Not every story needs hours of film or hundreds of pages to be told. Some are better suited to short form, and it’s with this in mind that I checked out the Shnit International Short Film Festival.
Shnit is now in its thirteenth year globally and is currently running in eight cities around the world. The sixth Cape Town edition opened on Wednesday evening with a carnival-themed party at The Castle and an outdoor screening of some of the best international films from the line-up. The festival continues with screenings at The Labia and the Company Gardens in the CBD, and Cinemuse in Stellenbosch. Tickets are for selections of 6–10 films, and you can choose between international and South African film.
Much of the appeal of short film (and short fiction in general) is that it gives filmmakers a chance to explore a single idea, interaction or technique. For example, Loot is about a pair of mime artists who rob a bank using mime, but all the objects they ‘pretend’ to hold have real effects, including the guns.
In the awkwardly funny Love is Blind, Alice and her lover are interrupted when her husband, James, comes home, but because James is completely deaf, she and her lover yell to each other across the apartment as she tries to kick him out.
In Lazy Susan, the camera is placed on a lazy susan (a rotating tray) on a table in a Cape Town restaurant, to capture the (fictional) encounters between a friendly waitress and her customers. There’s no plot to this one; rather, it’s a montage of human interactions in the Mother City and a fun way to play with point of view.
These films give us a chance to enjoy narratives that can’t be sustained for a feature-length film, but which are entertaining or thought-provoking nevertheless.
There are more traditional storytelling styles as well though. Everything Will Be Okay is a tense piece about a divorced man spending the weekend with his eight-year-old daughter. Things start to look suspicious when he suggests they get their pictures taken in a photo booth and he insists that she pose, unsmiling, for passport photos. The highlight of this short is the excellent performance by the young actress, who does a brilliant job in the uncomfortable role of a child slowly realising that she’s being kidnapped by her beloved father.
In Nommer 37, a paralysed petty thief from the Cape Flats tries to blackmail a gangster in the hope of paying off his own debts. He gets his girlfriend and a friend to help him, and it all turns out about as brutally as you might expect. It’s the kind of story that leaves you incredibly frustrated with the protagonists for being so incredibly stupid as to mess with violent criminals, but at the same time it’s easy to imagine that, if living in the Cape Flats with loan sharks invading your home, you might make the same awful choices.
While I’m glad to have watched these, the downside to a short film festival is that inevitably , there are disappointments, even total duds. While the form can encourage high quality filmmaking, it also lends itself to a lot of random junk. And because these films aren’t widely known, you won’t be able to read much about them before deciding what to see – and paying for it.
Whether a film-lover or just curious, it helps to maintain an experimental or playful mood, with an aim to appreciate specific qualities of a film rather than always hoping to like the whole thing. The documentary Umva, for example, felt too much like a student film for my tastes, but nonetheless had interesting body-positive ideas and good cultural critique about post-colonial identity. The Parcel, on the other hand, had quaint, clean style, but with tired substance. Its uncanny narrative about a mysterious parcel fell flat, but I enjoyed watching it just for its emphasis on the pleasantly crisp, rustling sounds of the mundane (crackling paper, footsteps, a jacket unzipped).
Shnit is also a fantastic opportunity to see South African film. Unlike the somewhat uninspired selection of local feature films available in mainstream cinema, short film gives you a chance to experience the range of local talent.
All in all, it’s well worth going to see what imaginative creations are out there.
The Shnit International Short Film Festival runs from 7 to 11 October at the Labia Theatre, the Company Gardens and Cinemuse.