With the promise of over 600 new films, the Portobello Film Festival in Westbourne, London is nothing if not eclectic. Just a quick leaf through the festival’s lengthy guide provides a taste of what is on offer; Portobello dabbles in classics (The Empire Strikes Back and Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, which is part of the Pop Up cinema) as well providing a healthy amount of premiers which are largely short films.
The array, of course, does not end there. Within the choice of short films there is much to choose from; from animation to foreign films, the shorts will accommodate any taste. On of the best aspects about the festival is its aim to ‘stuff the recession’, which means that all showings are free so attendees aren’t constrained by finances as to what they can watch.
Having attended one of the festival’s London Film-Maker’s Conventions in the Video Café (due to there being a technical fault in the cinema area this was the only event available on the day) the array offered was obvious from the off. Opening at 6pm with a surreal short entitled Conny Wobble’s Dream, the café provided a diverse selection of films.
Conny Wobble’s Dream (King Conny Wobble: 14mins, 12A) **
Providing an ethereal glimpse of a vast expanse of countryside, Conny Wobble’s Dream follows its sole character’s dream which is a simple, seemingly aimless, ramble through a mountainous landscape. The simple premise makes for an even simpler film which attempts to rein its viewer’s waning interest back in through showing the dream-representation of what we are left to assume is Conny Wobble himself defecating in the countryside. With some eyebrow-raising use of effects and highly intruding music, Conny Wobble’s Dream is notable only for its backdrop.
The Boxer (Divian Ladwa: 10mins 12A) ***
‘Do you wanna know who the best is? Me.’ proclaims the boxer, the protagonist of Ladwa’s documentary-styled short. Documenting the musings of its main character, The Boxer lays heavy importance on its sole character and in turn provides a contracted view of mortality and loss. A word of warning for those trying to find multiple layers of exploration in the film; trying to second-guess what the film is portraying is futile – it is not an entirely taxing, but rather an intriguing, exploration of jealousy and peer pressure. Filmed solely in black and white, The Boxer considers the reality of accepting that your life’s goal is over and the repercussions of such an awareness.
P. O. E. T. S. in a Dead Society (JC Kamau: 79mins, 12) **
JC Kamau’s P. O. E. T. S in a Dead Society is an oddity. A documentary comprised of interviews with a group of seemingly unrelated artists, P. O. E. T. S looks at inspiration and the lack of respect for the inspiration in the world around us.
The editing process of the film is perhaps its biggest downfall; despite the fact that its premise is an intriguing one, the choice to allow it to be 79 minutes long coupled with the poor transitions and the intruding questionable use of fonts throughout take a lot away from the film’s power. Due to these the film appears to be a rough cut of a short, taken to the festival in its infancy before it has been finished.
Due to its stylistic failings it attempts, but ultimately fails, to capture a sense of art and creativity. Its point is sometimes preached at too much length and thus its main speakers seem to enforce their arguments to no avail. The ultimate dismay portrayed toward our modern society is overplayed and because of this it becomes rather too preachy to have the impact it may have done if it was forty minutes shorter. It becomes increasingly political and scattered toward the end which detracts from what could have been a hugely rewarding film. With aspirational assertions such as ‘anything and everything around you is your teacher’ it’s a shame that this film’s main lesson is not to watch it again.
Cricklewood Broadway ***
Embracing the festival’s invitation to submit independent projects, Cricklewood Broadway was a last minute addition to the bill. After a slight technical blip the film began and the audience was met with the apparently dead form of the film’s narrator. Cricklewood Broadway delves into a strange barrage of black comedy and several attempts to mislead the viewers. Although it succeeds in the latter, the way in which the film misleads in done in such a way that exposés are confusing and unnecessary.
After the narrator happens upon the strange life of ‘mistress’, a failed actress whose brief glimpse of fame is maintained by her odd man servant, the film spirals between one odd occurrence to the next. Whilst watching, viewers may find that they may have preferred a film that followed the actress’s character arc and her ability (or lack of) to deal with rejection and loss. The film instead follows the narrator and never allows for any of the three main character’s lives to be truly touched upon. What is left is a strange mix of comedy and depression that seems to mix like oil and water.
OMG (Clayton Fussell and Ashley Wing: 3mins, U) *******
A likeable short, although the premise for OMG is short and simple, the outcome is an enjoyable one. After Malcolm sends a text asking for forgiveness he watches in horror as his signal disappears. The resulting search for signal is unchallenging to watch but amusing nonetheless. When he finally receives his response sod’s law steps in and leaves Malcolm in text purgatory – does he ever find out what if he was forgiven? That’s for the audience to ponder. With its neat filming and good use of sound as well as its cheery end credits, OMG is a small breath of fresh air.
Door to Door (Ida Akesson: 8mins, 12) *****
Door to Door follows the failing attempts of Eunice to live up to her congregation’s expectations for her to preach door to door. Her inability to carry out their wishes provides a few comic moments. The short is well-filmed and the making of tea provides a nice continuity throughout.
You Look and You Think (Ben Woodiwiss: 6mins, 15) ******
Perhaps, from this small selection, the short that ascribes most to the popular preconception that short films are arty, Ben Woodiwiss’s You Look and you Think visually and poetically explores the relationship between the viewer and the characters we view on screen.
The film’s narrator offers a simple yet evocative dialogue which challenges the position of the viewer. The boundaries imposed by the cinema screen are interestingly explored whilst reality is questioned; the narrator describes how she walks and in turn we see her walk and yet, as she describes, she as an actress is in fact pretending to walk, with the idea of pretence being vital to the film.
For those unaccustomed with the short film genre (an umbrella area under which thousands of sub-genres huddle) Portobello’s Film Cafés are a great way to broaden horizons. Short films require a very small amount of viewer commitment and are in turn perfect for those trying to watch several glimpses of the world. The Café reviewed here gave an interesting glimpse of the film-making community present in London, a community that is not afraid to explore the strange and the unexplored.
Westbourne Studios themselves offer a fantastic backdrop for the festival. With the centrepiece of the studio being a giant indoor palm tree, the atmosphere is relaxed and creative. The fact that the festival was poorly sign-posted and was plagued by technical difficulties on the day described above was disappointing but luckily the festival utilises several sites throughout its two-and-a-half-week run between 2nd and 19th September.