After ten days of film previews, guest appearances and interactive events, this year’s Derby Film Festival drew to a close with two surprising short film programmes, the first of which was Eat My Shorts. This was a short film showcase collated by the Derby team, which sought film submissions from across the globe and produced a programme that was gross, moving, touching and provocative.
“What you are about to see, you may find very disturbing.” Such is the portentous opening to grotesque horror The Stomach, a fifteen minute film largely responsible for Eat My Shorts’ recommended 18 certificate. Ben Steiner’s short film mashes eerie supernatural threads with bloodthirsty gore and shades of a fratricide thriller. The film’s villainous undercurrent draws on familiar tropes but the supernatural body horror is in a league of its own. Pallid and exhausted, Frank channels spirits through his painfully distended stomach. Those speaking to the dead do so through Frank’s mouth, prised open with a tube, listening intently to his stomach with a stethoscope. It’s a polished production with superb make-up work and carefully constructed mise-en-scène. Frank’s dingy flat is created with such tenacious attention to detail that his despair is acute and inescapable.
A different kind of relationship with the dead is explored in Abide With Me. This documentary from Andy Barmer traces a family’s three generation-long battle with depression. Retracing the steps of her grandfather’s battalion during the First World War, depression sufferer Beth aims to reach a better understanding of his last thirty years spent in an asylum struggling with ‘post-war dementia’. Through conversations with Beth and her mother – who received electric shock therapy for her own subsequent depression – Barmer’s documentary probes both the legacy of war and the less tangible legacy of mental illness. Barmer deliberately splices together the words of Beth and her mother, drawing our attention to their shared experiences and the complexity of cause-and-effect.
Where Abide With Me interlaces individual experiences, the emotional punch of The Second Room derives from its juxtaposition of words and image. This animated documentary about the experience of transgender people in Iran begins by asking, ‘can a person obtain the equal advantages of both sexes?’. The question is accompanied by two hand-drawn doves fused together in flight. Later, as society describes its prejudice, monstrous faces swallow up the screen. Sarvnaz Alambeigi’s fourteen minute film is charged with emotion from the need to ‘throw away’ pre-surgery pasts to mourning lost dreams of marriage and parenthood.
Alexander Thomas’ film Beverley also explored prejudice, this time in 1980s Leicester. This drama about the relationship between a mixed race girl and young male members of The National Front feels like Britain’s condensed answer to Céline Sciamma’s acclaimed Girlhood. Beverley (Laya Lewis) negotiates not only racial prejudice, but also her burgeoning womanhood, embracing a tomboyish ‘rude-girl’ confidence that has unintended consequences. With a commanding central performance from Laya Lewis (Skins) Beverley took home the festival’s Audience Award.
Find out more about the Derby Film Festival here.