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Posted December 3, 2015 by

 
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Underwire Film Festival 2015

This November saw the sixth Underwire Film Festival, founded by Gabriella Apicella and Gemma Mitchell in 2010 to showcase women working in the industry. The only festival in the UK of its kind, Underwire champions female contribution to cinema, and seeks to improve the numbers of women working in filmmaking by encouraging, supporting and rewarding rising talent. With ten shorts programmes arranged into categories, and three features screened over three days, culminating in an awards ceremony on Sunday night, there was a huge variety on offer. The standard was extremely high across the board, but below are just a few of my personal highlights:

BOOTWMN (Sam McWilliams & Paige Gratland)

Nominated Best Editor (Bonnie Rae Brickman)

When a third generation cowboy boot maker from Albuquerque, New Mexico is approached by a Canadian artist, and a tattooist from San Francisco to collaborate on a special project, the three women embark on a journey which takes them to a competition in Texas – with surprising results! Deana McGuffin is a warm, natural story-teller, the kind of subject you could happily listen to for hours. It’s a joy to watch her about her craft, and her openness and good humour make for an intimate and moving portrait. The queering of such a traditional and male-dominated art form might have been met with some disdain in the heart of cowboy country, and the expectation of ugliness makes the end of this documentary all the more uplifting.

Underwire Film Festival 2015

Vintage Blood (Abigail Blackmore)

Nominated Best Acting (Indira Varma)

This pitch black comedy offers some genuine shocks as well as belly laughs. Witty and enormously fun, it’s knowing horror in the vein of Drag Me to Hell, set among the rails of a vintage clothing shop. The beauty of this mundane, urban setting is that it highlights how fear is so insidious. A paranoid thought will seed and grow, and it can’t be dispelled by daylight or crowds or sceptical friends. Ultimately fear can make us do terrible things…

Sub Rosa (Thora Hilmarsdottir)

Nominated Best Writer (Snjolaug Ludviksdottir)

A sumptuous looking film about the loss of innocence. Young Tilda lives with her grandmother (Prunella Scales in a role which brings to mind the older version of Sybil Fawlty…if Tim Burton had designed her) in a florist shop, which is a front for a bordello. Tilda watches the adults around her and is quick to emulate their decadent behaviour. She’s in awe of her grandmother’s girls, especially the flame-haired Olive, but is also quick to remind them that she is superior to them. Tilda’s precocious behaviour draws the attention of the school health visitor and intimidates her peers, but one of her games has dire consequences for Olive in the film’s disturbing climax.

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Nazi Boots (Debs Paterson)

Winner Best Cinematography (Kate Reid)

The harrowing story of one Polish woman’s losses at the hands of the Nazis. Narrated by Holocaust survivor, Janine Webber, this film may be only five minutes long, but once seen, it is burnt into the mind, just as the image of those boots is branded on Janine’s. A painful watch, but testament to the power of love, memory, and one woman’s triumph over evil.

Nasty (Prano Bailey-Bond)

Nominated Best Producer (Meghna Gupta and Helen Mullane)

This nightmarish little offering explores the lure and shock value of ‘video nasties’, as young Douglas is drawn into watching VHS horror after the mysterious disappearance of his father. Set in the early eighties, Nasty has a scratchy, grindhouse aesthetic (it’s shot on 16mm and Super 8), and the soundtrack – a dirge punctuated with animal yelps, whispers, and screams – ratchets the tension up to unbearable levels. It’s deliberately ambiguous, leaving the viewer uncertain as to whether the events unfolding are really supernatural, or whether Douglas’ experiences are perhaps a metaphor for the anxiety surrounding violent content and its power to corrupt impressionable and decent people. Stylish and unsettling.

Satan has a Bushy Tail (Louis Paxton)

Winner Best Editor (Manuela Lupini)

This short comedy film follows the misadventures of a recently bereaved old man, Derek, and his grandson, Hugh, who comes to stay following the break down of his marriage. The relationship between grandfather and grandson is rather frosty at first, but as Derek’s obsession with killing a squirrel he believes to be possessed by the spirit of a long dead love rival (yes, really) deepens, it becomes apparent that they have more in common than they realise. A meditation on the nature of grief and facing our fears, this pesky little film delivers some real emotional punches between the slapstick moments.

Strings (Richard Turley)

Winner Best Producer (Ruth Wright)

This short about a young boy’s relationship with his father is notable for the lovely performances from Frankie Fitzgerald and the fantastically named Badger Skelton. It’s often tricky for child actors to strike a balance. They must give a nuanced and intelligent performance without coming off as precocious, and read words written by adults, but stay believably childlike. Skelton does this beautifully. He imbues the character of Luke with a real sweetness, which keeps his boyish cheekiness endearing, and makes the sting in the tale all the more painful when it comes. A bittersweet story of a man who will go to desperate lengths to provide for his son, and the burden of that knowledge for one too young to bear it.

The Muse (Tim Walker)

Nominated Best Editor (Cinzia Baldessari)

Starring the wonderful Ben Wishaw, this dreamlike tale blurs the line between reality and fantasy, as a young artist mourns the loss of his muse – a mermaid. With lush visuals and a poetic monologue, The Muse explores themes of obsession, loss of agency, subjectivity, depression, mythology, art, and interpretation. A melancholic feast for the senses.

the muse

Cherry Cake (Jaine Green)

Nominated XX Award for Best Female Representation

Staring Matthew Kelly and Eve Pearce star in this two hander, which builds slowly and then, takes off in a surprising direction! Elderly Ingrid (Pearce) lives in a picture perfect cottage in an English idyll, and Gavin (Kelly) pops round to help her prune her roses and tidy her borders in exchange for a cuppa and a nice slice of cake. But there is tension bubbling under the polite façade of their chitchat, which soon erupts in a most unexpected way. The dedication at the end of this film made me laugh out loud, and it’s refreshing to see a lady of advancing years depicted in a way you almost never experience in cinema. A daring, funny, and very British little film!

Terry’s Last Intern (Hannah Ford)

Winner Best Under 25 Award

A wry look at the world of the put-upon media intern, this witty and confident short imagines the story behind Miley Cyrus’ music video for Wrecking Ball. Shot on 16mm and in black and white, it has the look of an instructional video from the fifties, and the monotone male voice-over adds to effect. The camera looks down on the intern, showing us Terry’s POV as he looms over his employee, and the use of innuendo throughout highlights the exploitation of young women that happens behind the cameras as well as in front of them.

 

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Katie Young
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