Capturing the heart of a city so rich in culture and diversity requires a strand in itself that explores every corner of the capital and its inhabitants. The London Short Film Festival’s New Shorts: London Lives series delves into a religious community in the East End, those struggling with poverty in Camden and unearthed secrets within Chinatown. No two stories are the same, as each family and gang experience hardships, adventures and discoveries, learning their own lessons and forging out futures in the past and present. However, what drives through the heart of LSFF’s New Shorts: London Lives is the expansiveness of the city and the loss of connection through digitalisation. Collectively, the films demonstrate the importance of community.
The frivolities of youth and mid-life millennial crises are captured perfectly in Nobody’s Darling, a short by Sophia Carr-Gomm which follows a young woman’s amblings into the new year between parties, friends and an avoidance of life’s responsibilities. The apathy of young people to do the most basic tasks, such as taking out the rubbish and planning for the future, is not attributed to laziness as such but the feeling of being overwhelmed with the void of life. The cinematography is slow and elegant, following the pace of the protagonist as she wanders the street after a one-night stand and drinks cocktails in the bath with a friend. The bokeh lights simmering in the background of the clubs and lamp-light streets evoke a feeling of calm haze as the subject is dimly aware of what is going on in her head and tries to focus on the buzz of presence. She embodies the loneliness that many young people in London exhibit, as they crave physical social interaction but attempt to juggle many people in their lives when convenient. Yet the other characters in Nobody’s Darling are also notably profound in their actions, as a roommate happily sits in the corner of a party eating watermelon, yet her social anxiety or general dislike of crowded raves means she’s happy to just sit it out. In today’s social media culture, the expectations of young women are exceptionally stressful, especially during the isolation of the winter months, which is a theme Carr-Gomm captures innately and perfectly.
The happy nostalgia of being a kid is usually a memory that conjures up feelings of joy and carefree happiness. The youths in Murat Gökmen’s Talk to Leon, set in 1997, bumble around in an endearingly gonky manner, egging each other on and gently pushing pre-teenage boundaries. Slipping out during the night, they embark on a journey across London for the first time alone, using only public transport to hop between landmarks such as Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park. What feels so reminiscent and adoring is that they only have the guidance of public transport controller Leon. While they quip and jibe at each other about dating, family and braving out on adventures, there is a whole glowing nature that feels safe in a hostile world. Despite being stoned teenagers and stumbling drunks, they are welcomed around every corner — a prominent reminder that this period in time still holds moments of joy and hope. Talk to Leon sweeps away an inferred hostile nature, as the sounds of the city echo with laugher and footsteps, with shots zooming in on time-friendly items such as glass Coke bottles, Tamagotchis and old-fashioned buses. While the world may not feel as safe, this community vibe of London still exists, even through slightly rose-tinted telephone boxes.
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Appreciation also explores a sense of community, but during a period of loss. Director Tomisin Adepeju narrates a intriguing tale of a pastor’s emotional day returning to her place of workshop after her son passes away. One of the most captivating elements is how lighting is used to illuminate her grief. While lying in bed in the pitch black, she watches footage of her loved ones dancing, and the gentle glow of the screen holds the only light in the room, with the phone being the only source of comfort and connection to her son. As she heads to an African Pentecostal church, a sense of calm rests on her face, which she maintains despite the bombardment of questions from friendly church go-ers. During moments of pain, there are uplifting moments of solidarity as the congregation gathers around her; the blends of colourful garments juxtapose the chilling dark of her lonely apartment, which allows her to release emotions and grieve around others. Sometimes, we need loneliness to process our own emotions.
In Yiling Ding’s The Mole, neon signs running along streets of Chinatown reflect into the glass of a Chinese massage therapy shop in Soho. Alone, a young man goes about his day as a masseuse for customers, yet there are personal secrets that lie below the surface. His expression — tired and lonely — seldom changes, as he lives the same monotonous pattern day after day that so many experience in labour shops around the West End. This part of town is saturated by tourists every hour, and the young man watches through the glass, alone, as the bustle of people blur by. Visually stunning, these moments capture the divide within the city; his cramped apartment is lit by harsh naked bulbs and seldom does fresh air even slip through the windows, while the breeze of the city flows with people who never once glance at him. Grainy flashbacks touch upon the man’s family; nostalgic memories of smiles and brighter times. In a dense community, many choose not to talk with the people they’re interacting with, accentuating a loss of connection and humanity which further brings about a divide. With London having such a huge cultural mix of people, there should be more celebration and sharing of lives, traditions and stories, yet instead we speed on by within our own bubbles, barely glancing at the world and others around us.
Written and directed by Edward Smyth, Mahon Chorizo Avocado is brief, hilarious and authentic. Équipage and Cece are two young adults living in the city, invested in the creative world and navigating cultural norms and social media “fame.” The title comes from a sandwich created at a local deli which claims momentary fame and Instagram tagging, before being modified and renamed, demonstrating the turnover of social fads and the brief nature of popularity in the digital age. Smyth captures shots of deformed pigeon feet, an unspoken epidemic in London noticed by many at train stations and in parks but never discussed in depth before now. The friends’ conversations pop up in text bubbles on screen as they discuss the comings and goings of their day from art installations to exploring the details of each other. While Mahon Chorizo Avocado is abstract and humorous, it narrows in on a specific subculture of students in London; a world where memes and photos are prioritized. When immersed into this reality, we no longer exist just to experience moments, but to document every moment for others. Smyth has created a brilliant short about youths building their own language, and how artistic creation has hinged upon digitalization and the temporariness of fame in an online disconnected society.
Within three minutes in Serious Tingz, director Abdou Cisse exhibits one of the most revealing and sad issues facing young men in London gangs today. The “screwface” is a common term for the intimidating, aggressive scrunched face, along with an assertively aggressive posture that boys and men typically assert when in groups or facing others during moments of confrontation. This look is explored in terms of their stance, but also via the necessity of it for self-defence within many communities. Black and white footage shows men by cars, on the stairs of estates and around darkened corners, scanning across stares with a rap as a narration. This tense energy then tumbles away as scowls turn into smiles; heart-warming and embracing grins feel inviting and friendly. It’s a shocking juxtaposition that demonstrates how much value we put on expressions, as the narrator suggests that many of these young men would not be dead from violence and confrontation if they had smiled instead of frowned. Their need to present a “screwface” causes isolation from society as they try to get by and stay alive. Serious Tingz demonstrates how society and the media forces situations of loneliness and partisanships within communities, and how Londoners resort to these demonstrations of intimidation to survive.
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With technology advancements growing daily in many major cities, young people have grasped onto hook up apps with a vengeance. Catering to all kinds of needs and desires, the libido of London is something more unique altogether. The capital is the perfect place for these apps in our heterogeneous society, as one has almost unlimited options. In Thrive, one young man goes about his morning, making coffee as he scrolls through the app for a morning hook up, and finds a match. It demonstrates the immediacy and convenience of sex in the city, which is wonderful in terms of a release, but also gives us more of an excuse to avoid attachment, dating and the complexities of relationships in a society where we are constantly online and busy. The two men fall into a beautiful, sensual morning of passion and pleasure; their naked skin is lit by the early sunshine streaming in as their bodies and sheets become entangled in one. As they lie post-coitus, one man hints towards getting coffee and wanting to make things more personal, while the protagonist seems less sure and more dismissive of the hook up going any further. Yet, they end up sitting down and sharing personal stories. This discussion of stigmatisations around sexuality is so urgent and revealing, captured tentatively and thoughtfully by director Jamie di Spirito. There is a loneliness within the digital dating world, but it allows people to find lovers and partners more akin to their personalities. Thrive is a short that movingly delves into the sexual life of London, and explores the physical and emotions cruxes of young adults in their quest for brief affairs and romance, and how they harness the power of a phone to quell loneliness.
In Christopher Holt’s 3 Sleeps, Casey lives at a rough London estate with her mum and two younger siblings. After being awoken in the night, the mother says goodbye and puts Casey in charge. The young girl is distraught by this event but holds it together as the eldest sibling. Many of the shots are filmed from the ground up, accentuating the adolescence of the girls, with nine-year-old Casey taking the helm. Their movements are tentative and fearful, sticking together as the weekend ticks by, attempting to call their mum and relying on intuition. Based on a true story, 3 Sleeps explores an issue becoming more and more common in the capital — a parent leaving for extended amounts of time, with the kids being forced to fend for themselves. As crisis hits in the girls’ flat, they must turn to the pressing issues at hand. Their loneliness is devastatingly emotional, but it’s also unclear what issues their mother may be facing. 3 Sleeps brings to light a crucial issue within poorer parts of the city, one that needs to be discussed and depicted on screen in a harsh and terrifying manner.
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.