Writers: Gillien Goll, Malwina Grochowska, Elle Jae Stewart, Pearl Gluck, Jamie Lou, Julianne Dowler, Natalie Johnson, Francis Loy
Directors: Linda Yellen, Malwina Grochowska, Pearl Gluck, Jamie Lou, Julianne Dowler, Natalie Johnson, Francis Loy
The second instalment of the MOM Film Fest experiments with technique to produce a series of accomplished shorts on the subject of Love and Loss. Comprising seven films all written and directed by mothers working in the film industry, the contributors to this Block collectively demonstrate the broad application of film styles and approaches that draw the viewer into the story.
The very best films in Block 2 are about loss, focusing specifically on the death of a child and its effects on the parents left behind. Home-grown talent Francis Loy presents Swings and Roundabout which opens with a clearly grieving mother absently watching children in the local playground, and while the scenario presents few surprises, Loy’s film is a sensitive and beautiful exploration of grief that focuses primarily on the relationship between Paul and Sarah. With a running time of just 15-minutes, much depends on the superb performances from Melissa Woodbridge and theatre star John Heffernan who deliver acres of unspoken feeling as the couple painfully circle each other. That Loy gives just as much room to Paul’s emotional landscape as Sarah’s is one of the joys of this lovely film.
More overt but equally powerful is final film Junior by Elle Jae Stewart and Pearl Gluck who use a documentary format to tell the story of a 15-year old black boy killed by the police. Presented as a monologue from his devastated mother on the day of his memorial, the film provides plenty of context about decent family life, always tainted by a multi-generational experience of racism in US society, leading Taylor Elizabeth to warn her son he would ‘always be a target’. Based on Stewart’s own play and performed by the writer, this 30-minute film has a significant impact that merges memories, rage against a broken system and news broadcasts to emphasise so much wasted life and potential, while Gluck’s one-shot approach keeps a tight grip on the audience’s attention.
The other films in this Block utilise different visual approaches to storytelling that prove just as fascinating as their content. Jamie Lou’s Lady Lazarus has all the style of a thriller as a harassed first-time mother on the brink of suicide abandons home and meets a dangerous stranger. The way Lou incorporates shots of darkened roads ahead while driving at night and how neon light infiltrates the car nods to Danny Boyle while the notion of temptation within the drama has a semi-religious connotation.
Also fascinating is Natalie Johnson’s The Taxidermist, a creepy little tale which incorporates flashback into a seemingly everyday narrative of Claire’s work at her father’s shop. There are shots of Claire and her father working on stag’s heads in rooms filled with stuffed creatures but Johnson’s horror-film inspired cuts of memory are truly disturbing, creating an unsettling feeling as the truth of the tragedy is eventually and gruesomely explained. Playing on your assumptions of what Claire is really doing in the workshop, the final unresolved moments are particularly chilling.
Completing Block 2, Malwina Grochowska’s Girlfriend Material imagines a not too distant New York after an African American round-up and zoning policy, a visa system for travel and a meat ban around which a couple begin to fall in love with surprising consequences. Julianne Dowler’s brief Danni & May looks at a difficult mother-daughter relationship, while Gillien Goll’s The Spilling may be the least successful of this tranche of short movies but elicits some drama from the aftermath of a tragic death.
This series of unusual tales envisaged in very different styles certainly underlines the mantra of the MOM Film Fest – that being parent and being an exciting filmmaker need not be mutually exclusive. Love and Loss is a sophisticated collection of stories that largely avoids mawkishness to take more innovative approaches to the exploration of grief and pain.
Available here until 17 August 2020