Each edition of the Bristol Encounters Film Festival brings with it a new set of fond memories and associations, and this year more or less marks the one year anniversary of Skwigly’s cabinet reshuffle (or not-so-hostile takeover, depending on how one spins it). One of the main perks of our new regime has been the growth of our writing community, so the festival coverage this year hasn’t been the one-man plate-spinning act as in the past. If you’ve yet to read Steve’s coverage of the first few major events on offer you can check out part one and part two to get up to speed. With more to follow here’s an overview of some of the one-off special events that rounded out the programme.
Eye Candy is a slightly tweaked variation of The Shelley Show, a presentation of noteworthy shorts from rising talents of the industry hand-picked by Dreamworks headhunter Shelley Page, whose credits impressively include some of the most celebrated animated features such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Shrek franchise. Her eye for talent and inventiveness in up-and-coming animation storytellers was clearly obvious when she brought her selections to Encounters two years back and it remains the case this week. Two thirds of the programme are dedicated to recent output from France, with commissioned work such as the joyful, hyperreal animal antics of Cube Creative’s France 3 channel idents and an assortment of brilliant shorts from Supinfocom university reflecting quite favourably on the nation. Slightly disappointing is, despite its inclusion in the programme, the absence of Chris Landreth’s spectacular new short Subconscious Password, which both debuted and won the grand prize at this year’s Annecy.
Outside of the sphere of animation (though for those of us on the writing side of it, quite relevant to it) is Thursday night’s panel debate – in the looser sense of the word – So You Think That’s Funny, featuring Peep Show/Four Lions scribe Jesse Armstrong, comedian Isy Suttie and director Jim Field Smith discussing the virtues of their favourite comedy shorts. All the examples brought to the table are dialogue-driven, live-action shorts that span new wave pastiche (Je t’Aime John Wayne), meek pathos (The One and Only Herb McGwyer Plays Wallis Island) and the standard setup/payoff gag film (Tokyo Jim, which in its simplicity gets the best response). Rather than shedding much light on the craft of contemporary comedy (though Smith weighs in with perhaps the most thoughtful insight regarding the importance of structure), the casual debate mainly serves to hammer home the intangibility and subjectivity of it. As such nothing is really concluded and nobody’s case wins, which is only disappointing for denying the audience the opportunity to hear Suttie’s promised rendition of Ice Ice Baby. Save for a handful of inexplicable contributions from one audience member it makes for a fun, informal discussion, though it strikes me that the only area of comedy that’s been effectively broken down in presentations like these has been its physical side, and more often than not it’s come from animators who’ve studied it to a minute degree.
Maybe my attitude toward the output of Estonia comes across as unenlightened when I confess my expectations for Estonian Dreams are not staggeringly high. Certainly it’s a nation with much artistic merit but the cliché of Eastern European artsy-ness doesn’t seem like something I can handle at this late stage of the festival. What it turns out I’ve forgotten is that, when done right, I actually really love artsy-ness; Give me a red room and a diminutive fella speaking backwards and I’m like a pig in slop. Fortunately it seems that the six directors selected genuinely know their stuff and the screening turns out to be one of the strongest overall. Though I’ll admit Divers In The Rain is not my favourite of Priit and Olga Pärn’s back-catalogue, it remains a fascinating film with a smattering of visually ingenious moments. More instantly gratifying for their technical execution are Ülo Pikkov’s Keha Mälu, a stop-motion parable of individual and ancestral memory, along with Martinus Klemet’s absurdist societal commentary In The Air. The parallel stories at play in Kaspar Jancis and Vladimir Leschiov’s Villa Antropoff of a lone man’s ambitious journey and mismatched couple’s doomed nuptials are deftly interwoven, while Priit Tender’s 2008 piece Köögi Dimensioonid is tremendous if a touch overlong; At nearly twenty minutes, it plays like a cross between Fantasia and a co-codamol-induced fever hallucination. Ultimately the collection subverts my expectations with a largely inspiring assortment of work, particularly that which stems from Eesti Joonisfilm.
The last event before us weary reviewers roll out into the delegate party is Late Lounge, always a festival highlight as it traditionally gathers together some of the darkest, dodgiest and most baffling shorts of the bunch. Past editions have introduced us locals to such heartwarming delights as David o’Reilly’s External World, Michaela Pavlatova’s Tram and Mike Geiger’s infamous Cuddle Sticks. The 2013 selection follows suit with hallucinogenic gems such as Perfect Drug (Toon Aerts) and Baby, I Love You (Faiyaz Jafri), both suitably charming and nightmarish in equal measure though the former scores points for subtlety (I happen to find crawling into a recently-decapitated, morbidly-obese desk clerk’s distended belly fat to gleefully emerge from his gaping neck hole perfectly subtle – sorry, spoiler alert). Clyde Henry Productions’ Cochemare is a strangely beautiful tale from the creative team behind the fabulous Madame Tutli-Putli. The only real way I can articulate a description of it is Muppets In Space as directed by Lars von Trier, with a healthy dollop of slugs, tears and sexual exploration thrown in for good measure. Projected in stereoscopic 3D it is truly entrancing, though a fair few audience members are undoubtedly left wanting answers (they might find some in our recent interview with co-director Chris Lavis and VFX supervisor Peter Bas).
Thrown in the mix are some lighter offerings such as Tea & Cheese’s Royal (8-Bit) Jubblies which appeases the Super Mario geek in me, along with one of my Annecy favourites, Eliska Chytkova’s student short O Sunce (Ham Story), a wonderful piece of work that begins and ends with an old lady’s tremendously relatable lust for pork. Back in edgier territory, Jeanette Bonds’s Trusts & Estates boasts despicably ribald dialogue apparently paraphrased from a conversation overheard in real-life, its tone a fusion of Bill Plympton and Joseph Pierce with a visual style all its own. The most unabashedly gratuitous contribution is Christopher Ullens de Schooten’s Vengeance Rhythm, a stop-motion torture-porn extravaganza.
Stay tuned this week for our further coverage of the Encounters festival’s Swiss Focus, workshops and remaining competition screenings.