Glasgow Short Film Festival 2015: Teen angst, guerrilla screenings and outrunning capitalism

We look back at another great Glasgow Short Film Festival, which offered plenty of teen angst, an opportunity to take cinema on to the streets of Glasgow and a possible escape from the "shithole" of mainstream narrative cinema

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 08 Apr 2015

Short films don’t have to be short on ambition or innovation – anyone who’s been following Glasgow Short Film Festival’s sharply curated programmes with even a passing interest could tell you that. And as this year’s GSFF opening event Vertical Cinema proves, short films don’t have to be small in scale either. Screened from 35mm prints projected at 90 degrees to create a kind of vertical cinemascope, ten specially-commissioned experimental shorts had audiences at Briggait craning to take in the towering spectacle. As celluloid slowly dies, it’s bracing to hear that artists are still searching for ways to mark it out as an essential medium for filmmaking.

We missed this opening extravaganza, but there were plenty of smaller, more intimate pleasures to be had. Chief among them being the films of Jennifer Reeder. Each year GSFF include a retrospective, and each year it’s a revelation. “I am trying to make films that I have never seen before,” Reeder says in an interview with GSFF director Matt Lloyd that appears in the festival catalogue. On this front she certainly succeeds.

Her shorts are essentially teen movies that have been rubbed raw and are tender to the touch; John Hughes without the film-world phoniness. They play like vignettes taken from a teenage girl’s diary – the pages she’s ripped out because they’re too heartbreaking. Few films are this eloquent about the pangs of adolescence or the intensity of female friendships.

There’s a menace to her work too: just ask the recurring figure of a girl in a crimson band costume who ends up bloodied, bruised or even dead in films like Seven Songs About Thunder and Blood Below the Skin. Lloyd compared them to the films of David Lynch during his introduction, and it's an apt description. Both filmmakers hail from the Mid-West and they share a fondness for long, lingering takes and intentionally stiff dialogue.

Five of Reeder's films screened at GSFF (Seven Songs About Thunder; Tears Cannot Restore Her: Therefore, I Weep; And I Will Rise, If Only to Hold You Down; A Million Miles Away; and latest film Blood Below the Skin), but this is just a fraction of her oeuvre – she’s made 45 shorts so far and we'll be seeking out as many more as we can. There’s also the prospect of her first feature, As with Knives and Skin, which will start shooting next year with a release planned early 2017. We can’t wait.

Photo by eoin carey

The liveliest screening event we attended was A Wall is a Screen, which combined an outdoor screening with a walking tour. Beginning at the CCA terrace bar, a group of warmly-dressed film fans (by the end there must have been over 200 of us) snaked through the city with a projector, setting up impromptu cinemas on areas of exposed stone and concrete. The films were great, but the real draw was the atmosphere. There was something thrillingly subversive about transforming the city’s spaces into cinemas.

This feeling was heightened when we got the opportunity to enter The Savoy Centre, one of Glasgow’s iconic buildings, after hours. We couldn’t actually see the film because of the crowds, but who cares when we had the opportunity to admire the cheerily downmarket shopping centre sans customers and wander through its eclectic stores? The tour ended with a brace of screenings projected against the wall by the steps leading to Glasgow’s Concert Hall, which are soon to be demolished to make way for an extension to Buchanan Galleries. The final film just happened to be about a city community being sacrificed for a corporation’s financial gain. The irony was lost on no one.

There was another rally against the dangers of consumer capitalism in the form of Kevin B Lee’s razor-sharp video essay Transformers 4: The Pre-make. Utilising a new filmmaking form – ‘the desktop documentary’, which he has helped pioneer – the Chicago-based critic and filmmaker has created a thrilling critique of the blockbuster movie business that never leaves his MacBook screen, which acts as both the camera lens and the canvas on which the film plays out.

Lee’s film builds a tapestry of Transformers 4’s production by sourcing video footage from around the world, stacking it up on his desktop and creating a sly commentary with his juxtaposition of Google searches and video playback. It all goes a mile-a-minute, and seems to play out as one continual recording of Lee’s MacBook activities, with the mouse clicking on videos that seem to be being manipulated, resized and repositioned before our eyes. The audio is equally sophisticated. Using no dialogue, Lee lets the overlapping videos do the talking, leading us on a lucid and slyly satirical narrative.

Speaking after the screening, Lee made clear his intentions: “In trying to make this premake it really comes down to this question: Can you outrun capitalism? That’s really what [Transformers 4] is: this is capitalism at work in the world, manipulating all these different locations and different local film industries to create this massive filmmaking event that just gets force-fed down our throats everywhere. Is there any way that you can beat that?

"I think the typical point of resistance is to slow things down, or to check out. But for me it was just like, 'I’m going to dive right in'. If you’re using YouTube, I’m going to use Youtube. And if they’re going to move fast, I’m going to see if I can move faster. But I don’t know if that’s a winning strategy in the long run. It could just be advancing things down the shithole that we’re going through.”

If anyone was looking for an antidote to blockbuster filmmaking you’d find it in Glasgow Short Film Festival’s expertly curated International Competition. We only managed to make it to around half the programme, but what we saw suggest the “shithole” of mainstream cinema doesn’t have to be our only path. Here's our rundown of some of the highlights from the International Competition.

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Glasgow Short Film Festival ran 11-15 March