SCREEN QUEST: Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival – BEST OF BRITISH Part 1

Cheap Cuts is the UK’s only short form documentary film festival (17 to 20 MAY 2018). We went to the first night screening – BEST OF BRITISH at Hackney Attic – a programme of 5 state of the nation shorts + Q&As with the filmmakers. Here’s our writeup.

Cheap Cuts 2018 opened this week and runs for four days at Rio Cinema and Hackney Attic (17 to 20 MAY). Showcasing “the very best of British and international short documentary talent”, the friendly festival throws the doors wide open to “a real mix of creatives, professionals, students and the curious”.

The opening programme was introduced by festival directors Vera Hems Anderson and Natalia Garay Ceron and offered a vibrant night of contemporary filmmaking and loyal communities. Under the banner BEST OF BRITISH, the five films combined – despite their varied individual subjects – into a unique and timely state of the nation address. As our world descends into Royal Wedding overload, these are the true textures and undercurrents of our country.

James Arthur Armstrong’s SIN BIN OF THE CITY (2017) looks back at the Toxteth riots of 1981 and how the arrest of a young Black man – Leroy Cooper – ignited a social uprising already stoked by unmasked racism, violent policing and harmful government policy. Filmmakers can sometimes struggle to animate the rawness of history from the faded material archive of our past, but here first-hand voice-over segues boldly into a confident vision of assertive new growth.

Hannah-Jane Churchman’s BEDROOM (2017) shows, through off-camera testimony, how our intimate affairs are changing under wider social and media influences. Three young women talk about the role of violence and pain in their sex lives. Some because they feel they want it. Some because they want a relationship and this might be the uncomfortable price: “I didn’t want to be that frigid girl that didn’t want to do stuff”. Churchman’s calm visuals – of women’s bodies, of getting dressed and made-up – gently allow the horror of what’s being said and suggested to unfold.

HOLD (2017) by Phoebe Cottam contains yet more shocks, using silences and oblique storytelling to slowly reveal the pain of a life lived in the prolonged absence of a loved one. The sometimes fruitless, often uncomfortable, back and forth car journeys shared by mother and daughter, and snatched phone conversations with the far away husband/father – “love you, love you, love, love, love, love, love…” – all hint at the Herculean struggle that threatens to rip everything apart: “I worry that I won’t be able to maintain the vacuum”. Of course, the ‘comfortable’ middle classes can sometimes be anything but.

LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR  (2017) manages a difficult balancing act between the contrasting politics of its Leave voting, Islamophobic subject, Mark, and the Remain voting, and more hopeful views, of its occasionally on-camera filmmaker, Irene Carter. Mark’s determination to raise his three sons, to make a positive contribution to his church and community, and to be free of addiction is in stark contrast with an anger rooted in sometimes fanciful ignorance. Initially conceived as a Brexit piece, news of the Manchester Arena bombing and London Bridge attack draws out his venom. But as Carter’s subtle film shows, life is always more complex. Mark lives in a place that feels left behind and does his best to care for his children with no sense of their future. When one of his three sons proudly declares “My best friend’s Muslim”, the audience cheer underscores the sense that Mark’s world will continue to change.

By the even louder audience cheers at the end of the programme, it is clear that a hearty cohort from The Cricketers – the oldest pub in Bournemouth – has turned up to support Rebecca Richards, a young filmmaker they had embraced (“my best friends are all over 60”). The most affectionate film of the evening, CRICKLAND (2017) nestles into the heart of a community that has forged in the pub around landlady Sheila and shows, in many delicate ways – from the shaking of an elderly hand as it raises a pint to the lips, to a tear in the eye as loved ones are remembered – how fragile the balance of providing refuge and serving alcohol can be.

We thoroughly enjoyed our first evening at Cheap Cuts. These are committed filmmakers keen to build an audience for new works by (many) new voices, and to generate demand for short film documentary in all its forms. The several London premieres and overall quality of filmmaking shows that this is also a place to catch new talent on the rise. Given that over 60% of filmmakers in this year’s lineup are women, there’s no better time to use the kit discounts that come with your tickets to get out there and get making.

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

  • Head to Cheap Cuts for the full programme and box office/venue links. The festival runs from 17 to 20 MAY 2018 at Hackney Attic and Rio Cinema.
  • You can read the second part of our BEST OF BRITISH writeup here.
  • You can read our earlier RADIANT CIRCUS interview with Cheap Cuts directors Vera Hems Anderson and Natalia Garay Ceron here.
  • Follow the action on YouTubeFacebook, Twitter & Instagram.
  • From the team behind Cheap Cuts, Last Frame is a new project that showcases feature and short films shining a light on social issues, underrepresented communities and also festival winners and audience favourites in Walthamstow.

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Featured image: CRICKLAND (2017).

Radiant Circus