It's tough out there for young filmmakers – to pull cash together, to get the right camera, to find someone who knows how the fuck to use it. It’s tough not to feel daunted, too, by the abyss that lies between your zero-budget short film and the polished production of your favourite movie. You think: How do I go from a rough-around-the-edges short made with my three mates to a production with a catering service and actors’ trailers? A comforting thought is that all your moviemaking heroes, from Spike Lee to Andrea Arnold, pretty much started in the same place. Another comforting thought is that certain festivals exist to give you a handy leg-up.
The BFI Future Film Festival is dubbed "the UK's most important film industry festival for young, emerging filmmakers". It’s basically four days of masterclasses, industry workshops, panel Q&As and networking opportunities. It also showcases the best short films made by emerging young filmmakers aged 16 to 25. These shorts, carefully selected by the BFI’s team of young programmers from over 1,300 submissions from around the world, touch on a broad range of themes, from domestic abuse to gender fluidity.
The festival’s 2019 edition, which runs this weekend, features films of truly jaw-dropping quality. Watching them, you sense a bridge to something bigger, a cinematic voice about to grow much louder. Here are the young filmmakers from this year’s festival to keep on your radar.
Tina Vidmar’s fly-on-the-wall doc zeroes in on a group of young British cheerleaders. With blue ribbons in their hair, they train in an old gym, tossing girls up in the air and trying their best not to drop them. If they do, it’s 20 press-ups for everyone. There are tears, there are failures, there’s success, all crammed into this surprisingly dramatic six-minute short. It’s a unique and visually thrilling snapshot of a subject that, in the girls’ own words, other people "don't get at all".
With its flashing colours and handmade effects, this Portuguese animation about the female body is sort of like a trippy throwback to a 1980s Peter Gabriel music video. In it, a girl takes a shower. When she’s done, she looks down at her naked body. Then her body separates itself from the head and leaps into another dimension. Beatriz Bagulho’s four-minute wonder is playfully innovative and sure to make your head spin, in a very good way.
Was Bleibt (What Remains)
In What Remains, Chiara Fleischhacker takes you inside a bathroom where a bride, on her wedding night, is trying to insert an artificial hymen. She’s Muslim, and her husband is just outside the door. With the help of her two close friends, she’s attempting to trick him into thinking she’s still a virgin. At the same time, she’s questioning this lie on which her marriage is based, torn between tradition and morality. Fleischhacker amps up the tension with every impatient knock at the door. What if her husband finds out, you fear. The whole thing is expertly crafted, unfolding like a scene from an accomplished drama from a hotly tipped European director.
Fuck the Boxes
An excellent title, but "Fuck The Boxes" also 100 percent makes sense in the context of this tale of gender fluidity and blossoming love between friends. Dan is a gay student who, after an encounter in the park, ends up in bed with his best mate Ray. Ray opens up on the subject of being gender fluid. "I’m in the middle somewhere, not a boy, not a girl." Abel Rubinstein’s Fuck the Boxes is poignant and sweet, but it’s also hilarious, with one gross-out moment involving Dan’s mum and a curious white stain on his jumper.
Dorothy Allen-Pickard’s film follows a young bipolar Londoner struggling with the mounting mess in her bedroom. It builds up as easily as it gets her down. But cleaning isn’t as simple as Marie Kondo makes out. "It’s difficult to move when I want to," she says, describing her crippling anxiety. Ambitiously, The Mess goes a step further in conveying the subject's feelings visually, with slow motion shots of raining clothes and junk, cut with shots of her underwater, as if trapped in a tank. Documentary filmmakers rarely stray from the usual talking heads format, but when they take visual risks like Dorothy Allen-Pickard, the results are mesmerising.
Lucien Beucher & Jean Lanteri
The premise of Lucien Beucher and Jean Lanteri’s short is simple. A guy in a wife-beater dances through an urban complex and down a stairwell. Wild jazz drums accompany his stuttering moves. No flashy effects. Just one single, unbroken shot that follows the guy, as a group of girls dance dramatically around him. The real genius of it? You see the girls at different points in different outfits, without ever seeing them change. Everything is meticulously pre-planned, people out of view dashing to their next marker and changing clothes. Directed by French duo Beucher and Lanteri, Voltige is a beautifully choreographed short.
When a guy hits on a teenage girl at a house party she makes her excuses and dashes off to find her friend. She’s having a bad acid trip and asks her friend to leave with her. Later, the friends end up in bed together, but the next day it’s clear it meant different things to each of them. “I want you,” one girl says to her not-so-eager mate. Beautifully shot, with hazy blues and reds, Alex Deitsch’s Flower Face is a nuanced story of sexual awakening and sexual identity. By the time the credits roll, you want more, as if this were a teaser for an epic full-length movie about unrequited love.
Blair Waters is one of those great filmmakers you might expect to discover at Sundance. Her Florida-set short Princess Rita shares a similar visual flavour to The Florida Project. It has those same pastel hues and the feeling of being on the edge of a bigger town. Like many a great Sundance movie, it’s an offbeat love story. It follows a lonely insurance adjuster who’s saving up to help his internet girlfriend, Rita, whom he’s never met, and who conveniently lives in a faraway country. In Waters’s self-assured hands, the Florida candy-colour aesthetic has never looked so great. Bonus points for using Daniel Johnston’s "True Love Will Find You In The End".
Intrepid filmmaker Charlene Jones places grief and loss under her microscope in this devastating doc in which three siblings discuss and mourn the loss of their parents. As they talk about their pain and their different experiences of it, old family photos flash on screen, illustrating their memories. As one brother breaks down, you genuinely feel like you’re invading this deeply personal space and sensing just the smallest slice of these people’s pain. Jones boldly takes us inside this wound, cutting right to the bone. It’s brutal and it’s brilliant, and it shows a fearlessness to be admired in any filmmaker.
Andy Hones & Shelby Alayne Antel
Like a stunningly mundane Raymond Carver short story, Andy Hones and Shelby Alayne Antel’s June is a slice-of-life movie, its entire duration mirroring the length of the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. A woman lights up outside her tiny apartment, only to be barked at by her neighbour. Their dispute swiftly switches gears when the neighbour sees a big bruise on the woman’s arm. She knows it’s the result of domestic abuse since their walls are paper-thin. “No matter how many times he apologises,” the neighbour warns her, “it doesn’t stop, you know that, right?” These US filmmakers’ less-is-more approach packs a powerful dramatic punch that you’d expect to find in the best awards-magnet movies. The acting’s persuasive, the story gripping.
BFI Future Film Festival takes place at BFI Southbank from 21 February. Find out more and buy tickets here.
All images courtesy of BFI.