CAMBRIDGE SHORTS and the Student Film Scene

CAITLIN McCARTNEY is impressed by this screening and reflects upon the future of Cambridge student filmmaking.

Cambridge cambridge shorts cinecam Clive Comedy Film outsiders OWL#307 Prelude student enterprise student filmmaking

For many people involved in filmmaking at Cambridge, the appeal of student film lies in the freedom of engaging with a creative process and participating in events that are independent of a formal body or organisation.

This reality has clear artistic benefits, but also has detriments in relation to funding and publicity.

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Image Credit: Stephen Allwright

With the revival of CineCam – Cambridge’s film making society – at the end of Lent term in 2014 by Mark Danciger and Nathan Miller, student film projects have begun to attract the funding and technical and theatrical skill needed to produce excellent shorts. Yet although I have been consistently been impressed by the quality of student films that I have seen since arriving as a fresher in Michaelmas, all too often I have also witnessed short film screenings with undeservedly low attendance numbers.

The same cannot be said for the joint CineCam and ADC venture ‘Cambridge Shorts’, a film-screening event held on the 17th of May at the ADC Theatre. Having been greeted upon arrival by a significant queue for tickets, a tangible atmosphere of excitement permeated the theatre as it steadily filled to full capacity. Overall the event felt extremely well planned and run. Five films were shown with an introduction and brief discussion between each by the night’s host Joe Shalom, whose easy manner and jokes provided comic relief and tied the event together well. He should be particularly commended for both his performance in three films and his improvisation when ‘Cambridge Shorts’ suffered a brief technical hitch towards the end of the evening.

Producers Ellie Howcroft and Russell Fancourt had evidently put much thought into the order of the screening, with the offbeat humour of the first film, ‘OUTSIDERS’, co-directed by Patrick Brooks and writer of the script Nathan Miller, drawing many laughs at the beginning of the night. Set in a ‘summer camp’ – though filmed, as Joe informed us, in the sub-zero temperatures of winter – for well adjusted and smart but socially inept kids, ‘OUTSIDERS’ explores issues of popularity, power and conformity. Music and extreme close up shots were used particularly effectively as characters’ insecurities were extrapolated and as distrust and tension manifested between the film’s central female leads played well by Rebecca Thomas and Daisy Jones.

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‘Summer Camp’

The second film of the night ‘OWL#307’, written and directed by Johnny King, was stylistically very different. Set in a hotel room, the overlaid monologue of main character Marie informs us that she has been locked in for a fortnight. Making many references to ‘Ian’ –  a ‘mysterious acquaintance – who has not returned, but has left her with tins of tuna and a wooden owl for company, Marie chillingly states that she is not concerned about her food running out, as she “doesn’t get very hungry anymore”. Low shots of the Owl, close ups upon its face and high angled shots focussed downwards from its perspective allow a strange and haunting power dynamic to develop, as Marie begins to form an emotional attachment to this object. With shots such as Marie lying beside a spider trapped in a wine glass establishing strong visual symbolism, this film was an intriguing exploration of solitude and Stockholm syndrome and felt like the beginning of a psychological thriller.

The third work screened, ‘Prelude’ directed by Bekzhan Sarsenbay, was an exceptional short film and a clear highlight of the night. Set within a theatre under curfew during a communist revolution, characters contemplate the future of their society and their place in it, as well as the fate of other people inside the theatre. This film was visually beautiful, with scenes shot inside the ADC dressing rooms bathed in a warm light that illuminated the make up and delicate costuming of some of the thespian characters. Other shots such as those depicting an old, noble couple in fear for their future were symmetrical and reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s work. For this reason I found Bekzhan’s film absorbing and masterfully developed.

In a well-timed change of pace, the fourth film of the night, Tom O Mara’s ‘Clive’ was a cleverly edited short in the style of British TV comedy ‘The Peep Show’. Clive Benderman, an extremely awkward 31-year-old data-entry worker from Swindon, decides to make amends for forgetting to buy his co-worker Betty a leaving present by following her to her dance class and presenting her with a terrible gift. The character of Clive’s best friend Steve, played by Dan Brown, was extremely funny and had the audience crying with laughter over his destruction of Clive’s (admittedly slim) chances of success when asking Betty out on a less than tempting breakfast date at Gatwick’s Nandos.

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Image Credit: Stephen Allwright

The final film of the night, ‘Tachyon’ written and directed by Mark Danciger and produced by Bek Sarsenbay has set a new benchmark for quality of student film in Cambridge. With an impressive script that the engineer sitting beside me could confirm was based upon real theoretical physics, ‘Tachyon’ is extremely well edited by Murdo-Baker Mills and boasts a fantastic set design by Rebecca Guthrie. Moments of dark humour that were reflective of the night as a whole worked well in the film as a scientist who creates a machine that can send messages back in time interacts with the man filming her experiment. However, as the nightmarish consequences of her invention begin to emerge, this tense sci-fi thriller is able to elicit moments of genuine psychological horror.

Overall, though it is clear that independent projects have enormous value and should always be supported in the Cambridge film scene, they also face many challenges that can be overcome with collaboration between filmmakers and theatrical institutions such as the ADC.  I was greatly encouraged by the announcement at the end of the evening that a late show slot has been secured in Michaelmas for a second ‘Cambridge Shorts’ night. With such depth of theatrical and technical filmmaking talent in Cambridge, I truly hope future events ensure that films receive the attention their creators and actors deserve. Who knows, a golden age of co-operation between theatre and film geeks (myself admittedly included) could be upon us.

After all, as collaboration on ‘Cambridge Shorts’ has proven, we’re really not that different.

4.5/5 stars.