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Culture Reviews
Futureshorts Russia II Film Festival
By Alex Meredith
As an infrequent moviegoer whose diet is primarily high budget, low quality Hollywood cinema, it is sometimes easy to lose the sense of film as art. Mainstream productions of true artistic merit are rare as powerful commercial forces pull directors towards the mass market. Any function of filmmaking, beyond simply the generation of cash, can be forgotten, firewalling innovative productions from the part-timer’s consciousness.

Two encounters with the big screen last week highlighted the point beautifully. I don’t know what possessed me to buy and then even more inexplicably watch “The Terminal”, a 90 minute attempt to patronise and irritate anyone unfortunate enough to be watching it. Perhaps it was the tempting familiarity of seeing Tom Hanks opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones or maybe it was a blind faith in the ability of Steven Spielberg. Whatever my excuse, it was a mistake, and as the timely credits rescued me from the early onset of dementia, I was left to ponder how my faith in cinema could possibly get off the canvas after this weighty blow.

The resuscitation job was carried out on Saturday as I traded in my night on Moscow’s tiles for an hour in the wind tunnel of fresh air created by “FutureShorts” at 35mm. In 60 minutes of quick-fire quality, this selection of short films had taught me more about originality and imagination in world cinema than a year’s free entry to any Odeon you could mention. Varying from a 10 minute animated aircraft safety announcement to 2 minute black comedy on the lunar landing and including almost every genre in between there was a dish for every palate in the packed auditorium to enjoy. Personally I found an agreeable flavour in almost everything on offer, a tribute to the quality control job done by the curator.

Opening with a comical French sketch entitled “I am a horse”, I was slightly concerned that the collection might have placed the emphasis on cheap laughs. Happily this proved not to be the case. This Gallic farce was followed immediately by an animation from Germany that took us on a runaway train through a valley of death to a star wars shoot out using a series of evocative old movie clips and imaginative sketching. Whilst with this, and a couple of other more abstract offerings, the themes were difficult to fathom, you could not fail to be impressed by the imagination and workmanship of the finished product. In general, however, there was a lighthearted feel to the selection. The English study of a boy who sends his deceased 80 year old best friend on a final journey on his scooter to cause havoc at the ballroom dancing before heading off into the blue yonder was certainly intended to warm the heart. If the groans of approval from the audience were anything to go by, it achieved just that.

If I had to choose a favourite, then the Japanese piece featuring a girl named Yuki would be my selection. Another triumph of imagination and novelty, the piece follows our heroine through a very short series of insignificant events. The innovation of the creators brings in a new, almost identical actress to take the girl’s character for every new movement she makes, each actress remaining on set, standing motionless in a continuous line. As the camera gradually pans with a silky smooth movement of the lens across the short slice of Yuki’s day that we have been invited into, I found myself hopelessly drawn into the scene, looking eagerly for the next move and wandering where this train was going to lead. One of the most captivating elements of the work is the chirpy Japanese pop song, perfectly selected to match the rhythm of the piece and adding to its irresistibility. With such a short time to hold the audience’s attention, music can be a powerful tool of the short filmmaker and other than a rather tedious study of an orchestral drummer it was used with great skill throughout.

As the selection above illustrates, the curator’s choices cut across not only disciplines, but also geographical boundaries. Films from Europe, Asia and America made the grade with those that included dialogue being subtitled in English since the festival had not simply been put together for a Russian audience. The collection is midway through a tour of London, Paris and St Petersburg amongst others, something that appears to have been made possible by the highly visible sponsorship provided by a mobile phone manufacturer. Happily translation devices were provided leaving the predominately Russian audience reaching for their earpieces like a visiting UN delegation when the dialogue kicked in.

Having the good fortune to find entertainment and enjoyment in a place you least expect it is a rare and satisfying experience. Neither too long nor too abstract, this introduction to film shorts was just such an event, made all the more gratifying by the contrast with my recent less successful dabbles with cinema. I have no idea how they survive, but that there are studios all over the world producing material of this sort of quality is a cause for celebration. Therefore my advice would be - when Hollywood dross leaves you feeling bitter, try a little something short and sweet.

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