The semester is over, exams are out of the way, and the summer break is on our doorstep. If your pals in AirTV aren’t looking as relaxed as everyone else, that’s because the biggest night of their year is coming up on Monday – the annual AirTV awards.
The ATVAs celebrate the very best of Stirling’s student filmmaking. Tickets are only £7 (from the media office, or via the Macrobert website), and that’ll give you access to the screening of 15 superb short films, hosted in the Macrobert’s Mainhouse. It also gives you a great excuse to get your fanciest black tie outfit out the wardrobe.
Brig has been given access to the short films ahead of the awards, and we can confirm the standard is as high as it’s ever been. The talent is undeniable, and we’re excited to see where they go from here. So, in no particular order, here’s what we thought about this year’s films…
A Spoonful of Beans
One chef knows the perfect recipe for revenge. Marco Di Gioia’s humorously entitled Western is a slightly bizarre cross between MasterChef and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
This film engages all of the classic tropes – from the close-up of a pair of cowboy boots walking through the door to “I have unfinished business to take care of.” There was lots to get excited about – in particular the shot from a dripping tap to dripping blood really got my Film and Media student senses tingling.
However, even with my laptop’s volume on full, I struggled to make out the dialogue throughout. The silent fighting scenes halfway through also seemed kind of odd, but perhaps I am just used to them being accompanied by a tension-building soundtrack in the movies.
What was most effective was how the tension at the end is ramped up to the max with a series of fast changing close-ups. All in all this piece is a wacky piece of fun that I enjoyed, despite its flaws.
The Case of the Unreturned Letter
In Danny Flynn’s detective comedy, our two heroes Randy Smother and Private Dick are out on a mission to deliver a letter to a mysterious woman because they “have literally nothing else to do.”
Featuring some of the crummiest American accents I have ever heard (except from the real American Kieran Daly, funnily enough) this film’s breaking of the fourth wall shows that it’s not taking itself too seriously, and encourages you to laugh along with it.
The Case of the Unreturned Letter is also adorably retro – the letter being read out on screen, the scene dissolves, the black and white. However, its black and white style does make some of the scenes either too dark or too light, but it’s a sacrifice that has to be made for style.
With vicious voiceovers and plenty of in-jokes, this film is classic crime-solving comedy with a hilarious twist.
The clue is in the name – Jonathan Wilson’s Mystagogue is eerie from start to finish. A man is ordered into a forest with a pair of deer antlers… you’ll need to watch to see what happens next.
From its dramatic opening shot my interest was piqued. Stylistically this film was a cut above the others I have seen, from its seamless shots to the tension built through dramatic music.
There was only one line of dialogue throughout the entire eight-minute film, but there was really no need for it – the talented actors’ faces said so much. Mystagogue did not need a long runtime to really build up a dramatic picture.
My only criticism is that the film’s plot didn’t quite work. If anything, I’m a stickler for stories that actually make sense on the first viewing. But even if the plot didn’t quite hit home, there is no denying that Mystagogue was just beautifully executed.
I absolutely adored this film, from its DiCaprio beginning to the very last frame. The protagonist is super-relatable and simply adorable – flawed, insecure, vibrant, a tad melodramatic and narcissistic, but self-aware. Altogether a wonderful ‘awkward chic’ presence on screen. The film, moreover, had me in fits of laughter with the kind of cute-cringey comedy that’s very difficult to get right, and I went back and re-watched many sequences again because they were just too good. Great wee story, good use of locations, and superb acting.
Let’s Go Crazy
This film was a tad of an emotional roller-coaster for me, leading to a thoroughly unexpected conclusion. Beginning with the well-known lighthearted ‘let’s go nuts to distract you from your break-up’ premise, featuring highly likable characters, the film then swerves a sharp skid into depression, suicide and mental illness. Although the awareness raised by the plot and the issues of mental health are highly relevant and correct, attempting to tie the beginning and the end in a congruous sequence is a bit of a stretch for me.
It’s Not a Phase
Through a series of interviews, this film aims to discover and portray similarities or differences of opinion regarding all sorts of life things, of members of the various rock music genre communities. I thought it was a bit slow to unravel, until the director himself appeared on-screen, tied the concept together and infused the purpose, and the heart, into this project. Also, although the audio quality was up and down, what makes up for it is the genuineness that is inherent in the concept of interview films – the answers aren’t rehearsed and that realness brings a great lively vibe to the overall work.
O’ Christmas Tree
First of all, bravo to Andrew Pope for daring to do something different and making the first (I think?) animated short for an ATVA film. And a Christmas film (sort of?) in May! It is most definitely unique. The animation on real-life backgrounds work wonderfully, and the voice acting suits to a tee. For something mostly still and colourless, it is not at all plain. It is basically just one joke, one punchline that really punches in a bit of a twisted way. It’s not smack-your-knee-crying funny, its not spectacular, but it gave me such a pleasant giggle. It knows what it is, it is simple, and it works.
Kieran Daly’s 5% follows an anxious, introverted guy at an uncomfortable party trying to find a phone charger, who finds an unlikely and unwanted ally. It’s a theme many of us can relate to– being stuck awkwardly at a party you don’t want to be at, but just maybe something good comes out of it! It’s sweet, but it didn’t blow me away. The setting, vibes and music choice of the film were spot on and really believable– the acting and dialogue, less so. It also ran on a little too long for me, but maybe I have the attention span of a goldfish. The narration gave it an extra dynamic and made it more interesting, and the intro and ending scenes were super well done and definitely my favourite. It was a pretty cool story that just didn’t quite hit it for me.
A Cult Film
OK, I LOVE this. It holds a special place in my heart. And I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it! A Cult Film tells the story of preciously awkward Sam White, played superbly by Matthew Roud, trying to make some pals at a cult because… where else would you? The film feels all too familiar to joining a University society, which often can feel like joining a cult. It was shot really well, I properly laughed the whole way through, and the acting was some of the best I’d seen of the films. Particularly, Rowen Rennie as Jerry absolutely tickled me, and Matthew and Kirstie Will gave me a lot of love for their characters Sam & Dara, who may be my new OTP. Can’t really fault it myself, firm favourite!
Die Hard Brexit
I love this one too. How do you even describe this? Styled as a trailer for a movie about two typical, 80s, masculine heroes trying to save the world from the triggering of Article 50 by the baddest of baddies – Sith Lord Theresa May, in true Die Hard fashion. (Did I get it right? BUY TICKETS TO THE ATVA’S TO FIND OUT). It’s not the most spectacularly filmed, the acting isn’t top notch, its not the best put together, but I didn’t care. Are any 80s action films? It’s just totally fun and totally relevant.
For such a strange and potentially comedic premise, this film was surprisingly serious and harrowing. From the mind of Jack Buchanan, Fingerbang is about a creepy, angry guy who uses his fingers as a gun, to put it simply. This film undoubtedly had the best cinematography of all that I’ve seen, it was executed expertly and was just visually brilliant. The acting from James Lee left me uncomfortable and unsettled, which was exactly the point, however the rest of the acting in the film was just ‘not bad’. Another one I didn’t expect to enjoy, but I was completely captured. The only thing that broke the spell was the dreadful CPR skills, God forbid anyone from AirTV being around if I ever collapse!
This is an interesting one! A more artsy film of the bunch, which, I must confess, I’m usually not a fan of. From Marina Nieuwerf, this is a short, simple yet beautiful film formed around a poem about body image. Aesthetically, it is lovely and filmed well. Poetically, I feel it is written and delivered really well but in all honesty, poetry is not my strong point. I’m sure many might find it inspiring, but its not for me. It’s just… nice, content.
Girl Fight Tonight
Katherine McKnight’s short film is a punchy, fantastically energetic comedy about a disastrous day in one girl’s life. It sets a quick pace in the first scene, and manages to maintain it throughout – the brilliant editing and fun graphics see to that.
Katherine’s script is wonderful, and her acting in the main role of Molly manages to stick out in an incredibly strong cast. Even the smallest characters are well-rounded (James Lee and Marina Nieuwerf’s theatre actors are a highlight), and the smallest details receive the utmost attention.
The result is a genuinely funny, impressively well-made film. For me, it’s one of the best of the bunch.
Lines and Fog
Easily the most unsettling film in this year’s ATVAs roster, Viktorija Pajadaite’s Lines and Fog follows the psychological state of an addict, played by Michael Mullen, over the course of a day. The darkest parts of his psyche are embodied by a mysterious stone-faced figure in a cloak.
It is a short, sharp shock of a film, lasting just over three and a half minutes, but it certainly lingers in the brain for quite some time after the end credits. I’m not sure how successfully the film gets its message across, though.
Its lack of subtlety works against it, and it is often unclear what exactly is going on beyond the obvious fact that whatever it is, it is extremely unpleasant. Apart from that, the film is well-shot, and it is admirable to confront such dark subject matter
I won’t mince my words here – this was the best film of the lot for me. Before getting into anything else, it’s simply beautiful to look at. The cinematography is exceptional, taking better advantage of monochrome’s ability to emphasise light and darkness than any of the other black and white films on the list.
There is one particular shot, involving part of a typewriter coming into focus as it menacingly approaches the camera, which has stuck in my head since I watched it. Writer and director Callum Downs, who also acted as cinematographer for the film, knows where to place the camera for maximum tension.
The visuals contribute to the suspense, but they’re not the only factor. Callum makes sure the editing, the music and acting all propel the story forward without a single line being uttered, right up to the final, heart-stopping seconds. Sanctuary is a remarkable film. Callum Downs is going places.
That’s what we thought about the films, but we do encourage you to make up your own mind by getting yourself a ticket to the ATVAs on Monday before they sell out. They’re only £7, after all, and there’s so much variety that there’s bound to be something you absolutely love.
Check out the reviews of the films from our Air3 brethren here.
Watch all of the film trailers and interviews with their directors here.