9 Bob Note: short films showcasing new queer cinema

Going along to review a programme of short films feels like an experiment in Darwinian theory: only the strongest survive. 9 Bob Note, a programme of 10 new queer shorts, selected by Peccadillo Pictures for viewing at last month’s London Short Film Festival, was, for the most part, a really strong line-up of contemporary queer mini-flicks.

The show kicked off with Hold On Tight (left), a poignant documentary from Ireland exploring the public and private spaces in which young and old gay and lesbian couples live. The film was particularly well edited and filmmaker Anna Rogers can be commended for her sensitive study of what it means to kiss your girlfriend at a bus stop or simply hold hands walking down the high street.

Continuing with the theme of public/private, Hong Khaou’s sexy drama Spring was a very efficiently told tale of a young man’s first illicit S&M experience with a stranger. Shot in the ‘shabby-chic’ location of 33 Portland Place, which was also used as the speech therapist’s room in The King’s Speech, this is tense, bold storytelling and it’s unsurprising that the film played so well at Sundance and Berlin last year.

The ‘trapped-in-a-lift’ comedy What You Looking At? (above) in the hands of a less skilful filmmaker could have been clunky and heavy-handed. Yet Faryal Velmi delivers a funny and pointed story of a Lambeth lift mash-up in which an ‘out on the razz’ drag queen and a pissed off burka-clad woman’s forced entrapment reveal the two have more in common than they think.

Moving away from the capital and up to Housman’s rural summertime Shropshire, Lost Tracks by Jon Stanford peeks into the troubled life of tomboy, Tobi, a moody disillusioned teenager who is preparing to run away. Felicity Hickman as Tobi (below) gives the film’s stand-out performance. This young actress deftly emotes the young girl’s teenage angst, confusion and aspirations – plus she’s got a great pout.

Jason Bradbury’s original drama We Once Were Tide is set in a remote part of the Isle of Wight and is also about new beginnings. Two young lads spend a final intimate night together before they make their separate ways in the whole. The film beautifully captures that melancholic moment of growing pains’ losses and gains.

Another notably well-written drama was Deb Shoval’s AWOL. Shoval premiered her film at Sundance in 2011 and since then has been winning awards and grants. The film tells the story of a young woman soldier who, days before her deployment to Afghanistan, returns to her home in rural Pennsylvania with dreams of running away to Canada with her female lover. Even though the recently revoked policy of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ concerning gays and lesbians in the US military might be reassuring, this young soldier’s closeted, trapped life feels truthful and raw.

A funny short film always hits the spot: the format lends itself well to packing in big fun into a petite space of time

Another US import is the supremely glossy New York set Blinders, written and directed by former male model-turned-editor at the New York Times Jacob Brown. The film stars Luke Worrall and Nathaniel Brown (Enter the Void) and concerns a young man who stumbles into another man’s arms, leaving his girlfriend in the lurch. The film’s themes exploring sexuality, beauty and youth are praiseworthy, however the drama felt weak. It’s a great looking film but ultimately rather empty.

So now to the funnies! For me, a funny short film always hits the spot: the format lends itself well to packing big fun into a petite space (of time). Of the three funny shorts on offer, Fresh Air Therapy 2 felt the most laboured, even though filmmaker Christoph Scheermann has been commended for trying to play around with multiple genres. 30-something professional couple Kerstin and Petra have been advised by their shrink to role-play in chi-chi hotels to keep their sex life alive. However, things don’t go quite according to plan as the women become spooked in their room and are convinced that there is a dark force watching them. The film is too long and acting is uneven, particularly on the part of the über-camp shrink. A little editing and re-casting would have gone a long way.

Pop promo director Ben Peters’ witty début Downing does definitely hit the spot, even though perhaps in not that predicable ways. Nominated for the Iris Prize in 2011, the story finds best teenage friends John and Chloe crashing a house party, where both get hideously drunk, each have bad sex (at separate times) with the vain and popular Daniel and whilst Chloe is passed out, John manages to exact the perfect revenge on Daniel, the object of his affection and hate. Just another teenage party in the 21st century…

The most funny by far was the extremely cute film James Dean directed by Lucy Asten Elliott. Also nominated for the Iris Prize 2011 (how could it not have won?), this is a brilliantly observed drama about one family’s attempt to go on holiday. All shot in a car, it shows our young ‘Jimmy Dean’ Alex finding herself forced to bring out the ‘real’ her amid her parents’ dawdles and delays. The film is currently tearing up the international film festival circuit, reaching out to all those other young Jimmys in the corner.

All the films in the 9 Bob Note programme will be released later this year on DVDs by Peccadillo Pictures: Here Come The Girls 4 (September 2012) and Boys On Film: Cruel Britannia (June 2012).

Selina Robertson along with Sarah Wood runs Club Des Femmes, a queer-feminist film festival. She is a freelance programmer and writer and has recently left her beloved Berlin for the perils of London. The last film she watched and liked was BULLHEAD by Michael R. Roskam – a moody tense drama about crime and punishment in Flemish Belgium