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“The festival has grown up, but it still refuses to go feature-length.”

Gone are the days when a feature length was precededby a handful of tasty film tit bits, bite size chunks of mini-flicks.These days, it's the trailers that are more like mini movies.  The‘short' is a mark of cinema's early days.  Butover recent years it has been redeployed as an ideal space in which to playwith distinct forms, from animation to documentary to experimental, all ofwhich the Chilean festival, Fesancor, includes in its programming.  Lastyear a new category, ‘Del Corto al Largo' (From Short toFeature-length), was created, making space for productions that run over theusual twenty-minute mark. This is the festival's answer to a problem particularto the Latin-American short film industry, where the possibility ofbroadcasting is confined by the dictates ofregular advertising breaks.  The ‘short' is seeking its platform here. 

The festival celebrates its 18th birthdaythis year.  Yet despite it's coming of age, Fesancor refuses to grow up,or "go long".  Organiser Jaime Muñoz insists on clinging to cinema'sformative years: "All Chilean film is short film", he smiles.  "After 18years the festival has become adult, but it still refuses to go‘feature-length'."  Taking place over a week at Santiago's swish PalacioLa Moneda, it heralds the short film genre, screening aselection of Chilean and international productions.

Child size or not, the festival is by no means puny.It has grown in enormous proportions since it began in 1992.Ballooning from screening 18 films in its first year to 108 this year,chosen from the 1,802 submitted.  Fesancor is one of the largest festivalsin Spanish-speaking Latin-America.  It has established a reputation as afestival that showcases cutting edge productions, building its program on apanorama of styles.  Thanks to thesupport of the Propia Cineteca Nacional (National FilmArchives), the festival has been able to offer free admission tothe general public this year. 

The festival showcasesits home talent, reserving a national prize for each category.  It aims tocreate an environment of production, rescuing the Chilean film heritage fromyears of quiescence post-Allende-coup. 

This dormancy can be traced back to a break between generations,following the rupture of the Pinochet dictatorship.  The question of the generation gap is clearly an underlyingpremise to organiser Muñoz' selection, though he may shy from dividing hisprogram thematically, to avoid a sense of restriction.  "Organizing a festival program by themeimpedes a certain liberty on the part of the director's vision", he notes.  Chilean filmmakers once only treatedthis rupture as a political problem. For a couple of years now, a new "semillero"(crop) of filmmakers is starting to look at it more as a social, culturalquestion, he tells us. 

The first day of the festival pivots on thisidea.  Kicking off with Brasilian Avosby Michael Wahman, the film plunges deep into the question of generationalheritage that seems to become be the theme of the day, with the click sound ofthe camera whirring and a grainy, retro, homemade aesthetic.  In wobbly, handheld style, the cameralooks through the eyes of a young Leo celebrating his birthday with hisgrandparents. The film teeters awkwardly on the topic of Auswitchz when henaïvely presses his elders on the issue, showing that the generation split is acommon Latin-American subject of focus. Two longer films, El lugar de la Felicidad(Chile), and Detras de la Ventana (Peru) treat thesubject with grace and poise. 

The weaker LaAlegria Ya Viene (Chile) appears to mock senility in a tactless,ungracious way.  But who gets the last laugh?  The black comedy certainly had theChileans chuckling - an audience who seemed prepared to forgive the clumsyfilmmaking for a silly sardonic gag. The Andean nation's paramount sense of humour can be observed inSebastian Silva's Sundance-celebrated La Nana (The Maid) [2009].  In La Alegre, our grandfather is thrust, dazed andbumbling, into a modern context, the capital city.  His short-fused grandson's impatience to his dementure givesrise to a number of eyes-rolling-to-the-back-of-his-head moments.  Silly granddad.  Mocked for his grand socialistpretensions, it is all the same Chile's president who ends up being the butt ofthe joke.  "Grandad, this is our president now", smiles the youngman, pointing to a caricature on a popular Condor cartoon book.  Isn't visual satire the greatest weaponagainst political authority? 

El Lugar de la Felicidad takes the same questions and handles themwith sensitivity and poignancy. Taking hold of the evening's recurring theme of memory block, theexcellent opening sequence plunges us into the grandfather's world, the worldhe inhabits, the past - the camera following his slow, heavy movements as hetakes out relics of a time gone by from dusty drawers.  The modern day spills onto the screenwith heart-breaking poignancy as he opens the shutters of the disused trainstation and the light of (the modern) day floods the screen.  Our grandfather here, dressed in hisold uniform, stands for a generation that is trapped in a time loop.  Looping through a conversation betweengrandfather: "Dondé quieres ir?" ("Where to?"), and grandson: "No sé, cualquel parte" ("I don't know, anywhere"), the film hasboth a sense of hope and nostalgia. As the title (Where Hapiness Is) shows, the film is taking on more than just aquestion about generations, asking itself where it wants to go next.

Departing from the topic, Carlos Font's Vida dePerros (Spain), ashort that has done the festival rounds this year, unfolded with disarminglightness.  The music follows ToniGonzales' very human performance through light-hearted to heavy and back again.  Pairing performance with soundtrack,the film achieves a cheerful probing of everyday ethics as a couple try toditch their pet dog.  The heavinessin their hearts is conveyed through the actors' expression, but set to abackdrop of sweet music and dappled sunshine.  The director questions the morality of abandonment and humanrelationships à la Raimond Gaita, as Gonzales sits down to have a conversationwith his dog, trying to explain away the blame.  But we flinch with guilt as, in perfect film timing, hewalks away only to find an empty space where his car, and wife, should bewaiting, perfectly punctuated with a bark from Fido. 



Mikel Ruedas'impacting account, Cuando Corres (Spain),of a boy migrant's perilous journey trying to cross the Moroccan border intoSpain keeps the audience on its toes. As the boy clings to the underside of a juggernaut in an endeavour toget across, the camera cuts back and forth from one side of the border to theother.  A slow motion shot of theboy taking a penalty on a dusty pitch screeches into the dark dangerous horn ofthe heavy-duty lorry.  The use oflight colours the two sequences. Bright, sunny, tangerine-tinged memories ofTangier, memories of home, switch back into darker, dangerous scenes at theborder, where the boy ducks behind transit lorries avoiding the glare of theguard's torch, crouching on the tarmac. 

Let down only by some hammy acting, Andres Rangel's Peoria(Mexico) is a defiant,daring look at the politics surrounding the American/Mexican border.  The storyboard sees a young Mexicanrefugee hide in a dog kennel, when he runs into the preened back garden of anall-American family home.  Thefamily end up unconsciously replacing their dinky pet dog with a little pet Mexican,who stays put, mute.  Theunderlying message of the film has a clear political agenda, and demands a callto conscience. Some great moments in the script ("Mexicans are older, duh!")give way to dark, provocative shots that do not shy from comment on Americanculture.  We see the kids wieldingtheir dad's rifle in the nameless Mexican boy's face, as he cowers behind thekennel.  Shocking anduncomfortable, chilling scenes of the kid's cruel behaviour persist, as theystrap boy with collar.  Lessforgivable are the moments we see the adults inadvertently address boy likeanimal.  Certainly notforgettable. 


Cinema was born inshort form, and it seems the Fesancor festival wants to induce a rebirth inChilean film production: "I was interested in the short before it existed inChile", Muñoz claims. Through the festival, he says, "...and after the rupture of thedictatorship, I want to establish it as a genre in its own right, one that candevelop autonomously." 

The festivalincludes as many amateur pieces as it does professional. Muñoz tells me that the latest school of Chileanfilmmaker is laying a new kind of foundation.  This cohort of graduates is making a type of film that wantsto define itself by theme. "Before, the short was not narrative but just descriptive.  But the short film is defined by itslength, not its contents. Psychological depth can't be explored" Muñoz continues. More than being symbolic, then, the nature of short film can permit anecho into real life.  Real lifeencounters are defined by the here and now, by their often transient, fleetingnature.  Real life doesn't ask fornarrative context.

It wasdisappointing then, that some of this year's selection failed to compensatelength for substance: 1111 (Portugal),or La Frontera de Jesus (Mexico).  Too often the films left gaps, leftscenes unexplained, mistook a slow pace and drawn-out style for emotion ordepth, resulting in laborious viewings that made those few short minutes feellike an age.



It's the directorsfrom down under that came out on top, with two films that stood out, showingthat the short film doesn't have to compromise on plot or character study.  Already accoladed andAcademy-nominated, Miracle Fish was the clear winner of the festival, and along with AmbienteFamiliar (Chile), wasre-screened at the closing ceremony. A skilfully crafted thriller, Australian Luke Doolan's attention todetail shows that the short does not need to forgo a point of narrativeinterest to economise on length. In fact, at it's dénouement, the film takes one lurch, and thenanother.  We take a dramatic gulpwhen our main character answers the phone and the narrative interest of thefilm leaps.  Just as we think thatthis vulnerable little boy (the kid we have mentally tagged ‘compassionate')might be getting through to the rifle wielding maniac he finds himself face toface with, going past the psychopathic exterior to the anguished, tormentedchild inside, the lost soul.  Justas we start to ask ourselves if there has been a glimmer of comprehension.  Just as we think that something mighthave clicked... The whole cinema jumps, mouths gasp, shoulders wince, heartsthud.  Yet, it is the rest of theshort that makes this moment, everything that has built up to it.  The film begins with a simple premise:young Joe, bullied and solitary, at school on his birthday.  ‘Compassionate', he reads on the packetof the miracle fish toy his Dad has put in his lunchbox for his birthday.  A plastic fish on the palm of a hand isall we need for psychological depth. Joe is a real little boy, a child, and we believe in him.  He won't kiss Mum goodbye at the schoolgate.  His character is bothcredibly written and compellingly performed.  When he finds himself in an empty school, he takes sweets,draws on the chalkboard, covers himself in star stickers, and scoots throughthe corridors on a skateboard.  Itis precisely this naivety and innocence that sets the viewer up for thedramatic impact of the closing sequence. The film is bolstered by the fact that it is excellently written, and thishigh calibre extends to the score. At moments, the audience is put off the scent.  Joe picks up a sci-fi book left open on the floor.  We are led on by the clues put in ourway.  A tap is left running.  We see a bloody hand, just like achild's poster-paint print, on the staff room door as it swings shut behindJoe.  Shots of the deserted schoolalternate with shots of misunderstood Joe, content in his own world.  Accentuated by the score, the filmgathers pace.  In the slow-motionsequence that closes the film, it is the cellos that do the work.  The film stands out thanks to thisattention to detail: only on second viewing do you notice the man lurking onthe other side of the street as Joe says goodbye to Mum for the day...

Still, it isDustin Feneley's Eskimo Kiss (Australia) that was the finest work, in my eyes.  The film is subtly and beautifullyconstructed.  In only a fewminutes, and with little dialogue, Feneley casts a tender portrait.  The film provides a fine example of theneed for something to hold on to, a point of interest.  We are not given in-depth characterstudy, or plot twists, or dramatic tension, but the film is still making apoint, showing us something.  Likeevery story, it is relating something to us.  Something as simple as the intimacy between two people.  Something as abstract, as delicate, asconfidential, as the affection between a pair.  We do not know why the man is in a wheelchair, we do notknow what the woman's relationship to him is, but we do not need to.  Feneley lights up a small, intimatemoment to show to us.  In itscloseness and sensitivity, the film reaches out.  For it's affection, the film is touching.  In its simplicity, the film issymbolic, but still an echo of real life.  

Alice Goody-Lawrence

About Alice Lawrence