Review of ESFF: Love Be Damned

Some thoughts from Edinburgh Short Film FestivalLove Be Damned 

Screened October 25 (initially written October 30)

Love Be Damned was suitably timed as October ticked toward Halloween and this condemnation of love delivered everything you’d expect - resentment, revelation, violence, perversion and actually quite a lot of straight-up murder. On the whole the programme was an original and compelling blend of material and TIGRE (Delphine Deloget) was a fantastic way to start. This film was expertly crafted and knew how to coherently deliver a short story, I can’t believe this was 22 minutes - it felt like a breath - and there is something delicious about a revenge story so ridiculous. Effective visual foreshadowing in the quieter scenes meant that the building sense of atmosphere crafted through set design, pacing and cinematography was gradual and intense. I’ve never been to a safari park and I can’t imagine that the security measures in even the most middle-of-nowhere shitholes are this lax but why spoil the fun?  When you think of what a short film should be, this is it. The characters were unusual but simultaneously utterly believable, and TIGRE had punch to it: keeping you hooked and taking you somewhere unexpected. FANTASTIC PLASTIC (Sarah Tafel) was carefully shot with some tense moments and palpable audience discomfort. This is a story that we’ve seen before but Tafel approached it in a fresh way that caused audiences to linger uncertain as to what was real, and whether or not it really mattered.  ACCIDENT (David Cocheret) was a concise, confident film that I would prescribe to anyone as an antidote to heartbreak. A simple premise made no less satisfying by its short and sweet format, the dialogue was stripped to the bare necessities and every line was carefully crafted to deliver the laughs and the levity necessary. The edit was tight too, with the audience granted just enough time to get a joke before being hurled into something else. Bravo. In contrast, MANO A MANO (Louise Courvoisier) employed indulgent long shots to reveal the complexities of the observed relationship and there were large stretches without dialogue, where the viewer was encouraged to consider the subtleties of the characters’ behaviour. We witness with the couple the constant balancing-act of life as a partnership. Parts of this perhaps lingered too long as sometimes the pacing didn’t feel quite right and I think I would have preferred more time spent in the final scenes than in the middle. I appreciate that this was crafted precisely to take us on a particular journey but I was left hungry for more time together with them at the close of the arc. Maybe I’m just greedy. 

Animated short THE FEATHER PILLOW (Joseph Specker Nys) was visually accomplished with fantastic set design and attention to detail but I spent much of its duration confused and have scrawled in my notes: ‘wins the award for the most heavy breathing in a film outwith the adult film genre’. The sound design is enthusiastic but felt clumsy - relying on visceral squelches that make me think back to old episodes of Scooby Doo and children playing with ‘silly putty’ (plus I guess more recently, those ASMR youtube accounts of people stirring mashed potatoes and cutting hair). At points how THE FEATHER PILLOW looked toed the line of Tim Burton, but the soundtrack missed the mark and this short failed to hit notes in the story that bring such animated horrors to life. THE NIGHT (Martín Romero) used a similarly compelling visual style and the delicious animation almost succeeded in camouflaging a tired motif. When something is done with such confidence it is easy  to presume that it has something valuable to say, and I immediately had high expectations of this short from its unusual and psychedelic aesthetic. Unfortunately I thought the animation was the only ‘fresh’ thing about the film and I was disappointed to uncover that this story is the one of the man who puts his sexual selfishness before all else and in doing so ruins everything. We’ve seen it before. What begins as a love story sours when the wolf-and-moon couple discover a baby and adopt it as their own. This means there is less attention for the wolf-man protagonist and in one scene when he attempts to interact sexually with his partner she bats his hand away. It was then frustrating to watch as an alien she-ghoul lures the protagonist into some water, seducing him with a hand down the pants in exchange for the baby’s life (which he happily concedes) because no matter how surreptitiously positioned in cool pink animation this is the same tired angle: putting the blame of villainy on a representation of the female body. What a convenient way to avoid personal responsibility for this character’s actions and pin the title of ‘baddie’ on some faceless alien metaphor. Whatever it is that the she-demon is meant to represent feels half-formed and the point of narrative no-return falls instead on the denial of consent, to me positioning the woman’s ‘not now’ as the un-doing of the love story. I watched this film and I felt sad - not for the pink wolf-man protagonist who I wonder if we’re supposed to empathise with (who then conceals his actions and sweats a lot) but that we are still sitting as audiences accepting the woman wife as all-loving, protective and pious, the child as demanding and divisive, and the male lead a poor bumbling penis that seeks attention from a creature in a lagoon when he’s told, once, not right now.

As somebody who generally mistrusts romcoms, and especially in a programme titled ‘Love Be Damned’ my reservations for LA LLORONA (Harold Leonard) were robust but quickly abated. This short sees a young heartbroken man on a quest for alcoholic repentance for his broken relationship and plays with ideas of the infantilized single man and societal pressures to be happy. Without the injection of the obsessive, serial-killing ‘weeping woman’ (or La Llorona) this would be at risk of being stale, but thankfully there is a delightful chemistry between the two. Bizarrely charming, the laughs are plenty as this pair of ill-fated romantics come to terms with their respective betrayals. Some questionable edit choices are made throughout, including repeated shots of night street scenes and recycled footage that I still can’t decide were a purposeful device. But regardless of occasional clumsiness, there is something touching about this short that uses its ridiculous premise to make fun of societal stuffiness, leaving audiences charmed instead. But finally, the most arresting short of the night was HORS SAISON (Stella Di Tocco), which struck a chord with me perhaps more than I would care to admit. Somewhere between its documentation of an off-season holiday resort, a woman who courts alcoholism and the treatment of one of the most rewarding and fragile relationships between human and pet, I found a lot of common ground and it was expertly navigated. There’s a lot of complexity in this film and I can’t help but feel this would serve better as a feature as I wanted to stay longer in their world. By hesitating to condone or condemn the protagonist’s behaviour this short was actually deeply sad, gently investigating the commitment of dog to human and the protagonist’s commitment to an idea of a good time that never quite seems to materialise. HORS SAISON was more heart-breaking to me than the other tales of murder, betrayal, revenge and illness. Whilst it might not have the punchy twists and knee-jerk joy of TIGRE or THE ACCIDENT, this is the one that I found myself mulling over on my walk home and this is the one that I will continue to think about - trying somehow to find lessons to be learned.

Congratulations to all the short films selected to be screened and thank you to ESFF for programming this event!

Edinburgh, I’m back

Started on the 23/6/19 and returned to on the 08/07/19:

I know one of my new year’s resolutions or something similarly seasonally remedial was to write these posts into a word processor first so that I don’t ever suffer the pain of writing something and then accidentally pressing the back key and losing it all ever again, but it feels really odd to be typing a thing to nobody in Word. Hello, hi, good morning, evening, etc. It’s been a fair while since I’ve posted anything and I guess to try and put it succinctly it’s just a matter of priorities. There, that’s nice and tidy isn’t it? Priorities. Blog over. HA! But no, whilst writing is the easiest way I can take my brain apart a bit and it feels natural to type things out (probably because I kept a rambly and imaginative and suitably pained livejournal account as a teenager) at the moment I’m giving more time to reading and digesting and recording than to shitting anything out so to speak. So much of my time in Devon was spent writing job applications and forging versions of myself that I guess for the most part time at the computer was less of a treat and more of a chore. But, I figured it might be useful for myself to reflect on the last six months before moving in a new direction, so strap in for some real thorough self-reflective ramble.

I moved home hoping to change my direction in life/start a meaningful and fulfilling career/travel/move abroad and then realised that all these things are very tricky to do, especially on your own, and especially with a poorly house cat. Once I’d had a break over christmas I started to think about what I thought I’d be best at, what I enjoyed doing the most the most over 2018, and where I reckoned I could excel if I put my mind to it for a bit. The one thing that I have found the most rewarding since leaving University aside from my own personal work is feeling that in some small way I might have made it easier for people to create things and share them with each other, and also, hopefully, made it easier for people to see themselves reflected in the dialogue surrounding art and photography. I also realised I’d never actually made a serious go at applying for jobs in the creative industries, which surprised me, so I figured maybe that was worth a shot. I spent the following months applying for jobs all over the UK and abroad (most of them ridiculously out of my league) and being rejected, working at Travelodge, applying for more jobs, being rejected, working on the van, eating a lot of hashbrowns, being rejected, studying a distance course in Digital Promotion for Business, applying for jobs, trying to dispel my fear of country roads, being rejected and eventually (four months in?) when I was beginning to believe I had really zero worth whatsoever I started to get interviews. It legitimately took four months of solid applications to get some semblance of a decent CV and Cover, this stuff takes time, a lot of it, and very thick skin. What is helpful however during this soul-crushing process is an occasional application where you have a bit of fun… I wrote one cover letter for a book-selling position referencing my time as a flyerer for two-woman fringe show ‘Fannys Ahoy’ at The Stand, where I legit used the line (it’s still in my outbox): ‘If I can sell a lunchtime show with nothing but a handful of flyers and a mouthful of fannies I can’t imagine selling books in a book shop being much of a stretch’. Needless to say I didn’t get the job. 

But anyway, I had a mix of really rewarding and mildly mortifying interview experiences and eventually after applying all over the UK I have landed a temporary position in Digital Content Coordination with Assembly for the festival period, back in Edinburgh! So that is fantastic and I’m delighted that someone took a chance on me, but let’s not gloss over the hours of application writing and tweaking and crushing phone calls and emails and the consistent looming worry of my parents who just wish I would get a ‘normal job that pays well’. It would be dishonest to say it was how I expected to spend the first bit of the year and I can’t pretend it was fantastic all of the time (you know, just in case my instagrams of slippers and ponds made it look glitzy). The irony of being back physically where I started is not lost, but I can also now identify the power in removing yourself from your routine, despite the terror this can instill. I don’t think I realised how thinly I had been spreading myself until I was back in my family home with a foreseeable future in my parents’ attic with which to contemplate my own irritability and exhaustion. If you’re not enjoying yourself a lot of the time, even when you’re doing things you ‘like’, you’ve probably given yourself too much to do. Simple. Unfortunately, the truth of the job hunt is that it’s shite. You feel like shite, your chat is shite when you do pull yourself away, your ability to plan things is shite because you are always waiting on someone else to decide your fate for you, you try and continually shape yourself and your experiences in ways that people might see are really beneficial and every time you read a job description you know you could be great at a bit of your brain starts mapping out a wee bright future for yourself in whatever place it is, with all these potential shiny possibilities, and then when it inevitably doesn’t happen you have to accept that and start afresh time and time again. Brains are suckers. 

I’m not saying I should have been offered a job straight off the bat because I acknowledge that the process is more complicated than that and I realise I have no paid arts marketing experience. My Degree is also some four years old, now but a drop in the enormous art graduate frustrated creativity resource pool. I’m simply trying to be honest about the reality of the prospects and process when you’re approaching the creative job market with nothing, or little, to give you a leg up - I mean no friends or family in decision-making capacities, no internships, no residencies, no work experience. Voluntary positions seem to count for less than expected. And those thinking ‘why is she always complaining, I’ve had a job in the arts for thirty years and I had to do an interview too’ - just be open to the possibility that I’m maybe complaining not entirely because I’m an entitled millennial fixated on an impossible golden future but because the creative employment circumstances for those at the bottom are bleak. Also, if you’re reading this post and shaking your head because your journey was problem-free, think if it was because you had money and if not, please share how this can be easier. I’m a hard worker. It’s one of the few things I can say about myself with complete certainty and I’m confident if you asked those who have worked alongside me they’d agree. But even being ready to graft at this, to be able to viably and affordably contemplate entering into this situation you need to some extent be dependent on financial support (and be comfortable with that) or some kind of compromised living situation. This could be anything from living in your parents’ attic to sacrificing any kind of whimsy for the ‘best years of your life’ whilst you count pennies and cram yourself into applications and workshops and CV reviews and online courses during any free time you might have. I guess that’s the decision you make by ‘following your dreams’ and perhaps is just to be expected and accepted, but somehow this still came as a bit of a shock to me. 

Anyway. I’m also aware that I had a lot of things stacked in my favour here including extreme situational flexibility, my own mode of transport, nobody dependent on me, part-time employment, self-led experience and a First Class BA (Hons) but it still took me six months to land a six week position somewhere within the field I want to work in. I can only imagine how difficult this would be whilst independently renting a property, working full time, managing caring or parental responsibilities, accommodating disability, whilst pregnant, applying from overseas - it becomes its own full-time job and you have to be entirely flexible to come, fully prepared, to an interview at a day or two’s notice. I honestly don’t know how you could do it. Which just makes the pool of people applying for these positions incredibly narrow, let alone those being taken to interview. We need to figure out how to make this process more accessible or we’ll continue to see the same people in positions of industry authority forever, those who didn’t struggle to be there and so can’t imagine there is anyone who does. To do this process whilst living in Edinburgh and paying rent and working full time, with the web of responsibilities I had built for myself at the close of last year was just not practical. So, whilst it might seem backward to move to the Westcountry to look for jobs up here and beyond, for me it really wasn’t backward at all. This backward (southward?) action allowed me space to think of a new way forward and pursue it. I am lucky in that I also got to see a lot of family and friends that I haven’t visited in far too long, and fortunate to have family that would accommodate me whilst I tried to get my career on track. I also came to realise how much warmer it is down South, and how Scotland really gets very little summer at all. I’m very grateful to have been able to do it this way.

But where was I? The present? I’m back in Edinburgh now in a very chilly but quite lovely Stockbridge basement and I feel more at peace than I have done for a long time. I’m excited for all that is coming up, and currently ignoring the impending financial uncertainty that looms at the end of the festival period. As mentioned above, I’ve been reading a lot (and thus ~thinking~ a lot) and trying to make myself as useful as I can until I start my new job. But it’s also been nice to do nothing at all, on my own, for the first time in a while. I start at Assembly this week and I’m super excited to be on the edge of a lot of new stuff, I have a lot to learn but also I think a lot to offer so it will be gratifying to feel challenged and learn from the team. I’m also working away on two personal projects at the moment, but enjoying a slower approach and can thank six months of zero achievements for teaching me that actually that’s fine. You can go away and make nothing whatsoever and nobody gives a flying flip. Yes, it’s good to feel productive and yes, time is always slipping away but primarily the point of everything is to enjoy yourself so putting a bit of energy into getting that covered first and finding my way around photographs and words is nice. An excerpt from my book ‘You are bizarre and beautiful and I will love you forever’ shows a past me in 2013 wishing for the same thing: ’I picture a time where there is less of this hustle and bustle and constant desire to do more and keep up to date, with instead a gentle routine that pushes forward like a low tide and allows you space to think around ideas and behind ideas and not push them out as fast as you can with no real nooks to plunge your heart and your fingers into.’ I think part of me thought this would come with the end of University, but it’s perhaps instead something inside that needed to change.

In regards to what’s holding my attention right now in ~thinking terms~ I’m still feeling my way around ideas of gender and experience at the moment, with particular interest in themes of access and scrutiny. There is so much to read and so much moving every day online that it feels I am about thirty years in the past and have a huge void of books, blogs, articles, tweets and journals to catch up on. With so much information it is unavoidable perhaps to feel often overwhelmed. I am loving Siri Hustvedt’s A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women and also savouring (fairly late to the party) the second volume of Tabloid Art History, which you can read online for free here. I also find @CategoryisBooks a really generous source of information in regard to trans rights and gender queer dialogue, which we all have a responsibility to engage in however we identify (although perhaps of particular interest for me and my personal relationship with expectations of gender). Often online and especially on Twitter this discussion becomes reductive in its necessarily small character limit, and exhausting therefore in its tendency to condense and polarise complex opinions and experiences. I really appreciate the generosity of this account to offer to its followers: ‘If anyone has questions or wants to further understand these issues, we are here all weekend and more than happy to assist, support or suggest things to read/watch/listen.’ This is the twitter equivalent of holding a door open and this is what, at its best, Twitter could be. By my bed at the moment I have something a little wilder with Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. You know, to encourage dramatic dream vistas instead of the weirdness I usually conjure up (night before last I had a dream where I accidentally got stabbed by an elephant’s tusk by looking for my lost property and accidentally going through a fire exit at the omni centre… into the… elephant zone?) I am making a real concerted effort however to edit my other writing into something coherent and focused and it’s nice for the minute to be developing my own sort of methodology for writing about topics that aren’t me and my life. This post is not that, obviously, the theme here is me, this is a personal catch-up. I will conclude this large and sprawling reflective chunk with a quote I enjoyed to offer something for making it through this immense reflection. I hope that if nothing else this is enjoyable and without wishing to prolong this post, and anyone else’s time any longer, I guess this is goodbye. XO

‘Writing is perceived transition from inside to outside, and that motion is in itself a step in the right direction, a passage into a dialogical space that can be seen. Writing is always for someone. It takes place on the axis of discourse between me and you. Even diaries and journals are for an other, if only another self, the person who returns to the words years later and finds and earlier version of what he or she is now. Because written language in this between space, not the writer as her body, but the writer as her words for a reader - who may be an actual person addressed in a letter, for example, or an imaginary person out there somewhere - writing lifts us out of ourselves, and that leap onto paper, that objectification, spurs reflective self-consciousness, the examination of the self as other.’ 

- Siri Hustvedt, ‘The Writing Self and the Psychiatric Patient’ in A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, p.110

Manufactured Oasis: The Next Best Thing

Manufactured Oasis: The Next Best Thing by Emi Kodama 

You can find out more about the artist here.

I picked up this little book at the start of a small European adventure early last year from Boekie Woekie in Amsterdam. It was the start of the trip and so I hadn’t yet run out of money and justifying my purchase was easy; it’s only a wee thing so fit fine in my bag, with a blank white cover and text that immediately felt pertinent. I don’t know why but I’m always drawn to books with a blank cover. It seems to make me more confident that what lies within will be interesting. (In the image I’ve stuck in my hand too, for scale.) The physical whiteness and cleanness of Manufactured Oasis echoes the artificial sparseness we glimpse within: a immaculate sink, painted leaves, shaped hedges and plastic flowers. The book uses images and text from across the globe to explore civilisation’s relationship with the wild. Admittedly, spelling it out like that steals some of its charm - part of the joy here is the fragmentation of the text, the jumps between time and place that leave you disorientated but invite a second reading and a third. You’re never really sure where you are, or rather, where you are meant to be. Through these shifts, sprayed grass in sun-parched Canada is linked to the artist’s mother dying her hair, we seem glimpses of the author but we’re not sure who exactly we’re listening to, and when. Is this fiction? Is this real? That question, I figure, is fundamental here. A framed painting (that I immediately presume to be mountains or lakes) is hidden behind a shirt on a hanger. Nemo the neighbourhood cat explores the yard jungle with no memory of the wild. There is constant tension between a desire for wildness and the eerie comfort of artifice; with every image comes an immediate search for nature. 

Kodama isn’t critical of urban/suburban life necessarily but something about the framing here makes me feel claustrophobic. Perfect, unsettling scenes condensed tight into the white page. When I read the words ‘I realize I haven’t seen a field of grass in a very long time’ I start to feel uncomfortable. But I think what separates Kodama’s contemplation of wild and artificial from being condemning is a resignation to commit. It is with hesitancy that Kodama isolates these details. They are intimate spaces somehow despite their immaculate strangeness (the text perhaps, the nostalgia there softening - ) and it’s refreshing to not have the ‘wilderness’ presented as an escape and as a solution. When we are introduced retrospectively to a school teacher prepared at any moment to escape into the wild, with camping gear packed and ready to roll - Kodama hints at a brief sense of fear, a desire to be alone in front of the TV: safe, comfortable, artificial, content. This notion that raw nature is so accessible is presented as faintly ridiculous and the wild waiting beyond a vague threat. Somehow together these fragments of experience go some way to exploring the complexity of our relationship with the wild and the domestic. Most of us, I imagine, sit somewhere on the line between being repulsed and comforted by fake flowers, manicured lawns, framed pictures of mountain ranges we would struggle to enjoy in real life. Real life. You know what I mean. And in this uncertainty Manufactured Oasis shows its strength. It does not feel, to me, that Kodama is pointing her camera at urban environments and shouting and cursing and criticising those with fake flowers on their table. It is not with ridicule that we revisit Mr Harris ready always to leave, or Reiko’s mother preparing a foldable toilet for the end of the World. Kodama’s observations are not cruel. This book is sensitive and quiet, playful perhaps, and these images and excerpts linger for a moment wondering instead ‘isn’t this strange, where we find ourselves right now?’.

I don’t know if this has been a review as such, more of a pondering - but I want to start writing about the things I’ve been looking at as being forced to focus my thoughts means forging something more meaningful from my relationship with words and pictures. I have a good few more texts I want to re-visit from 2018 to get me going but going forward I’d like to offer this kind of interaction out to the world. Perhaps that seems strange, but I know that making things for me is a way in to a conversation. It’s sometimes tricky to know how people read your work, if they will read your work and often people are unwillingly to divulge how they respond. It’s easy to look at something and quickly forget the flesh of it, our attentions so often pulled ten ways at once. If you’ve made something and you want to hear thoughts, let me know - my undivided attention is something I can offer right now, happily, for free. Have a lovely Tuesday.

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