On Saturday I went to Cardiff Mini Film Festival: my first experience of a film festival and my first experience of Cardiff. I had in mind big posters everywhere, people queuing up to watch the films, loud music, panache. Cardiff has a great buzz feeling on a summer Saturday afternoon. There was plenty going on – hen parties, homeless people, fun-lovers. There were however no festival posters up despite the fact that there was a lot on offer at 3 different central venues. The “Big Top” where “Emmi” was to be shown, turned out to be the upper room of a pub, beautifully laid out in ‘big top’ style with rows of gilt coloured chairs and a few funky sofas, to accommodate about 50 people. My first hit with reality came when no more than 10 people showed. That included volunteers and the projectionist!
The quality was there if not the audience. Andy (Director) and I spent a fascinating 2 hours watching a range of short films. The ones that remain with me are: a wistful young man disappearing into a childhood photo in order to see his mother one more time, a surreal one with a man swallowing rocks and jumping off cliffs, a carefully shot film with sharply distinguished shapes and colours about an OCD woman, and a ‘super power’ one with young man who discovers when he’s 18 that he’s one of a group who can go back in time – but only once in his lifetime and there are always consequences…
At the end a woman came and thanked me for my film and said it made her cry. Result!
We came back on Sunday for the Film Festival Awards Ceremony at the ‘Tramshed’. There was a decent turn out and a delightful presenter with downplayed humour. One of the people giving out the awards had been chosen to give the evening a ‘weirdness’ twist. Before opening an envelope he’d bellow out things like “Anyone here ever murdered anyone and got away with it?”
Sadly our film did not win. A romantic comedy beat us. However, while the judge was clearly biased and wrong …. We coped. I’m buoyed by an acutely observed wonderful review that Dan Marshall, one of the Cardiff team wrote for our film. I’ve copied it in full below:
EMMI – REVIEW
There’s something deliberately unsettling about the first few moments of Emmi. Graceful piano notes chime as we look up into the sky. “Emmi” the short presents in its first titles, there’s even a little heart to adorn the “I”. While it may not be sudden there’s a gear shift in tone. The music gives way to the dull passing of cars on the duel carriageway. The camera pans to a high rise, the stark monolith towers into the grey sky. Then passed the hum-drum of traffic to the grimy underpass with it’s rusty railings and stained walls. Yet, in spite of it’s visual repugnance, a lone tenant decides to brave it. Just at the point of no return hoodies appear at the other end. It’s anxiety inducing in its familiarity, particularly when you’re already uneasy. However, Emmi plunges further into darkness during its short running time and does so unflinchingly.
Regardless of being feature length or short films, it’s a rare thing to truly challenge an audience. Moreso to lay down the gauntlet to its audience and not provide all the answers. Writer/Director team, Susie Stead and Andrew Carslaw, are careful not to tip their hand as the events unfold and are careful to still offer something of a reward come the credits.
Emmi herself is woefully familiar. A torrent of hostility that keeps those around her at a suitable distance. Then there’s teen-mum, Ally and the soft-hearted tenant from the underpass, Sarah. The archetypes may be something you’ve seen, but there’s something in the atmosphere that has you thinking any of them could 180 at any time. The intrigue filling the stairwells of the high rise they share is almost palpable. You just know that all is not as it seems, but the clever way in which Stead and Carslaw create a tone of unsettling anticipation is enthralling. Even when Emmi reaches its darkest depths, you’ll be hard pushed to avert your gaze.
There’s no denying that the conclusion is provocative and hard hitting, but there’s certainly no shock tactics involved. If the subject itself and final message weren’t challenging enough, how you digest it will be.