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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 4.Feb.23

scr-dir Peter Strickland
with Michael Brandon, Sebastien Kapps
22/UK 12m

Blank Narcissus (Passion of the Swamp)  

Blank Narcissus This offbeat short film works both as a pastiche of a genre and an homage to a specific point in movie history. Writer-director Peter Strickland takes the audience on a wonderful journey into the making of gay erotica in the 1970s, as seen through the eyes of a filmmaker looking back on a memorable period in his life. It's beautifully shot, packed with witty moments and ultimately surprisingly moving.

In the present day, an ageing director (Brandon) is asked to make a commentary track for a recently discovered underground film that he made in the early 1970s. That movie is a portrait of a young man (Kapps), posing in a forest, interacting with a lusty tree and ultimately taking off his clothes for some private pleasure.

As he describes making the film, the director begins to speak about his relationship with the model, which in time-honoured tradition began with him asking to take some sexy photos and blossomed into an uneven romance. As he speaks, his voice is full of nostalgia, reminiscing about how they made this little movie together, and recalling their inevitable breakup. It's a lovely juxtaposition of adoring imagery and wistful voiceover that both honours film history and touches a very personal nerve.


dir Nikola Kitanovski
scr Sharon Paul
with Ross Forte, Sharon Paul, Martin Thompson, Vivian Rubio, Nick Waaland, Anthony Folk, Alla Kitanovski
22/US 12m


Worthless Lushly shot with kaleidoscopic editing that creates a moody and emotive tone, this short drama features unusually beautiful people and settings as it explores a darkly thoughtful story. The central theme is the fleeting nature of happiness, and how the only true fulfilment that's lasting comes from within. This emerges through a swirl of colourful textures, eye-catching lighting and strongly internalised performances.

In the woods, a jogger named Cody (Forte) collapses. Later, his therapist (Paul) asks him to describe the experience. This leads to reminiscence about the night "you two" met, and how Cody's girlfriend seemed more interested in posting selfies than in him. He also revisits a funny story about an audition and how it felt to get caught up in a scandal. And the therapist encourages him to face what he's running from.

There's an important kick to this story about dealing with internal issues in order to move forward and find true happiness. And the narrative eventually arrives at a point where this man is forced to confront his childhood, which is something he doesn't want to talk about. This relates to his cruel father, whose harsh words linger. And Cody needs to understand that what he said wasn't true, he isn't worthless. This is perhaps a little on-the-nose, but the idea of working out your true identity and value is vital and moving.


ryan and blessie
dir-scr Keeran Anwar Blessie
with Korey Ryan, Keeran Anwar Blessie, Harry Bradley, Matthew Faucher, Rachael Neary, Benjamin Jacob Smith
22/UK 11m


A Fox in the Night  

A Fox in the Night Sharply well shot with an earthy, honest feel to it, this clever short remains intriguingly elusive as it subverts ideas of race, masculinity, sexuality. Actor-filmmaker Keeran Anwar Blessie builds a terrific sense of an unexpected connection. And as the story unfolds and unfolds, it becomes a wonderfully inventive depiction of how kindness and openness can change the world.

It centres on Daniel (Ryan), a young man who is meeting someone in a strange place, so he's understandably a bit nervous about the situation. He arrives at the address, enters the flat and removes his shoes. Three guys are there, apparently making a drug deal. So Daniel nervously sends a text to a friend and books a car home. But the host Lewis (Blessie) is friendlier than he looks, and welcomes him to wait inside. Soon they find an amusing connection, and even some camaraderie as they begin teasing each other.

There's a terrific sense of tension on two fronts in this short: is there something dangerous here, or is there a deeper commonality between these guys? It's backed with beautifully observed moments, and the interaction is sharply well-played by the cast, layering banal conversation with underlying thoughts and feelings. All of which makes the film almost unnervingly warm and engaging. So ultimately it becomes a celebration of taking a risk, putting yourself out there, rejecting constraints. And the final touch is lovely..


dir-scr Leyla Coll-O'Reilly
with Mollie Milne, Michelle Donnelly, Sharon Young, Kimberley Chimdinma Hoyle, Nicole Nelrose, Shannon Davidson, Natacha Baker, Antonia Giomi
22/UK 17m



Groom Intimate and perceptive, this short drama centres on an understandably rebellious teen. It's skilfully directed by Leyle Coll-O'Reilly, with excellent cinematography, editing and sound mixing that has a remarkable attention to detail and perspective. Even the smells seem vivid. All of this creates an intense atmosphere, a blackly comical horror floodlit in pink and white. It's subtle and very clever.

After being thrown out of school at age 15, the withdrawn Hannah (Milne) is told by her mother Angela (Young) to get out of the house. She has arranged for Hannah to work in a beauty salon, and sends her out with the comment: "Don't embarrass me today." While the boss Skye (Donnelly) is imperious, the other employees are absurd glamour girls who giggle at her. But Hannah doesn't want to be pretty and stands up for herself amid the teasing. Then Skye suggestively asks Hannah how much she wants this job.

The film is beautifully underperformed with minimal dialog, as the camera captures tiny details of an overly prettified world that Hannah can't identify with. She's overwhelmed by the textures of skin, hair, makeup, jewellery, clothing, food and even heavy breathing. And she's also sensitive to passive criticism. This makes the film girly, insinuating and even sexy. So there's a sinister edge to Skye's comment to Hannah: "This could be your chance to turn things around. You could be really pretty if you tried." And Hannah's decision to do something deliberately abrasive makes us want to cheer.


dir Roxy Rezvany
scr Emily Renee, Roxy Rezvany
with Emily Renee, Aidan O'Neill, Natalie Radmall-Quirke
21/UK 9m



Honesty This sharp and skilfully made short drama opens on a closeup of a young woman telling a painfully personal story. It's an extended emotional take that quickly flips into something else entirely. With a staggering central performance from actor-screenwriter Emily Renee, filmmaker Roxy Rezvany gives the film an unnervingly light, seemingly innocuous tone that highlights the hideous nastiness underneath.

It opens on Maya (Renee), a young woman reporting domestic abuse to a police officer (Radmall-Quirke). Maya notes that the violence emerges unpredictably, "every few days when he gets angry or drunk". And she hasn't told anyone else, which makes her emotional. Suddenly a director (O'Neill) says, "Let's cut there." And they begin talking about the character and the scene. A second take is more intense. A third is less controlled. Then he cuts again and begins quizzing the actress on her multiethnic background.

By shifting the perspective and intercutting with the director's instruction, Rezvany adds an exponential intensity of the scene within the scene. She also infuses the screen with nuanced textures that are clever and provocative, exploring the idea of abuse as entertainment. The director wants to get his audience's hearts pounding, which reveals a much darker prejudice, especially when he asks the actress to play it Muslim so she can earn more sympathy. With such complex performances and filmmaking, the film gets increasingly devastating, building even nastier subtext. It's powerfully chilling and bracingly truthful.


dir-scr Kiosa Sukami
with Baba Oyejide, Jesse Lihau, Lynsey Murrell, Adam Wright, Ashley Durant, Iain Gordon, Dejon Weston, Trinity Benjamin
22/UK 20m


A Letter to Black Men  

A Letter to Black Men Inspired by true events, this well-observed short drama is superbly assembled with a slick, soulful vibe. Writer-director Kiosa Sukami shoots and edits the film with skill, and the dialog has a remarkable authenticity, which makes the film intimate and meaningful. It helps that the terrific young cast is bursting with attitude and on-screen presence. So even if the message is a bit overstated, it's very strong.

It centres on a group of young guys in a lively conversation, initiating Kevin (Lihau). Up to no good, local businesses are understandably wary of them as they rob shops and graffiti the walls. Then they run into their old friend Black (Oyejide), who has been in prison. He thinks they should be in school, reading books and finding more positive ways to express themselves artistically. One of the boys, Kevin, goes home to tell his sister Kelsie (Murell) that Black has returned. She can't forgive him for his part in the death of their father, but she sees that maybe he can help Kevin escape gang life.

With poetic narration, the film has a remarkable honesty in the way it explores the Darwinian nature of life in a rough neighbourhood: "Taking hold of one's life is difficult in a world that values property over life." Black wants the boys to know that there are careers aside from music and football that will get you out of here, and that education is the key. But these teens don't understand that they're trapped in survival culture, learning lessons the hard way. The film is extremely pointed, even preachy, but carries real weight.


dir-scr Joseph Pierce
voices Sam Spruell, Zahra Ahmadi, Evelyn Neghabian Pierce, Minou Neghabian Pierce, Aaron Neil, Eddie Chamberlin, Gemma Lokat-Smith
22/UK 15m



Scale With eye-catching hand-drawn animation, this vivid film is packed with whizzy camera movement and some astonishingly surreal touches. Writer-director Joseph Pierce has created a harrowing odyssey that explores the high cost of addiction. Its imagery is inventive and often revelatory as it spirals into a horrific nightmare without ever losing its sense of emotional depth.

While driving on the motorway, Will (Spruell) feels like he has completely lost his sense of scale. A chemist who has learned how to extract morphine from drugs, his opiate addiction has taken a huge toll on his body and mind. Feeling guilty, he thinks about his two estranged daughters when they were young. And he has a vision of the post-apocalyptic future. Through all of this, Will yearns to reconnect with life, but just feels lost.

Yes, the tone is rather sad and downbeat, with only the faintest whiff of hope in his desire to reunite with his wife and children, who are seen in vivid apparitions. The animation is seriously stunning, and the script creates a hugely involving portrait of a man at a crossroads in his life. It's a rare film that lets us see the world through his frazzled eyes, wracked by guilt, pain and helplessness. It makes us want to see what Pierce could do with a feature narrative.


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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall