South Africa’s astounding 4th anniversary of the International Short Film Festival (SHNIT) was held in Cape Town the 2 – 6 October 2013, with a splendid selection of local and international short films. I got the chance to attend one night’s hard-hitting screening at The Labia Independent Cinema. Apart from the fact that the selection of 28 films I watched were in five different programmes, women’s voices and characters were only a handful. I felt a wave of inspiration when I saw a strong woman develop in a non-archetypal push-up-my-bra-tease in Norwegian short, Statoil (2012) by Yngvar Christensen. Local gem by Miklas Manneke, Kanye Kanye (2012), a tale about forbidden love in a meticulously stylised township, proved the soaring direction of SA cinema. The overarching emotion that I experienced was one of masculinity caught between a rock and a hard place. Most of the messages were of men struggling with honesty and responsibility. It was sort of a cinematic ode to men in their youth – I still wish all young lads were present for a pat on the back and a hug. And just let it all out. MEN. Weep.
The following are the top three shorts that portrayed young characters facing universal issues.
1. Kanye Kanye, 2012 – Directed by Miklas Manneke/South Africa/26min
This movie is set in a stylistic township that is divided with a thick white line separating two symbolically hued people: the green tribe and the red tribe. A green boy falls in love with a red girl but their romance is spoilt by the a long-lasting tribal feud. It is only up to them to stand up for what they believe in. Manneke mentions in an interview [Eaton 2013] that the story’s inspiration is allegorical reference to South Africa’s segregated past and the narrative uses this startling central metaphor to communicate that besides all the differences, people are the same and that love is an inevitable unifier. Manneke, uses bizarre yet colourful set design, quirky stop-motion edit sequences and original score. A raised eyebrow goes to the dialogue that seems to be too contrived- Manneke tried too hard to make us laugh. If only the humour in the characters was blissfully improvised. This is one visual feast that raises the South African flag sky-high as it was nominated for Student Academy Award.
2. Statoil, 2012 – Directed by Yngvar Christensen/Norway/18min
Two ladies in their early twenties are broke but still have the audacity to go out to have some fun. This eye-opening narrative gave me an insight on how to be a good friend, whenever and wherever. The cinematic style is simple yet effective. The frequent use of long static shots, stunningly employed in the hilarious resolution of the film where the heroic rescue of Maiken (Marja Bål Nango) by her best friend Ronja (Kaia Kjos-Kendall), at the garage store causes Maiken to appreciate the act of bravery for saving her life. In a long medium shot, Maiken sobs solemnly and Ronja hugs her tightly that she breakthroughs by peeing herself right on the floor! What a burst-out-loud-in-laughter-but-jerk-a-tear-and-wipe-it quickly moment. The shot intensifies the great magnitude of character development all in one frame. The narrative would have had an edge-of-the-seat thrill if it were intricate and not linear which tends to be the norm.
3. Disgrace, 2013 – Directed by James Casey Modderno/USA/14min
Modderno taps into one difficult but relevant thematic of adolescent boys and voyeurism. Devin Druid who plays as Milo, gives a stellar performance as the teen with severe daddy issues that play out on-screen in such a spellbinding manner by totally using naturalism acting for most scenes. For example the climactic scene when the father (Steven Ogg) confronts Milo after discovering a stack of porn magazines, has raw fury as he breathes intensely whilst he is strangling his own son in the middle of their neighbour’s pavement. The father’s perspiration suffocates the viewer and that is entirely natural and not synthesized by good sound effects. Point-of-view sequences of Milo’s collage of nudist fantasies would have given the film a greater production value.
SHNIT is truly a remarkable film festival that celebrates the brilliance and challenging story economy of the short film. I am greatly impressed by the cacophony of the variety of films, although I am saddened by the fact that nearly a quarter of the whole 28 films were directed by women. All women filmmakers out there should give SHNIT a reign as well.