ESFF 2015



ESFF’s Friday the 13th Programme: Short Films Take a Turn for the Dark

Reviews by Devin Karambelas

While the packed house could be heard reacting audibly and enthusiastically to the eight films that played in Summerhall’s Red Lecture Theatre, the clear crowd favorites included the German surreal comedy 90 Grad North, in which two civilized businessman face a savage red traffic light;

Contrapelo, a Mexican film framing a barber, a drug lord, and one very close shave; and the Dark Web-parodying UK short Dark-Net starring Johnny Vegas  that puts his comedic chops to work in his most twisted character yet. For what it’s worth, Contrapelo has my vote as the event’s strongest (see last paragraph).

90 Grad Nord








The programme’s two Scottish shorts Toonocalypse and The List also elicited a strong response. Toonocalyse imagines Edinburgh if it were invaded by adorable alien creatures in a work that I found technically innovative and narratively accessible. Having recently played at the Warsaw Film Festival, Scots can be proud that a deserving representative of Scottish animation played on the Polish animation scene, arguably the film world’s most interesting right now. A McLaren award finalist, Toonocalypse mixes live-action hand-held footage with 2D animation in a fun storyline that made use of The 2D Workshop’s (director Owen Rixon’s company) varied talents.






I think it’s also worth spending some time on a film like the Turkish short The Production that was notable last night for the lackluster applause it received. In keeping with the night’s themes of ill-fortune, strange encounters and dark destines, the story of a lunatic movie producer obsessed with murder in the movies was perhaps too darkly unappealing for many festivalgoers. I rather liked its unhinged atmosphere.

Director Hasan Can Dagli’s art-nouveau set pieces are exquisitely captured, and the recreation of a bizarro world where no actions bear any (noticeable) consequences intrigued me enough to want to keep watching. There are certainly gaps in the quality of the writing and plot development, yes, but the short manages to make its point about onscreen violence even as it stylishly promotes it. More importantly, it raises questions about the curious power of the cinema as real life and art begin to mirror each other in gruesome ways.

La Fabricazzione 1




I’ll end on Contrapelo, my favorite in the series. Gareth Dunnet Alcocer (who has Scottish roots!) creates a masterful short about a subtle standoff between a proud barber and the leader of a local drug cartel, two men who are reputed to be “the best” at what they do. In a most unusual ethical dilemma, will he give him the clean shave he asks for or the bloody one he deserves?







In a fantastic post-screening Q&A with Alcocer and producers Molo Alcocer Delano and Pin-Chun Liu, Alcocer raised further possibilities about what each man really desires that further complicated the ambiguities of their encounter. But the tension is finally, though not fully, resolved by the barber’s own code of honor that prioritizes allegiance to his job over any moral leanings. The short approaches the drug war with a compelling story and a little humor, aspects that Alcocer explained make it easier for the viewer to engage.

The filmmakers were approachable, the audience relaxed and it was a conversation between the two that defined precisely what makes a film festival screening different from just going to the movies. Thank you ESFF team and the 84+ spectators for making the second night another success.

Devin Karambelas is a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh studying Film, Exhibition and Curation.