In the ESFF trailer that I mentioned in one review a tiny clip beguiled me: someone on a motorway bridge drawing an imaginary white line on the road below. I had to wait until the penultimate night of the festival to discover this was from a quirky film called On the Road where a man controls motorway traffic as if he is playing with toys, or a computer screen. Yet the cars are ‘real’ – which makes this five-minute film even more surreal.

This ‘unconventiality’ was the theme for a programme, which began with a documentary on how women surrealists have been air-brushed out of art history. Gloria’s Story was quirky and odd, telling through animation, soundbites, and storytelling how Gloria Orenstein got a call from artist Leonora Carrington which changed her life – and, perhaps, the course of surrealist art for all women.

At the end of the film the audience in the Little Red Theatre at Summerhall gave spontaneous applause… and then, once more when in a coda after the credits, Gloria applauded herself!

This established the atmosphere for the rest of the evening: every film received applause. It gave a welcome contrast to the reception I reported from the opening night of this festival three weeks before.

It seems some people ‘get’ short film programmes, while others maybe do not. This evening’s selection, nonetheless, was challenging, if just for the unconventional aspect. We were told at the start that this was not just a theme, but a reflection of the style of film-making represented. Many films were difficult to watch, and daringly boundary-shifting or breaking. For this reason, I cannot say that this programme was as well balanced as, for example, the previous Sunday but that was, perversely, the strength of the programme.

There were films that challenged stereotypes, such as in Il Mondiale in Piazza – where a football tournament in a Town Square in rural Italy calls to question racial identity, but with humour and pathos – or femininity – as in Slingshot, which also asked questions of Scotland’s history of female suppression. With a message similar to Gloria’s Call, this film’s dedication was “For all the forgotten Warrior Queens.”

Other films questioned identity (for example, Self/Conscious) in other ways, while some pushed boundaries of film-technique almost to the limit. Retch was a tour de force, with elements of 1970’s gothic horror – including a Carrie-like split-screen – given full 21st century CGI treatment until, with a throwaway line, the audience is totally wrong-footed by dead-pan humour at the end. Again, the applause was deserved and spontaneous.

Perhaps the most extraordinary film, in terms of technical excellence, was Muedra. A nine-minute visual feast combining time-lapse, fast-paced stop-motion animation, and a little clay creature who behaved like Morph on speed. It was worth the exceptionally cheap ticket-price alone, and won the ESFF 2019 Best Animation Award.

Even if these films jostled against each other oddly, with seven of the twelve films at 10 minutes or less, as a bag of loose marbles it was the perfect conclusion to this year’s ESFF live action/animation screenings.

To top it, the audience were invited to remain for the rewards ceremony, and the wrap party afterwards. How many other Film Festivals are so welcoming and inclusive, I wonder? If you managed to see, or didn’t get to see, all the films in the Edinburgh Short Film Festival, have a look at the ident that I have mentioned several times, and wonder at what you saw, or missed…

Films Shown:

GLORIA’S CALL – Cheri Gaulke

ON THE ROAD – Blomme Molenstra

IL MONDIALE IN PIAZZA – Vito Palmieri

MERCURIO – Michele Bernardi

THE GLORIOUS PEANUT – Fred De Loof

SLINGSHOT – Robin Haig

SELF/CONSCIOUS – Christina Webber

MUEDRA – Cesar Diaz Melendez

RETCH – Keir Siewert

BOY AND THE SEA – Sarahjane Swan & Roger Simian

WHAT IT FEELS LIKE – Steven Fraser

MUNE – Catalina Jordan Alvarez

Photo courtesy of Blomme Molenstra