Meet the stars of Glasgow Short Film Festival 2021

We speak to some of the filmmakers behind our favourite shorts at this year's Glasgow Short Film Festival

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 22 Mar 2021
  • The Shift

Laura Carreira

The Shift

Early in her career, Portuguese filmmaker Laura Carreira became interested in portraying labour on screen. “I found it very strange how so many films avoided work and characters always seemed so much more free than I was," she tells us, "and so my obsession began.” She studied film at the António Arroio School of Arts in Lisbon before moving to Scotland over a decade ago for a film directing course at the Edinburgh College of Art. “I always wanted to do fiction but at ECA I was introduced to some amazing observational documentaries,” Carreira recalls. “It was very hard to produce fiction as I couldn't really afford it at the time, so I started to focus on documentaries instead.”

It proved difficult, however, to mesh her interest in portraying work on screen with non-fiction cinema. “Those first documentary projects were valuable experiences but equally frustrating as workplaces never really welcomed me with a camera,” she says. “They were always controlling and suspicious over my intentions and I felt I couldn't really work freely and was afraid of involving workers to the point where it could affect their jobs.”

Discouraged, she stopped making films for two years until she’d saved enough money for her first fiction film. That was the superb Red Hill, which centred on a former miner who’s now a low-paid security guard patrolling the site of the decommissioned mine at which he used to work. Carreira’s similarly deft new short is The Shift, a beautifully fat-free work following Anna, an agency worker, as she visits a supermarket with her dog. We simply follow her as she scours the aisles for discounted products and agonises over what she can put in her basket. Then, while waiting at the checkout, she receives the phone call that every zero-hours contract worker dreads.

“I wanted the supermarket to be a space that framed Anna's experience,” she says, “and that also portrayed other characters, even if in a fleeting way. The sound helped us with this, especially in the moment at the checkout where we wanted to feel the presence of people around her and close to her. It tapped into that element of shame over what's she's going through.”

The Shift was written and shot before the pandemic, but its themes of precarious employment and its depiction of the palpable anxiety of being skint could hardly be more timely. “I think [this past year] has really exposed how people are taken advantage of, used when needed and then discarded with no safety net,” she says. “It's a relationship of dependency when the employer holds all the power and we've witnessed these throughout the year.”

Alia Ghafar


As a teen, Alia Ghafar wanted to be an actor, but the idea of stepping behind the camera slowly grew on her. “I always loved films and as I got older, I started watching more of the classics and ‘weird' movies my dad was into, which got me thinking about filmmaking more,” she tells us. “I wrote some mad scripts with fellow drama geek pals and my camera-enthusiast mate Andrew shot them. When I left school, I went to study film at Edinburgh College of Art and it spiralled from there!”

Ghafar's films have been described as ‘slice of life’, and she likes that description. “They’re not heavy-going drama, but not full-on comedy,” she says of her work. “I think everyday life is always filled with moments of humour, melancholy, frustration, everything – so I try to keep it all in there!”

Ghafar’s graduation film, Salt & Sauce, was about a young woman stuck working in a chip shop after finding herself in a bit of an existential limbo after high school. The follow-up, SCUZZ, is similarly concerned with a young woman going through a life crisis: Kim is a bassist in a cool art school band, who has to endure the humiliation of performing with her narcissistic ex-boyfriend, the band’s frontman. After a particularly stressful gig, her night takes a turn when a 14-year-old ned steals her ex’s guitar and she takes chase through the neon-lit streets of Glasgow.

Attending a lot of gigs in the city was what first inspired SCUZZ: “I thought Glasgow’s music scene was really dynamic and had so much cinematic potential.” Ghafar was also attracted to the idea of incorporating a chase scene through town. “I liked the idea of using something traditional to an action movie, then taking it in a completely different direction,” she says. “It was a mix of wanting to capture the atmosphere of Glasgow nightlife and also play with genre elements in an unexpected way – resulting in a story of an endearing, unlikely friendship.”

Despite being only two films into her career, certain themes and styles are already starting to emerge: intergenerational friendships, working-class protagonists with artistic ambitions and greasy spoon cafe settings to name just three. “I do love the aesthetics of old-school cafes and chip shops – I feel they're our equivalent to a US diner and there’s so many great diner scenes in cinema!” This writer-director is also interested in bringing characters together from different worlds: “I think in life, those chance encounters with people you wouldn’t necessarily seek out are often the most enriching and memorable.”

Don’t try to pin Ghafar down though; her influences are eclectic. “SCUZZ has some Safdie Brothers inspo in there,” she reveals. “Salt & Sauce is a slight homage to Chungking Express and the first feature I’m writing is influenced by classic road movies. My top five films include Billy Elliot but also Paris, Texas – so really, I'm a mess.”

Laura Wadha

Isle of Us

While Laura Wadha’s skill as a documentarian are all her own, we should perhaps thank her mother for pushing this talented young filmmaker towards her calling. “When I was 14 my mum signed me up for a week-long filmmaking workshop at the local youth centre,” she recalls. “From the moment I picked up a camera I knew it was what I wanted to do and have been making films ever since.” Her love for documentary was cemented with her first short, 2013’s Saved By Shrapnel, which centred on her grandad, a veteran of the Korean War who suffers from PTSD. “The process of making that film and learning about his life, exploring things we would never normally have talked about, made me realise the power of documentary film.”

Her films are characterised by a fine-grained subtlety (“I try not to over-explain things,” she says) and an expressive use of archive. A film that made a great impression on her when she was starting out was 5 Broken Cameras from Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat. “I watched it when I was quite young and it has always been a film I go back to. Other directors who have influenced me are Laura Poitras, Clio Barnard, Kim Longinotto and Joshua Oppenheimer.”

Themes of identity, grief and trauma run through her films. She’s also interested in memory, which she likes to explore in visceral ways. That’s clear from new film Isle of Us, which follows Mounzer, a phlegmatic Syrian barber trying to make a new life for himself and his family on Bute. Wadha is half-Scottish, half-Syrian and has explored the Syrian refugee experience before in her 2017 film Flight, which followed her teen cousins' move to Sweden after fleeing the war. The idea for a film on Bute came when her dad told her about the large number of Syrians who’d been relocated there. On her first visit to the island, she was taken aback by the atmosphere. “There was a Syrian bakery, a Syrian restaurant and a Syrian barbershop [Mounzer’s]. In each place, it was as if I had been transported back to times I had spent on holiday in Syria.”

There have been many films over the last few years documenting the war in Syria and the often perilous journeys refugees are forced to take to escape the conflict. Wadha wanted to tell a story of what comes after that trauma. “I think it is important to talk about identity and how trauma becomes something that is lived with while trying to start a completely new life in an unrecognisable place,” she says. “I want to make films which create empathy and make people feel immersed, leaving with a better understanding of what people in Syria have gone through.”

Jack Goessens


Commissioned as part of the Scottish Documentary Institute’s Bridging the Gap series, Jack Goessens’ Everyman is a vivid essay film and a rare gender transition story told from an insider’s perspective. “The film was a way of trying to show people what was in my head and what I was feeling,” Goessens says. “When I started living as Jack and introduced myself to new people, I was really aware that I was now experiencing the world from a different viewpoint – a bit like going through the looking glass. Most people are aware of these realities but will only ever experience them from one side so I wanted to share what I was seeing.”

The Everyman of the title is the superhero character Goessens created as a kid. Decked out in his father’s old suit jacket and a cap, Everyman’s chief appeal was that Goessens would often be identified as a boy while dressed as the character. The film takes the poetic form of dreamy reenactments of a young Goessens revelling in the transformative power of the Everyman costume, cut together with witty vignettes referencing everything from old sitcoms to renaissance art that explore various aspects of Goessens’ transition. “I find it quite difficult to verbalise the nuances of my experience,” he says. “These pieces of art and film, then, are essentially an alternative but universal language.”

Goessens’ filmmaking began at 14, when he taught himself editing by slicing his favourite films and TV shows into music videos. Following a few evening and weekend writing and directing classes, he went on to study film at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. As evident from Everyman and his other shorts, like 2018's Bouba & Kiki, about a young man who associates the sound of people’s voices with flavours, Goessens’ filmmaking is exuberant and uninhibited. “I quite like to play with form and work with magic realism or hyperrealism,” he says. “I tend to get obsessed with different filmmakers and immerse myself in their work; at the moment that’s Céline Sciamma and Xavier Dolan.”

Everyman isn’t just refreshing in its form. It’s bracing, too, in its focus on the social issues around gender transitioning, which seem particularly under-discussed elsewhere. “The social side has both been the most interesting and the most difficult aspect of transitioning for me,” he says, “and something I found myself talking about a lot. I also like to think it’s a more relatable story, which is important because trans people are still quite misunderstood.”

Douglas King

Do No Harm

Douglas King's filmmaking career started early: “I made my first film when I was around nine, after borrowing – eventually outright stealing – my grandad’s video camera.” Initially, the stars were made of Lego, although he soon started roping in human actors. “When I went to high school I started to cast my friends and screening the films in the library at lunchtime,” he recalls. “At the time I was editing through my VCR.”

When a supportive art teacher got wind of these screenings and King’s rudimentary editing methods, he purchased Adobe Premiere for the class. “This was incredible for him to do as he let me come in at lunchtime to practice editing on the computer,” says King, “and even more incredible when I found out years later that it cost half his budget, and no other pupil used the program!”

We can thank that teacher, then – and King’s diligent studying of Scorsese on Scorsese, which he first read around 12 and to which he still returns (“I’ve got two editions and they are both falling apart”) – for the nimble editing of his new short Do No Harm. It follows Beth, a top scientist, who, after hours, breaks into the high-security facility at which she works, all to stop her pregnant colleague from eating a possibly out-of-date cheese and tomato sandwich.

Writer Rosy Barnes brought King the idea for this “OCD thriller” and suggested its breakneck parallel editing structure, which flips between Beth’s night-time raid and the events of that day at work that has lead to such extreme behaviour. Do No Harm was developed through a Scottish Film Talent Network scheme, and King and Barnes had to fight to keep the film’s chopped-up chronology. “That structure was important to both of us as it allowed us to set a pace for the entire short,” says King, “but more importantly, the structure reflects the OCD thought loop that Beth is going through, and how she can’t break free.”

Much of the film’s humour comes from the clash between what’s going on in Beth’s head (a Mission Impossible-style heist) and the mundanity of reality. “Beth feels like she is living in a high-octane action movie,” says King, “but when you cut to the CCTV she is running while trying to avoid the cracks in the tiles, which just looks a bit weird.”

Everyman screens in Scottish Competition 1: House of Mirrors; live Q&A on 23 Mar, 7.15pm
The Shift, Isle of Us and Do No Harm screen in Scottish Competition 2: A World to Win; live Q&A on 25 Mar, 7.15pm
SCUZZ screens in Scottish Competition 4: Under the Volcano; live Q&A on 27 Mar, 7.15pm

Glasgow Short Film Festival runs 22-27 Mar; more information and festival passes here