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Abla’s Encounters Top Picks

Saturday 10 October 2020, by Abla Kandalaft

Yet again, Encounters treats us to some of the most discerning curating out there. The various programmes never disappoint, the comedy shorts are funny, the horror shorts are scary, the experimental shorts are wacky. Covid means we miss out on many things: the wonderful Watershed venue and its underrated risotto, the networking, the warm, friendly atmosphere and chit chat with the directors, the hustle and bustle and human interactions that inject the fun and dynamism in the festival circuit, and of course, the sheer pleasure of the big screen (transportative animated films like Mountain Heart really benefit from).

BUT. We are treated to an absolute treasure trove of short films – 250 in total – for the bargain sum of £10. I cling on desperately to the thought that next year, these will be live events and that this side of the industry – independent films, shorts, festivals in general – haven’t suffered irrecoverably, but for now, I can seek solace in this year’s digital offerings.

Now, I won’t go over previously reviewed shorts I enjoyed - mainly already caught at Clermont-Ferrand earlier - Shady Srour’s Oslo, Anthony Nti’s Da Yie, Sofia Alaoui’s So What If The Goats Die...

We’ve split the viewings amongst a number of us contributor and even then, we couldn’t everything, so I’ll just give a broad overview of things I’ve both seen and enjoyed:

First, the horror selection. The programme opens with Hungry Joe, a truly effective, repulsive and weirdly moving body horror short about an unnaturally hungry kid, with some masterful cinematography and toned down, sober performances that set just the right tone, preventing it from dipping into cheap gorefest territory. Second is Night Bus, also warrants jotting down the director’s name to keep an eye on future work. Bus driver Natasha – played by the very charismatic Susan Wokoma (Enola Holmes’s Edith) is on the night shift, when the stop bell suddenly tings but there’s no-one on board… Very creepy with some scary, arresting shots. The 4 min A Creature In The Night is pretty effective; director Jonathan Stimac creates a rather effective tense atmosphere with a decent pay off. The programme closes with the surprising Wild Will, which certainly wins points for low budget ingenuity.

The Palestine programme

Encounters teamed up with the Bristol Palestine Film Festival to bring us this special progamme, which opens with Gazagraph, a doc tracing the history of Gaza through the history (and prism) of its photographers. Filmed on site, Yousef Nateel takes us on a journey through the streets and cafes and history of the place. It feels like a bit of a privilege to be ushered into the intimacy of this world and to be given a snapshot of old photos taken through the ages, from the British occupation to Israel’s bombings. It was incredibly moving to hear the photographers talk about the lengths they went to to protect their work. Made in Palestine is a cool little doc about the last factory in Palestine that manufactures the traditional Keffiyeh, the headdress that, although ubiquitous in most international revolutionary movements and protests for the past 50 years, is mostly associated with solidarity with Palestinians. When it is co-opted as “tribal print smock” by Boohoo.com, a trawl through its history and its symbolisation of dispossession and oppression is probably sorely needed. Ambiance is a wonderfully creative short, which reflects on the nature of soundscapes. The very sweet, festival favourite Maradona’s Legs by Firas Khoury follows two boys in 1990 looking for a sticker of Maradona’s legs, a very personal story to the filmmaker through which he recounts his childhood impressions and aspirations during the FIFA World Cup.

The comedy programme is consistently funny. The short format is very well suited to comedy - especially if the director can time the punchline just right. Lots of great pay offs and big laughs to be had in this year’s selection. For best laughs under 3 mins, catch while you can the hilariously silly Coffee With Friends. Worth flagging as well are Lucky Break, a sharp economical, witty short hinged on two strong performances, and the wonderfully executed Talk Radio, starring the superb Julia Deakin (Jill-with-the-chocolate-mousse in Alan Partridge). All are so well timed with a neatly and satisfyingly wrapped up ending.

There are talks, Q&As, spotlights, special screenings, so much that I can’t really do it justice here, so you’ve got one more day to catch as many gems as you can!

Any message or comments?

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