Family Portraits – Award Winning Short Films From Flatpack 2015

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The bigger picture scene with overflowing bathFocussing on parent-child relationships, this insightful selection of short films chosen by Flatpack’s curators encapsulates family life in both ordinary and avant-garde ways. Tackling everything from intergenerational curiosity and the creation of memories, to familial expectations, responsibility and duty, these films pull their audience into recognisable and affecting worlds. Featuring Oscar nominated animation The Bigger Picture (above) and the latest film from BAFTA Scotland’s New Talent Award winner, Duncan Cowles, the quality of this year’s selection was beyond compare.

After taking home the BAFTA for Short Animation, it’s a mystery how The Bigger Picture missed out on this year’s Oscar. This painstakingly produced animation brings life size oil paintings into a 3D world of papier-mâché props. The work of London based animator Daisy Jacobs is instantly recognisable. Her earlier 2D works, Tosh and Don Justino de Neve share the same, distinct style of illustration, giving us grotesque characters and a superficial upper class. In The Bigger Picture, Jacobs turns her attention to the emotional intricacies of more ordinary problems. Two brothers cope with their dying mother: Richard lovingly cares for her, while his brother, Nick, carries on with his own life. Most visually striking is Jacobs’ use of animation to project Richard’s overwhelming emotions. In one scene Richard grows taller, towering over his mother in frustration, in another he pours a teapot which drowns the room in water.

Inventive animation aside, it’s Jacobs’ writing (inspired by her own family experiences and dying grandmother) that packs the emotional punch. That Jacobs is able to deliver this breathtaking complexity of feeling – guilt, love, regret, anger, exasperation, denial and evasion – with such a minimalist approach says much of her potential as a filmmaker. Even as its characters worry about the impact of caring on their own lives, The Bigger Picture manages to balance a darkly humorous tone with heartfelt sincerity, ‘I thought about sex every moment of my life until I was forty, now I just think about death,’ says Nick.

Directed by Tweedie

Directed by Tweedie

The Bigger Picture was not alone in its exploration of adult relationships with elderly relatives. Half of the selection dedicated itself to this thread. Directed By Tweedie traces the efforts of filmmaker and director, Duncan Cowles, to communicate his passion for filmmaking to his grandparents, to learn about their lives and to capture their personalities on film, creating a record of them for the future. It’s a kind of participatory documentary in which the subjects themselves become filmmakers and take an active role in the scripting and direction. It’s a delightful film that strikes on subtle inter-generational differences, capturing personality and a charming ordinariness. Grandfather Tweedie’s verdict on the completed film, ‘there’s not much content,’ is perhaps an amusing oversight, but one that directs us to the film’s real strength: its capacity to give us a brief glimpse of the often elusive and indefinable qualities that tie us together.

In looking back at archive footage of her elderly great-grandmother, Eliane Esther Bots’ film Conversations takes a more mournful look at ageing families. Bots combines this with recently captured footage of her grandmother who tenaciously records the origins of her belongings in a series of notebooks. The objects convey history, character and personal relationships: everything that make up a life. Painful loss is tangible in this largely silent film where the juxtaposition of poignant subtitles and stark still photography permeates the musings with sorrow. We learn about a cherished cassette tape containing the sounds of a long deceased father’s voice, while the film lingers on the only images of him ever captured on film. This succession of female memories creates a space for us to ruminate on the passage of time and the chain of keenly felt emotional ties that stretch back through the generations to the beginning of existence.

Two Seas short film

Two Seas

Two live action films continued the exploration of parent-child relationships. A series of lies in Electric Indigo (from director Jean-Julien Collette) has devastating consequences for the child of two heterosexual male parents united in a ‘non-carnal’ marriage, while a daughter pushes against generational and cultural frontiers, wrestling with her Iranian father’s expectations in Two Seas. This film from Orlando Cubitt (who’s filmography includes adverts for Adidas and McDonalds) uses the ocean to prompt contemplation. It’s a place of serene escapism for Anahita who dreams of becoming a marine biologist while negotiating familial and peer pressures.

Dragging us further back into the innocence of childhood was Dad In Mum. In this amusing French film from Fabrice Bracq, two young sisters wonder about hanky-panky and dad’s seed while lurking outside their parents’ bedroom door. The strain of married life, as seen through a childhood lens, makes for shrewd and uplifting comedy in the hands of Bracq (whose previous short, Diagnostic, took home last year’s audience prize at Derby Film Festival). Of all the short films, Dad In Mum provided the perfect note on which to close: the starting point of new life, with all the complexities of family yet to come.

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About Author

A film writer for local newspapers in the Midlands, Natalie spends her time obsessing about movies and writing about them. Beasts of the Southern Wild, 21 Grams and Hitchcock’s Rebecca are some of her favourites. She’s also pretty nostalgic about Harryhausen’s Jason And The Argonauts and 1950s adventure The Vikings.