Unscripted - Adventures in Cinema

Four short films showcase the diversity of talent on the Northern Irish scene

The four short films screened in tonight’s event at the Queen's Film Theatre show the quality and diversity of film-making in Northern Ireland.

With its muted colour scheme and neat schism between realities, Jon Beer’s Yuki is a tasteful evocation of teenage power fantasy.

While Yuki’s mother lies in a hospital bed, 'a monster grips her heart'. The monster is, of course, cancer, cinema’s go-to illness du jour. In her dream life Yuki incorporates the illness as a black, wheezing Samurai that she must fight and overcome. Anyone expecting The Flaming Lips to cameo at this point will be disappointed.

What you get instead is the notion of origami as a martial art, a shower of blood-red cranes and, surprising in this day and age, a happy ending. The photography is crisp and the contrasting grey of Belfast with the warm reds and greens of Japan is nicely understated.

Nigel Bristow’s Unsound pushes a lot of buttons. It’s meant to. It was filmed as Emotional Response Cinema, utilising state of the art galvanic skin response and heart fluctuation technology. Viewers are monitored for their sweat and their pulse-rates, and the film adjusts its audio track and scene selections according to audience responses. Oh Brave New World!

Tonight, though, it is unadorned. Nobody in QFT is wired up, unless it’s a result of the complimentary Jameson’s. So how does it fare as a film? Actually, it works very well. Familiar horror tropes rush in at once: an elderly woman is living alone. She’s vulnerable, fingering pill-boxes, and carrying what must surely be her husband’s ashes in an urn!

A mysterious sou’westered figure presses against the wet glass of the window. The sound is muffled and a radio appears to be detuned until she removes her hearing aid and the white noise abates. There are shocks, twists and damaged bodies ahead. Even denuded of its futuristic raison d’être, this is fantastic film-making: clammy, creepy and knowing.

Chris Baugh’s Hardy Hands is another gem, a beautifully weighted take on the small-town-boy-returns-home-after-living-in-the-big-city story, so beloved of regional theatre the world over.

Paul (Michael Lavery) is back in town for a funeral and meets old school friends in the pub. Is there a possible romantic intrigue with old flame Sally (Mary Frances Doherty)? No chance with his drunken mates casually threatening him with violence and insisting he take part in a game of 'hardy hands', even though the last time he did so his hands 'were pissing blood'.

As the evening staggers on and more drink is taken, tensions build and explode into violence. The acting is solid throughout, the writing redolent of rowdy bar-room badinage and the ending is replete with fully two, count ‘em, two twists! Mr Baugh, you are spoiling us.

The last film, Anna Fitzsimons’ Life Death and Suffer Story, is the story of Verity Burn’s lack-a-day life, a tale full of woe and misery. But, y’know, played for laughs. As the day wears on misfortune follows misfortune, as Fitzsimons piles on the suffering, measuring out the story in Verity’s tears.

The animation is gorgeous. Verity, a two dimensional ghost drifting through the plump three dimensional sets, the colours muted and subtle, echoes the darkness of her own series of unfortunate events.

What raises the mood is Fitzsimons’ own cautionary verse, in rhyming couplets, and Stanley Meadow’s priceless narration. His fruity tones seem like an odd fit for the imagery but, in fact, they are a perfect choice, changing the tone of the piece completely and allowing you to laugh at what could have looked like emo wallowing.

And you haven’t lived till you’ve heard Meadows intone with sepulchral gravity 'And her bandage soaked in blood needed a freshen'. (A quick shout out to the QFT for not only supplying the venue but also the free whiskey! My notes are practically illegible!)