Göteborg is the home of Scandinavia’s most important international film festival, offering one of the world’s most generous prizes: a Dragon Award of 1 million Swedish kronor (nearly 158 000 USD) for Best Nordic Film. But comparatively speaking, the festival’s short film award is even more remarkable: this year, a selection of Swedish films up to 15 minutes in length competed for a ‘Startsladden’ award of 938 000 kronor (about 148 000 USD) in funding and equipment. The winner was ‘The Day my Dad was Shot’ (‘Gabriel och Lasermannen’, dir. Babak Najafi), a documentary recording the impact of a gunman’s shooting spree on the life of a young man whose father was injured. This year, the festival also hosted a ‘Startsladden Retrospective’, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the competition by screening the winning films from previous years.
Göteborg’s spotlight on short film extends far beyond its Swedish shorts competition. In addition to the handful of films selected for Startsladden, the festival’s non-competitive ‘Swedish Shorts Premières’ section showcased another 79 domestic short films. Göteborg clearly gives Swedish shorts pride of place, yet it also devotes smaller sections to short films from other countries. Staying relatively local, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland are represented in the ‘Best Nordic Shorts’ category. Looking further afield, the festival hosted a special programme of Iranian cinema: the selection of feature films from Iran was complemented by 20 contemporary shorts. Similarly, alongside a selection of feature-length animated movies, Göteborg’s ‘Animania’ programme included 8 recent animated shorts. This year’s ‘Animator in Focus’ was Peter Lord, co-founder of Aardman Animation Studios (birthplace of Wallace and Gromit): the festival honoured his 36-year career with a selection of clips from his shorts and features, as well his work on ads and music videos. Last, but certainly not least, Göteborg hosts what it terms ‘The World’s Largest Online Short Film Competition’, allowing anyone, anywhere, to upload their film and share it with the world. A special jury determines which entry should win the Dragon Award for New Talent, but there is also an Audience Award for the film that is most popular with online voters. This year’s ‘New Talent’ winner was haunting stop-motion animation ‘La Ravaudeuse’ (dir. Simon Filliot): it is still available to view, along with all the other submissions, on the competition web site.
Of the short films I had a chance to see at Göteborg, I’d like to share a few of the most memorable from the Startsladden Retrospective and the Animania sections.
Winner of the first-ever Startsladden competition in 2003, ‘The Eiffel Tower’ (dir. Niklas Rådström) is about a man who wakes up from a dream of the famous Paris monument and finds that his waking life, normal on the surface, is stranger than the dream (available on Youtube, but only for those who understand Swedish, or read Spanish).
Like ‘The Eiffel Tower’, ‘A Good Day’ (dir. Per Hanefjord, 2005) channels the absurd, slightly awkward, and slightly heartbreaking Nordic humour of Lone Scherfig’s Italian for Beginners (2000) and Bent Hamer’s Kitchen Stories (2003). In this film, a retired man decides to commit suicide but finds his plans put on hold by an overly-helpful farmer (trailer).
‘Instead of Abracadabra’ (dir Patrik Eklund) is also humorous, but with more absurdity and less heartbreak: a bumbling twenty-something magician, deluded enough to think he’s cool, attempts to woo his pretty new neighbour while still living with his parents (full movie available on Youtube, broken into 3 parts).
From the Animania section, standout shorts included ‘Big House’, by Estonian director Kristjan Holm, Iranian film ‘Tunnel’ directed by Maryam Kashkoolinia, and Austrian director Thomas Renoldner’s ‘Sunny Afternoon’.
‘Big House’ is a light-hearted film with an elegantly simple chalk-line aesthetic and a catchy soundtrack: its focus is an apartment block whose inhabitants create a symphony of noise, giving a burglar ample opportunity to case the building (available on Vimeo).
‘Tunnel’ offers a hauntingly expressive sand animation of a man digging a secret tunnel to get food for his family: the audience guesses the circumstances even before an endnote explains that the film represents real life in Gaza.
Finally, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ channels Dadaist anti-art, starting with a frenetic sequence of a man in the process of sitting down on a chair. The stereotypical avant-garde impression quickly crumbles; instead, the film becomes humorous as well as experimental, provoking laughter at the absurdity of a simple action broken down, simultaneously drawn-out and sped up. Each stage of the movement is repeatedly played forward and in reverse, making the man waver ridiculously, sometimes cheekily, in the process of sitting. The excruciating visuals are complemented by a siren soundtrack that seems equally designed to antagonise the audience. The film concludes with an image of an apartment block, viewed from another apartment opposite, accompanied by a lazy, song, reminiscent of sixties rock: this section seems to offer relief from the preceding sonic attack, but the song’s banal lyrics make it annoying in a different way. Given its methods for grabbing attention and poking fun at its own self-conscious style, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ is a film that might be more at home in an art gallery than at a festival. The advantage of a festival is that this kind of film can be shown alongside more conventionally narrative films, allowing it to reach a larger audience and stir up their ideas about what avant-garde film is or should be.