Around the world in five short films

February 4, 2013

By Anna Reitman

Shorts at the Frontline Club on 1 February showcased five documentaries that highlight different ways of telling non-fictional stories. Four of the filmmakers were on hand to discuss the themes and process behind their work.

The first film of the evening, Afghanistan: The forgotten war, was shot by Vaughan Smith, who spent three weeks with the Grenadier Guards 3 Platoon in Helmand mid-2012. As the war in Afghanistan drops off ‘top stories of the year’ lists in the news, Smith asks what the soldiers are doing it for. It opens with an announcement of a casualty, Lance Corporal Groom, and the reactions of grief from fellow soldiers – a scene the MoD wanted removed in the final cut.

During the Q&A Smith said:

“I think it is important to show the suffering of war as well as the paraphernalia of war. . . . [The news] we get here is a long sequence of successes which somehow turns into a significant defeat. . . . What are they are fighting for? They are fighting for each other, for their regiment. . . . They are professional soldiers doing a job.”

The next film, Borderland, by Simon Mitchell, looks at the deep divisions of a Syria in conflict; divisions between and within nations, religions, communities and families.

“We have given a very black and white narrative from the outside, it suits our media, it suits our politicians . . . [but] there is a whole contradictory, confusing outlook from almost every perspective [on the ground],” Mitchell said.

From South Africa, Port Nolloth: Between a rock and a hard place is about a former deserted mining hub on the west coast. Filmed against a backdrop of desolate, barren landscape and sleepy shops, director Felix Seuffert introduces three characters and their stories – all tied to the diamond trade for better or worse. Seuffert was not on hand for the screening.

After, by Lukasz Konopa, is a silent ‘day-in-the-life’ of today’s Auschwitz. It is a meditative reflection beginning and ending with the routine maintenance and care of facilities as a variety of tourists cross the train tracks that once transported victims. The film is a student project inspired by the poem Campo dei Fiori by Polish Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz.

“[The film is about] how past and present melds, how do Europeans remember [the] past? Which, growing up in Poland, is [a] very important subject because wherever you go you see places where people were dying or were killed and it’s kind of normal, we get used to that, it’s everywhere,” Konopa said.

The last film of the evening was director Kate Sullivan’s Walk Tall, an animated portrait of 1948 Olympic gymnast and indefatigable nonagenarian George Weedon. It moves between filmed scenes of Weedon’s present-day campaign to improve the world’s posture and animated clips detailing his story and the challenges he overcame on the way to the Olympics.

Sullivan said: “After his Olympic escapades [Weedon] worked for a great number of years as a builder and I just have a general love of DIY manuals, and that was the starting point for the styling [of the animation]. . . . The whole film is handmade, he is a guy with a handmade gym in a garden, so to me that was a lovely poetic thing.”