In the ESFF ident that closes each programmed screening, the audience is treated to a quick-fire medley of micro-clips from many films featured across the Festival. Those (like me) who have been to most of the events will have recognised more and more clips as the three-week run of events continued, and may have been enticed by those not yet seen. I was particularly intrigued by the shot of a young man with large rabbit’s ears.
In the programmed selection entitled ‘Coping Mechanisms’ the film Bunny was about a boy who had lost his mother, and had grown up trapped in his past, mute, and refusing to remove the rabbit-eared head-band his mother had given him. For him, the ears had become real, and when one bullying youth tries to remove them, the result is bloody and horrific. Of course, the ears aren’t real, but for the young lad, his coping mechanism is as crippling a comfort as drinking is to his father.
This touching film came towards the end of yet another skilfully arranged programme of short films that, while under a thematic umbrella, gave a broad canvass of emotion, style, genre, and length. Joanne Salmon’s autobiographical animation showed how the artist overcame her sense of rejection due to a rare genetic mutation that affected her looks. In another animation, Trap, a little girl adopted into a home of equally trapped adults finds solace in the garden life beneath the rockery.
Most of the coping mechanisms shown in these films are, it must be said, detrimental to the protagonists’ well-being, and those presented as humour give a dark tinge. In The Narrator, which is basically an object-lesson in sub-text, we are allowed to hear what the characters are actually thinking. It makes for some cringe-worthy scenarios that oughtn’t to be funny – but they are.
The guest-film of the evening, in which a dead body is found in the swimming pool, is an equally surreal depiction of how not to cope with a bungled murder. Si Sospetta Il Movente Passionale Con L’aggravante Dei Futili Motivi (Under suspicion for a crime of passion aggravated by triviality) was close to slapstick, but beneath the humour there was a disturbing message.
Meanwhile, another seemingly comical film, Yovaras, a perpetual victim of car-theft is presented with a moral dilemma when the thief, it transpires, is taking a woman in labour to the hospital. Humour and pathos, nicely balanced.
The longest film of the evening, Miro’s Journey, concerned the most complex coping mechanism: drug abuse. ‘Miro’ was in fact the name for the drug Khat which comes from Kenya and is sold in Somalia; used mainly by men and sold mainly by women, people chew on the endorphin-releasing leaves to bring artificial happiness.
The film’s director, Zeynep Kececiler, was present to answer questions after the screening, and told of the difficulty in filming such a story in an area of conflict and poverty. Not only an intimate portrayal of another culture, Kececiler also focused on two women: a dealer and a user. Somalia is a tough place, and it wasn’t safe to work outside Mogadishu . Yet it wasn’t a challenge to get Fatima, the dealer, to participate.
Being impoverished she had no choice but to deal the drug, and so she wanted to tell her story. Likewise, the pregnant woman who used the drug put great trust in the director to tell her story, even though it was a harrowing tale, with a tragic end – not unlike the film featured in my previous ESFF review, Collective Consciousness.
While it’s easier to empathise with films about poverty and inequality closer to home, and perhaps find ways to help and change the status quo, the audience question, “Is there anything we can do in Edinburgh?” didn’t seem to find an answer. But distributing films like Miro’s Journey will help to raise understanding and awareness, and this is why the Edinburgh Short Film Festival is doing such an important and worthwhile job through its programming.
MIRO’S JOURNEY – Zeynep Kececiler
CHIN UP – Joanne Salmon
THE NARRATOR – Julia Trofimova
IN THE FALL – Tom Gentle
TREMBLE – Jessica Wright & Morgann Runacre-Temple
YOVARAS – Ahmed Khadar
TRAP – Paul James
BUNNY – Shaun Hughes
SI SOSPETTA IL MOVENTE PASSIONALE CON L’AGGRAVANTE DEI FUTILI MOTIVI – Cosimo Alemà