Rushes Short Film Festival

By Owen Armstrong

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Amidst the darker tales of urban woe and gritty realism of films like Isabel Anderton’s Young Offender - an inmate is forced to address his racist beliefs – or Elaine Wickham’s My Mother – a woman is traumatised by the prospect of having to put her ailing mother into a home – the ninth annual RSSF did provide some examples of work that strayed far away from the emotional complexity and dilemma of such themes.

Joseph Barnett’s Guilty by Nature, a seasonal diary of the life cycle of a shrub, was a striking and compelling work of art. Essentially a video diary of the rigorous care taken over the development and growth of a single plant, Barnett’s film is a model for the potential of short filmmaking. Perhaps it is the simplicity of its subject that emphasises the films technical form and rhythm but nevertheless, the end product is a visually and sonically unique experience with a fastidious attention to detail and composition.

Luke Losey’s I was equally memorable. His idea was simple enough – a static camera shot of a person’s eye reacting to an event we cannot see. Combining beautifully lit visuals and an unnerving score, this is a film that demands your attention.

Whereas the majority of work presented was preoccupied with creating impact through scripted drama, Losey and Barnett’s films do not seem bound by the same compulsion to resort to traditional narrative storytelling, and this is a difference that works to their advantage. What their films generate is a refreshing curiosity and fascination that is often abandoned in favour of moral crisis and climax.

Another intriguing though totally different short was Nick Reed’s Whoops, in which a father tends to his newborn baby. Accidentally cutting its umbilical cord, the baby is sent rasping and wheezing around the room. Although lacking the same sort of intensity as Losey and Barnett’s work, Reed has clearly opted for impact over substance here and, as questionable as its content may be, this is another one that you may find hard to forget.

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More impressive was Ben & Greg’s take on The Masterplan by Oasis. Re-creating scenes from the paintings of L S Lowry, the pair placed a Lowry-esque Liam, Noel and co. into the Mancunian’s masterpieces, suggesting a parallel between the band and the artist’s simplistic attention to the working class life of the industrial homestead of Manchester. The idea seems conceptually far simpler than many of its competitors’ without any detriment to its impact, which is perhaps a criteria too often ignored in an industry with such a high demand for success.

Of the animated works, Alice Scott’s Gardens by the Bay – an idyllic eco-friendly ideas pin-board – provided a spark of originality. Conveying a sense of ethereality and warmth through ambient soundscapes and sumptuous imagery of bio-domes and architectural fantasy, Scott’s film differed most obviously in its lack of humour as an emotive tool. Similarly, and also one of the shortest entries, Leftchannel’s Blissful adopted a more abstract style of animation in creating a series of beautifully morphing black and white figures and patterns that gracefully shift in-between one another.

The Documentary category exposed some of the most accomplished pieces throughout the entire festival. Group winner, Cheat Neutral by Beth Stratford was a highly original film about an Internet business that allows an individual to offset his or her infidelity. Proclaimed by its founders to be based on the model for carbon offsetting, Cheat Neutral is an acute expose of one of modern society’s most notorious so-called solutions to environmental decline.

In keeping with the lighter tone set by Stratford, James Rogan’s Grave Business is a brief glimpse at the life of a New York gravestone saleswoman. Where other documentaries have, at least in part, attempted to tell or re-tell a story, Rogan’s film does not adhere to same kind of structure or form. Neither is any judgement cast over his subject, whose name is not even revealed. In fact, with the exception of a very succinct family history, very little is revealed about her. Elegantly paced, observational and direct, Grave Business indulges the simple pleasure of aimlessly watching a few moments in someone else’s life.

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Other innovative and probing pieces of filmmaking within the group included Jason Hendriksen’s Last Orders: Lifegem - about a mother waiting to collect a diamond made from the remains of her late daughter – and Richard Fenwick’s What We’ve Found out About the System – a comprehensive and eloquent series of animations demystifying the world of stem cells.

Outside the main strands of the RSSF, there were also several guest festivals and collectives. One such group comprised of a collection of shorts relating to the withdrawal of the Routemaster bus service. At the start of its final week of circulation in December of 2005, 10 filmmakers produced 10 short films celebrating these cultural icons. In addressing the Routemaster as part of London’s heritage, these films also offered a unique perspective of the commuter through the tenor of independent filmmaking. The programme served as a wonderful addition to the festival line-up as a paradigm of art infused with a sense of locality and community.

Other pleasant surprises came in the form of William Sinclair’s Tell It to the Fishes, a short sketch in which two men are thrown from a cliff with their feet in concrete blocks, only to land on a beach with a slowly rising tide. Despite the gravitas of a name like Dylan Moran’s attached to it, Tell It to the Fishes avoids over-indulgence and is a spectacularly simple yet sharp comedy about two men marooned and marginalised by their own egotism.

Film archivist Jenny Hammerton also presented two evenings of early short films dating back to the 1920s. The first of these was a series of ‘interest films’ from the 1920s originally produced for female audiences. Accompanied by her wind-up gramophone and a selection of vintage 78s, Hammerton presented a programme of early pictorials from the Eve’s Film Review catalogue. Moving from high-end fashion modelling to the less stereotypical cross-country running and motorcycle racing, these films provide an edifying glance not only at the personification of women in the 1920s, but also the role of filmmaking as a public service. Hammerton followed her ‘fabulous flapper’ shorts with a series of government films produced between 1967 and 1986, designed to promote the industry of British fashion abroad. Illustrating further the value placed on the role of these seemingly incidental pictorials, both evenings proved to be a welcome and enriching ingredient to an already diverse programme.


Owen Armstrong is a projectionist and filmmaker. He lives in London.