour as it follows young Lisolette (Turnbull) on her bicycle around her seaside town, where residents are trying, and inexplicably failing, to kill themselves. Struggling with dementia, her grandmother Bonnie (Ayres) throws herself off the church tower where her daughter (Quinlan) is the priest. Meanwhile, the undertaker Tony (Hamilton) finds himself out of a job due to all of this immortality. It turns out that Billy (Kane) has locked death (Dennis) in a barn, so Lisolette heads there to make a deal about her gran.

The film is shot like a breezy sitcom, even though most of the characters have suicidal tendencies. The script cleverly plays with the absurdities of the premise, centring on the conversation as death tries to convince Lisolette to let him out. The combination of silly humour with mortality is a bit awkward, but it's refreshing to see a little film that takes such a matter-of-fact look at a huge topic. And the plot has some clever little twists, plus a crowd-pleasing coda that makes a nice point about living life without fear.


Verisimilitude dir David Proud
scr Justin Edgar
with Ruth Madeley, Laurie Davidson, Alice Lowe, Simon Lowe, Esther Smith
20/UK 13m


Verisimilitude This strikingly well-made short offers a pointed glimpse into an angle of filmmaking that few viewers will have thought about before. It opens on Bella (Madeley) as she performs a piece in her wheelchair. But Bella isn't playing the role: she's coaching star actor Josh (Davidson) on how to play a disabled person in his movie. The atmosphere on-set is awash with casual slights and more overt insults that Bella weathers with good humour, including Josh's dismissive arrogance and references to his character as an "invalid".

The film is sharply photographed by Alex Ryle using terrific close-ups to get into the minds of the characters. Director David Proud has a superb eye for detail, maintaining a wonderful balance between witty observations and heart-stopping emotion. And the actors are first-rate in their roles, punching some powerful micro-moments along the way. Madeley is as impressive as always, delivering one astounding scene after another until Bella finally is noticed and gets a part in the movie. Clearly, she's the only real person in a sea of self-important actors. Which allows this short to make its point forcefully without preaching at all.


Borrowed From Our Children dir Leon Oldstrong
20/UK 7m

Borrowed From Our Children  

Borrowed From Our Children This short documentary collage opens with a quote from Nelson Mandela: "Children are our greatest treasure. They are our future." What follows is a moody collection of clips featuring British young people in a range of settings, from flexing in physical activities to taking part in climate change protests. The striking images are in black and white (with some spot colour), slowed down for emotive effect. So the film looks terrific, and evokes some powerful feelings. Photographed by William Hadley, the camera beautifully captures both large seas of people and distinct faces in close-up.

The whole thing is a bit soft and cuddly, leaving the darker ideas to seep through subtly. Naturally, the "Our Lives, Our Future" movement features heavily, as a wide variety of children seek to protect the planet and society to guarantee that there's a tomorrow for them. There are moments of acrobatic joy interspersed with much darker events, rallies and marches, and a vivid sense of a nation made up of a mix of ages, ethnicities, abilities and sexualities. And as the title affirms, the world doesn't actually belong to adults at all.


What's in a Name dir Runyararo Mapfumo
with Desta Haile, Amardeep Singh Dhillon, Poonum Chamdal, Mehmet Mustafa, Ahmed Kaballo, Wei Ming Kam
20/UK 11m

What’s in a Name?  

What's in a Name An artfully assembled documentary, this short explores the impact a person's name can have on his or her life, specifically when it's foreign-sounding. Six British people discuss this in very personal terms, talking about how their names remind them of their ethnic heritage, including connections to family members. Ahmed finally gave up expecting people to say his name with the proper Arabic vocalisations, while Desta finds it annoying that her bluetooth speaker mispronounces hers. Amardeep likes that his gender-neutral Sikh name reflects his sexuality. Poonam wonders why it's only white kids who make fun of her name, and ponders how in the 70s it was more common to adopt a Western name in Britain. Mehmet says his name was difficult until an East Enders character came along. And Wei Ming talks about how she would like to give her child an Asian name. They also touch on how micro-aggressions are more apparent now, with with the far-right on the rise.

The participants speak in voiceover, as the crisp images feature them in their homes as well as in tableaux with friends and family, usually remaining still as the camera slowly moves. Cinematographer Michael Vince Kim also includes some subtle visual effects to add to the mood. The overall effect is beautiful to look at, while the deeper resonance of the ideas connects strongly. And as the film continues, it digs further, finding connections between a name and a person's identity, history and culture. It's simple but profound.


The Life Tree dir-scr Paul Frankl
with Diana Bermudez, Juan-Leonardo Solari, Elizabeth Guterbock, Olivia Jordan, Alice Lee
20/UK 15m

The Life Tree  

The Life Tree Infused with magical realism, this surreal short tells a very, very pointed story in a way that feels both overwrought and abrupt. It centres on Isidora (Bermudez), a cleaner from Bolivia who works in the offices of a newspaper. Climate change has taken its toll on this city, and Isidora's teen son Tomas (Solari) is seriously ill due to all of the plastic waste in his system. As she fails to raise any interest from the journalists she works near, Isidora discovers a seed that has sprouted from a bin and grown into a tree. And the fruit seems to offer a cure for her son's health.

Writer-director Frankl gives the film a terrific visual sensibility, with gorgeous cinematography by Tasha Back and some clever effects and make-up that are effective despite being obviously cheap. It helps that all of the actors are excellent, beautifully anchored by Bermudez's introspective performance. So it's frustrating that the story feels so pushy and indulgent, and also so oddly paced that it alienates the audience rather than drawing us in. Because the issue of climate refugees is an urgent one.


cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Jan.20 / 28.May.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall