Entertainment, Manchester, Review

MSA Film Festival: Screening One

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By Grace Atkinson

I’ve always loved a short film for two reasons: first, because the chosen subject often needs to make a quick and lasting impression, and therefore makes for an enjoyable watch. Secondly, because the ways in which this said impression is made has to involve a level of creativity in order to work within its limited time frame. When Manchester School of Arts (MSA) collaborate to do anything, it’s a pretty safe bet to be a good show, so when the MSA Film Festival screened at HOME, I couldn’t wait to see what was on offer. This screening was a brilliant display of talent, and the level of skill and creativity was absolute. Keep an eye out for these names, it wont be the last you see of them!

The Service

The screening began with The Service, directed by Annabelle Marshal. Set in the future, it tells the story of James and the quest into his own memory. The concept reminded me of an episode of Black Mirror, as James visits an uncomfortably sterile clinic in order to re-visit the virtual reality of his own memories. ‘Has he had the detachment?’ the doctor asks, and I began to wonder if the film wanted to make aware our own detachments from reality in modern society. This was a haunting and dark story, and the visuals were gritty, tight, and real, which made for an incredibly gripping film.


Carl Austen-Behan

Carl Austen-Behan directed by Jacob Buffet gives a beautifully intimate insight into the Lord Mayor’s life. In this interview, he tells us of his dismissal from the RAF due to his sexuality, which Austen-Behan regards as an early passion of his. Years later in 2002, he was approached by the RAF as Lord Mayor, asked for advise on ways to introduce the LGBT community into the RAF. A beautifully circular example of how society has ‘come a long way in 20 years’. The notion of progress is a resolute depiction made from the film, especially about Manchester. The mayor celebrates the LGBT community’s growth and acceptance over time, and the ‘collaborative’ nature of Manchester in which he is so proud of.


Callum Latimer’s Eden depicts a man’s journey through the wilderness of the River Eden. The title does not only name the river, but enters a conversation about beginnings, and the internal journey of the protagonist. The film depicts a hunt for meaning during what seems an existential crisis (‘do you just watch as time washes by’). Voice-overs of poetry and literary meditations give a great sense of the protagonist’s internal dialogues. Long shots of the many landscapes of his journey give a beautiful sense of time, and give space for the audience’s contemplation. The marriage between natural landscape and internal growth is done seamlessly and without cliché.


‘I’m not getting in the car with her’ is the first line of Impact by Robert Reader, and the audience is immediately loaded with questions. Unfortunately, we never do find out why protagonist Lucy is approached with such hostility by her sister, Phoebe. We do, however, uncover another story about unfortunate Lucy’s abusive relationship with Steven. This is a heavy topic, impressively tackled in such a small time frame. At first the loud stream of traffic was quite an asset to the tension of certain scenes, the production of the film did, at points, lets its subject down, with the final line in the film was indistinguishable due to that same roar of traffic.


Nathan Islam’s Mirage is a deeply dark and brilliantly artistic film about women and their demons presented through Chloe, held hostage in a grotty basement. The opening shot introduces the key aspect to the film, Chloe’s obsessive creation of small, shapeless sculptures. The sound of Chloe’s fingers moulding the clay is heightened, hyper-sensuous and eerie. The film gets darker, when Chloe dresses her self up and sits on the bed, while projections of hands grab and faces lick in squeamishly crisp and carnal audio. The image of young girls with dolls is a brilliant gateway into a more general conversation of female captivity amongst the every-day. Her freedom is a courageous moment of strength and bravery, a step into a free identity.

Times Up

In Time’s Up, Karim Al-haj Ali takes a classic tale of death-comes-to-visit and transforms it into a poignant film about the comatose of contemporary living. The protagonist, bored in a vacant life between his dingy house and his ‘empty’ bar, befriends death, depicted as a haunting man in a black suit. The shots are sharp and overlapping, and the dialogue is fractured, repetitive, and contradictory (‘how to remember. I can’t remember. I remember’). The light piano (Chopin, Nocturnes Op. 9) creates a sense of philosophical sophistication. This is a simple concept, well executed, resulting in a thoughtful and entertaining short film.


The opening scene of Inseminate gives the audience a sense of what is to follow. Here, the protagonist is whipping her lover, what we quickly gather to be an affair. It’s a story of a woman’s abandonment by her lover, who pays her for sex, and her attempt to regain control and security from him. The title of Ryan McNulty’s film describes an unapologetically graphic scene, where the protagonist ‘steals’ and ‘inseminates’ herself with the semen of her sleeping lover. At this point, the young girls in front of me shielded their eyes embarrassedly. I personally liked the unflinchingly long and bold scenes in this film, and found that it opened an interesting question of power, of right and wrong and of female subjectivity.


There is a certain humour around identical twins and mistaken identities that has surrounded film for decades. In Tran Ngo’s Fractured however, twins Callum and Jason’s story is not meant for laughter. Here, Jason’s relationship is spiked with Callum’s jealousy, while the memory of a horrific car crash slowly unravels, with the finale mirroring a wedding alongside a funeral. This was a great plot along with some brilliant acting all round, however at points I found myself victim to the interchangeable identity between Jason and Callum, and couldn’t help wonder whether the twin complex should be left for the gags of slapstick comedy.

Lets Not Cry Over Spilt Milk

Harry Longstaff and his crew’s Lets Not Cry Over Spilt Milk, is a great example of how a well-chosen title can lift a film into all sorts of dimensions. The opening shot of a hanging man, legs dangling just into view, brought out laughs amongst the audience. This dark humour continues, and the hanging dad becomes a feature of the house, trousers around his ankles, after all ‘he’s not going anywhere’. This humour is spiked with long and, at points, laborious dialogues about hindsight and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which, between tryingly philosophical and cleverly touching – ‘he was a spilt man’. This is a film balanced between a very real human experience and a post-modern/self-conscious take on it’s own art form, tied together with a very British sense of humour.

Drifting Away

Set in 1954, Aynoa Alvarez Wautiez’s Drifting Away is a touching tale of two pen pals, one in the UK, and the other in Algeria. The two exchange gifts and letters, until the break out of the Algerian war.  These shots between England and Algeria are impressively constructed, and the attention to detail made for a convincing setting. One connection I found beautifully subtle was woodwork, the boy sending a hand carved toy as a gift to England, and the girl, as an adult, shown carving wood in her workshop. After years of estrangement, the two are re-united in England, both with their own lives and families.  This film was a touching end to the screening, and a beautiful tale of unity.

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