by Rico McVitie
Originally published in MovieBlogger
The Edinburgh Short Film Festival began in 2011 and has gained a reputation over the years of holding strikingly different, (even somewhat eccentric) events in the 5 years since it launched. While their primary purpose is ‘to bring the best in contemporary UK & International short film to Edinburgh’s film-going public’ they’ve managed to drum up interest in short film in a number of unusual ways and we’ve covered some of them here.
Most famously, the ESFF held a pavement cinema screening at pavement kiosks across Edinburgh in November 2015 during the height of Storm Abigail. With wind speeds topping 80 mph and torrential rain cascading across most of the British Isles, the ESFF briefly considered abandoning the planned series of outdoor screenings, before shrugging their shoulders and going ahead with the open air film night – Abigail notwithstanding!
ESFF staff braved the storm conditions and held 2 separate outdoor film screenings at the Pancake Kiosk near the Meadows and the Leith Walk Police Box run by Monty Roy and Fernando Miranda and ably assisted by Athina Gerolympou.
Expecting an attendance of approximately zero, the project team were surprised when 12 sodden passersby opted to interrupt their journey for some of 2015’s finest short films and a shared flask of tea at the two venues, with only a couple of damaged deckchairs the worse for wear.
Project Co-ordinator, Athina Gerolympou (an undergraduate from Greece) admitted to being unfamiliar with UK weather patterns in November but has now gained a valuable insight into Northern Europe’s unique climatology, an insight she says will remain with her for the rest of her life.
In 2013, the ESFF created a one-off event they called ‘Short Film Roulette’ occupying, ‘Supercube’ – a local, 7-room basement Karaoke venue. Participants were faced with 7 numbered rooms, each of which contained a different short film. Squeezed into these tiny, basement rooms were actors (in costume) and props from some of the films being screened. This allowed the cast a uniquely intimate relationship with their audience.
Actor Will Samson, who played Father Walter in the Hammer spoof ‘Nuns of Evil’ has vivid memories of the occasion:
‘It’s a unique experience for an actor to get instant feedback from the audience while your performance is playing before them, so I was intrigued. The space in Room 4 was actually incredibly small, like a utility room, and so the closeness of the audience – who were practically sitting in my lap – was a bit unsettling, initially.
Once the film played, the audience realised I was actually IN the film they were watching, rather than a random punter which broke the ice a bit and since I was trapped in a corner of the space and couldn’t easily escape, I was relieved to find they mostly liked my performance. I also shared the space with a blood-drenched human brain – one of the props in the film – and it served as a handy distraction tool when some slightly inebriated rugby fans turned up and began indulging in horseplay. They ended up using it as a rugby ball!’
In 2013, in partnership with Shetland Arts and the Lerwick-based Maddrim Media, the ESFF held a night of Shetlandic Shorts bringing a taste of Shetland’s vibrant short film culture to Edinburgh. Which seemed simple enough… apart from the fact that unbeknownst to the ESFF, part of the deal included being subjected to an actual Viking Invasion!
And so it was, that a raiding party of Viking warriors roamed the environs of Summerhall Arts Centre for fully 24 hours, pillaging and indulging in axe-wielding, old-school Nordic mayhem! Thankfully Big Billy Wilson, the chief Viking (official title: Jarl) is actually a part-time antiques collector and bird-watcher, rather than a rapacious medieval invader and so no actual blood was shed..this time!
The ESFF worked with Hidden Door to present a programme of it’s best short films as part of the 2014 Hidden Door Art Festival. The Hidden Door ethos is that, each year, it takes over a different abandoned building and transforms it into a multi-disciplinary arts venue.
That particular year, the venue happened to be the old Market Street vaults and the cinema space was an abandonded 18th century coachhouse. One of the ESFF event volunteers, Margaret Henderson, was on duty during the event:
‘The coachhouse had been locked-up since the late 1880s and hadn’t been opened before the 2014 festival, so we were going into an area basically covered in Victorian dust.
It was totally spooky and there were huge cobwebs the size of bed sheets and although I am not one to be easily scared, the whole place gave me the absolute creeps. I was supposed to open up on the Friday afternoon and it was absolutely Baltic in there – despite the sunshine outside – and that alone gave me the willies.
Then, just after opening the doors, this huge cloud of white dust appeared from absolutely nowhere and covered the sofas I had set up at the front! Also, we had these bags of popcorn on a tray for the guests.. and I kid you not, several of them vanished into thin air while I was plugging in the convection heater! I turned back to the tray and a whole bunch of bags of popcorn had just completely gone! It freaked me out a good bit – but just then a couple of the other volunteers turned up, which was enough to keep me there, otherwise I would have legged it!’
Aside from hosting a Q and A by Mark Kermode (who came up to host a screening and discussion on the incredible – and borderline insane – 2012 Olympic short film project ‘Hansel of Film’) as well as guesting a visit from a party of Swiss stop-motion puppets, the ESFF has also held a night of shorts smuggled out of Iran, taken short films to Port of Spain in Trinidad for the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and in partnership with the Scot’s Day Out Festival in Australia held a screening of Scottish-made short films down a working gold mine in Bendigo Australia!
As for 2016? Visiting Film-makers frequently visit the festival for Q and As, award ceremonies, parties and for generally hanging out, but not many get to visit the ESFF’s secret, underground medieval torture chamber.
The last time it saw action was 3 years ago and we’re re-opening it for 2016 and planning on abducting parties of visiting film-makers for an extended visit! More on that later…stay tuned!