Peccadillo Pictures has just released its 18th edition of film shorts anthology Boys on Film. The first instalment for 2018 is titled ‘Heroes’ and judging from the high-level quality of these shorts as well as the collection’s recent predecessors, these editions are becoming a hotbed of upcoming film-making talent.
All nine entries follow an LGBTQ+ premise, comprising of feature, documentary and animation focusing in on various themes such as sex, love, socio-political issues, friendship, family and self-examination. There are a few familiar faces such as Josh O’ Connor the star of last year’s indie success Gods Own Country in The Colour of His Hair by director Sam Ashby, as well Hope Dickinson Leach also from last year’s The Levelling which features trans actor/ film maker Jason Barker, also the 2017 Iris Prize winner, the exceptional Swedish short Mother Knows Best.
‘Heroes' is the blanket theme, Peccadillo title this compilation. In their own words they describe this edition as “uplifting and powerful tales recounting the lives of everyday heroes with no special powers except striving for their own identities whether they are gay, bi or transgender, fighting for the right to be themselves”. Despite their best of intentions having an overarching theme made me think constantly how each short related with it and sometimes the association is rather loose. However, this is a minor point and perhaps a title helps in the marketing. Ultimately the proof is in the pudding, the quality of shorts presented before us. Sure enough, there are some exceptional gems here, signalling great promise of future film-making talent to come.
The first is the British short feature Daniel, a Hungarian student studying in London, works part-time as an escort. We are treated to intermingling montages of male clientele coming in and out of Daniel’s flat are mixed in with scenes from a weekend lunch at his fiend Nori’s house, where she introduces to all her guests to her new boyfriend Tom. Director Dean Loxton purposely accentuates a gay vibe from Tom, where his friendliness is of course misinterpreted as interest in Daniel’s eyes, only to be rudely awakened by the plot twist at the end. Tom confronts him and abruptly tells him, as his relationship with Nori is blossoming he is reluctant at having someone who solicits, around his girlfriend. An engaging and overall mellow short with interesting plot twist, the juxtposition of Daniel on the one hand being adored by his male visitors but on the other being reduced to nothing in a more heterosexual context.
This is followed by the Dutch short Buddy from 2015. Buddy is well executed short buts its two straight-acting, ridiculously handsome leads felt completley out of place. They looked untouchable, with of them portrating a butch biker to boot. Biker guy asks his ex-lover to support him during an HIV test. The ex-lover sees this an opportunity to find out if there is still a chance for reconciliation. It’s quite a subtle effort, to say the least, reliying on awkward silences and worried facial expressions to convey what’s going on. I was unsure of the premise of their relationship until the very last moments; where they lovers? friends? or an AA support buddy? Who knows? and by the end of it I wasnt bothered enough to care.
Half A Life, a thought-provoking animation addressing LGBTQ+ issues outside the parameter of the Western world, specifically in deeply religious and conservative countries such as Egypt. Further exploring that despite the oppressive status (in this case the capitalCairo) some individuals don’t necessarily want to leave their country and perhaps its’ more of a political statement to stay, even if in doing so leaves you in grave danger.
A highlight came midway in the Swedish Undress Me, a sweet and nuanced telling of the possible romantic hurdles of a trans person. Micke, a young man meets Mikaela at a bar and is immediately attracted to her. We are introduced to them as they leave the bar and Micke senses something different about Mikaela. Once Mikaela reveals she is trans, he is infatuated and scared by her at the same time. The short successfully avoids condemning Micke with his inability to deal with his infatuation and Mikaela holds her own, with a kind of take it or leave it attitude. Micke eventually leaves without taking the plunge, but his interest in Mikaela is duly noted.
Exceptional docudrama The Colour of his Hair by budding director Sam Ashby based on a unrealised film script written in 1964, three years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Starring Josh O’Connor from last year’s God’s Own Country, this insightful and cleverly put together montage of re-enacted drama and documentary footage emphasizing the hardships and dangers of a gay life, at a time when put into historical perspective, wasn’t really that long ago.
Hope Dickson Leach who along with the lead from last year's well received indie The Levelling, Ellie Kendrick (Ellie Kendrick) combine forces to brings us the Silly Girl. Starring Clara Baxendale as young silly girl and trans actor/ film-maker Jason Barker (A Deal with the Universe), as silly girl in the future. A charming and playful short, about the first time you are noticed, that first time someone sees you for who you are and the transformative nature of that moment and what one would tell their young self.
This is then followed by Danish director Soren Green's An Evening, another offering that was perhaps too subtle. A supposedly flourishing love story between young ones Mathias and Frederik. Glances and facial expressions are supposed to speak volumes and symbolize inner turmoil but personally the whole thing went over my head; I really didn’t get what Frederik’s beef was all about. Nonetheless whether I can see it or not, Frederik struggle is real, an unknown burgeoning homosexual desire can be a scary thing, even though in an ideal world it shouldn’t be.
Another informative documentary short comes with AIDS: Doctors and Nurses Tell Their Stories. Doctors and nurses who cared for Britain’s first AIDS patients in the 1980s tell of the extraordinary situation they found themselves in and the rules they had to break to help patients forgotten by the state. Undoubtedly poignant, however it treads on very familiar territory.
The penultimate short is It’s Consuming Me by German director Kai Staenicke offers. A perplexing, yet poetic narration about love lost, which comes across as a music video. Events are seen through the eyes of an ex-boyfriend, who not only comes across as a total narcissist, but is also physically abusive. Kudos to Staenicke with the tremendous amount of effort and attention to detail put into the execution of this with countless clips; a collage of memories, the highs and lows and at the end ex-boyfriend’s new life with his new lover.
The series ends on a high note with another superb Swedish entry Mother Knows Best. Director Mikael Bundsen masters the art of making a short; it doesn’t have to be something elaborate crammed into a small timeframe or something that needs to be slightly insinuated to save time but it renders it too subtle instead. It’s more of a momentary glimpse into a mother-son antagonistic relationship. Mother gives her teenage son some friendly advice on their way home from having met his boyfriend for the first time, but this innocent conversation leads to revelations that threaten to completely change their relationship. The deliveries of both actors are exceptional, impersonating their roles with such natural flare. Furthermore the flow of dialogue, becoming intense at points the way personal information is slowly being divulged for maximum impact and egos are being bruised. The use a steady permanent camera angle where we only see the son's face, but hear the mum's bark, its so clever, pure craftsmanship and rightly so this film won the Iris Prize 2017, it is really that good!
Boys On Film is out now on DVD/ Digital Platforms.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_