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What to see at this year’s British Shorts Film Festival

After a seven-month delay and two postponements, the 14th edition of the British Shorts Film Festival will take place on big screens across Berlin.

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British Shorts Film Festival presents short films from the UK and Ireland on the big screens of Berlin. Photo: British Shorts

Due to the pandemic and a desire to avoid going digital, the British Shorts Film Festival saved its reliably enticing celebration of the best short films from the UK and Ireland for a collective experience. Finally, after a seven-month delay and two postponements, this year’s 14th edition will take place on the big screen, and – for the first time – in seven indoor and outdoor venues, from August 5-11. (See below for further venue details.) The eclectic programme features almost 150 films made by established directors and promising newcomers, ranging from drama, animation and comedy all the way to documentary, horror and music videos.

The strong line-up means there are too many standouts to mention. However, of particular interest is the series of films that deals with injustice. These shorts share the common thread of revealing the endemic xenophobia at the core of modern-day Britain, exposing the prejudiced attitudes barely concealed within broken institutions via the people who live in a country that perpetually fools itself into believing that racism is in its past.

Amongst these shots are Molly Manning Walker’s directorial debut Good Thanks, You?, a brilliantly edited and affecting depiction of the aftermath of sexual assault that functions as an indictment of the failing structures that pull victims down by burying their trauma deeper; Tessa Hoffe’s Majority, which subtly exposes the intolerance of the Other, especially in the wake of Brexit; and Naomi Soneye-Thomas’ powerful animation Losing Place, which shows the dehumanising toll that racial profiling takes.

Then there’s the dual helping from Aneil Karia: The Long Goodbye and Teardrops, both of which will leave you breathless. The first stars the ever-wonderful Riz Ahmed and was released to coincide with his most recent album, in which the actor-musician addresses his increasingly toxic relationship with the UK. In a terrifyingly believable vision of the future, The Long Goodbye shows a family violently rounded-up by a state-sanctioned militia. No more shall be spoilt here, but this visceral short blends righteous anger with a dystopian cry of alarm, one which demonstrates the horrific consequences that result from a wilful ignorance regarding the sins of colonialism and the persistent rise of the extreme right. The second, Teardrops, is a one-take music video for grime pioneer Kano’s song of the same name; it’s the perfect sister film to Losing Place, in that it plays tribute to those who have lost their lives to police brutality in the UK.

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The Long Goodbye (screening in the main Festival Programme on Thursday 5). Photo: British Shorts

Not that all the shorts are gloomy gut-punches, mind you. The excellent black comedy The Last Scot sees three stereotypical Chelsea boys face the outcome of a clay shoot in the Scottish Moorlands that goes horribly wrong. Elsewhere, Lilah Vandenburgh surreally reinvents the buddy comedy with her tonally daring and surprisingly life-affirming gem Heart To Heart, which sees David Tennant voice a young teen’s foul-mouthed, newly-transplanted heart, which decides to start violating her emotional boundaries before it’s too late.

There’s also one of our favourites from this 14th edition’s line-up: Sophie King’s hilariously absurdist and razor-sharp Brexit parable, Swan. King takes a page from Yorgos Lanthimos’ playbook with this premise centred around a man (Mark Addy) who takes an advanced version of the British citizenship test because “immigrants were complaining about it”. The thing is that the highest-scoring candidates are rewarded by being transformed into waterfowls. The satire works wonders and its perfectly-calibrated final beat is not only a spot-on reflection of Britain’s bumbling attitude towards exiting the EU, but also a gloriously funny punchline.

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Swan (screening in the main festival programme on Saturday 7). Photo: British Shorts

Main festival screening programmes aside, we recommend you don’t miss out on the Midnight Movies slot on Saturday 7 at Sputnik Kino and its repeat evening on Monday 9 at FLK Insel. Both evenings feature the very best horror shorts in all their glorious permutations: horror-comedy, horror-animation, and horror-I’m-going-to-need-a-moment-to-shower-my-brain-if-I’m-ever-going-to-sleep-again. The entries include underwear-soiling Creepy Pasta spectres (Guest), folk-horror steeped in religious iconography about banishing the past (She Lives Alone), claymation music videos that echo Brian Yuzna’s indelible bodyhorror classic Society (Tidal Wave), and 90s-set sleep experiments starring Libertines frontman Carl Barât (Running Man).

Two titles stand out in this special programme, both set in forests: Claes Nordwall’s mesmerising Autoscopy and Hannah George’s darkly comedic Don’t Walk. The first, which opens with the beautiful quote by American ethnobotanist and advocate for psychotropics Terrence McKenna “Nature is not mute; it is man who is deaf”, is a beautifully shot and trippily sonic voyage that should delight fans of Ben Wheatley’s most recent film In The Earth; the second sees a painfully insipid British walker couple (Toby Williams and Rachel Stubbings) decide to spice things up by choosing a crisp flavour other than their regular Ready Salted and boldly deviating from their pre-established forest promenade schedule. What follows can best be described as Edgar Wright’s take on Predator, a reference only heightened by the spot-on comic timing throughout and Williams’ Simon Pegg-ish delivery.

As if these recommendations weren’t enough to get you booking tickets, it’s worth noting that this year’s line-up is accompanied by live music from Welsh folk-punk outfit Efa Supertramp on the opening night (22:30 at City Kino Wedding), a free film workshop during which participants make their own films on the topic “Celebrating the City” (Saturday 7th at Sputnik Kinobar), and a full-day retrospective programme on the 10th – Teenage Kicks: Looking Back at UK Subcultures, featuring films from 1962 to 1999. As an added bonus, there’s a festival-long exhibition of Grey Hutton’s photographic series ‘The Ties That Bind’, which intimately explores London communities and grassroots charities during the pandemic.

Who says we can’t have nice things (in short packages) in 2021?

British Shorts Film Festival 2021 / Outdoor screenings take place at Freiluftkino Insel, Kreuzberg and Pompeji; indoor screenings at Sputnik Kino, Acudkino, City Kino Wedding and Kino Zukunft. Tickets are now on sale via www.britishshorts.de, where you can find the whole programme.