Flatmates Blind Date Little Things – BFI Academy 2020 Short Films

Attending the gala screening, Fikri Jermadi is encouraged by the films and filmmakers.

Held on 5th March at Broadway in Nottingham, the BFI Film Academy gala premiere screening featured three films made by the 2020 cohort. Those from 2018 and 2019 provided me with enthusiasm for this edition; though rough around the edges, there is reason to believe that the current batch of young filmmakers have as big of a chance to do just as well, if not better.

The screening kicked off with ‘Blind Date’, directed by Ursula Parrish. Telling the story of two young people, Isobel (Nell Foley) and Leo (Noah Hopley), on a blind date, it captures much of the nerves present in such situations, as they both tiptoe around the lake before diving in. It’s a tricky story to tell, as the film shifts across genres, but it was told well enough for its purposes.

A lot of that can be put down to the film’s editing. In particular, I absolutely loved a wipe transition used to describe the passage of time; in marking the amount of wine left in the glasses as an indicator of time, it suddenly injected a great energy to the story in a simple yet creative way. Near the end of the film, a revelatory montage also featured at least one match cut that was very effective in tying together the past and the present. Kudos must be given to the editors, Joe Everitt and Katherine Monk-Watts.

The latter is also responsible for the film’s production design. By and large, this was fairly well done. However, there was some space on the wall behind Leo which felt a little bare, one I could not ignore every time we cut to a shot of him. Perhaps that was deliberate, and maybe it says a lot more about me (how could I be distracted by nothingness?) than it does about the film. Having said that, we should bear in mind that these are essentially student productions made under compressed conditions. Nevertheless, that was the thought that flashed through all the same.

The next film, ‘Little Things’, is possibly my favourite of the lot. It tells the story of two friends, played by Charles Evans and Justine Moore. On the surface, it seems as if it is a normal day out for the two of them, enjoying each other’s company as they went out and about in city. Yet as the story progresses, we see how theirs is a relationship complicated by a particular condition, making little things that bit more meaningful than most.

This is possible because of the chemistry between the actors. Again, as the films are produced within a relatively short timeframe, this is not a make-or-break factor for me to appreciate the film. Yet both Charles and Justine made a lot of work seem almost effortless. The script by Mir Bates allowed the dialogue to flow fairly naturally, recalling some mumblecore films I’ve seen in the distant past. It’s not easy to pull off, as the words can quickly become verbal vomit without proper direction, but the team did well here.

Another factor I find interesting is the black and white aesthetics. For such a colourful relationship, it felt a little off. However, in the Q&A session, the director, Charlie Durney, explained how he wanted to portray a world from an autistic perspective, where nuance is often relegated to the background. It’s something I can get on board with, particularly as the film’s rough-and-ready cinematography (by Amoré Allen) creates a strong emotional impact. Previously, I mentioned how more close-up shots in the 2019 film, ‘Evaded’, could have emphasised the story’s plot points. At the very least, ‘Little Things’ got that right.

We round off the evening with ‘Flatmates’. Starring Ella O’Brien (the same Ella O’Brien who wrote ‘Evaded’?) and Safia Oakley-Green, we follow two young girls who meet each other for the first time as flatmates. It strikes me as a little curious; I thought that such arrangements would have been prefaced with at least a face-to-face meeting and viewing of the property, allowing prospective tenants to better know each other. Nonetheless, that is the premise we’re working with.

It is a promising one, as the clashes of personalities beget a strong comedic impact. This is why, relative to the others, ‘Flatmates’ require the gap between them to widen into a chasm. The team appear to have accentuated these primarily through Klaudia Sikora’s production design. Ella’s fairly demure personality is expressed not only through her acting, but also via her bedroom decorations; neat and organised, it is in stark contrast to Safia’s, loudly (literally, at times) proclaiming her devil-may-care attitude.

Speaking of room, is there some here for a bit of gender analysis, considering how the different femininities are performed? Though I can imagine a brief discussion to be held along such lines, it may not be your cup of tea. On that note, it must be said that the film’s punchline was absolutely hilarious, bringing the house down with laughter. Ironically, that very British moment may also be something that holds the film back; I thought it was great, but I can imagine my wife being perplexed by it.

Overall, there’s much to be encouraged by here. Obviously, there are rough edges around the films, but I can see them thriving beyond the confines of this programme. Cultural considerations notwithstanding, ‘Flatmates’ could be a big hit on the comedy and/or festival circuit. ‘Little Things’ could also do well, especially in contexts where different abilities are highlighted. ‘Blind Date’ is a little trickier to place, but if one is to push one’s boat out, I could see it waddling in the waters of a fantastic film festival, perhaps one like Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival.

As for the filmmakers, the programme has gotten them off to a fantastic start. As the pre-show reel is keen to remind us, past graduates have gone on to bigger things, being involved in Star Wars and James Bond films. They may well experience greater things in their careers, but no one forgets the start of their careers, that buzz you feel when you see your film on the big screen for the first time. That will always have its magic, and I reckon these young filmmakers will weave plenty more of that sooner rather than later.

We previously wrote about the 2018 and 2019 films. 

Featured image credit: HowStuffWorks

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