Having worked and lived in London since 2007, I’m not entirely sure how the Underwire Film Festival (UFF) escaped my notice before now. I’m always looking for new places to watch movies!
Nonetheless there’s no doubt that the UFF, now on its eighth iteration, has achieved much in the last few years. Having become a BAFTA-recognised festival only five or so years after its inception is an incredible achievement; and one that speaks to the high quality work that the people behind UFF perform year on year.
Founded in 2010, the UFF is the UK’s only film festival celebrating female filmmaking talent. Not only do they show 50-70 amazing female-led short films every year, but they also help aspiring female filmmakers by awarding them both training and mentoring opportunities.
At this year’s festival I was unfortunetly only able to attend one screening, it being titled “Rebel Girls“; which they describe as “tales of sweet first crushes, coming out and teenage rebellion.”
Originally premiering at the BFI Flare Festival, Crush is the debut short film from director Rosie Westhoff. Focusing on 13-year old Ella (Madeline Holliday) as she waits at a train station, we witness the beginnings of a burgeoning infatuation as she sees another girl (Zara Mirabelle Cooper) on the opposite platform.
Almost dialogue-free, full props must be given to Holliday’s performance. With no words to fall back on, her entire character arc is done through the lightest of glances and the smallest of movements. An impressive performance for such a young lady.
I Am Raja
Set entirely in the Sahara desert, I Am Raja tells the tale of a 12 year old girl on her way to fetch some water. Though simple in story, the filmmaking could not be further from such simplicity. Specifically when it comes to the work done by the cinematographer. The vast desert-scapes of North Africa are captured in all their beauty, while the excellent sound work injects even more life into this picturesque short film.
Director Avatâra Ayuso mentioned that this was going to be the first in a trilogy of films about women in extreme climates. Based on her brilliant work here, I look forward to the second installment, which apparently will follow an Eskimo woman in her 60s living in the icy wastelands of the north.
Opening with a young lady kneeling in front of a flickering CRT TV, director Rose Hendry knows how to open with an arresting image.
That said I must confess that Bubblegum went slightly over my head. Until I read the synopsis on the UFF website after the fact, I wasn’t 100% sure what the film was actually about, especially with such a short running time.
Fortunately the lack of story can be overlook by the breathtaking images delivered by cinematographer Ian Forbes and colourist Eva Pomposo.
In her directorial debut McKenna Fernandez tells the touching story of Stevie, a little girl who, after undergoing cataracts surgery, must adapt to her new outlook on life.
It’s always difficult to adequately show how differently a blind individual experiences the world; but in one scene set in a cathedral, this experience is brilliantly portrayed through the use of excellent sound design and sound mixing. Unfortunately I was unable to find out the names behind such fine work.
Seventeen is a heartfelt look at those on the verge of adulthood. Focusing specifically on the young people of Scarborough, director Mollie Mills chooses not to merely interview a parade of talking heads, but instead takes the camera into their world. As such we get to see hopes, dreams, fears and ponderings as the teenagers of Scarborough take their first steps into an adult world.
The only film in this section to deal directly with childhood bullying, Trigga follows Mae (Lily-Rose Aslandogdu) as she struggles with the constant abuse from a trio of classmates.
Brought to the screen by experienced filmmaker Meloni Poole, Trigga ends up shining a much needed light onto the issue of bullying, especially by and upon girls. In addition it quite eloquently shows us how the escape into fantasy can sometimes be the only coping mechanism in an otherwise uncaring world.
I loved this one, partly because of its time travel / fantasy aspect. Co-written by Ellie Kendrick (of Game of Thrones fame) and directed by Hope Dickson Leach (The Levelling); Silly Girl shows the interaction between an older tran-man (Jason Barker) and his younger teenage girl-self (Ciara Baxendale).
With witty dialogue to boot, it’s a wonderful and unique approach to the exploration of self-identity and romantic connections.
Flashback to the 90s! Writer/director Louise Marie Cooke takes us back in time nearly 25 years to show us the friendship of Cara (Ashleigh Cordery) and Lucy (Miranda Horn); two BFF’s having a sleepover. But Lucy has a sneaky suspision that Cara prefers girls over guys; and is willing to put their friendship at risk to get her to admit it.
Pillow Talk mostly ended up being a damn good reminder of my time during the 90s. True, I was a teenage boy, but I remember the coloured hairspray and Polaroid cameras! But I also remember how negatively being gay was perceived. Cooke’s film does an amazing job of showing us the true power of friendship in the face of societal judgement.
It was here that the screening seemed to end, but it was soon revealed that the final film had accidentally not been shown yet. God knows how you forget about an entire film! But thank god they showed it because that one film would have been worth the entire price of admission…
The Silent Child
Talk about saving the best for last! Directed by Chris Overton, The Silent Child follows Libby (Maisie Sly) and her middle-class family. Libby is profoundly deaf and has become a shy and withdrawn little girl. It’s not until social worker Joanne (Rachel Shenton) comes into her life that Libby begins a slow transformation into a girl that can connect with the world.
It’s not often I get blown away by a short film, but The Silent Child goes above and beyond anything I have seen in years. Writer and star Rachel Shenton (who was at the screening) made it clear that this story was not only intensely personal, but a true reflection of the real-life struggles that many deaf children around the world must deal with.
Incredibly emotional and enormously moving, not only is The Silent Child the best short film I’ve seen in 2017, but it is also the sort of film that I could honestly see winning a BAFTA next year.