Short Shots

Emerging filmmakers find an outlet and an audience at the QFT

‘Excuse me, do you work at Northern Ireland Screen?’ ‘No mate, I’m a courier.’ Myself and my companion, a film-lover trying to make it behind the camera, eventually track down the NIS head of production. ‘Got his card!’ my friend beams. 

Close encounters on the street aside, it’s been a rough start for my filmmaking friend, and (you can be sure) for others like him. Film schedules slip, cast or crew fail to show, directors remain uncertain about where to go and who to talk to. What, exactly, should an amateur filmmaker in Belfast do?

'James'I enter Short Shots with this question in mind. The lack of a supportive infrastructure in Belfast for budding film-makers is highlighted by a representative from the Queen’s Film Studies course. 

'What is lacking is a ‘hub’ for these people,' he remarks. Could Short Shots, the Queen's Film Theatre's inaugural local film showcase, help address the issue? 'In time, perhaps.' 

Tonight is the first edition of ‘Best of QUB Film Studies’, nine short films from the department’s graduates and undergraduates, with the second instalment to follow in September. 

August sees projects funded by the aforementioned NIS, but after that the QFT will attempt to develop Short Shots into a broader, community film club with an open submissions policy. ‘I want it to be like an open mic night,’ says QFT manager Susan Picken. 

It’s a fine concept. A platform for the camera-happy folk to showcase their work, get some quick feedback, and build a skills itinerary. And, of course, somewhere for the people with money to ascertain which filmmakers they might fund next. 

The first Short Shots collection features nine short films. In a critical nutshell, two great, a couple forgettable, and the rest somewhere in-between. 

We hit the ground running with James, the pick of the bunch. Part of director Conor Clements’ MA work, the film already has a reputation. It stars one of the leads from Mickybo and Me, Niall Wright, and was screened in the short film section at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Not bad for a kid from Scarva. 

The film is devoid of attention-grabbing gimmicks. With a running time of 10 minutes, Clements’ most 'Girlfriend'distinguishing directorial feature with James is his restraint. 

A quiet portrait of a schoolboy dealing with an emerging sexuality, the film’s measured performances and tone set it apart. A brave effort. It manages to be genuinely realistic and sad, in a way which isn’t melodramatic or brash. 

Elsewhere The Magpies, a frightening examination of a father’s guilty conscience and mental deterioration, is marked out by director Grace Sweeney’s schizophrenic shooting and editing style. Lucretia Devlin’s Time-Lapse, despite an all-too-clever conceit, shows great technical malleability with camera speed. 

With Nightshift, Carly Smyth appropriates Chuck Palahniuk’s idea of a society divided into day-timers and night-timers, but delivers stunning, arresting opening and closing sequences. Zuzana Klimova’s Circles in Mind is a challenging and original music documentary, despite not really going anywhere.

The other stand-out is Noir, by Chris Ellis, a tongue-in-cheek lesson in incongruity. PI Phelim Noir pursues his investigation with a rare earnestness in a changing Belfast. The detective also suffers from a colour blindness that renders his vision monochrome (a gorgeous conceit). 

With the lead riffing off noir puns (‘How do you like your eggs?’ ‘Hard-boiled.’) and piss-taking detective banter, one directorial eye winks while the other keeps the focus. It's funny stuff, and a wittier comment on the gentrification of Belfast than the overt ‘issue’ film, The Estate.

'Time-Lapse'The only Troubles film on show (one out of nine isn’t bad) The Estate could have been an interesting look at a community out of time, but Paul Best’s effort ultimately (and rather disappointingly) descends into something like a low-budget DOE advertisment. 

The Intruder and Girlfriend, by Sean Duncan and Peter Jameson respectively, are amateur student material, and sit uncomfortably with the likes of James and Noir. But the overall quality of these short films is perhaps of secondary importance. What matters is that emerging Northern Irish filmmakers are producing material and that other people are watching the results. 

It is early days for Short Shots. The odd spark of brilliance, however, is enough to suggest that the talent is there to be nurtured. For the next Short Shots, the QFT ups the stakes, with projects that were good enough on paper to inspire Northern Ireland Screen to part with their cash. Let's hope they live up to their billing. 

Conor Smyth

Short Shots: Local Heroes II is showing at QFT on Monday, August 4.