The popular collection of LGBT-themed short films, Boys On Film, returns with Volume 13, titled Trick & Treat which, despite the lack of Halloween vibes and calendar-timeliness, effectively captures the thematic thread running through these ten interesting pieces of filmmaking.
There’s more than meets the eye to each of these stories and the element of surprise is mostly a treat, even when predictable, as the narratives are overall developed to a compelling effect both in content and style.
Once again UK Distributor Peccadillo Pictures that has recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, cements its status as British pioneer in discovering and nurturing fresh storytelling voices in LGBT cinema.
I highly recommend this compilation whose production value is overall rather good and that includes a great mix of fun, thrilling and moving stories, some of which have also won awards like the prestigious Iris Prize or have screened at this year’s BFI Flare, London LGBT Film Festival.
Below, I’ll tell you a little bit about them individually, in the order they appear on the DVD.
Surprise (Dir. Leslie Bumgarner – USA, 2015 – 9 mins)
There’s a lot to like about this lovely short whose title sums up a mother and son’s reactions to the mutual confession of each other’s own secrets. Yet things aren’t what they initially seem and though the brief running time doesn’t allow for the surprises to breathe, our impromptu guess of what’s going on doesn’t spoil the fun of the delivery. With an illustrious behind the scenes pedigree as the screenplay was written by Trilby Beresford, daughter of Oscar nominated director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) who executive produces here, and veteran character actress Tess Harper playing the mom, then you realize how cinematographer Leslie Bumgarner must have had an ideal scenario to work with for her directorial debut on this project. Austin Fryberger also needs mention for his naturalism and comedic timing as Jack, the skater teenage son with school troubles. A solid effort that works well as a finite story and when the screen cuts to black, makes you wish the following scene were available.
Boygame (Dir. Anna Nolskog – Sweden, 2012 – 14 mins)
In Sicily we jokingly call “Swedish” someone who’s particularly open-minded and liberal. This delightful short hailing from the Nordic land surely doesn’t dismantle the meaning of our silly local saying. The premise of two best friends who don’t know how to approach girls and agree to “practice” on each other is bold and the filmmaker doesn’t exploit it for easy crass humour’s sake. The story is handled in sweet albeit blunt fashion: teenagers John and Nicolas are genuinely awkward and inexperienced and the two actors who portray them are authentic enough to make the indecent proposal come across as believable. Of course we get the sense that the boy coming up with the idea is more likely to have feelings for the other one (who willingly agrees by the way) but the film keeps things subtle and ambiguous enough, making us want for more.
Caged (Dir. Lazlo and Dylan Tonk – Netherlands, 2014 – 13 mins)
A little bit reminiscent of the setting and atmosphere of recent Dutch LGBT-themed feature Boys (Jongens, also distributed by Peccadillo Pictures), Caged is another story of friendship put to the test though with a different dynamic from Boygame. David and Neils are running buddies who also play football with other teens in the local sports ground. When Neils is caught kissing a local gay boy who’s been harassed by the football gang, David is confused and has trouble accepting the truth or maybe he’s disappointed by the fact his friend didn’t confide in him. If you add to the picture that David’s girlfriend has been hanging out with the harassed gay boy and gets mad at David for siding with football gang in ostracizing Neils, you get the full picture of the conflict at stake. Despite the positive message and solid performances from the main cast, the film suffers from wanting to explore thematically more than its limited running time allows and from a way less convincing casting in the bullies department as those characters feel stereotypically written and performed.
Vis-à-Vis (Dir. Dan Connolly – UK/Australia, 2013 – 16 mins)
One of the strongest entries in this new volume of Boys On Film, this lovely short mixes sparkly comedy with moments of languid romance. Richard and Martin are up for a visit from an immigration officer who needs to approve Martin’s visa to remain in Australia. When it becomes clear that the couple may be putting up a charade, things take an unexpected turn. Offering good performances across the board, Vis-à-Vis is the title with the second longest running time in the collection yet makes the most of every minute of it, telling a satisfying story which would be worth developing into a feature film.
Kissing Drew (Dir. Philip J. Connell – Canada, 2013 – 8 mins)
My absolute favorite entry in the collection, Kissing Drew is a masterclass at how to make an efficient, original and engaging short film. It’d be a disservice to your viewing experience to ruin the fun of how witty filmmaker Philip J. Connel uses the tropes of high school bullying to deliver a funny, cute, sexy and moving portrait of sexual awakening. Suffice to say that James daydreams about his bully. Drew, and that his sexual fantasies occur in the least suitable moments. By the time we reach the surprising climax, which is nothing you expect, you realize the symbolic, life-affirming meaning behind James’ bold move. This is what every short film should be: tight and straight to the point, making the most of the brief running time to tell a fulfilling and entertaining story. Kisisng Drew has it all and more, including a cast of promising young actors and a great use of music and editing.
Followers (Dir. Tim Marshall – UK/Australia, 2014 – 8 mins)
An elderly woman gets infatuated to a young African man who’s been paired with her by their aqua gym instructor during a class. She claims to have seen Jesus on the man’s swimming trunk and interprets it as a sign from God. The lonely, religious lady invites the man to sing with her in the church choir but when he figures out her real intentions, things are headed on an awkward path which includes the old lady stalking the man all the way to a cruising spot in the woods. It feels like something is missing here and that maybe, thematically, the filmmaker bites more than he can chew in such a limited format, yet the film is entertaining and the lead actress is funny and endearing enough you can’t help but empathize.
A Last Farewell (Dir. Casper Andreas – Sweden, 2013 – 12 min)
This time Sweden delivers the tonal opposite of what offered in Boygame and not just because of the characters’ age. This is a straight up drama and a deeply touching one. An aging author grieves his late long-time partner and resents their pregnant daughter for a family matter that I’ll leave unmentioned. As the grumpy, recluse man tries to fight his writer’s block, he has haunting visions of his dearly departed love trying to help him cope with the unbearable sorrow. Some may find this film cheesy but it’s delicately told and beautifully acted. It’s one of those LGBT stories that help our timely fight for equality, showing that our love and pain is no different from the one straight people experience.
Middle Man (Dir. Charlie Francis – UK, 2014 – 4 mins)
Another rather accomplished title in the collection, this humorous piece focuses on Nathan and a challenging phone call to his hearing impaired boyfriend via a type-to-talk service as he tries to clear up a misunderstanding that caused jealousy and friction between the two. Not only it’s quite an original idea to give an LGBT-themed story such an unconventional setting, yet once again it’s a great way to make our lives relatable to anyone no matter their sexual orientation. The actors do a great job at capturing the right tone for the story with the titular character, aka the call center operator, being the comedy source, caught in between an awkward conversation and having to read the responses out loud in his headset with his co-workers inevitably eavesdropping. The filmmaker who does a great job at keeping a brisk pace, aided by a tight edit work which alternates jumping around the three characters involved in the conversation with the use of split screen when necessary. And finally, in the midst of the comedy, there’s also room for just enough a serious note to make the story feel real.
Remission (Dir. Christopher Brown – UK, 2013 – 18 mins)
Holding the record for longest running time in this compilation isn’t something that works in Remission’s favour. Telling a post apocalyptic story of survival in the wake of a viral outbreak, the film is commendable for the gorgeous cinematography and the basic concept but gets caught up in its ambition, wasting too much time to establish the world and neglecting the most intriguing aspect of the story. We follow two men wandering the overgrown English countryside with an odd character tagging along: a boy who doesn’t speak but is obsessed with searching corpses they bump into for any sort of jewelry they might carry that he can keep collecting. In doing so he risks to put the whole company at risk of contagion. It’s not clear whether this mute boy is handicapped or suffered from a trauma that caused his odd behaviour, yet one can’t help but wonder what’s the deal with one of the two men having sexual intercourse with the boy in what looks like a routine the other man knows about and the boy not posing any opposition to. You get a better sense of this strange dynamic by time the climactic moment clocks in though the story remains undercooked and the characters fail to pull your emotional strings. For someone who loves this genre the way I do, this short and its unfulfilled The Walking Dead vibe, unfortunately leave you perplexed, frustrated and worst of all, not even remotely creeped out, let alone scared.
Mirrors (Dir. Neil Ely – UK, 2014 – 11 mins)
The weakest link within this bunch of generally good films is left for last and maybe it wasn’t just a random choice. Mirrors just doesn’t click despite the good intentions and the convincing performances from Shameless’ Jody Latham and Skins’ Liam Boyle. The problem isn’t just the cliché premise of gay guys hooking up in a club’s toilet, doing drugs. The main issue is that having two characters stuck in a confined space, blurbing for 10 minutes whilst occasionally cutting to some other random people in the toilet cue isn’t very cinematic. Mirrors plays out like the inciting incident scene of a feature film, the sequence that kicks the story into gear and propels it forward. For the scope of a short film, however, it falls short as it lacks any narrative momentum. And it’s a shame, since the idea of seeing two guys eyeing each other in a toilet cue and winding up in a stall where they actually make a real connection rather than engaging in casual sex (though we still can see that when the camera cuts to other stalls) was a nice one. I’d like to see the expanded story but in this format, Mirrors lacks the effectiveness required by a 10 minute narrative.
Boys On Film 13: Trick & Treat is available on DVD & VOD from July 13th
Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor