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In Focus

Overview of Clérmont-Ferrand 2013 International Competition


The Clérmont-Ferrand Film Festival is a true Mecca for Short films. Our reporter Jude Lister travelled to central France to have a quick peek at some of the best works screened at the legendary festival

Between the future-facing experimentation of Rotterdam and the glamorous behemoth that is the Berlinale, the snowy days of early February saw Clérmont-Ferrand’s prestigious short film festival return with a new crop of emerging talent. Locals enthusiastically welcomed back the nine-day event for its 35th edition, packing out auditoriums and thousand-seater cinemas alongside industry delegates - if nothing else, the festival certainly defies the notion that there’s only a niche audience for shorts.

The international programmes actually felt quite heavyweight, with many film running times reaching the 20 or 30-minute mark and screenings usually lasting 2 hours. This is also partly due to the fact that at Clérmont-Ferrand the more free form, experimental works are separated into their own section: the ’Labo’. Reflecting a concern for broad geographical scope, there was representation from all corners of the globe, including low production countries as Moldova, Madagascar and Azerbaijan. WARNING: may induce serious intercultural learning.

With around 80 shorts competing and the bar set extremely high in terms of quality, picking out highlights from such a diverse mix is always going to be quite an arbitrary task. Not that I’m going to let that stop me.

Starting with the festival jury’s favourite, Grand Prix winner Para armar un helicóptero (Izabel Acevado, Mexico, 35 mins) is a wonderfully understated drama portraying a community of immigrants who have moved from the countryside to live in one of Mexico City’s run-down apartment blocks. Plunged into darkness by power cuts, the neighbours show solidarity, self-sufficiency and ingenuity in order to survive and overcome the inadequacy of public services. Vegetables are grown in bath tubs, chickens roam corridors, and an adolescent boy generates electricity for the TV with his bike. Acevado delivers a compelling and affectionate vision of this chaotic collision between urban and rural worlds.

Para Armar un Helicóptero (trailer) from Izabel Acevedo on Vimeo.

One of the films that left without an award but really stuck with me was 45 Degrees (Georgis Grigorakis, Greece, 14 mins). Grigorakis plunges the viewer into the stifling summer heat of Athens, portraying an inner city simmering with economic desperation, social unrest, racial tension and violence. An average family man is pushed over the edge by his empty fridge and the threats of his thuggish brother-in-law. As all moral sense is abandoned, the film builds up to a disturbing, nightmarish climax.

45 DEGREES - Trailer from Georgis Grigorakis on Vimeo.

Meanwhile a Greek living on the other side of Europe, Maria (Michele Valley, who starred in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth), struggles with the indignity of her status as a Class B immigrant in British society. On This Island (Matthew Knott, UK, 16 mins) is a smart, cutting satire of the UK citizenship test and the inner workings of the civil service, delivering a bold political statement with dry humour and refreshing originality.

Moving away from any sense of the political, the winner of the Audience Prize, Penny Dreadful (Shane Atkinson, USA, 18 mins) is the irresistible tale of an incompetent kidnapper and a chemically imbalanced schoolgirl - the latter played to perfection by the young Oona Laurence. It’s essentially a one-gag film, but well-written, brilliantly executed and good irreverent fun, with tongue-in-cheek nods to the thriller genre.

Continuing in the comic vein, Man in Suit (Man in Pak, Anna van der Heide, Netherlands, 10 mins) is the light-hearted tale of an unsatisfied wife and mother who finds happiness in the furry arms of a theme park mascot. This time enjoyment rests on how funny you find various incongruous scenes involving a man in a rabbit suit, but the story of regression therapy taken to the extreme nicely explores the simple pleasures of releasing your inner child.

Another woman on a quest for personal fulfilment is the totally shambolic yet likeable protagonist of Girl of Wall (Yuji Harada, Japan, 17 mins), which won both a Mediatheque Award and a special mention from the international jury. Ridiculed at work for being useless and too shy to approach the man of her dreams, Yoda finds an outlet for self-expression in a highly unusual hobby: taking pictures of herself hugging concrete walls. A cult following, or perhaps even a new blogging trend, beckons for this delightfully eccentric short.

Animations were relatively few and far between, with the top prize in this category going to Bydlo (Patrick Bouchard, Canada, 9 mins), a powerful stop-motion piece inspired by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky.

However the animated short that really stood out for me was a documentary. The Night of the Bear (La Nuit de l’Ours, Sam and Fred Guillaume, Switzerland, 22 mins) is based on interviews undertaken during one night at a homeless shelter. Creating a unique cityscape and transforming their protagonists into animals using collage-effect CGI, the co-directors approach their subject with a lot of warmth, linking the different stories together with a lightness of touch that avoids pathos. There’s even a musical number.

La nuit de l’ours Trailer from Cine3D Association on Vimeo.

Some more to watch out for:

-  The Curse (Fyzal Boulifa, UK/Morocco, 16 mins), for its gripping storytelling. Already screened at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and Sundance, this short got a special mention from the Clérmont-Ferrand jury.
-  A Pretty Funny Story (Evan Morgan, Canada, 18 mins) lives up to its name with a hilariously twisted plot. Winner of the Canal+ Prize.
-  All Souls Day (Swieto Zmarlych, Aleksandra Terpinska, Poland, 18 mins) features a sensitive performance from young actress Jasmina Polak and a beautiful Max Richter soundtrack.
-  Premature (Prematur, Gunhild Enger, Norway, 17 mins), filmed in one extended take and serving up a deliciously awkward first meeting with some future in-laws.
-  Guang (Shio Chuan Quek, Malaysia, 14 mins), for its moving insight into the mind and senses of a young autistic man.
-  Skok (Kristina Grozeva abd Petar Valchanov, Bulgaria, 30 mins), a dryly absurd and unpredictable short, nominated for a European Film Award.

Full programme and list of award winners at

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