St Albans Film Festival – Day 1 – Over 18’s Film Competition and Magic at the Movies

So St Albans Film Festival kicked off on the 1st May! And today was the first full day of programming. The streets were packed with the purple of volunteers, adorned with their bowler hats and feathers (tying into this years theme of Birds, in both the Hitchcock sense and birds as in women!). I went to two events today, one as a guest and one as a volunteer, so I’ve got pretty good coverage of both! Enjoy!

Over 18’s Short Film Competition

Filmmakers from across the world entered their short films to be considered for the grand prize, these were whittled down to 9 entries. You can see the full listings for the competition here but I’ve picked my favourites –

Cold Turkey – Dir Thor Arnarsson

Cold Turkey is a disturbing film, which treats cannibalism as it were drug addiction. It focuses on a troubled teen, who impulsively kills people in his villages, cuts them up, refrigerates them and then eats them. We then see him deteriorate over the period of a month, as he tries to kick his murderous habit. He tries to adjust to normal food, but every time he eats, he just vomits it back up.

The opening scenes reminded me of a Channel 4 series, Utopia, the framing and vibrant colours, which fade as time passes. The makeup is incredibly authentic and realistic, so much so I had to turn away, which trust me, is quite a feat (I’d like to think I have a strong stomach). The whole film, subtitled in Icelandic, is horrifyingly dark and bleak. And acted superbly by its main protagonist, Brynjar Hlodversson. His sweaty, desperate straining performance is absolutely stunning. No hammy acting here. What I liked most about Cold Turkey, is that it wasn’t an arty, obscure film with hidden meanings or laden with aesthetic driven filmmaking, there is a very simple storyline, a very simple concept, which to be honest, is probably too simple, but it works. In the context of short films, it works tremendously well. Cold Turkey has been acknowledged widely on the festival circuit, nominated and won many awards, and deservedly so. I actually wouldn’t hesitate in saying that it is one of the best short films I’ve ever seen and it will stay with me for a long time.

Battlecock! – Dir Ben Mallaby

Battlecock! is a film about badminton. Hardcore badminton. The Dukinson brothers have finally beat their archenemies at badminton. But the Krullmuller sisters are out for revenge, challenging them to one final match. Welcome, to Battlecock!

So, as the title suggests, Battlecock! is a short comedy film, and it is exceptionally funny. Very British humour (think The IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place). Drawing on 80’s cheesy genre moments, we have montages, slow motion, narration, flashbacks. I was thoroughly impressed by the filmmaking, it looked like it cost a lot more than it did. The actors were hilarious, using slapstick and good old-fashioned swearing and abusing each other for laughs. It’s very simple, but in 9mins they manage to cram in back story, romance, comedy, violence and a rather action packed badminton match. It’s very funny, very high quality, and well deserved of a place as a finalist.

Night of the Loving Dead – Dir. Anna Humphries

Night of the Loving Dead is a shadow/silhouette style animated short film about Nigel, a bereaved teenager who vows to keep his promise of virginity despite his girlfriend Eve’s death. He is living with his sex-crazed stepmother who berates and ignores him and his grief. Come valentines day, he delivers flowers to his dead girlfriend’s grave, only for her to come back from the dead, and ready to act on their promise to each other, to lose their virginity.

Night of the Loving Dead, given its subject matter, is a very sweet little film. Beautifully animated, wonderfully artistic and awesome to look at. The style of the film, think old style shadow/silhouette animation, allows for pockets of beautiful design, such as Eve’s brain, popping out of her cracked skull doubles as a hair decoration. The use of colour in Night of the Loving Dead is just as important as the storyline, the colour popping to draw attention to the different intricate design elements. There is a delicious undertone of satire, turning the idea of valentines day into a celebration of ‘dongs and boobs’, placed against the overt and open sexuality of his stepmother, there aren’t any normal attitudes towards sex in this film, yet we are still invited to remember ‘our first time’. Normally laden with social morality, losing your virginity here isn’t necessarily about making sure you’re in love. It’s a brilliant film, and I’ve struggled to find it online, but it is available here, if you request full viewing for it. (There is a form which asks some simple questions, no payment as far as I can see).

Magic at the Movies – Wayne Fox

So my first event, was something a bit different. Mainly aimed at kids, we had Wayne Fox, professional, Magic Circle registered magician. He was there to perform close up magic, but also to talk about tricks used in movies, where magicians are consulted where camera tricks aren’t enough. Think old 1920s films with slapstick, cannons right up to modern-day cinema, like The Illusionist, The Prestige and Now You See Them. It was really interesting to hear about magicians involvement in cinema. They are used to create effects which would otherwise be done on a computer, and run the risk of not looking very convincing.


Wayne Fox performing at Costa Coffee on the first night of the film festival

The kids absolutely loved it. They were so engaged, keen to get involved, the feedback we had was excellent. Wayne also taught the kids about the power of suggestion and a couple of tricks to do with their friends. As well as this, Wayne performed some close up magic tricks, card tricks and disappearing tricks. It was really good to see something unusual and slightly off-topic in the Film Festival, particularly for children.

Despite being mostly aimed at children, we had quite a few stunned adults in the audience too

Despite being mostly aimed at children, we had quite a few stunned adults in the audience too

Once everyone had left Wayne showed us a magic trick, words can’t do it justice, and unfortunately, as I was involved in the trick, I didn’t get it on film, but I’ve found another magician on YouTube who did the same trick. I still cant work out how it was done!!!

I want to say thank you to all my lovely volunteers over the days, they were absolutely amazing, most of them were from the University of Hertfordshire, it was brilliant seeing so many students getting involved, also to Leoni Kibbey for having me back, Karen Williams for doing a brilliant job of coordinating the volunteers (and taking about 74 calls from me over 3 days!)

For more on the festival visit where you’ll find links to their Flickr and blog.

I’ll be posting day 2 and day 3 over the coming week, so keep your eyes peeled!

St Albans Film Festival 2014


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