Now it’s time for the final part of our round-up of the shorts that competed for the 2020 Iris Prize for Best International LGBT+ short. It’s a prize worth £30,000, which allows the winning filmmaker to make another short film. The selection below includes the short that walked away with that award, so which film won this year’s Iris Prize, you can find out below?
All the films that screened as part of the Iris Prize Festival are available to view on a pay-as-you-go basis to viewers in the UK until the end of October 2020 – Find out more here.
Director: Letia Solomon, USA, 15 mins
Not many LGBT films open with a freestyle rap battle, but this one does, and it’s an idea I’m surprised hasn’t been used more often – someone expressing themselves in a form that’s part art and part competition, and facing the challenge to be authentic within that. Khalil has reached the final round of a major rap battle. However, what no one knows if that he has a boyfriend. When someone he knows finds out and the boyfriend turns up for the battle, his worlds start to collide. Although some parts of The Cypher feel a little contrived it’s still a strong narrative idea that pulls it through.
3 out of 5
Shéár Avory: To Be Continued
Director: Abram Cerda, USA, 25 mins
This documentary looks at Shéár Avory, a gender non-conforming trans* femme who uses they, them and their pronouns. Although they are only 17, they’ve already dealt with many complex issues, including being in and out of foster care due to their mother’s addiction issues, as well as current homelessness. They’ve moved into a house for other trans and gender non-conforming people, while navigating a complex world as they start to medically transition. Some may wish the film went a little deeper and asked a few more questions, but in some respects it can’t, as it’s a film that is determined not to put words or ideas in Shéár’s mouth. Shéár meanwhile is young and while mature, they’re on a journey that could take them anywhere. Many films would want to challenge them and their ideas constantly but this one nicely just allows Shéár to speak and live, capturing a moment in someone’s life that feels like its pivoting around many of the more difficult issues we currently face.
3 out of 5
Director: Diego Paulino, Brazil, 22 mins
Sitting somewhere between fiction and documentary. BLACKN3SS opens with what is essentially a performance art piece with a sci-fi edge, as a queer person tries on different outfits and looks, transforming themselves and seeming have a bit of a breakdown as they do. BLACKN3SS then moves back and forth between performance art and more traditional documentary-style looks at the lives of queer black Brazilians. It’s is a very tough film for a white Brit to make any judgements or conclusions about, as this isn’t the sort of film that’s particularly interested in ensuring full context is providing for those from outside the black, Brazilian, non-normative world. It is certainly an intriguing window into a world that may have echoes of ball culture and the Leigh Bowery-esque club scene of the early 80s, but is undoubtedly very much its own thing.
3 out of 5
Director: Jamie Weston, UK, 18 mins
The beginning of Wings is almost like a live-action version of the first 10-minutes of Up!, as a couple marry, move into their first home, have a child, and then one of them heads off to the Second World War, possibly never to return. However, rather than ending up with someone tying hundreds of balloons to their house, the short continues through the years as the wife who’s been left behind joins the Land Army and meets a women there – which sparks the beginning of an unexpected relationship. Things then jump forward many decades to follow a elderly woman (played by Virginia McKenna) moving into an old folks home, where she soon meets another woman (Miriam Margolyes), who she realises she knew many years ago. Wings is certainly a sweet film even if is does have a tendency to feel like a John Lewis Christmas advert that’s gotten out of hand. It’s an audience pleaser, but only if you don’t mind your stories told through the rosiest of tints.
3 out of 5
Director: Nini Kjeldner, Norway, 11 mins
A lesbian couple are supposed to be on holiday, but one of them, Camilla, won’t stop working. She is forced to step away from the screen when she can’t read the writing on her computer anymore. What she doesn’t initially realise is that she’s having a stroke. As her perceptions change she enters a world of hallucinations, where she must reckon with a life that’s been bypassing her and what she may be on the verge of losing. They always say you should leave them wanting more, but Shhh! feels like it ends just as it’s beginning. The film has a great setup and pulls you right into its world, but then stops just as it seems like its themes are blossoming. It does allow its ideas to germinate in the viewer’s head, but it’s still difficult not to have wished for a little more.
3 out of 5
Director: Aaron Immediato, USA, 17 mins
In a high school bathroom a group of bratty teenage girls are bitching about their lives and their looks. They then realise there’s someone else in the bathroom with them – Cassie – who doesn’t look like a typical girl and so the teens immediately attack her as having no right to be in the women’s bathroom. Cassie’s mother decides the best thing to do about this is a bit of devil worship, visiting the place she believes is where Satan landed when he was thrown out of Heaven. This unleashes a vengeance troll. To be honest it’s a little tough to know exactly what you’re watching – it’s part drama, part comedy, with horror, parody, nostalgia and more than a sprinkling of high camp mixed in. There are times when Bathroom Troll seems to be trying to make a bigger point about how anger and resentment can breed ongoing negativity, but other times it just seems happy being a bit weird.
2 out of 5
All Good Things
Director: Simon Croker, Australia, 13 mins
Boyfriends Levi and Isaac head off on the road together, but at the end Levi will stay in Melbourne as he embarks on the next chapter of their life, while Isaac will return home to Sydney. However, while both knows that what’s supposed to happen, they may not be as ready for this separation as they thought. The further they go the more insecurities emerge as the difficulties of saying goodbye reveal themselves. It’s a premise that feels like it’s designed to be a conclusion, but instead it leaves things quite open – almost a reminiscence on the pain and pleasure of young love. It does leave a few questions unanswered that don’t really help the effect it’s going for, but it’s still romantic and sweet.
3 out of 5
Director: Rowan Devereux & Sophie Saville, Australia, 8 mins
A young woman is planning a date with another woman – but is it a date or is is just another woman coming to hang out? Is the other woman even gay and how would she find out? A quirky and amusing film, Peach may want to make us laugh but has a few points to make along the way. Many of us will be able to appreciate the social anxiety of not wanting to make assumptions, and also how that can sometimes be as much about out fear of what that might mean for ourselves as it is about not wanting to make the other person uncomfortable. I might have thought it was a little more contrived if I hadn’t done almost exactly the same thing myself in the past.
3 out of 5
When in Rome (Paese Che Vai)
Director: Luca Padrini, Italy, 10 mins
Young and handsome Alfredo heads back home to Italy with his boyfriend, Mattia, to attend his grandmother’s wedding. Once there he decides it’s time to be upfront and honest with his more traditional father. When In Rome is a film that’s essentially based around a single joke, but it’s quite a good one and takes the viewer on a fun journey even if you work out where it’s probably going early on. It plays it for all its worth, pulling out the parallels between sexuality and other things, helped by an attractive cast giving charming performances, beautiful locations and strong direction.
3 out of 5
Director: Naures Sager, Sweden, 7 mins
Ayman wants his friends Amirah and Samir to leave because he’s organised to have sex with a new man, Jonas. However, they want to gatecrash this meeting, which results in a night that neither Ayman or Jonas were expecting. 1-1 is set in a heightened world that nevertheless feels quite real. It’s interested in the odd, enforced anonymity of sex meets with strangers, where you’re planning to share something very intimate but many people try to keep it as impersonal as possible, sometimes not even revealing their names. But how can you break through that to create an actual connection and maybe have some fun on a different level? It’s a fun film with plenty of charm that certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome.
3 out of 5
Director: Alyssa Lerner, USA, 16 mins
Nousha enjoys writing erotic fiction, with her latest opus being about her and her crush, Melody. Best friend Oli asks to see the story, but Nousha accidentally texts it to Mel instead. After freaking out, Nousha and Oli set out on a late-night quest to break in to Melody’s apartment and delete the text before she sees it. Silly and a little over the top, Break In overcomes its flaws with a big heart, huge amounts of enthusiasm and plenty of wit. It doesn’t add up to an awful lot, but Break In is still a fun watch.
3 out of 5
WINNER OF THE 2020 IRIS PRIZE
Short Calf Muscle
Director: Victoria Warmerdam, Netherlands, 13 mins
Out of a strong selection, the jury chose Short Calf Muscle as the winner of the main, International Short Film Prize. It’s certainly a worthy choice – one reason for that being that if you asked audience members in six months time which of the Iris Prize shorts they remember, this is likely to be the first one that came to mind. The film follows a man who’s being treated for a running injury – he’s got a short calf muscle, which he’s told is typical for ‘his type’. Not knowing how to take this and assuming it’s to do with the fact he’s gay, he brings it up with others, only to start to realise that actually everyone thinks he’s a gnome.
It’s not quite like any of the other Iris Prize films, standing out with a comedic, absurdist look at the world, which draws parallels between attitudes to sexuality, race, religion and disability. However, its slightly Kafka-esque lens deliberately fails to be a perfect metaphor for any of these things – with the result that the audience is placed in the same situation as the main characters, trying to make sense of attitudes and preconceptions that don’t really seem to make sense. It is a silly idea on one level, and even in the film’s world it both fits with its own logic and is utterly ludicrous at the same time. However, it allows the film to amusingly questions the assumptions we make about others and how we see ourselves, as well as the danger of unfounded prejudices. Buy hey, perhaps he is a gnome and he’s just in complete denial!
5 out of 5