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No/Gloss Film Festival 2013 Review

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Only in its second year, No/Gloss Film Festival is already garnering some big attention, including a place in BBC’s Great Film Festivals. Amidst Canal Mills‘ warehouse-like interior, two screens showcased some of the best new short films from around the world, luring you in with the chatter of foreign drama, the high octane soundtrack to action flicks, the mysterious sounds of more abstract conceptual pieces, whatever takes your fancy. There was a bar, a VIP area stocked with Red Bull and Brew Dog, some damn tasty burritos and a barbecue whose tantalising smell would occasionally waft through the screenings, tempting everyone outside. We headed in on Day 2 of this year’s programme to see what future classics we could find.

Dreaming Apecar (Italy) wins the award for Most Bizarre Title straightaway. Grabbing you with its opening shots of a woman running through the streets (the chased? the chaser?), its the story of one Italian lady tasked with caring for an elderly Roma man who doesn’t speak her language and her discovery of his secret life outside her home. Though we couldn’t see the subtitles all that well due to the heads of the front row of seats, the acting and direction was so good that you didn’t need to know what was being said. And that’s pretty high praise. It essentially worked as a silent film, with a couple of great laugh out loud moments. I was charmed thoroughly.

reverieThe animated short Reverie (German) starts off all over-saccharine smiles, a husband and his loving wife in a postcard life, before nosediving into darkness from the moment he sees a man jump in front of a metro on his morning commute. What follows is the peaks and deep deep troughs of his life thereafter. The animation is phenomenal, the story conveyed through hallucinatory, dream-like visuals that run from the nightmarish to the abstract. Dali would be proud.

Up next was the short and sharp Lavender Girl (Canada), a film about “a girl with a problem”. What we got from that ambiguous set up was a chilling depiction of OCD ruining someone’s life, and in barely over 2 minutes. A simple production with a lot of impact. The final focused shot on a still running bathroom tap was eerie.

Stand Up (UK) was a comedy with a setup full of potential. A former big time comedian now lives his life in permanently sozzled inequity. Growing tired of this life, he makes a bid for stardom again, while still being an aggressive alcoholic. The stand-out scene is his first ill-fated attempts at an open mic night; the main man plays a drunk to perfection. However, occasionally some of the cast’s delivery was a bit stiff and one or two gags didn’t pay off as well as they could. But the overall concept was very enjoyable, and with the director’s plans for expansion I’m sure the kinks can be worked out nicely. The bittersweet ending, when he realises just what the audience want of him, was quite moving.

communionCommunion (UK) was the first full-length feature of the day. Not that we noticed the extra time going past, so riveting was its story. The director’s pitch of a priest questioning his faith and becoming a vigilante along with a Mexican punk undersold it, perhaps intentionally. The cliched-sounding American grindhouse concept is given real British gravitas and serious. There is less vigilantism and more of a character study. It’s a mysterious, brilliantly shot film, one dark in subject matter always keeping you guessing as to what has motivated the priest’s shrugging off of the cloth until the last five minutes. Clever use of rapid cutting really conveys his fracturing sensibility. His relationship with the Mexican backpacker he picks up on his travels is genuinely touching. The central performance from the priest grabs you and refuses to let go. You really care for the characters come the ambiguous, hopeful yet devastating conclusion, with the central pair’s individual fates cleverly juxtaposed. What they’ve achieved with their £15,000 budget is incredible.

A quick break in showings for us to go restock ourselves with drink and food and we were back, glued to the screens. Madison Branches (Taiwan) tells the story of the titular amnesiac Madison, coming to strapped to a chair and being commanded to remember something she did, something impied to be horrible. Flashbacks of her, her husband and her daughter slowly reveal the answer. It treads some well-worn ground with a big reveal some will have second-guessed early on, but the fearless performance from its female lead elevates this movie above its cliches. Though the less said about the husband’s flat performance the better.

Now this one we were looking forward to. Luminaris (Argentina) was the most inventive, imaginative film of the day, brimming with whimsy and beautiful imagery. In a world powered by light, our hero rises and moves with the sun to his place of work, a lightbulb factory where the men chew on glass to blow out bulbs like bubblegum and the women give them that spark of life. This is the story of our hero’s attempt to change the world. The style of filming, live actors but with the movement of stopmotion figures, just adds to bags of charm it already possessed. Not a second is wasted without something wonderful happening. Full of humour and gorgeous to look at, it can’t help but make you smile.

Frankenstorm: From Across The East River (USA) tells the story of the night half the New York skyline went dark after the Con Edison powerplant explosion from an innocent bystander perspective. Classed as an experimental documentary, imagine if Cloverfield had the weather of Hurricane Sandy as the monster. Filmed on camera phones and handheld camcorders, as a first-person account from regular folks witnessing the street-level chaos it was captivating, getting a real feel for the tension as the wind picks up and the rain lashes down. However, it seemed to lack something by the end, finishing perhaps a tad too suddenly.

The Lower 9: A Story of Home (USA) is a series of interviews focused on where the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans finds itself three years after Katrina and features one of the most good-humoured descriptions of someone almost losing life and limb you’ll ever hear. “Woo, I thought, I’m gonna be a mess in the morning!” smiles one of its subjects as he shows the scars he suffered. The different perspectives often pick up on the same train of thought but follow it through to very different destinations. The interviews, very focused on the human side of things, are cleverly contrasted with shots of the utter lack of people left in some areas; still photo-like shots of abandoned houses, objects scattered everywhere in busted interiors. What really moves here is the optimism for the future and that they haven’t given up on any of it. This is their home and they’ve built it back up.

2 Hours (USA) is a zombie short from the perspective of a man haunted by his one last memory of the love of his life, her being zombified in a nightmare. Bitten and with two hours to find a cure, we follow him as his mind turns on him and he succumbs to the virus. There were some serious cliches here, including a tired voice over with some truly cringeworthy lines. However, that aside the execution was great. The action was shot brilliantly, managing to pull off a first-person shooter section with real aplomb. The environs were suitably apocalyptic and the makeup excellent. Ignore some of the dialogue and you had a winner.

The most looked forward to for many of the people we spoke to today was Lad: A Yorkshire Story (UK), a full-length jewel in the crown of the day. A classic coming of age tale set within the Yorkshire Dales, the trials and tribulations of the young lad of the title are played out amidst the stunning countryside. Occasional drifts into ‘Grim Oop North’ cliché were easy to overlook as it was delivered with such honesty. Frequently beautiful, charming and poignant, it also had some hilarious moments. A muckspreader has never looked so beautiful. Delivered with fantastic conviction by the cast and a real star turn by the lad himself, it was a story to warm the coldest of hearts.

Our day done, we relocated to The Brew Dog Bar in The Calls to talk about all the great things we’d just seen. What a fantastic festival we have on our hands here. There wasn’t a single dud amongst the films on display, the venue was cool, the staff were the friendliest and clearly excited by the goings on. As soon as we left we wanted there to be more days to come. Roll on next year.