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Edinburgh Short Film Festival 2017: Short Documentary Highlights


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After a week of multiple screenings, the Edinburgh Short Film Festival continues to impress and keep its audiences coming back for more cultural nourishment.

As the room fills up with audiences and excitement, the Short Documentarys event was introduced by the festival’s director, Paul Bruce, and an assistant producer in the Scottish Documentary Institute, Rachel Stollery. The program was a carefully selected combination of five of SDI’s most prominent documentaries throughout the years and a few international contributions on ESFF’s side. Strolley briefly presented the work of the instituted, mentioning a couple of intriguing opportunities for workshops and artistic collaborations. Below are the evening's most notable highlights.

1. MA BAR by Adrian McDowall and Finlay Pretsell, Scotland

This 2009 BAFTA winner introduces the audience to an elderly, yet dignified competitive weightlifter and his environment. Shot in an almost highly dramatized stylistic sequence, this work explored the hidden emotional and mental strain behind the spectacle of the physical one. The pre-competition routine resembles a ritual preparation for a gladiatorial combat, where the most important opponent is your own mind. Bubbling under a grand and heavy exterior is pure anger, which serves as the emotional fuel behind the exception of titanic physical power.

Ma Bar from adrian mcdowall on Vimeo.

2. LAST IN THE LINE by Blair Scott and Dylan Drummond, Scotland

Taking place in Blairgowrie, Sheila Stewart reflects on her traveler lineage, a proud minority, which is regrettably facing the last ancestors of its intertwined history and culture.  While expressing her melancholic fear that with her death the culture of the travelers will perish, Sheila discusses the passage of time and its unavoidable mark on nature and its relationship to humanity. In the modern world where GMO food not only changes our nutrition habits but also our traditional values, the narrator expresses a disappointment in her generation, calling other fellow travelers “victims of lies all their lives”. The magical past of secrets and dreams slips between our fingers, while the traveler society is dying out, eroded both internally and externally by social circumstances. However, there is still hope in the form of the Cant language unique for the marginalized travelers, which Sheila is teaching her young granddaughter.

Bridging the Gap: Lies | Last in the Line from Scottish Documentary Institute on Vimeo.

3. COMMODITY CITY by Jessica Kingdon, China

The short documentary opens with a lavish and colorful shot of a flower shop, which we later understand is situated in the largest consumer goods market in the world - Yiwu Markets. Although the first scene is somewhat delicate, we soon come to see that this observational work reveals an empty, almost sedated life behind the smooth light counters of the stores. Different sellers are presented in their respective shops, in impersonal and modified, unnatural environments, where a lack of passion or any lust for life are prevalent. The partial and mundane sterile interactions between sellers and customers resemble more a static noise than a form of human connection, where the lonely and isolated existence of these individuals among objects seems so natural to them, that it is hard to even be perceived as oppressive.

Commodity City TEASER - clip 4 from Jessica Kingdon on Vimeo.

4. SWAN by Lindsay Brown, Scotland

This work produced in collaboration with Creative Scotland is very fluidly and unobtrusively shot, giving it an intimate and authentic feel.  It presents the everyday joined life of a mother and her unusual and challenged young daughter April. The close and endearing relationship between the two women is palpable, which was tastefully and sensitively achieved through the sophisticated cinematographic style and directing. The audience catches a glimpse of the mother’s love for April when she admits her fear for her daughter’s fragile future.

Swan - Trailer | Bridging the Gap: Women from Scottish Documentary Institute on Vimeo.

5. THE BIG LIE by Peter Everett, Scotland

Centered on the theme of the Spanish Civil War, this documentary is hypnotic and distressing.  A steady narrating masculine voice enchants the audiences to go on a sinister journey in time, dominated by powerful wartime imagery, destitute, fear, and abuse of power. A repetitive mesmerizing device is used in the form of moving train tracks, disappearing into the darkness. The most intense segment of the work revolves around an interview with one of the 4000 Scottish volunteers during the war, a man with glass-blue eyes, who condemns the pretense and purposeful self-inflicted ignorance of the masses, leading them into dangerous blind belief in the media. The subject recognizes that fascism is built upon and feeds off lies and duplicity, leading to mass scale slavery and oppression.

Bridging the Gap: Lies | The Big Lie from Scottish Documentary Institute on Vimeo.

6. THE DEVIL AND THE HOLY WATER by Diego Maria Malara, Ethiopia

Malara’s work is immensely powerful and relevantly disturbing. In present-day Ethiopian exorcist practices, “new spirits emerge, speaking of new problems”.  While the extraction of demons with beating and savage terror might seem like the plot of a horror film, these practices are more than real in the eyes of Ethiopian orthodox believers. The controversial healer Memehir Girma performs public dispelling of spirits and demons that have taken the bodies of innocent believers through questionable practices, bordering on the line of occultism. A crowd of followers of the teaching, which imposes mass control and isolation through the abolishment of all technological advancements, is in a trance-like state of delusion and heightened frantic devotion. People are presented in their deeply disturbing feral states. On a closing note, the audience observes a young woman’s delicately stunning face and her deep dark eyes filled with pure fear.

 For more information about The Deivil and the Holy Water, visit their Facebook page.

7. NIGHT SHIFT by Ruth Reid, Scotland

“I never told anyone until I was 40.” is the opening line of this moving documentary. Taking place in Glasgow, a woman runs a double-decker bus, which serves a gathering space for feminine support and communal understanding. When abuse has the malicious power of causing deeply personal self-hatred, it is strong and loving communities like this one that sustain the hope for a kinder future.

NIGHT SHIFT (2011) from Ruth Reid on Vimeo.

The Edinburgh Short Film Festival is running from 27th October to 11th November 2017. More information about the festival and its programme can be found here. 

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