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Aesthetica Short Film Festival: Opening Night

Kate Barlow reviews the opening night of York's Aesthetica Film Festival 2013

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A shot from Stephen Johnson's 'The Mapmaker'
A shot from Stephen Johnson's 'The Mapmaker'


On Thursday night City Screen played host to the opening night of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival. After a brisk chilly walk from home, the bustling atmosphere of the cinema's bar was a welcome sight. Making my way through the bar to stock up on as many canapes and glasses of wine I could get my hands on, I got a peak at everyone's name labels which boasted of people from Film 4, BAFTA and various local newspapers. I soon got chatting to Mia, the director of Danger Overhead Powerlines, one of the documentary films on show this weekend. She told me about her original career plans in Psychology but how she soon realised film-making was her true calling. After taking a film-making course in her hometown, she has spent four years on the film circuit, making a combination of music videos and documentaries.

Meghna Gupta's 'Unravel'
Meghna Gupta's 'Unravel'
We were soon jostled into the cinema to watch a selection of the festival's most prominent films. After a series of speeches, including a speech from ASFF director Cherie Federico on how the festival came into being, it was time for the screening. First up was documentary short Unravel, which was based on a clothing factory in the small Indian town Panipat, home to unwanted Western clothes. With a humorous touch, the film explores Indian women's misconceptions about England and America, a particular highlight being their belief that in England water is as expensive as clothes, hence our ability to throw so many barely worn clothes away: buying new clothes is cheaper than washing old ones. The film is a true delight, receiving the most laughs of the evening.

Second to screen was Cold Warrior, a thriller set in Cold War Romania, following a young gymnast in her training for Olympic glory. The film was stylistically strong and it raises interesting (and disturbing) questions about the communist government's undercover doping plot, carried out by forcing young women to have abortions. However, at times the narrative became blurred as time frames are mixed too frequently, perhaps suggesting that there was simply too many scenes for such a short film. This was followed by the surreal comedy Loot, my favourite of the evening, depicting a bank robbery with a twist: it is done all in mime, painted faces included. In an odd blurring of reality and fantasy, it is impossible not to root for the bizarre criminal couple.

Music video of Half Moon Run's "Call Me in the Afternoon"
Music video of Half Moon Run's "Call Me in the Afternoon"
Up next was The Mapmaker of the drama strand, starring Jenny Agutter and Charles Dance as elderly couple Isabel and Rowan who return to the coastline where they first met almost half a century before. The film is a sensitive take on ageing and death, and while it was perhaps a little too poetic for my taste, the film received warm reception, securing a nomination for Best UK Short at the Raindance Film Festival 2012. The screening finished with the music video of Half Moon Run's "Call Me in the Afternoon". Set in a forest, the Alice in Wonderland-esque video was surreal but mesmerising. Just as you think you've got a grip on the oddness, something else completely random pops up.

After the screening we filed down to the basement bar to be greeted with a DJ and more wine and canapes. After more chatting, I made my goodbyes, full with wine and vegetable spring rolls. From my experiences last night it looks like ASFF 2013 is going to be exceptional and it undoubtedly still has a lot more to offer.

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