15 short films produced in Northern Ireland showcase the depth of amateur talent across the country, and deliver plenty of shocks and surprises
The brainchild of Northern Irish filmmaker Brian Mulholland, Film Devour at the Black Box in Belfast presents 15 short films by emerging Northern Irish directors, each produced on a shoestring budget.
All differ greatly in subject matter, execution and length (anywhere between a couple of minutes to the full 15 minute limit), but are similarly impressive with regards to direction, acting and production. Proceedings begin with the film Walt (pictured above), by Randall Plunkett.
13-year-old James walks alongside the river on his way home from school, angrily throwing rocks into the water. There he meets the eponymous Walt, an elderly, blind American, who is fishing alone. A friendship, of sorts, develops between the two, with Walt offering advice and telling James of his own troubled youth.
Walt has the feel of a coming of age drama. However, in the final few minutes, everything is turned on its head after Walt lures James and his girlfriend back to his cottage under false pretences. Walt's sinister intentions are played out in a disturbingly violent finale, which draws audible gasps from the strong Black Box crowd.
Walt recalls the work of Shane Meadows, especially A Room for Romeo Brass, featuring beautifully shot rural landscapes and a distinct and palpable sense of impending doom. The film’s final sequences are not for the faint of heart – so it is perhaps fortunate that no trailer is available online. Think Saw and Hostel, but, dare I say it, even more menacing.
The 15 shorts at this year's Film Devour are shown in order according to genre, so after the shock of Walt we are treated to a selection of films that tickle the funny bone rather than shatter it. A number of very short, simple sketches by Aidan Gault lighten the mood thereafter, and draw comparisons amongst the audience with Monty Python and Big Train.
Action, by Chris Thompson, shows a film crew attempting to make a low budget sci-fi picture, while the aptly named Sweet Revenge begins like a serious, gritty crime thriller (featuring the theme from Dirty Harry) but soon escalates into farcical comedy. At one point our protagonist describes his intended victim as a 'diabolical rolo-eating motherf**ker', much to the amusement of the audience.
Then it's time for a some thrillers, and Kingdom, by Bill Taylor, doesn't disappoint. The story of a warring couple who invite their new neighbours for dinner with horrific results, Kingdom uses a character named Gwen as its narrator: she describes the events to a therapist.
A hard-hitting thriller, Kingdom uses themes similar to those prevalent in classic horror The Wicker Man and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, while the original music by Paul Hughes, featuring simple plucked guitar, chiming xylophone and distorted synthesizers, adds to the building tension.
The Big Mad House Party, by Cormac McDermott, is a strange type of Northern Irish party political broadcast in which the country's various political leaders are satirised with extreme ridicule. The filmmakers were obviously influenced by cult television shows The Day Today and Brass Eye, but The Big Mad House Party is as Northern Irish as a comedy short could ever be. That is to say, it won't be to everyone's taste.
Red Light, Brian Mulholland’s effort, follows and is a slow, thoughtful rumination on childbirth and the issues and problems that can arise from it. Red Light features a fantastically understated central performance by Naseen Morgan, who plays Jennifer. While waiting in a sparse, colourless doctor's surgery, she befriends the pregnant Sheila. Both go on to discuss their partners, sex, and the subject of children.
Jennifer is pale, dowdy and emotionless, while Sheila comes across as exuberant, extroverted and passionate. There is a clear contrast between the two, and the audience soon discover the reasons why. Red Light is a delicate, compassionate examination of a common subject that will resonate with many. It's no surprise that the film ends up winner of best picture following an audience vote later in the evening.
The second half of the night is a more mixed affair, with stand out films being the sweet, romantic comedy Go Your Own Way and the closing film, the spoof horror flick Jason goes to Andytown. The former features a fine comic performance from Denis Halligan, and draws comparisons with High Fidelity (and not just because there are scenes filmed in an independent record store).
Go Your Own Way is perhaps the most straightforward film of the night, and certainly the short with the most universal appeal. It also strikes a chord amongst the directors and actors present, winning their vote for the direction prize.
Jason goes to Andytown, by Steven and Wayne Benson, is a comedy horror in the Zombieland mold. It's a silly pastiche of the Friday the 13th slasher series, with the evil Jason’s only weakness here being the dreaded 'swall' (or booze, for those from outside of the UK). A scene in which one of Jason’s victims decides to pleasure himself one final time is a triumph of gross-out humour executed with perfect comic timing.
As organiser Brian Mulholland salutes the cast, crew and audience at the end of the night, he reveals that another instalment of Film Devour is not far off, with the next series of screenings to take place as part of the Belfast Film Festival on April 15. More short treats are sure to be store.
Film Devour illustrates that the film-making process is in a state of rude health in Northern Ireland, with an array of talented and dedicated amateur filmmakers out there currently making bold, funny, inventive and engrossing work. It is the perfect platform for those keen to test their work on live audiences, gain some valuable feedback and network with likeminded people from across Northern Ireland.