With the development of film changing in the new age, the liberation of the image has never been more essential to preserve and cultivate. Those selected for the Houses in Motion strand of the London Short Film Festival represent transition and transformation through both emotional and physical spaces in parallel to each other. Life and death interweave themselves throughout the shorts, exploring how narratives present themselves through the multiform of celluloid, digital and stop-motion, as transformations of stories are not restricted by material boundaries. The complexities of each film are not intended to provide comfort or consolation — they can be harsh and rattling; cinematic satisfaction is arguably more powerful through the disturbance of thought. Each short encompasses its own interpretations of how transition is interpreted through different mediums, but elements of each intertwine and complement each other intuitively.
The strand commenced with a more technical piece which explores how the manipulation of film can be explored through recordings and image distortion in real time. Twenty years ago, Martin Reinhart developed the tx-transform which is used within his short Tx-reverse (co-directed with Virgil Widrich) through a 360-degree panorama over five minutes to capture the emotive facial expressions and appearances of physical theatre movement. The stretched rippling of the film distorts and disturbs as the point of view angle hinges upon the audience perspective in a hawk-ish manner. Located at the Babylon Cinema in Berlin, space and time of the recording become merged as it time-lapses the comings and goings of theatre-goers. This traditional technique combined with a sped up pacing of reality is challenging and allows the viewer to reconsider how they experience time. The transitions of movement which are captured rather than followed throughout Tx-reverse are also within another short, China Not China. In this piece by Rchard Tuohy, the screening duplicates non-stop motion shots representing China’s transition over 40 years, which layer over each other like folding fans. The duplicated symmetry of image is insightful of human patterns, as the monotony of our days continuously flow without us pausing to ever question how those days are spent. It holds a deeper semblance with the streets of Hong Kong in terms of geopolitical expansion — a two state region with flowing life. The blurring of conventionality, political changes and societal movement is captivating, as the fluidity of movement in both films use actual time loops and lap to create stories which are almost physically autonomous and defy reality. The signification of meaning taken from these emerges from the subconscious, as the historical and political moments of China Not China are common societal knowledge, but the unique brilliance of the short is how it plays out in motion. Time passes but one must study the layers of film before fully reconciling with the years having gone past; a similar emotion experienced in the hours passing during Tx-reverse. Therefore, the manipulation of physical space draws out one’s emotional discomfort through distortion and exploration, demonstrating how simplistic techniques are notably impactful.
Volcano: What Does a Lake Dream? represents an altogether more traditional view on space and its exhibition, with the physical landscape giving way to smoke-filled emptiness in the opening shot. A volcanic eruption on Azores island in the Mid-Atlantic ridge forced most of its inhabitants to flee, as the tectonic plates continue to shift over time. With some of the islands having sunk, its presence under the ocean is reflective of the comfort of home, as it cements the foundations for our own emotive space. The film ebbs and flows in tension, the static nature of the score clashing with the intensifying seas and almost foreboding reminder of the lack of control humanity has over nature. It erupts in an overpowering way, with the visuals causing the panning shots to stutter and flicker through negative imaging and allowing for a cinematic recreation of the eruption. In Sandoval’s Bullet, Isidro Varga has avoided death on numerous occasions, and the negative colour similarly alters the viewer’s signification of the image, from inverted views of trees and skies to the inverted hues of pink and blue negative imaging. It almost represents an emergence of the horrifying nature of the events that had taken place, the lava and flowing of blood from the bullets fired at Isidro not filmed but inferred through the negatives. In essence, the film depicts the looming potential of death from man-made steel and natural fire. The volcanic eruptions and bullet lodged in Isidro’s aorta symbolise how grief and nature are symbiotic, and the adaptation of space through seas and flesh is protective from damage, but its mark is everlasting. Both directors, Diana Vidrascu and Jean-Jacques Martinod, use real life tragedy tales that emit an esoteric vibe that compares and contrasts expectations, and how life overcomes tumultuous transitions to carry on and keep moving forward.
In comparison, the unique aspects of Bamboe transition from reality to inner sensualities, heightened by the pubescent age of girls in the cusp of hormonal fluctuations. Flo Van Deuren’s directive style completely captures the uncomfortable awkwardness of pre-teen emotional turmoil, a stark reminder many viewers will be familiar with. Their days spent lounging in the sun, planning adventures and dipping their toes into sexual encounters is humorous and cringe worthy in equal measures; a hierarchy begins to flesh out in the group. The portrait panning captures the age of their bodies, yet their inner stirrings flourish into an emotional explosion of pleasure and floating. This outer-body motion of floating arms, necks rolling and lips parting in pleasure poetically represent emotional and sexual awakenings. Puberty is a universal experience but individually developed; the nostalgic tint of the cinematography reflects a hazy summer afternoon, with the glow and warmth epitomising the girl’s own emotions. It’s a far more direct exploration of transformation that does not feel mocking nor tacky. The female characters collectively feel aroused by a mysterious man; a perfect summer distraction as their own minds wander curiously. Yet their physicality and maturity has still yet to blossom, and their attempts to look sultry and alluring don’t quite hit the mark. Bamboo plants only bloom once but collectively at the same time. The girls spend the summer in a land overgrown with this maturing wildlife, as their inner transitional blooms spread and their youth sheds like dominoes in a row.
Perhaps the most profound and final of the shorts, Imbued Life encompasses the patience of soft-felt animated stop-motion in looking at one woman’s connection with nature and how it all-encompasses her existence. As a taxidermist, the unnamed female character returns animals back to their natural habitat after sewing them up. They are frozen in time, never to move again but back in their real world and not strung up on a wall to be gawped at. The tentative details, including gentle Foley noises, take the viewer deep into her subconscious, as she begins to notice a more profound connection with the woodlands: her dreams are even haunted by a half-man, half-animal that studies her intently. Directors Ivana Bosnjak and Thomas Johnson blend camera techniques and subtle inferences that correlate with Wes Anderson’s animation style in Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. The animalistic expressions are deliberate and thoughtful, disturbing in some respects but captivating in others. The protagonist’s curiosity is further spiked during her dissections of the animals, as the film reels she peels from inside their throats portray their memories and souls captured on prints. Once they die and decay; their memories live on. The levels of inferred transitions are reflective of the circle of life; birth and death walk side by side and creation is birthed from loss. The naturalism of spirituality and human connection to the natural world is abstract and wondrous in itself, as Imbued Life’s female protagonist regurgitates her own memories for reflection and exploration. Human life is reflective of this within both Imbued Life and Bamboe, as the curiosity and obsession to break down normality and seek pleasure from discovery is transformative of one’s mind-set even within static territory.
Collating five completely different stories and using abstract and intricate techniques to push boundaries, the London Short Film Festival’s Houses in Motion strand is both moving and captivating. In a digital age, we experience the movement of the world in such a controlled, analogue manner, and these shorts expose the fragility of this. It pushes one to experience life through the messy, abstract and unconditional way the world is really experienced. Transitions are not linear and ripple through viewers’ boundaries and comfort zones. Natural disasters take no thought for our time-zoned lives, and the memories we hold inside us are not perfect with social media filters. The Houses in Motion strand breaks the mould in successfully exploring how concepts of life and death, home and away and physical and mental states metamorphose and develop within their own spaces.
Elle Haywood (@ellekhaywood) is a freelance film/culture writer, festival juror and submissions reviewer. She is currently an Associate Editor at Take One and studying a Masters at the National Film & Television School. Her work specialises in international festivals focusing on Scandinavia and Western Europe, sociopolitical events and independent filmmaking.