The London Short Film Festival (LSFF) returns for its 15th iteration on January 12th with an expansive programme of shorts from the UK and beyond. The festival is well known for championing emerging British film talent, showcasing early experimental works and delving into archives to unearth unseen curio. This year's is a dynamic and pertinent programme, focusing on subversive and radical cinematic voices, alternative methods of exhibition and the re-examination of political and artistic movements in a global moment of crisis; a widening gulf between the radical and the reactionary. Here’s our pick of the programme.
London-based horror collective The Final Girls present a pair of rarely-seen occult 70s documentaries in The Witching Hour. Relics of the enduring allure of the wyrd and witchy, rites and rituals, these films encapsulate British counterculture and its influence on the witchsploitation films of the 1960s and 70s. Secret Rites is a pseudo-documentary detailing the initiation of a new witch into the coven of Alex Sanders, a real-life High Priest who founded his own branch of Wicca. A reel of abject imagery intercuts with the requisite ceremonial nudity and some seriously psychedelic visuals.
The Power of the Witch plays it a little straighter – a wonderfully dated BBC documentary (also from 1971) offering a glimpse into the lives of real British witches and the Satanic Panic that gripped good, God-fearing Brits in the 60s and 70s. Interviews with occultists accompany sensationalist speculation of murder most… magical. And our collective fascination continues; Anna Biller’s sly, sexy feminist genre-bender The Love Witch was a cult hit in 2016 and a Technicolour tribute that owes much to all that came before it, from Salem to Suspiria.
The brilliant Bechdel Test Fest celebrate the works of French-Senegalese filmmaker and actress Mati Diop with four of her films: Liberian Boy, Big in Vietnam, Snow Canon and Atlantique, followed by an open discussion in which the audience is invited to share their thoughts and reactions to the works. Known for her performance in Claire Denis’ family drama 35 Shots of Rum and the niece of experimental filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty, this is a chance to see Diop’s short films on the big screen.
Spectral apparitions, melancholy meandering and landscapes both real and mythical - her films are a seductive hybrid of documentary and dream. Meetings, moods encounters, destinations peel away from one another in these beautiful multilayered films that explore sexuality (a magical snowbound liaison between babysitter and charge in the intimate Snow Canon) isolation, missed connections, faraway homelands and the art of filmmaking (in Big in Vietnam, a Vietnamese director abandons her set to wander Marseille in search of her lead actor). This is enchanting, accomplished filmmaking from a young female director and to continue the conversation, Bechdel have produced an exclusive zine of essays and writing to accompany the screenings.
French writer and director Lucile Hadžihalilović comes to LSFF this year as International Juror, and the festival brings us a rare chance to see her early short films La Bouche de Jean-Pierre aka Mimi, Good Boys Use Condoms and Nectar, and her first feature film Innocence.
In the opening scene of her 2016 film Evolution, Hadžihalilović plunged us into an undulating underwater world, a dark fairytale of maternal monsters, hushed hospital wards and unthinkable horrors lurking in murky tanks. It’s predecessor Innocence is a surreal coming-of-age gothic tale of gothic girlhood, set deep within a forest at a secluded boarding school. La Bouche de Jean-Pierre aka Mimi is a darkly comic story of a young girl passed from pillar to post after her mother’s suicide attempt, left at the mercy of a predatory older man. These films explore the body and blossoming sexuality with an unabashed eroticism and striking visual style, from the honeyed reveries of Nectar to the radical practicalities of French threesome-sex-ed short Good Boys Use Condoms. Lucile will be present at the festival for a Q&A after the screenings.
In writer and artist Chris Kraus’ acclaimed account of sexual obsession and marital discord, I Love Dick, the central character is a struggling, depressed filmmaker called... Chris Kraus. A thinly veiled allusion this ain’t; Kraus (who recently published a biography of Kathy Acker) began her career as an experimental filmmaker in 1980s New York and has spoken openly about the obstacles she encountered when trying to distribute and fund her films. LSFF brings her underseen oeuvre to the festival with Chris Kraus: Cruelty and Crime; Fool Proof Illusion, How To Shoot A Crime and Sadness At Leaving.
In Fool Proof Illusion, a leather-clad Kraus attempts to build a gendered snowman whilst reading from the works of avant-garde auteur Antonin Artaud. In How To Shoot A Crime, Kraus pieces together interviews with police videographer George Diaz and dominatrices to examine the intersections of violence, sex, and death in popular culture. Sadness At Leaving is a hazy, claustrophobic 80s espionage thriller with a synth soundtrack and feminist voiceover. These are dense, surreal, highly original works, each a singular vision and densely packed with ideas.
Words by Charlotte Ashcroft
More information on this years LSFF here: http://shortfilms.org.uk/