Manchester Film Festival – Day 2 – ‘Shorts 1’

I love short shorts, we love short shorts.

What’s Manchester Film Festival?!

I hear a lone voice in my head cry. Well it’s this.

So Saturday morning comes, there are works on the tram line, because of course, but the inconvenience is admittedly minimal.

Those pesky steps up to The Mews negotiated, again the actual inconvenience minimal (I just love the drama), and it was off to screen 5.

And speaking of loving the drama, I settled into my anti-social but cosy back row, two seats in, crushed velvet chair, still cold from my fridge (phew), my Diet Coke nestled into the drink holder (never sure if bringing your own refreshments remains taboo – at one low point in the 90s I distinctly recall bag searches), and got ready to be enthralled.

What I enjoy about shorts, and when presented in a ‘package’ is the contrast of genres, themes, cinematic styles, tones, all the things, in the one sitting.

You just start to digest what you’ve seen and how you feel about it, before it’s straight onto the next.

And so here was the line-up from yesterday’s session.

And the irony that this is possibly one of my longest blog posts to date is not lost on me.

I Am Here

An experimental short film that tells the story of two people deeply in love. Both of them, totally fond and showing a lot of devotion towards each other, living in an isolated, blurry reflection of the world, where nothing else matters except them existing together.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:4 minutes
  • Director:Niklas Hugo Schwärzler
  • Screenwriter:Niklas Hugo Schwärzler
  • Producer:Sabine Tatzgern
  • Cast:Edith Simone Morales Sen, Lukas Ruziczka

Interestingly (to me) what was to be the first of two stylistically similar shorts seen that day (glad I don’t have to say that out loud) in as far as movement and dance was at the forefront of the narrative.

Intimate to the point of feeling very much like the voyeur, the viewer is intruding on two people focused on each other with an intensity which verges on the point of discomfort. You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. And in fact it does but not in their relationship but in the anxiety which suddenly encompasses the male as he writhes and fights the struggle of an emotion that is certainly no stranger to this writer.

Beautifully shot and message delivered.

The Blue Drum

A woman mourning her father’s passing is tormented by memories of a mother she never knew. A presence reveals secrets hidden within her family home.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:16 minutes
  • Director:Angelita Mendoza
  • Screenwriter:Angelita Mendoza
  • Producer:Alicia Herder, Benjamin Lopez
  • Cast:Crystal Hernandez, Jonathan Medina, Judith Scarpone

POV – at the funeral and the daughter is finishing her eulogy. There’s a tension which seems to extend beyond the sadness and melancholy of such proceedings and here it comes.

The Aunt is taking a no-nonsense, practical approach to the passing, shooting her shot that the man of the moment may be missed as a father but certainly not as a brother or husband to the girl’s mother who left many years ago.

The switch flips and melodrama turns to horror as the daughter seeks to find the source of the ominous sounds coming from the basement. Specifically the blue oil drum. It’s a horrifying conclusion in that ‘the mother never left’. But the discovery of the *spoiler* corpse, was indeed spoiled a little for me in that the moody low-light levels required on one part, actually meant that I couldn’t really make out the money shot.

This could of course say more about my appetite for the morbid so perhaps what we could see would be enough for a normal human being…But I enjoyed the metaphorical darkness all the same.

They Will Know

While Jackson meets his girlfriend Sophia’s parents for the first time, a mysterious stranger observes from outside..

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:10 minutes
  • Director:Alex Thomson
  • Screenwriter:Alex Thomson
  • Producer:Alex Thomson
  • Cast:Paul Dawber, Diana Stathis, Luna Vasquez, Alex Thomson

God what a riot. Thank you Australia for bringing physical, sexually suggestive, socially awkward comedy to the literal table. And I mean that most sincerely folks.

Straight out of the stable of Meet the Fockers, we had the deliciously tension filled trope of a man meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time.

So far, so familiar, so toe-curlingly, mouth agape cringingly awkward. But, that said, we’re pretty much given a heads up that this isn’t a routine, riotous comedy right out of the stable of all that has gone before.

There’s a stranger. A stranger in the shop where the boyfriend is buying the wine, a stranger stood outside the parental home watching the horror unfold and a stranger operating, via a games console controller, every movement the boyfriend makes.

And this stranger isn’t a stranger after all, but a face from the past ready for revenge and retribution. And as the horrifying realisation sweeps through the boyfriend that his literal actions from the past are coming back to haunt him and destroy his present, our sympathies jack-knife away from him immediately. Loved it.


When a very real mid-life crisis hits, John goes out in search of the one thing to make things better.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:10 minutes
  • Director:Louis Chan
  • Screenwriter:MF Wong
  • Producer:MF Wong, Antonella Lembo, Marie Osman, Elaine Ivy Harris, Louis Chan
  • Cast:Michael Phong Le, Elanor Wood, Kate Malyon, Kevin McMonagle

Ok hands up who had it in for our poor old protagonist the moment he took his wedding ring off?

Oh how quick we are to judge. To be fair, you wily filmmakers knew what you were doing and I fell hook, line and sinker.

Oh he’s got a wife and kids at home. Yet off he goes to try and hook up with the woman in the sandwich shop. Oh, ok, well then ‘oh he’s got a wife and kids at home and off he goes clumsily trying to score some drugs.’ Selfish.

Then he’s home, and his wife’s in garden and we’re seeing the photos on the fridge and we’re slowly getting it. And she has on a headscarf, the weed is for her and her pain and we assume her cancer, and he’s immediately exonerated. And it’s sad.

I love a bum steer in a story and this one is done well. In the space of 10 minutes, from starting off at one viewpoint we take on a 180 degree shift to another. But without being hit over the head with it or feeling manipulated. The narrative gently takes us on this journey as reality unfolds and reaches its sad conclusion of this snapshot into a life.

The Rev

Once, Neil Marlow’s life was a spontaneous festival of frivolity, friends and funk music. Now, it’s one of OAPs, weekly bingo and ready-meals. Neil Marlow (aka The Rev), has chosen a life of the cloth above a life of liberalism and like so many before him he is convinced that his sexuality and extroverted personality is incompatible with his religious beliefs.

This is the story of that struggle. The struggle of repression and rejection, of the vain attempt to leave a part of himself behind in the belief that he will somehow be happier if he inhibits his true self.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:15 minutes
  • Director:Fabia Martin
  • Screenwriter:Fabia Martin
  • Producer:Sara Archer, Emma Wellbelove, Alastair Mavor, Jack Holden
  • Cast:Jack Holden

What can I say? I love a religious protagonist! Yes I may well get that printed on a t-shirt. From Rev, to Father Ted, to everyone’s favourite ‘hot priest’ in Fleabag, we love to see a personality behind the robes which challenges our preconceptions of what it means to be a man or woman of the church (I didn’t include The Vicar of Dibley in my line-up only because I’ve never really watched it but understand it to be very good).

I loved the construct of this short as we’re taken through the seasons and religious holidays and the monotony of our reverend’s life. The same faces in the pews, the elderly lady slowly but surely (and loudly) unwrapping the cellophane of her sweets whilst, in the depth of her concentration, not missing a beat to respond ‘thanks be to god’ at the appropriate moments.

The functional farewell line-up at the end of mass, followed by the loneliest sound sequence of our times – the fork stab of the packaging, the whirring of the rotating plate followed by the ping of misplaced optimism.

A simple (but FABULOUS) gift from a friend of a music track from their past takes the Rev from his present to his past and we hope to his future, as (albeit in mind) he unleashes his true self and takes a carnival approach to a funeral service.

The choreography and dance moves, the glittering ticker tape, the sweetie-unleashing elderly lady dancing in the aisles. It was an unapologetically camp celebration of life and inner self. A short of two halves, and the juxtaposition of the earlier scenes and this, it perfectly depicted the two contrasting sides to the Rev.

That singular, shimmering silver ticker tape of hope and acceptance at the end though. 👌🏻

The Cunning

A teenager with Down’s syndrome helps herself, and others, to escape from accusations of witchcraft.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:13 minutes
  • Director:Alexandra Maher
  • Screenwriter:Alexandra Maher
  • Producer:Emory Ruegg
  • Cast:Gemma Arterton, Bethany Asher

Well this was one of the big guns as we had Gemma Arterton. But let’s not make that the only thing going on here.

The moment that rat scurried into shot I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy ride either for the rat or the audience.

Yes I covered my ears alongside actor Bethany Asher as Arterton’s character broke its neck, but my confidence in that I could now relax and continue to listen openly and with confidence to the rest of the film, was nothing more than foolish and misplaced.

The horror of the squelch and crunch as that poor rat was bitten into shall never leave me. Never.

Shot initially in claustrophobic shadow, the genre of witchcraft and persecution was in the grand spirit of The Crucible, American Horror Story: Roanoke, indeed ‘The Witch’.

Gemma Arterton gave a masterclass in understated acting with few words and with facial expression, as the close-ups duly testify, and Bethany Usher’s ‘resurrection’ and uncompromising stand-off with their captors was powerful and breath-holding.

Coupled with the sweeping shots of forestry as they made their escape, this gave feature film qualities somehow condensed down into an enthralling 13 minutes.


A lonely young woman struggles to deal with her melancholy despite the efforts of friends and family.

  • Year: 2022
  • Runtime:7 minutes
  • Director:Kieran Bourne
  • Screenwriter:Kieran Bourne
  • Producer:Anais Ferrato 
  • Cast:Oriane Pick, Jennifer Leong, Sally Faulkner

Yes, a difficult 7 minutes. A torturous existence punctuated only by the sounds of the toaster and the kettle.

Depression and anxiety leads you to becoming a prisoner in your own mind. There’s no escape, your physical surroundings take on a heaviness and unequivocal tight hold that both acts as captor as you can’t leave, saviour as it’s your hiding place from the rest of the world.

When depressed and anxious, it’s like developing Stockholm Syndrome with your thoughts and environment. They’re causing you harm but at the same time, it’s all you know and there’s a perverse comfort. At least for a time.

The powerful scene for me was when on the phone to her mum, the girl is encouraged to just cry. And so she does and it’s heartbreaking and the sun eventually comes out. Psychologically and in actuality in how the filmmakers set up that final, important scene.

The house takes on a lighter, happier, comforting aesthetic and is perfectly reflective of this hateful illness and how quickly things can and will change again for the better.

I took this short home in my back pocket.

My Father’s Son

A traditional gamekeeper’s expectations for his son are challenged when his son explores his sexuality.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:8 minutes
  • Director:Charles Whiteley
  • Screenwriter:Charles Whiteley
  • Cast:Forrest Bothwell, Alastair Coughlan

I discredited the filmmakers greatly by being unable to shake the feeling that someone was going to get shot here.

A basic assumption when presented with guns and multiple tensions arising in differing relationships.

The tension between the rich landowner farmer and his son clearly repressed in his sexuality and confidence, the tension between the two young men as they josh and wrestle and become increasingly close to breaking down the walls of what is an unexplored relationship that steps beyond laddish teasing and competition. And finally a tension between the father and the lad who he sees as dangerous and about to corrupt his son, leading him down a path which he views as abhorrent.

See how much can be explored in 8 minutes? And all this is without a single shot wound beyond that of poor discovered bird and all those clay pigeons.

I think the best shorts give you everything you need from its short form, but also pique your interest enough to want to know what came before and what might happen next. This is true of My Father’s Son.

I don’t think I’ve kept this post about shorts short, have I. But there was too much good stuff.

For more details about all the shorts featured, visit here – Shorts 1

To read more about the full line-up at Manchester Film Festival click here.

Next stop…North West shorts!

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