This year’s selection of Women in Film shorts offered up a rich and varied experience. It is impressive that all five films, being shown in quick succession, managed to stay so clearly distinct from one another, even now, as I reflect on this event in the week following. 

The opening film, Helen Simmons and Julia Cranney’s Measure (2023), follows a mother, Jen (Callie Cooke), taking her autistic son to a birthday party and the horrors that follow. It begins in the car, the two of them going through the order of the event: “car, cake, car, bed”. What Jen can’t account for, of course, is the sheer overload of it all. The jelly wobbles. The room is packed. Her childhood bully, Bryony (Lydia Rose Bewley) is there. And she’s “still a bitch”. No detail is spared by Simmons and Cranney in their depiction of how, even seemingly small, elements can combine into one busy, overwhelming muddle. In the post-film Q&A Simmons and Cranney explain how their experiences as neurodivergent parents informed Measure, the isolation and exhaustion of this made palpable by a particularly prophetic shot of party attendees staring at Jen through her rear car window. Simmons and Cranney, inspired by “the horrible things that children do”, turn a mundane suburban scene into one of vengeful horror.

Zoe Hunter Gordon’s Better (2023) sees Ruth (Ellie James) following her Mum’s orders to bring her chronically ill sister Kitty (Milly Zero) back home. The life that Ruth and Mum propose to Kitty is one of never missing a doctor’s appointment, constantly dealing with other peoples’ worry and judgment for using a wheelchair. The life she has built for herself is one of laughter, beach parties, her wheelchair on the sand lit up by fairy lights – a particularly striking shot, though this film is full of them. As Ruth is confronted by the reality of her sister’s life, her insistence that Kitty has “made herself worse” dismisses Kitty’s right to live as she wants, the right to be happy, and even, the right, were this the case, to make herself worse. Better is, as Gordon explains in the Q&A, about “the way we police peoples’ bodies”. The representation of using a wheelchair as something which opens up a life rather than restricting it is testament to this, and speaks to Gordon’s intent of “re-assessing the idea of ‘being well’”. 

Then, Frøydis Fossli Moe’s Fish eye (2023), a complete change of pace. Moe makes her audience a fly on the wall at a film shoot and Oddvor, literal fish in a bowl, is the subject of a controversy which deeply divides a team of young filmmakers. The director announces, much to her team’s dismay, that it is time to shoot a scene where a man falls in love with the fish. A furious debate on animal welfare and ethics breaks out, and soon the view of the director’s morality is seen as inseparable from the focus of her art. Moe’s work is as hilarious as it is sharp, with the film not hesitating to lean into the sheer ridiculousness of its topic and earning many laughs from the audience as it did so. Most impressive of all, Fish eye is shot in one take, a feat achieved, Moe discloses, in only twelve attempts. I was particularly amused to learn that this short was inspired by a real life experience Moe had on set, not only was the fish real but so too was the heightened emotion: “I’m a vegetarian” laughs Moe, “but I wanted to kill that fish”. 

Another shift in tone as we settle into the stillness of Olivia J. Middleton’s A90 (2022), set in a roadside cafe. The atmosphere Middleton achieves with so little dialogue is to be commended, the constant noise of the traffic combined with the liminal space of the cafe creates a simultaneous sense that nothing is happening and that anything could happen. We are in the in between, the pit stop. A90 beautifully portrays the significance of little moments that build to a finite romantic encounter between waitress Anette (Marli Siu) and customer Morgan (Sinead MacInnes). The camerawork is intimate, capturing Siu’s face through the rotating blades of a fan, MacInnes’ tentative tapping of her fingers in correspondence with the musical overlay, the movement of the women as they dance together. There is something meditative, almost religious about the world of A90 – much like its colour palette, it’s muted and gentle. 

And finally, Tracey Lopes’ The Girls’ Room (2023). Warm and inviting, this film shows just how much a director can achieve in a fixed setting. Not once does the camera move from Lopes’ setting of the pink walled, council flat bedroom shared by two -occasionally three- sisters (Bukky Bakray, Bola Akeju & Miai Leonie Phillip), yet the pace is fast, my attention not lapsing for even a moment. As the girls change, the room – almost a character in its own right – changes with them: posters of boys swap out for one touting ‘Girl Power’, the amount of mess on the floor ever changing as the sisters mature, the way it suddenly feels cold and still the night Tatiana (Phillip) isn’t picked up from school. The Girls’ Room is clear in its style and focus, its Tracy Beaker-esque music, pop-art font and fun yet believable representations of family life all combine to make a memorable, thoroughly enjoyable love letter to childhood in the early 2000s. 

A fantastic evening of films each unique in their voice, yet simultaneously harmonious as they transitioned from one to the other. Thank you to all the directors for sharing your work, and to those who came to the post-film Q&A. The opportunity to see the many approaches taken to the medium of short film was exciting to witness.

Written by Florence Strang Boon.

The post NFF2023 Event Review: Women In Film appeared first on Norwich Film Festival.

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