A host of amateur filmmakers from across Northern Ireland showcase new works at the Black Box
Despite it being just over two months since the last installment of Film Devour – an occasional evening of short film screenings developed by director, Brian Mulholland – again the best of Northern Irish filmmaking talent have an opportunity to show new work in a packed out Black Box, this time as part of the 2013 Belfast Film Festival.
The room is buzzing with up and coming actors, producers, writers and directors, as well as a healthy smattering of film fans eager to see what each of the 20 short films on show tonight have to offer. Last time there were tears of joy and sadness, and tonight’s collection has a similarly eclectic variation.
The opening film is essentially a music video. Rikaard Returns, by Thomas J Smyth, is a tribute to James Bond, with its secret agent infiltrating the enemy’s base to rescue the requisite beauty. Featuring a remixed Bond theme by Paul Oakenfold (don't tell the copyright police!) it is an exciting opening to the night, which is swiftly followed by one of several thriller/horror pictures.
Romantic Getaway, by Tom Dart, begins innocently enough, with a middle-aged man making breakfast, presumably for his wife or partner. Cut to a younger woman chained to the bed. Why is she there? How? Is it an S&M job, or something more sinister? The clever ambiguity of the location adds to the eerie and seedy atmosphere of Dart's intriguing short.
Next up is Issues of Trust, a gangster film by Chris Madden, which is very much in the vein of The Sopranos and The Godfather, and in which a crime boss interrogates one of this 'soldiers' about working for the 'Feds'. There are a couple of nice twists and turns along the way, and although the script does feel a bit clichéd, the intensity and conviction of the performances add weight.
The quality of some of these shorts is often astonishing, especially given that they were made on a shoestring budget. Such professionalism is evident in Poison Tree, by Campbell Miller, which wins the director’s award at the end of the evening following an open vote.
Based on the William Blake poem of the same name, this short film – which appears to be set in the 1800s America – tells the dark tale of a teenage girl forced by her father to prostitute herself to a wicked preacher, who threatens the alcoholic father with damnation. The final act is violent and shocking, and not for the faint-hearted. This is a Northern Irish Western with a 1970s blacksploitation feel.
The next six films before the intermission include the American Pie style 'bro-comedy' Three Beys and a Pizza, by Aidan J Donaghy, black comedy Paper Trail, by Neville Stevenson, and 7 Minutes, a horror by Neill Morris.
Arguably the two best films of the night (for entirely differing reasons) are also in the first half. Documentary Those Who Are Left, by Keith Kopp, investigates the notion of forgiveness in post-conflict society, in this case focusing on the Rhodesian Bush war in Zimbabwe.
In the film, a now middle-aged former soldier meets up with the daughter of a family directly involved in the war. They discuss their experiences, and contemplate the possibility of forgiveness. One to one interviews with the soldier, the daughter and also the director himself – who fought in the Iraq War – are all particularly tragic. While Those Who Are Left is, perhaps, overly long, the honest, moving testimonies have an undeniable emotional impact.
Conversely, the other stand out film of the night, Boing, by Marie Clare Cushinan, has the audience wiping away tears of laughter. Our heroine, who is preparing to welcome a date to her flat, is left a gift from her housemate, just in case things don’t go so well. Cue misunderstandings and plenty of laughs.
Boing feels like an extended comedy sketch, something that wouldn't have felt out of place in the likes of cult Channel 4 show Smack The Pony. The relatively simple running gag that the film is built around is handled with expert comic timing, and the audience show their appreciation by voting Boing winner of the Audience Award later in the night.
The second half of the evening is even more varied in terms of genre. We have another music video (On Your Knees, directed by Neill Kerr), a wonderful animated love story (A Very Strange Thing, by Rik Peel), Passing Glances, a romantic comedy by Dominic Curran, and a mock self-help film, The Phil McCracken Show by Aidan J Donaghy, which draws howls of laughter from the audience with its arbitrary tips on how to make the perfect cup of coffee and other household tasks.
Comedy continues with the fantastic Bubba Jones-Tep, by Bill Taylor, featuring the comedy dup McKeever and Jones. Regular contributors to Film Devour, the duo’s latest is a story of love, lose and dead bodies, which is absurd and grotesque and downright hilarious.
There are Evil Dead references, and even a joke about Jimmy Saville, which is unapologetically silly and undeniably Northern Irish. As is the closing film of the night, Scream like F*ck, by Cormac McDermot, another spoof horror from the same people who brought us Jason Goes to Andytown at the last Film Devour screening.
Even the most cynical audience member would have to admit that the amateur and independent Northern Irish filmmaking scene is continuing to grow, and Film Devour is certainly one of the best examples of that, a shop window for filmmakers to showcase their work and network with others. Hollywood will come and go, but it's at grass roots level that we should be most excited.
The Belfast Film Festival continues until April 21.