Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989) is a short film made for television and produced by Danny Boyle and BBC Northern Ireland. Set amid the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the short presents 18 matter-of-fact murders with a coldly observational approach, providing limited dialogue and utilizing the predatory look of steadicam follow shots. The film takes its title from Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty’s description of the Troubles as “the elephant in our living room,” and it served as an inspiration to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003), a film that likewise attended to the broader social problems that underlie American school-shootings and gun violence.
Clarke’s short is overdetermined in its intentions, being full of intense men and purposeful walks, yet it is also disturbing empty. Despite its apparent single-mindedness, there are no explanations of the hows and whys of its killings and there are nearly no sounds of surprise or panic, yet there is always the banality of violence and death, a lifeless body in a drab room and a getaway that rarely strays from the same purposeful walk. For more on Elephant and the psychology it embodies (or withholds) in its particular cinematography, MMC! offers Jordan Schonig’s impressive and insightful video essay, The Follow Shot: A Tale of Two Elephants (2018). Schonig’s essay provides a concise exploration of what may be contemporary cinema’s most ubiquitous and conspicuous shot and perfectly unpacks the themes and tensions at work in Clarke and Van Sant’s respective films.
The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s second day was unusually specific in its program, devoting itself to short films that explored “innocence being encroached upon by outside forces” and a pair of horror-thriller features set around the sex industry. It was an impressive night of screenings, but also one that certainly made demands of its audience.
The “Paradise Lost” block of shorts was long on atmosphere and scares but slim on explication. Most films chose to grab their shocks and get out rather than flesh out their worlds. Faye Jackson’s The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs (2018) recalled Bobby Miller’s The Master Cleanse (part of SFFF’s program from 2016 and now titled simply The Cleanse). The short considers the situation of its title character who extracts her sense of anxiety out of herself, hides it in a tin, and faces down some dark, ominous threat that stalks her outside her home. Jackson’s film is wonderfully constructed, full of humour and dreadful tension, and its quality therefore demands more of itself, needing to unpack its conflict and its resolution before letting its credits roll. And the same could be said of other shorts in the block. Milk (Santiago Menghini, 2018) is a chilling tale of a boy trapped between two unsettling maternal figures and choses aesthetics over explanation. Wild (Morgana McKenzie, 2018) is a pastoral fantasy about a girl’s encounter with a magical, deadly, and ultimately unresolved female figure in her uncle’s cornfield. Saturn Through the Telescope (Dídac Gimeno, 2018) follows a boy’s efforts to watch a scary movie at home and is a slickly made and energetic short, while Make a Stand (Camille Aigloz, Lucy Vallin, Michiru Baudet, Simon Anding Malandin, Diane Tran Duc, and Margo Roguelaure, 2017) is a gorgeously animated film set in pre-Columbian Mexico and that seems to tease a supernatural spectacle that never arrives. Uncertainty is a great tool of the macabre, but it’s best used as a lacuna where meaningful questions spring forth. These shorts are uniformly affective and expertly fashioned, sure to be enjoyed by viewers. My only wish is that these films more fully met their narrative challenges as well as the aesthetic ones.
The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival has upgraded the apparatus with its 2018 edition. That means fewer midnight screenings in favour of an extra day of programming, a 3-hour cartoon and cereal party, a snazzy new booklet, new voting ballots, some clever bumpers running before the screenings, sponsorships and promotions from Vinegar Syndrome and Shudder, and even an after party with cast and crew of Supergrid. And with turnout for Day 1 looking robust, Festival Director John Allison and his team must be feeling positive about the prospects for this year. There’s always a desire to find a theme to a given day’s program but finding a common thread between Anna and the Apocalypse (John McPhail, 2018), Rock Steady Row (Trevor Stevens, 2018), Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983), and their supporting short films is something of a challenge. At best, it might be said that most of these films attend to breakdowns in community and some very unlikely ways to reassemble them.
The Buried Alive Film Festival’s program for Saturday, November 17, is STACKED with three new feature films, one rep-pick, two supporting features, the Eyeslicer short film program, nine more short films in the “It’s Never Too Early to Start Digging Graves” block, and one burlesque show compliments of Blast Off Burlesque. Now that’s a full day of entertainment!
Overwhelmed with a bounty of goodness, MMC!‘s previews can only be more important, pointing the path from mere goodness and toward greatness. Here, dear readers, are five MMC!-approved reasons (that are actually nine reasons) to BAFF this Saturday:
MMC! will cover the 2018 Buried Alive Film Festival by previewing each day of its programming, focusing on those wonderful films that achieve MMC!-approval!
With BAFF’s emphasis on short films and a full program of these titles playing each day the Fest, there’s hardly any limit on the number of good reasons to attend! BAFF kicks off on November 14 with a screening of the films made as part of its 3rd annual Sinema Challenge, a 13 day filmmaking challenge that sees its participants randomly select a horror genre and a subject from a deck of Cards Against Humanity cards and then make a movie based on their selections.
The Fest’s main program starts on November 15 with a feature, a supporting short film, and BAFF’s first short program: “For the Love of the Undertaker.” For those counting, that’s thirteen separate works in a single evening of film fest-ing! There’s lots to enjoy, but here are MMC!‘s five favourite reasons to BAFF next Thursday.
SHE CAN’T SPEAK. SHE CAN’T SCREAM. SHE CAN’T BEG FOR MERCY.
Working on a low-budget horror film in Russia, Billy Hughes (Marina Zudina), a mute American makeup artist, witnesses a brutal murder on a movie-set, however her claims are doubted by her friends and by Moscow police. Still, the killers know the truth and the instructions received from their underworld boss is clear: no witnesses. So begins a night of terror for Billy as she struggles to save her own life and trust a KGB agent (Oleg Yankovskiy) who claims to be her saviour.
Anthony Waller’s Mute Witness is an expertly made thriller comparable to the classic suspense of Alfred Hitchcock and Wait Until Dark and the contemporary shocks of Brian de Palma and Silence of the Lambs. Watch it and be left speechless.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
- Brand-new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Original 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Surround Options
- Audio commentary with writer-director Anthony Waller
- Speaking Up, new interview with actress Marina Zudina
- Bearing Witness, new interviews with actors Fay Ripley and Evan Richards
- Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Steven Jay Schneider