‘You know what they say: The greatest films have the smallest audiences.’ How true those words, spoken by keen-eyed Fuse Festival director Bogdan Niculescu, proved on Sunday May 18th. It’s not unfair to say that, while still an improvement on Fuse 13, Fuse Festival 2014 did not have the largest of turnouts (we blame the weather; how dare it be nice?), but it mattered not because the passion of those in attendance made for a film-loving atmosphere so dense that nobody else would have been able to squeeze in through the doors of Manchester Academy 3 anyway. Fuse’s international reach is another improvement on Fests gone by: In addition to several shorts from our dear Mancunian brethren, films were submitted to Fuse from directors as far afield as Sweden, Russia and Glasgow! In social media terms, Fuse is no stooge either; we got re-tweeted by film actor Michael Smiley, Selfridges (don’t ask), BBC, BAFTA, Universal Pictures, cinema chains ODEON and VUE, film magazines Empire, Total Film, SoFilm and LWLies, plus NASA, The Rock and Barack Obama. Those last three may be nothing more than wishful thinking, but one day. One day.
Fuse would like to say cheers to everyone that came out, and give special thanks to everyone that submitted a film, whether it was short-listed or not. We couldn’t have done it without you. Keep it up!
Now for a report of the day’s film selection, which began with the Student Short category.
The Substitute Fate (Dir. Sergey Burov) – no picture available
From Russian submitter Sergey Burov comes this cross-platform tale of morality in which the forces of ‘fate’ have been transformed into officious businessmen that operate from their floating base in the clouds. One white-tuxed employee of Fate Inc. is told to bestow upon a nasty criminal his just desserts (angelic delight, most probably) by messing up his life, but an unforgivable administrative error gives this mission a serious case of ‘wrong-man’ syndrome. The poor man in question is young Maxim, a self-help author devoted to his family and his friends, whose inimitable good nature infuriates the Karma policeman attempting to ruin his day. The motto of the ethereal antagonist, ‘You can’t escape fate’, is thrown right back in his expectant, petulant face as his every effort to impede Maxim’s visit to his mother fails miserably. An interesting palette of pastel colours, transitions from cartoon to live-action and the high concept plot made for a stimulating start to proceedings.
Charlie The Splendid (Dirs. Callum Scott-Dyson & Brian McNulty)
Manchester. 1984. The city is crying its death-rattle, choking on Thatcherism and teeming with pseudo-activist lager louts on skateboards. Into this steamy, urine-drenched cesspit comes Charlie the Splendid, a fresh-off-the-mothership alien wearing the face of a twenty-something white male kept together by a strapping green hat. His goal? To ‘collect a specimen’, of what kind we know not. Co-directors Brian McNulty and Callum Scott-Dyson (who also has a submission in student docs) make fine use of Manchester’s most iconic landmarks (big love to Ram & Shackle) and perfectly encapsulate the laddish Zeitgeist of university life in this mad and impressively staged examination of the human condition as seen from the warped perspective of an inebriated extraterrestrial – Under the Skin? More like Under the Fore-Skin! (compliment). Through his woozy kaleidoscopic vision we follow Charlie as he falls in with some ‘F***ing lads’, all of them reduced to one-prop caricatures (the leader is called Domino – don’t tip him) obsessed with shag and tell stories. A slow-mo bludgeoning with a Soviet textbook is positively sickle-ning, really hammering home the political message at the centre of this wacky adventure.
Category Winner: The Substitute Fate (Director: Surgey Burov)
Greenfingers (Dir.Gary Marshall)
Ako Zada was a political activist back in Iran, but that was before he was forced out by his own government for protesting the abolition of the people’s right to protest (reminds us of that Mitch Hedburg joke: ‘I’m against picketing but I don’t know how to show it!’). Now a refugee in Glasgow, Ako is trying desperately to find a place to live. Gary Marshall, unseen camera wielder, conducts a series of interviews with Ako, focusing less on his (probably more interesting) political background and more on the helplessness of homelessness. Asylum seekers are very vulnerable and, in contrast to the circling pigeons and gulls Marshall repeatedly cuts to, they are not free to come and go as they please. Fuse wishes Mr Zada the best of luck in finding an abode to house himself and the flowers he so carefully nurtures to remind him of his beloved homeland.
the land, I farm (Dir. Gary Marshall)
‘Look after your farm, your farm will look after you’. Closing the Gary Marshall mini-doc double bill is the land, I farm, a well-measured and technically proficient look at a day in the life of a farmer. Not your pot-bellied, flat cap wearing, tractor-ing type, mind you; this farmer is just a regular young man born into the trade who pines for the social freedom that comes with a normal job. For him, life and farming are inseparable, and while he laments the lack of luxuries afforded by civilian life, there is a definite satisfaction in his work. Every day is filled with the simple joys of physical accomplishment and oneness with nature. Watching this man work and listening to his introspective soliloquy, you really feel you have held a conversation with him, and have a fresh understanding of that most stereotyped of professions. ‘Oo-ar, what’s fer breakfast? Eggs! Again!’
One day in Stockport (Dir. Tom Chimak)
Tom Chimiak’s super-slick editing skills, combined with an ideally suited foot tapping composition by Sean Rogan, make the time-lapse One Day in Stockport a mesmerising few minutes indeed. From multiple camera positions dotted around (no prizes for guessing where) Stockport, we see the sun move across the sky as thousands upon thousands of people go about their daily lives. Where are they all going? Particularly satisfying is the build-up of cars as they await the leave of the green light, only for a fresh batch to be penned in a few seconds after the previous lot made their getaway.
Electronic Pimp (Dir. Callum Scott-Dyson)
Electronic Pimp is the alter-ego of funk-rock musician Bruce Wheeler, a borderline delusional and ex-farmer in his thirties that has his sights set on super-stardom; ‘I’m a bit of a renegade. The world isn’t ready’. Since he was unable to liven up the stiffs (Withnail reference) of his home in Penrith through his music, Wheeler made the big move to Manchester, where he now haunts the pubs and clubs of the great city’s outskirts, performing to unreceptive crowds of up to twenty people. He seems happy enough, but the film has the distinct scent of exploitation about it and is rather reminiscent of Shane Meadows’s mockumentary, Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee. Except it’s real.
Hip-Hop, mi desahogo ;Hip-Hop, my release (Dir. Simon Rising)
Shot and cut like a David Ayer movie, this gritty and highly invested documentary unfurls within the oppressive labyrinthine corridors of Distrial prison in Bogota, Columbia. Director Simon Rising chooses three inmates – all budding rappers- as his stars, filming their journey from writing to recording to performing in front of their fellow cons in a one off concert inside Distrial’s three-tiered exercise yard. Alma Negra, DJ Roky and New York make admirable efforts to reform themselves, and there is a lot of real truth in what they have to say about the ludicrous nature of plutocracy and imprisonment. The music is good and, although it doesn’t translate too well into English, there is a raw power to it that conveys the frustration of living in lock-up. DK Roky gives the film its title, referring sincerely to hip-hop as his release, a metaphorical environment outside the boundaries of walls and wire in which he can express himself and do away with his resentment. It’s fascinating to see their creative process: working in a tiny eight by eight room with bars for windows, they somehow remain positive and passionate as they spit lyrics to the beats emitted from a ten year old boom-box. All of the people seen in this documentary are minor offenders, and it’s sad to think that, once the concert is done and dusted, they will have return to their cells once more and await their real release.
Hijabi Girls (Dir. Nada Abdulla)
Hi-Fashion: The art of designing and modelling modest but fashionable clothing for Muslim women. Society can be an oppressive place, and the message this documentary gives is that everyone should be allowed to express themselves and feel comfortable in public. Nada Abdulla tells us in her film that all women like fashion, and it is not fair that some cannot indulge this passion. Hijabi Girls could have done with a little more scope, but the topic is undoubtedly a hot issue in today’s multi-faith culture.
Category Winner: Hip-Hop, mi desahogo ;Hip-Hop, my release (Dir. Simon Rising)
Following a brief break, Fuse got on with the show. What was shown, exactly? None other than than the prestigious 2014 BAFTA Official Shorts list. Three animated films (Animation Short BAFTA winner Sleeping With The Fishes, plus nominees I Am Tom Moody and Everything I Can See From Here) and five live-action shorts (mind-bending BAFTA winner Room 8, and nominees Island Queen, Keeping Up With The Joneses, Orbit Ever After and Sea View) were screened to the lucky Fuseliers in attendance, and the quality of all was fully deserving of BAFTA recognition. For our aspiring directors these shorts are something to aspire towards, and with continuing hard work they will no doubt produce equally brilliant films.
As if these BAFTA treats weren’t enough, Fuse Fest was glad to welcome Orbit Ever After producer Chee-Lan Chan, who, following an insightful video on the making of her film, gave an excellent Q + A session in which she told the eager audience about her experiences in movie making and gave out tips on how to make it in the producing game; turns out being friends with Gareth Edwards (director of current smash – and more smash – hit Godzilla, with whom she collaborated on Monsters) helps a bit. The full interview between Chee-Lan Chan and festival co-ordinator Kristina Snipaityte will be up on the Fuse Festival site shortly, as will be photos and footage of the whole day, so stay tuned. And now onto the final category of the day, Short Film.
The Accompanist (Dir. Larisa Schukina)
In its thirteen minute run-time, The Accompanist admirably tries to pull taut a string of supreme suspense. Sadly, it falls rather short of the Hitchcokian, Mr Ripley-esque thrillers it seeks to emulate. Renting a camera or two would have done wonders for the film’s quality, but unfortunately it looks as bare and bland as an Oral-B advert. A few extra takes surely couldn’t have hurt either, with the part where the lead fumbles in the closing a window and the moment where she smiles inappropriately while delivering lines (not in the least bit amusing) in direst need of a do-over. The Sunset Blvd. homage is less ‘noir’ and more ‘no’, but the use of ADR is the kicker: the entire thing is dubbed, and the track is sorely out of sync to boot.
Sophie’s fortune (Dir. Chris Cronin)
Now this is more like it! Winking and nodding to – and slapping the backside of – 80s action flicks and adventure video game franchises with its every beat, Sophie’s Fortune is a no holds barred behemoth. Lead man Simon Hardwick accompanies his niece Sophie to a child’s outdoor birthday party, and once the cake has put the kids in a sugar coma, it’s the fathers turn to play. No one tells our hero what the game is, but we’re informed that the dads have a tendency to take it very, very seriously.
Ditching his Foo Fighters shirt and denim for an outfit akin to Drake from Uncharted’s get-up, Sophie’s uncle delves into the magical land of Quetzacoatl, a hybrid of Tomb Raider levels, Aztec ruins and the sets of the kids show Jungle Run. A double-double-crossing dad that looks like a discount Joel Edgerton brings an outside party (of heavily armed, balaclava clad mercs) into the matter, and so ensues a punch up/ fist fight of epic proportions as the fathers try to traverse crumbling CGI landscapes and deadly traps to claim the treasure at the end, all the while avoiding getting blown to pieces. There are cheesy one-liners, Wilhelm screams, solid nuts ‘n’ bolts action set pieces and enough cinematic referencing (Commando, Temple of Doom, The Expendables, Star Wars to name a few) to make Edgar Wright and Tarantino blush. A thrilling boss fight at the end is the icing on the cake (or would be, it hadn’t already been eaten), while the Indiana Jones and Avengers homages at the very end are the cherries on top. Dumb and crazy and all kinds of fun, Sophie’s Fortune is an absolute blast.
Alles Super! ; Everything’s super! (Dir. Ralf Beyerle)
To all those people that think the unemployed ‘just do nothing’, this film proves them spectacularly wrong. In all likelihood, and unbeknownst to the brainwashed cynics, these ‘lazy’ people may well ‘sunlight’ as crime busting vigilantes in fluorescent green jumpsuits. The guy in Alles Super! does, anyway. Oodles of Swedish charm and whimsy are to be found in this comical take on the now familiar (Kick-Ass, Defendor, even the real life superheroes of Seattle led by Phoenix Jones) story of the hero without powers. It does get a little hung up on boring old relationships when it could easily been more of a fun cape-r (ha!), but an encounter with a delusional Lothario at an art gallery and an ending fit to bursting with joy prove that it all really (es) super!
Because (Dir. Mark Duggan)
The death-by-police victim Mark Duggan, the original reason/scapegoat for the London riots, makes this director a hell of a lot harder to find on Google, but here’s his site for you to check out (www.markdugganfilms.com) – there’s some cool stuff on it. Because is a short film written by and starring Manchester-based poet/Fuse Fest audience member Terrence J. Corbett, and it gives a brief glimpse into the waking nightmare of a life full of regret and pain, portraying the horror of past traumas and the struggles of everyday life pretty effectively through the ceaseless self-doubt of its only character. Manchester features prominently.
Moments (Dir. Chris Cronin)
From the man that brought us Sophie’s Fortune comes this gallivanting five minute tribute to Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the silent romance movies of old. Budget Ryan Gosling (Simon Hardwick) is back again, this time running around the city looking for the girl with whom he had the briefest of ‘moments’, with the basic premise being that the forces of nature will bring you together no matter what the hustle bustle of a modern metropolis may throw your way – if it was meant to be, then it shall be. It’s very fluffy, but has a fun dance number at the end.
Ivan (Dir. Veronika Aktanova) – no picture available
Ivan, or Vbah, is a brief but well-crafted POV short filmed from the hazy eyes of a drugged out waster that meets with his abused, dejected ex-girlfriend on a park bench. The focus drifts in and out in a manner that manages to not feel gimmicky, forcing you to strain extra hard to keep track of the girl’s monologue as your man’s mind slips in and out of the dimensions of reality. He’s not really trying to listen, or if he is then he isn’t trying hard enough, but you’d like to hear what she has to say, and then before you know it OH S**T SHE HAS A GUN BANG!
5 Ways 2 Die (Dir. Daina Papadaki)
Cypriot entry 5 Ways 2 Die is the deserving winner of the shorts category. It boasts highly accomplished cinematographic techniques, superb lighting and a depth of field that helps to draw you further into this enthralling, macabre little film. Makis is depressed and he wants to die. He wants to die so bad that he’s even planned for his own funeral, going as far as buying a suit and posing as a corpse in front of a coffin-shaped mirror. From scene to scene, he systemically experiments with methods of suicide, his sallow face growing more ashy white with each attempt. When it comes, the twist is both gleeful and grim, and will leave you cackling at its bleak victory and wondering how you didn’t see it coming.
Category Winner: 5 Ways 2 Die (Dir. Daina Papadaki)
So there you have it! It was hot and sunny and beautiful outside, but we few braved the air-con cold for roughly eight hours, with nothing but beer and McCoy’s to keep us going, so that we could celebrate the fantastic filmmaking talent on display. It was a great day; thanks again to everyone that came. Much gratitude goes to our respected panel of film judges Sarah Perks, Johannes Sjöberg, John Forrest and David Butler, in whose qualified hands – or rather eyes and ears – rested the responsibility of selecting one film from each category most worthy of a coveted Fuse Film Fest
framed sheet of paper award. Picking a favourite from amongst the works on display was no mean feat, and we’re glad they were there to do it for us. Fuse hopes you enjoyed this report of the day’s events, and trusts that you’re already hyped for Fuse Film Festival 2015. Who knows, maybe @TheRock might actually respond to our relentless tweeting barrage and come along next year.
Tom Bruce – Festival Editor