It’s that time of year again, when I review all the short films shown at the 225 Film Club’s Official Selection screening night. The 225 Film Club is dedicated to female excellence in direction, and once again it has been thrilling to watch such varied stories and journeys unfold so completely, each one in under 20 minutes.
Probing, vibrant, funny, frightening and eye-opening, this year’s “short stories” cover life, death, and everything in between (yes, I mean zombies).
The thread running through them is acknowledging the humanity in everyone and their journeys — and if you open your eyes they will surprise you, and you will surprise yourself.
Hosted by director Rita Osei, who created, curates and produces the 225 Film Club, the BFI screening on 26 October, supported by BFI Inclusion, was attended by several of the films’ directors, crew and stars. Additional members of the audience included actress Natascha McElhone, and Head of BFI Inclusion, Melanie Hoyes.
SAFE had its official preview at 225 Film Club and TEN OF SWORDS its UK premiere. Screening out of competition were three shorts: Molly Manning Walker’s THE FORGOTTEN C, NOSEBLEED by Luna Carmoon, and previewing Rita Osei’s AURORA.
The BEST SHORT FILM winner, as voted for by the audience in attendance at the BFI screening, is THE CALL, directed by Riffy Ahmed, with Cat White and Phoebe Torrance’s FIFTY-FOUR DAYS in second place. Riffy Ahmed wins a complimentary day of post production at LipSync. Phoebe and Cat win a complimentary https://primetime.network Founder membership.
Check out my round-up reviews of the 2023 225 Film Club Official Selection films below. (Where available you can also watch the embedded films.)
THINGS WE NEVER SAID — Manjinder Virk (16.05)
Uptight Bobby (Anjli Mohindra), her gloriously grumpy sister Parminder (Seyan Sarvan) and their stuck-in-the-middle brother Harry (Shazad Latif) head into the hazy Bulgarian countryside in a rickety car with a gas cylinder in the boot and a smoking driver who “knows all the shortcuts”. They are on their way to see their stricken father in hospital, accompanied by his Bulgarian girlfriend, until a shocking incident during the seemingly endless car ride shatters the facade and forces them all to face up to the reality of their situation.
Writer-director Manjinder Virk has a deft way with sibling relationships, all destined to replay the roles they always have, and a nice line in dry wit: “Dad always wanted to live in a socialist country,” says Bobby, as they drive through grey, weed-ridden post-communist towns.
MONOCHROMATIC — Karen Bryson MBE (12.49)
Skipping ropes, garden gnomes, a space hopper; Grace’s world is a child’s eye view of sunshine, nature, fun and games in this excellent short. This is Wood Green in 1977, nine years since Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech, an excerpt from which plays over the start of the film. Initially the racism around Grace means nothing to her, as she wonders at the meaning of the graffiti scrawled on a wall. Meanwhile her mother battles to protect her daughter’s carefree existence from prejudice even as it starts to leach into their home.
Grace’s childhood plays out as a series of hazy dream-like vignettes cut with snippets of the real world as the adults around Grace experience it, though it cannot be hidden from her forever. Director Karen Bryson MBE often films from Grace’s eye level, reiterating how self-contained and hidden a child’s world is, her shots upwards slightly disorientating as we follow Grace away from her safe haven. Kenedy McCallam-Martin, who plays Grace, is utterly captivating.
WANDERLAND — Nicole Pott (14.57)
Longlisted for the 2022 BAFTA British Short Film award, this affecting short features a tremendous performance from Holly Hajbok as 6-year-old Alice, whose alcoholic mum puts everything on her daughter — including responsibility for ensuring no one takes her away to safety. Mum Tracy (Haylie Jones) deploys performative parenting, loudly demanding Alice hurry up to be on time for school despite her daughter having to rouse her in the first place; she constantly demands validation of her love for Alice then forgets to pick her up. Then one night she goes off with a new man, forgetting to ensure little Alice, trailing along behind, is still there.
Homeless and living in Tracy’s car, their roles are reversed as Alice acts as Tracy’s only constant amid the chaos of her life. Hajbok offering a perfect mix of childish acceptance and a hard-learned understanding of Alice’s role in protecting her mum from censure.
MERCY — Milla Lewis (13.05)
An intriguing tale about sex worker Kuba (Kachanek) and the much older man Miroslaw who takes him home, without really seeming to know what he wants. Miroslaw’s circumstances finally arouse some interest from the careworn Kuba, who’s learnt simply to go through the motions. Miroslaw is taciturn and must feel this is the only way for him to connect with someone; Kuba, used to being entitled to the minimum of information, is still surprised by what he finds. The Polish suburb is chilly and dour; the old man’s home is cosy, yet still with something missing that must be brought in.
With little dialogue, director Milla Lewis establishes a solid sense of time and place that fits with Kuba’s repetitive, dreary experiences; and an ambivalence that leaves us wanting more.
SAFE — Debbie Howard (9.55)
“I’m just trying to be friendly while we’re waiting for the bus here,” says Daz (James Nelson-Joyce) a man who knows the creepy man playbook by heart: from sitting right up close to demanding personal information to mocking a woman’s attempts to keep herself safe. Anne (Laura Bayston) waits at the bus stop in the dark and pouring rain, wanting only to get home from her cleaning job to put her daughter to bed. Her bus is due in five minutes but it feels like a lifetime once Daz turns up.
Bayston is impressive as Anne but also as Everywoman; Nelson-Joyce brilliantly rancid as the threatening, mocking Daz. Safe is less than 10 minutes long but it’s a hard watch.
HOME — Ellie Foumbi (13.13)
Jonah (Meliki Hurd), a 16-year-old black boy, hates the white suburban area his family have just moved to; the neighbour is odd, there are foreboding signs everywhere and a sense of dread seems to whisper in the trees. Soon his dreams are invaded with horrifying imagery. His father Paul (Souleymane Sy Savane) is strict and unimpressed by what he sees as his son’s weaknesses; his mother Yvette (Vickie Tanner) urges Paul to loosen up on his parenting. But is Jonah having some kind of breakdown or is the family in actual danger?
Foumbi’s film was funded by Film Independent and Netflix’s initiative to “Put Black Directors in the Spotlight”. It’s a polished creation, that still holds onto its truths about race, isolation and belonging.
THE FORGOTTEN C – Molly Manning Walker (15.04)
An exceptional and upsetting short film about the pandemic as Molly Manning Walker expertly shows us the horrifying line between the two versions of our new worlds: shouted, at-a-distance conversations, dancing in the street, children chalking rainbows on the now-quiet roads, drinks parties arranged in gardens, and that pot-banging for the NHS that Aisha (Mandeep Dhillon) has to watch from her bedroom window as cancer takes over her body.
Manning Walker’s short film is about, and dedicated to, the forgotten cancer patients of those years, with devastating performances particularly from Dhillon and Anil Goutam as her father Asim, who literally cannot bear to face what is happening. The 21st film commissioned as part of the Uncertain Kingdom anthology.
Watch The Forgotten C on YouTube now:
TEN OF SWORDS — Faye Jackson (15.49)
The dead are revolting! This is very funny, extremely pertinent and rather moving, with lovely performances from Theo Solomon as twentysomething “head zombie” Jay, Lara Belmont as middle aged Michelle (her explanation that she can’t go back to her kids as she might get annoyed and eat them will strike a chord with the mums), and Mary Benn as the elderly, bemused but later accepting zombie Mary. They have been zombified to do the rubbish jobs no one else wants to do, with not so much a carrot and stick to spur them on as a raw steak and an electric cattle prod.
This is an enjoyably blunt satire on capitalism and the current economy, with a nice side plea to everyone to work together to beat the bosses (zombie unionisation basically). Ten of Swords was also my favourite of all the films: at a quarter of an hour it is jam packed with terrific lines, and manages to be both a total hoot and an at times uncomfortable watch (if the zombies won’t do the drudge work, then who? Because I need that parcel! But also, eat the rich!)
NOSEBLEED – Luna Carmoon (09.05)
The friendship between Coby (Lily Newmark) and Lilah (Ruby Stokes) is a bubble out of time, drenched in different shades of pink, furniture and clothes from the ’80s to the present day, their relationship moving from childish to coercive. Once a haven for Lilah, it is increasingly a prison, with Coby desperate not to lose her best friend to the outside world or, worse, to a boy. Theirs is an exquisitely drawn, painful friendship, a rite of passage that turns into a nightmare as Lilah realises she’s half way along the path to accepting the abnormal as normal unless she does something.
These are sharply drawn characters emerging from always believable performances, against a backdrop of everyday suburbia. Truly the female is more deadly than the male.
FIFTY-FOUR DAYS — Phoebe Torrance, Cat White (17.21)
A death in the family leaves Ruby devastated — unable to connect with her grieving brother she takes up wild water swimming, and finds the challenge also brings her solace and a new friend in experienced swimmer Gloria (Celia Imrie CBE). This is one of those shorts that feels (in a good way!) much longer than it is; at only 17 minutes it packs a punch as shocking as Ruby’s first dip in the chilly waters, while also inviting us into the complex emotions of a family trying to honour their loved one while also navigating their very individual paths forward.
Cat White plays Ruby, as well as writing, co-directing and producing the film; her commitment to her story and her understanding of the process of grief shine through, particularly the relief, guilt and freedom that comes from talking to strangers rather than loved ones, and learning to acknowledge that other people’s journeys to the same place may be different.
THE CALL — Riffy Ahmed (13:51)
Kids, never underestimate your mum. This is a lovely (and often funny) mother and daughter tale about how older women, especially mothers, get to show a new side in their later years, whether finally spreading their wings or having their decades of work appreciated and acknowledged. Athena (Small Axe‘s Amarah-Jae St Aubyn) goes to visit her mother Cora (a warm Jo Martin – without giving the game away, her casting seems particularly apt) who hasn’t been answering her calls… And it turns out Cora now has much bigger fish to fry, despite the intrusion of more earthly problems. While Athena fears her mother is displaying the beginnings of dementia, there is a much more glorious reason for her current (and previous) unavailability.
Ahmed has a magnificent sense of place, with Cora’s flat a richly painted mystical bolthole; you can almost smell the incense. I won’t deny my heart was in my mouth at the end.
225 Film Club images
Riffy Ahmed, director of THE CALL
AURORA production designer Alice Halstead, The film's star Djinka Kane and DOP Fatosh Olgacher
Milla Lewis, director of MERCY
Post screening directors in the foyer
Celia Imrie CBE introducing FIFTY-FOUR DAYS which she co-stars in
Jo Martin and Amarah-Jae St Aubyn in THE CALL
225 Film Club, post-screening 2023
Jo Martin in THE CALL
Cat White and Celia Imrie CBE in FIFTY-FOUR DAYS
THE CALL screening
FIFTY-FOUR DAYS screening
THE FORGOTTEN C screening
Rita Osei, Cat White, Elijah Baker, Joshua Osei and Celia Imrie CBE
Director Karen Bryson MBE and Natascha McElhone
SAFE director Debbie Howard with her star Laura Bayston