WA shorts: the narrative challenge

Felena Alach

Paulo Alberton, Going to the Dogs

Paulo Alberton, Going to the Dogs

This year ScreenWest and the WA Film and Television Institute (FTI) presented a special showcase of emerging WA talent at the 2004 Revelation Perth International Film Festival. The Get Your Shorts On program contained 9 short narrative films in all, including drama, comedy and animation.

By far the most impressive was Victim, directed by Corrie Jones and produced by Amy Lou Taylor. The work embraced the short film form as integral to its narrative strategy. Based on a spoken poem by Nicole Blackman, Victim creates a dark and unsettling journey for the viewer, beginning with a woman locked in the boot of a car and progressing inexorably in a downward spiral. The slow measure of the hypnotic stream-of-consciousness voice-over (despite the annoyingly Americanised accent) maps a juxtaposition of images. Memories of life and loved ones filter through a bleak landscape of gender violence and the stark, brutal reality of the victim’s bound and imprisoned body. The psychological impact of this film lies in the fragmentary glimpses of interrupted vitality and the mental struggle for escape. This is a fine and polished piece of filmmaking, which has also recently won honours at the St Kilda Film Festival (see p25).

The surprise package of the selection was satirical mockumentary Going to the Dogs, written and directed by Paulo Alberton and co-produced with Rachel Way. This curious film begins with a breezy magazine-show tone, the narrator offering a tour of Cottesloe Beach and the culture of prestige pooches that features on the promenade. At first the film appears inanely preoccupied with this little subculture of affluence, but it reveals a clever commentary on multiculturalism and immigration within its examination of exotic dog ownership and the disparities between human deprivation and over-indulged pets. The mixture of animation and real footage is assembled with flair and the overall effect is genuinely funny in a fresh and playful way, with the social critique handled well.

Other comedy offerings also proved enjoyable. Renee Webster’s Scoff is an amusing tale of sensuality and desire. A young female cook on an isolated outback station transcends her binge cake-eating habits when she discovers the erotic possibilities of the showerhead spray, all the while voyeuristically observed by the team of 4 male station hands. Here a simple narrative premise is rendered with a fluid technique and solid performances.

The Olympiads Lounge (writer/director Pierce Davison) was another animated mockumentary, in which various gods and demi-gods from Greek mythology become hopeful stand-up acts in a comedy club. The mis-adventures of these unlikely contenders are well animated in a droll satire of the ‘behind the scenes’ documentary form.

The series of 5 one-minute animations comprising Suicidal Balloon (writer/director Randall Lynton) offered a set of kooky scenarios in which various precarious situations become chaotic as the dreaded balloon flies in, smiling broadly before exploding. The basic silliness of this narrative premise somehow works, particularly when all 5 one-minute pieces are screened in a row.

The remaining dramatic short films in this selection proved to be a mixed offering, with fundamental narrative and formal problems limiting their effectiveness. To hold a viewer in the time and space of a short film, all elements need to come together with a transformative magic, so that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

The Cherry Orchard (director Elissa Down) presents a Magic Realist tale in which a woman’s fertility and fervent desire to create a hybrid cherry plant results in a strange crossover with her gynaecology. While offering some beautifully composed shots, the end result was undermined by the period setting and epic time-scale of the narrative, combined with stilted performances and the stiff realism of the film’s narrative technique.

Julius Avery’s Little Man gives the viewer a glimpse into the harsh social realities of a little boy whose dysfunctional home environment becomes shrouded in tragedy. Here atmosphere and technical deftness are burdened by a heavy-handed thematic treatment and over-determined narrative.

Waiting for Naval Base Lily (writer/director Zak Hilditch) presents an older man in a sterile motel room confronted by the likeness of a young and inexperienced prostitute to his daughter. A bright and saturated use of exterior light gives this piece a stark visual appeal, yet the narrative is awkwardly conveyed through dialogue and characterisation that frustrates the viewer’s ability to inhabit this fictional world.

The challenges of dramatic narratives highlighted by these films provide important lessons for aspiring filmmakers. Narrative form must be seriously addressed so that films can achieve an internal coherence and provide a rewarding journey for the viewer. Nevertheless, for the best of the short films in the Get Your Shorts On program, Revelation is to be congratulated for its admirable commitment to fostering local screen culture.

Get Your Shorts On, 7th Revelation Perth International Film Festival, Luna Cinema, Perth, July 8

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. 22-

© Felena Alach; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2004