After a cosy festive season which saw me secluded in a converted fisherman’s cottage in the gothic North Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby, I was craving some cutting edge urbanity by the time 8th January rolled round. A quick perusal of London’s top listings mag and an email/ Twitter probe pointed to Lido Love or Future Shorts One. Spoilt for choice, I thought, until the riotous artistic celebration of London Fields Lido’s anarchic past sold out while I was still making my mind up. Shaking off self-reproach at this school girl administrative error and resolving to book absurdly in advance for next year’s love-in, I swiftly coughed up for the film festival in miniature.
Audaciously billed as a ‘simultaneous event’ to be screened across 12 countries in 15 cities, it was to be the inaugural Future Shorts event at the Old Cholmeley Boys Club in Dalston, migrating across the river from Battersea Arts Centre. And Battersea’s loss was incontestably Dalston’s gain. The London incarnation of Future Shorts has been carving a bespoke niche in the film world since 2003. The brainchild of filmmaker Fabien Riggall was a maveric bid to ‘take cinema out of the cinema,’ which paid off by harnessing sponsorship deals by Mini and Windows Phone to reinvigorate the deadening viewing conventions imposed by the multiplex. The promotion and distribution of short films is just one arm of his Future Cinema brand which is perhaps best known since 2008 for the genre defying Secret Cinema. Having seen their monumental staging/ screening of Bladerunner in the Docklands last May, during which compliant ‘cyber-punks’ were herded by coach from Canary Wharf to a disused warehouse, peopled by the hustlers and hookers of a downtown LA dystopia, I had high expectations of this sister event. The brevity of the material, scaled down setting, more modest entourage and comparatively cheap ticket (£12.50 rather that £25) might suggest a lesser event all round, but Future Shorts is a different beast to its extravagant counterpart. Not to mention the audience of 25,000 it lays claim to from simultaneous international and online transmission.
Granted, you don’t get the thrill of anticipation and speculation as to the mystery feature and venue that you do with Secret Cinema, but then there’s always the chance that someone will blurt it out and kill the element of surprise anyway (as I found out to my dismay), now that the ‘surprise’ is held on five consecutive nights. But stepping into the faded Victorian civic splendor of the Old Cholmeley Boys Club on Dalston’s Boleyn Road, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled on a well kept secret. In fact, I shudder to recollect that I’d worked in the neighbouring Gillett Square for three months a few years back and had next to no knowledge of the place. Oozing dusty, draughty character from the cavernous balcony to the handsome C.S. Lewis-esque wardrobe and inexplicable king-sized bed in the corner, it felt as if we’d broken into the school hall after hours. The spirit of childish transgression was rewarded with bags of sweets on the door and a cloud of balloons inviting you to make a wish for 2011 by scrawling an inscription in marker pen. Cynical thoughts of hot air and inflated egos were cast aside as the interactive allure won me over. The streamer-bedecked hall was strewn with all manner of curious paraphernalia, including a black board on which to chalk up the life expectancy of your New Year’s Resolution (one for the cynic, then) and a cat’s cradle of a chandelier that featured yet more bon mots and flashed in time to the music- possibly overkill when competing with the back projections but amusing none the less.
But what of the entertainment? We shuffled in shamefacedly half way through Thomas Truax‘s set, a Manhattan- born performance artist whose experimental blues-punk put me in mind of a one man band, albeit one fond of audience participation. In red shoes and spinning light up glasses last seen on Orbital but with an inadvertent nod to Timmy Mallet, he warmed us up with the crazed squelching and belching of a host of home-made instruments, including the ‘hornicator’ (think ear trumpet) and ‘string-a-ling’ (a harmonica- drum hybrid fashioned from ducting tube and a yoyo, possibly). Eccentric, yes but surprisingly accessible. And the affable lads of Love Da Pop!, plying a virtuous trade in hand-popped popcorn while dressed in the candy striped waist coats of cinema’s golden age, were entertainment in themselves.
And the films? After refuelling with a watermelon cocktail (weak but beautifully served) from the makeshift bar (littered with candelabra and stray taxidermy), we squeezed on to the edge of a leather sofa and settled down for the movies. Of the nine shorts from six counties, four were stand outs for me. German dance piece Oval-Ah! delivered an arresting opening and deserves mention for making ballet downright filthy, the prima ballerina strutting and contorting and carving crop circles in the dirt with no regard for costume or comfort. Next up was a Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck collaboration, the music video Heaven Can Wait which had a forgettable soundtrack but a wicked line in deadpan, incongruous moments of disaster befalling the unsuspecting; Schadenfreude in montage. Cody Stokes’ Heartland Transport was an affectionate, fly on the wall doc following a bus load of same-sex couples from St.Lewis to Iowa City to take advantage of the legalisation of gay marriage. Candid and unvarnished, the premise was encapsualted by one groom’s reflection on his pilgrimage: ‘the personal meeting the political.’
Alice Winocour’s Kitchen was the most accomplished work. An elliptical vignette- a housewife driven to distraction by the self-imposed necessity of cooking live lobster for her husband. Minimal dialogue, understated camera work and monochrome palette framed the mounting neurosis of the protagonist who paces the kitchen in high-heels whilst brandishing a meat cleaver. A stylish, subtle fusion of the absurd and the macabre.
Relieved as I was that the vocal, appreciative audience had been capped at a hundred or so to make for an intimate evening, it was a shame the majority drifted off as the credits rolled. The DJ played out the night with some real floor fillers but in the absence of after show dancing we fell into fireside film critique to banish the January chill around a roaring log fire. You don’t get that in a multiplex.
Future Shorts One is a monthly event.
Photographs by Kirsty McQuire