The Iris Prize Festival has now drawn to a close, but its still worth seeking out some of the excellent short film that competed for the world’s largest short film prize, the Iris Prize. We’ve already posted our thoughts on the first 11 short films, and below you can find 12 more (presented in screening order – opinions are mine and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of the overall jury).
Director: Halfdan Ullman Tondel
Fanny has just enrolled at a university in her old hometown, where she is thrown together with a group of other new students during orientation. As well as trying to negotiate new friendships and sexual encounters, there are also those from her old life who she’s hoping to reconnect with.
Stronger script editing could have turned this from a decent short film into something approaching brilliant. Unfortunately though, at a couple of key moments it undermines itself with clumsy exposition and moments of heightened drama that don’t feel quite natural. However, it deserves kudos from making an engaging short about a character who isn’t exactly likeable – interesting, but not likeable – and where bisexuality is expressed without feeling the need to question its validity.
3 out of 5
Director: Nish Gera
This Dutch film follows Syrian refugee Sami, who goes to meet Johan after chatting on a gay dating app. They have a drink before heading back to Johan’s apartment, along the way meeting a fellow refugee who’s living on the streets, and assumes Johan must be paying Sami for sex, as there are no gay Syrians.
While Scar Tissue didn’t make the Iris Prize top three, if I’d been the only one on the jury, it would have done. Although it has a few narrative issues, it’s a gorgeous looking film that pulls the viewer in with intriguing characters and a bold attempt to engage with some of the issues facing Europe as it adapts to an influx of refugees. The film acknowledges various issues – such as the difficulty of integration, the differences between Arab and Western European culture (particularly around LGBT issues), and the fact many of the refugees have escaped traumatic experiences – while not being too heavy-handed with them. Although there may be flaws, it’s an extremely worthwhile contribution to a conversation Western Europe needs to be having, but which often seems to be slightly ignored.
4.5 out of 5
Director: Fazaz Ansari
On a Mumbai commuter train, one young man hopes to catch the eye of someone he can’t stop looking at. Over the course of several journeys together in the same train carriage, the two very slowly inch closer towards acknowledging their feelings. However, this is taking place in a country where homosexuality is illegal, and so will the two ever actually touch?
Sisak has swept up quite a few awards on the festival circuit this year, and I can see why, as it’s beautifully made, very cinematic and the slowly evolving, wordless romance it deals with is undoubtedly involving. However, in its desire to change the world it comes off as a little self-important, until it becomes the gay short film equivalent of a James Cameron movie – you’re impressed by the ambition and talent, but also a little annoyed by the fact it’s aggressively trying to force you to feel something, rather than just giving you the space to feel it naturally.
3.5 out of 5
The Fish Curry
Director: Abhishek Verma
Another animated entry, this one about Lalit, a 28-year-old Indian man who’s fed up with his father asking questions about when he’s going to get married. Lalit decides it’s time to come out to his dad, something he knows his father is likely to have a problem with. To help the process, Lalit decides to cook a special meal, a spicy fish curry called Maacher Jhol. The idea of food being a social lubricant has a long history in the art of various cultures around the world, and that’s followed through here with a sweet and pretty charming coming out tale. Some of its animated metaphors are a little confused and it doesn’t add up to a vast amount, but it’s still a good film.
3 out of 5
Director: Laurel Parnet
Spring was loved by some while leaving others a little nonplussed. Teenage girls Crystal and Amanda are hanging out together, with Amanda taking pictures of Crystal to help her getting into modelling. After Amanda suggests some slightly racy shots, things start to become more intimate, but what takes on a sexual dimension for one may mean something different to the other, or does it?
Spring is an attempt to capture a moment in adolescence of emerging sexuality, where you’re not sure how to express it, or whether others feel the same – all at a time when maturity, naivete and growing sexual feelings are competing with one another. Spring is a film that will be loved by those who can see their own younger selves in Amanda and immediately relate to her situation. However, if it doesn’t evoke that feeling in you, you’ll likely think it’s okay but nothing memorable.
3 out of 5
Manly Stanley Take New York
Director: Shelby Coley
A brief documentary look at a drag king called Manly Stanley (real name, Edythe Woolley), as she talks about how she created the character and came up with her performance art cabaret piece. That piece involves her dressed as a man but ‘exposing’ her vagina, while the audio and imagery explore misogyny, such as a documentary about vaginal plastic surgery that seems more about what men think than women.
Although Manly Stanley is an interesting creation, what she’s saying and doing isn’t quite as new or noteworthy (even from a queer, feminist perspective) as the documentary seems to think. And with a six-minute runtime it doesn’t really get much past feeling like an advert for the drag act.
2.5 out of 5
Director: Graham Cantwell
Winner of the Iris Prize Youth Award (voted for by over 160 young people)
Lily is a modern Irish girl, with a gay male bestie, Simon. She feels comfortable enough to tell her popular female friend Violet she may like girls more than boys. Violet decides perhaps they ought to kiss, but what starts as a bit of hijinks soon turns violent. It leaves Lily feeling cast out and unsure where she stands in the world, or whether she even wants to be alive anymore.
As a short film Lily is an interesting one, as to an audience that’s seen a lot of gay-themed films, it’s likely to come across as rather staid, clichéd and hackneyed, with a plot that feels a little like a Public Service Announcement, and a script that’s painfully trite at times. However, for those who haven’t been exposed to these things numerous times before, it’s likely to feel a lot more timely, powerful and emotionally resonant – hence why it won the Iris Prize Youth Award.
It is perhaps a reminder that there’s a reason why things become clichés – and that’s because there’s something that speaks to people about them. Particularly with issues involving young people, if older people decide we shouldn’t be seeing these things anymore just because they’ve seen them before, it could result in young people never getting to views the sort of films that might actually help them as they deal with growing up.
3 out of 5
Director: Liying Mei
You won’t be surprised to hear this one isn’t about old people and a swimming pool. Instead it’s set in China just as Hong Kong is moving from British to Chinese rule. Qingqing is an 11-year-old girl living with her mother. Her father works far away and only occasionally comes to visit. She slowly comes to realise that there is more to her mother’s relationship with her dance teacher than solely friendship, and that like the silkworms she’s been raising, something new may be about to emerge.
Although its metaphors are sometimes a little heavy-handed, Cocoon is a beautifully mounted film, with strong visuals and smart direction. However, while the surface is lovely to look at, it rarely feels like it’s getting under the skin of its characters or what’s going on between them. This is highlighted by quite how passive a character Qingqing is, and that while we see the implosion of her family through her eyes, she’s often treated purely as a spectator to it. Even what is the key moment – when Quinquing makes a decision over whether to protect her mother’s new relationship or not – lacks the power it might have had if the film were as concerned with what that decision means, as it is with looking nice.
2.5 out of 5
Director: Danny Devito
Danny Devito’s short film is undoubtedly a feelgood audience charmer. The late David Margulies plays Ralph, a foul-mouthed old man living in an assisted living facility. He’s visited by his granddaughter, but then gets a big surprise when his lover Jackie (Devito) turns up, who’s stuck in a wheelchair after breaking his hip.
As you’d expect from a Hollywood comedy veteran, Devito uses humour and fun to pull the audience in, while making subtle points about the difficulties of aging – not least that despite being together for years, the two lovers have been split up and are in different facilities. It’s not a ‘great’ film, but purely in terms of the feelgood factor and providing laughs, it’s a real winner.
4 out of 5
Director: Uriya Hertz
Jerusalem Yeshiva student Gadi is uncertain about something. He’s been seeing a girl and people, including his rabbi, Michael, have mentioned marriage. However, Gadi has a secret. When he shares this with Michael, it causes the rabbi to question the choices he’s made in his own life, and whether he should advise Gadi to marry his girlfriend or not.
The Rabbi is another of this year’s Iris Prize shorts that many would have been happy to see win. It certainly provokes a response, creating a great sense of tension amongst all the characters, and the feeling that a small tragedy has already happened and may be about to repeat itself. Thankfully it doesn’t get too melodramatic about it, instead earning its impactful moments – most notably an awkwardly long hug. However, while a good film, it’s also feels like it’s slightly old hat, with only the way it handles its ideas about internalised homophobia passing itself down generations feeling fresh. With the themes it takes on, I couldn’t help feel it seemed to think it had completed a full sentence about them, when it had actually only uttered the first few words.
3.5 out of 5
Odd Job Man
Director: Marianne Blicher
Iris Prize Special Commendation
Poul is heading into older middle-age when his already rather grey and dull life falls to bits – he loses his job and his wife leaves him. On a whim he knocks on the door of a show-bar, where he’s noticed they’re looking for an odd job man. This leads him into a world of drag queens, which offers unexpected sights, the chance to be a hero and perhaps even the opportunity to fulfil his dream of singing – even if he would have to do it in a dress.
To be honest, many of the individual ideas and situations in Odd Job Man have been seen before, but they’ve been brought together here to create something beautifully formed and complete. It has wit and heart, as well as a wonderful central performance from Peder Holm Johansen as Poul, who brings real soul to a grey man given the chance to live life in colour. It’s also one of the few shorts that genuinely feels like it was made from a post-gay perspective, which is interesting in itself.
4.5 out of 5
Director: Bendon McDonall
A man travels to see his old friend after hearing that he’s very ill. Together they travel to the mighty dam that they once helped to build and which helped cement their friendship half a century before. It may also be the place they finally have to resolve their feelings for one another, or else know that nothing will ever be said.
There’s a fine balance between making a film that speaks to big ideas and will move an audience emotionally, and one which feels like its been contrived to do that and is verging on being manipulative. While its heart is on the right place, and there are some nice ideas about aging, the remembrance of youth and it never being too late to overcome our limitations, it can’t escape the sense that’s it’s slightly pandering to the audience, rather than getting to a broader truth. It is a good watch though.
3.5 out of 5