It’s interesting how certain themes and ideas seem to make their presence felt each year, through sheer coincidence alone. With films making the Iris shortlist through a combination of open submission and nomination from partner festivals, it’s not as if the programme is put together with these themes in mind, yet there they are.
Programme 1 featured three excellent shorts that look at the lives of older gay couples. After 43 years together, the eponymous Cecil + Carl are forced to live apart when Carl’s care needs become too much for Cecil to handle alone. Thanks for Dancing (Takk for Turen) gave us the quiet, post-retirement lives of two former skiers, and the impact ill health has on their relationship. Meanwhile, the brilliantly understated Submarine (Submarino) explores the impact that technology and social media has had on the way in which we grieve.
As you may have guessed from yesterday’s post, the Iris Blogger spent much of yesterday morning feeling decidedly worse for wear, and so he was delighted when they told him he’d be introducing Programme 2 of the shorts. The likes of Berwyn Rowlands and Andrew Pierce make it all look so effortless, but faced with a bunch of names and titles written in my own, near-illegible handwriting, it’s a minor miracle I was able to string a sentence together.
Anyway. That’s by the by. Programme 2 was of a similarly high standard, so you’ll forgive me again for not going into detail about every film, but for me the two stand-outs were The Summer of ABC Burns and Il Manichino, both of which reminded us of how just plain weird childhood and adolescence can be. The former looked at playground sadism and the bizarre fads that teenagers will often indulge in, while that latter uses its titular mannequin, abandoned on a vacant lot opposite a vast housing estate, as the object of nascent sexual curiosity and desire.
All of which was gripping stuff, unless you were the one member of the audience who fell asleep about halfway through the programme and proceeded to snore at jackhammer volume, until a neighbour presumably prodded them with a sharpened stick or rammed two bits of popcorn up their nose.
Lunch was had at The Stable, where we were fed large quantities of pizza and garlic bread, which was precisely the kind of carby, salty, cheesy hangover cure this blogger required. Then it was back to Cineworld for programme 3.
If what we’d seen so far sounds excessively dour, then I Don’t Believe in That was the restorative – a sharp, funny take on contrasting beliefs with an hilarious ending (which I won’t spoil here). Then there was A Doll’s Eyes, which begins as a witty homage to Spielberg’s Jaws before diving into the deeper, murkier waters of sexuality and shame.
We were treated to a flying visit from Hollywood Royalty in the afternoon, when actor Michael Sheen swung by to wish Iris a happy 10th Birthday. Rumours that he will be portraying festival chair Andrew Pierce in Peter Morgan’s film The Journalist remain unconfirmed.
Programme 4 featured what is possibly my favourite film so far – Nishant Roy Bombarde’s The Threshold (Daaravtha). Pankaj is a young boy from a traditional, patriarchal Indian family, and just beginning to understand his own sexuality and identity. With an exceptional performance from its young lead, wonderful scenes of Indian dance and a lot of heart, its 30 minute running time just skips by.
Dawn is (if memory serves) the fourth film shown at Iris from director Jake Graf. X-Why, an autobiographical short about his process of transition as a trans man, was shown in 2011, and I’m sure Jake will agree when I say it was a little rough around the edges. Dawn is something else. Technically and artistically, this is simply excellent, and watching his talent develop and improve with each film has been an absolute joy.
Push Me managed to be one of those films that sounds impossible on paper – a sweet and funny take on the BDSM scene (that’s “bondage, dominance & sadomasochism” – for those of you pretending you didn’t already know.) A million miles away from the ridiculous, empty posturing of Fifty Shades.
There was just enough time to grab a bite to eat and then we had the screening of Grant Scicluna’s debut feature film Downriver. I was on the international jury that gave Grant the 2012 Iris Prize for his film The Wilding, and met him the following year when he visited us here in Cardiff, so I’m hardly neutral, but Downriver is outstanding. The film sustains a pervading sense of dread for its entire running time, and features incredible performances from its lead actors, especially Reef Ireland (who also starred in The Wilding) and Kerry Fox.
And then, dear reader, the Iris Blogger called it a night. Yes, you read that right. Not a drop of alcohol passed his lips, nor did he go to The Kings for their ‘Kings & Queens Karaoke’. He will no doubt hear all about it from those who did this morning – presuming they make a bleary-eyed appearance at the Producer’s Forum, of course.
Today, in addition to the aforementioned forum, we’ll have another chance to see Till Kleinert’s 2008 Iris-winning film Cowboy, and Boys Village, the film he made with the prize itself. Then, later this evening, we’ll have Shorts Programme 5, which includes the scariest short film the Iris Blogger has ever seen, and Bear City 3, which is showing as part of the very first Cardiff Bears Weekend.
The Iris Blogger hopes to use this opportunity to answer a question that’s been bothering him for some time: Is he an Otter or a Wolf?