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Under the UK Spotlight
by Marinell Haegelin

The UK has been under a political spotlight since 2017s Brexit (UK exit from EU) referendum results. Whereas, Internationales Kurz(Short)FilmFestival’s (IKFF) Land spotlight is for the United Kingdom’s artistic merit: cinematic storytelling that embraces historical, ethnological and traditional aspects. I challenged myself to focus on, and write about just three films from UK2 and UK4 programs. Shown back-to-back, the diverse topics and creative treatments were overwhelming; I could’ve used a breather in-between – still, no regrets.

UK2: John Smith: 21st Century (Smith’s compilation of eight films): Shown during IKFF 2013, I immediately recognized DAD’S STICK,(2012, 12:40 minutes | English, experimental). The director explores three well-used objects belonging to his dad. Compellingly straightforward, Smith tickles our mind’s eye with well-cropped close-up imagery; some frames contain text. Smith talks or sings tunes in place of music.

A filmmaker since the 1970s and frequent IKFF contributor, during his pre-screening presentation Smith admitted liking films that have a dialogue with audiences. WHO ARE WE? (2016, 3:53 minutes | English, color) is Smith’s contribution to Brexit propaganda films. Piecing together material from a BBC television debate prior to the vote, closing Black Cards reveal Brexit results. Audiences see how tight the vote was after hearing alarming current rhetoric normalizing radical ideology. THE WOOLWORTH CHOIR OF 1979, by Elizabeth Price, GB | 2012, 20:00 minutes | English, color/B&W: Price marries church architectural photographs, schematic drawings, Woolworth’s fire footage, and incorporates special effects. Chanting voices and congruously good music counterbalance the film’s chilling account.

UK4: London Stories (five short films): Lili Hartwig curated, looking for films reflecting the city’s presence in the past. The oldest such film was made 25-years ago, the newest in 2016. One of my favorite films of the festival is, LIFT by Marc Isaacs, GB | 2001, 24:00 minutes | English, color. Riding up/down an 18-story London hi-rise elevator, the hodgepodge mix of residents is initially leery, eventually forthcoming. They ask why he stands 10-hours in the elevator daily. They bring Isaacs a chair, and food while sharing innermost thoughts, concerns, aspirations, and beliefs. Over time, we recognize various occupants, while getting a peek into their souls. Isaacs successfully and creatively achieves his objective by showing what people do randomly – casually talk to one another. LIFT also screened at IKFF in 2003.

STALIN MY NEIGHBOR by Carol Morley, GB | 2004, 15:00 minutes | English, color: Suffering from depersonalization, Annie wanders London. Obsessively describing the history of local landmarks while posting hand-drawn missing cat notices, she mentions a sister. Then, VO regarding a 1988 disappearance is inserted over countryside footage with two little girls. Facts emerge about an incident precipitating a current tragic discovery. Probing this missing-persons topic, Morley incorporates long-ago local stories, folk song, pathos, and nimble editing. BLIGHT by John Smith, GB | 1996, 16:00 minutes | English, color: A poignant visual story of change: lives interrupted, and a community demolished during a two-year period. Stark juxtapositions are excellent: the remnants and rubbish of generations – a new motorway’s progress. Smith’s VO and his collaboration with a composer, plus sound bites support the emotionality. Afterward, Smith explained he was filming next door as his neighbor’s house was pulled down by hand. Camden Arts Council commissioned the film.