Saturday, 9 April 2011

QFT Short Film Competition

Today (Saturday 9th April), the Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast ran a series of short film competitions, split into three parts, in order to highlight the Irish film industry's growing commitment to nurturing home-grown talent. There were far too many films for me to discuss, but here are a few which I think are an absolute must-see for any film lover, mainly because they offer a fantastic array of genres, themes and styles:


Rickshaw Rick: This ten-minute short is written and directed by Robert Manson, produced by Annville Films, and stars Martin McCann and Karen Sheridan. The plot is fairly straightforward. Rick (McCann) drives a rickshaw around the city of Dublin and offers to deliver three young women to a party. When one of the women, Grace (Sheridan), leaves her bag behind in the vehicle, Rick attempts to track her down and return the bag to its rightful owner.

What is refreshing about this piece is the detail and the perceptiveness Manson has been able to bring to the screen through his unique style and vision. For example, Manson will focus on the minutiae of a scene such as raindrops falling on the rickshaw's handlebars, the creaking noises made by the vehicle's wheels, while the noisy traffic and the urban space is relegated to the periphery of the narrative. This serves to highlight Rick's role as a detached protagonist, who appears to feel completely adrift when away from his rickshaw.

Credit must be given to Piers McGrail who, as cinematographer, figuratively and visually lights up the screen. The actors and the scenery are beautifully lit, and he manages to create a warm atmosphere within the confines of the rickshaw, one which is juxtaposed to the cold, angular environments Rick experiences on the streets and at the party.

Gareth Averill and Major Bullhorn also do excellent jobs in providing the original music. The score feels aptly sombre and melancholic without dragging the film down or boring the audience.

McCann and Sheridan have a genuine, instant chemistry, evident by how relatively little screen-time they share. I was rooting for Rick to find Grace at the party and I was a little deflated (as was the rest of the audience by the sounds of it) when he was made to feel like a bit of a spare tyre by her date. I have long been a fan of Marty McCann's, so it is nice to see him do so much, yet so subtly, with this character, and following his performance in Swansong: The Story of Occi Byrne, I think he is in with a good chance of cornering the market of protagonists for whom we can't help but feel empathy, even in the space of 10 short (too short!) minutes, as is the case with "Rickshaw Rick".

If you get the chance, GO SEE THIS FILM!


Even Gods: "Even Gods" is written/directed/produced by Phil Harrison, and stars Lalor Roddy and Laura Thompson as a father and daughter who meet following a 13 year estrangement. When we first meet Hugh (Roddy), he has been living in a hostel for over 6 years and is surprised to hear that his daughter Sarah (Thompson) wants to meet. Over a lunch-time conversation in a wonderfully shot real-time scene, the audience learns more about the strained state of relations between these two people, while the promise of reconciliation is offered by Sarah's daughter, whose severe hearing impairment serves as a symbol of Hugh's and Sarah's need to learn to communicate to one another in a new way.

Tim Millen's score is gentle, slow and well in-keeping with the tone of this film. As I mentioned, the narrative's crux is a fantastic real-time interaction between the three main characters, and the fact that Harrison lets the story unfold with such freedom really allows the actors to dig into their roles, and the audience to care about whether Hugh and Sarah will reunite. Roddy and Thompson excel at creating a sense of shared, heart-wrenching history between their characters, while Lois Turkington is plain adorable as the little girl at the centre of their reunion.

This is a heartwarming film in a fairly atypical sense. So, once again, GO SEE IT IF YOU CAN!


Small Change: Another parent/child story, but this time with a much darker, colder reality. Nora-Jane Noone plays Karen in this drama about a woman whose gambling addiction threatens her job, her safety, and most importantly for her, her relationship with her daughter Laura (played by Tina Maxwell). Olivia Nash appears in a small role as Karen's counterpart in the gambling scenes, but the fact that she is the most well-known actor in this film never overshadows the central relationship between Karen and Laura.

What I liked most about this film was the lack of pay-off at the end for some of the narrative strands set up by writer/director Cathy Brady. We never see Laura's inevitable disappointment at what we can imagine will be Karen's inevitable failure to secure the promised holiday in Spain, nor do we seen Karen's showdown with hassler Steven (played by Tom Collins). I can only guess that the film stops short of exploring these issues because by the end there is a strong implication that Karen's endeavours to better her's and her daughter's lives will prove both fruitless and tragic.

Brady has shot the film with a heavy reliance on hand-held camera, which successfully merges the exterior cinema-verite style with Karen's interior feelings of instability. Noone does not have an easy character with which to work, but I think she accomplishes the writer's aim to depict a woman who is in a self-perpetuating state of despair. For Noone's performance alone, I recommend you watch this film.


Noreen: "Noreen" brought the screening to a close and a more perfect choice could not have been made to fill the slot. Merging farcical comedy with fond characterisations, Domhnall Gleeson borrows the Odd Couple format to tell the story of two policeman at opposite ends of their careers (Brian Gleeson the rookie officer; Brendan Gleeson the disenfranchised senior).

From beginning to end, this film evoked enormous laughs from the audience and this can only be put down to the impeccable timing and chemistry shared by the two Gleesons. There are some dramatic undertones to the proceedings as Frank's (Brian Gleeson) broken heart finds a way to collide with his job, and Con (Brendan Gleeson) admits to communicative difficulties with his son, however, I respect writer/director Domhnall Gleeson's decision to marginalise these plot points in favour of the main story. Like in "Even Gods", the narrative crux plays out in a fantastic real-time sequence which gives the Gleeson men the opportunity to take a ridiculous, unbelievable scenario and really sell it to the audience in a bizarrely entertaining way.

I would happily watch this film again, although if you are squeamish I would suggest you take something to settle your stomach before sitting down to view "Noreen" - and that is all you are getting out of me on this subject!

So, I went on a bit in this post, but that tells you why I chose to focus on only 4 films instead of the full 5-hour programme which was kindly offered by the QFT.

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