As the semester drags on and exam season sets in, St Andrews can start to feel increasingly claustrophobic. The St Andrews Film Festival was the perfect antidote to this. Taking place on Sunday, the event lasted all day and comprised an impressive 45 short films by young filmmakers from St Andrews and beyond, a talk from industry professionals and an awards ceremony. The festival was an uplifting reminder that we live in a diverse community full of people making interesting art, as well as a glimpse into the work of up-and-coming filmmakers across the United Kingdom.
The only restrictions placed on submissions for the festival were that the filmmaker be aged 18-25 and based in the UK, and the film be no more than ten minutes long. The festival received a staggering 11 hours of footage from across the country: an undeniable triumph for an event only in its second year and hopefully a sign of a bright future for the St Andrews Film Festival.
Four hours’ worth was then selected for screening in the Byre Theatre on Sunday. Although four hours still has the potential to be something of a slog, it never felt that way. On a practical level, the films were split into hour-long blocks spaced throughout the day but more importantly the sheer variety of the films on offer ensured there was never a dull moment. With no theme or genre to the festival, comedy, horror, romance, documentary, noir, experimental and animated films sat alongside each other. This diversity was the key to the festival’s success. When combined, these 45 films amounted to a celebration of the limitless possibilities of the camera, and the myriad of different people it can give a voice to.
Such a mixed bag will inevitably mean a few films did not quite hit the mark. There were one or two that fit into the more unfavourable stereotype of the student film: over-ambitious, abstract without being engaging. Not that the more experimental films should be dismissed altogether. ‘A Heart Suspended in a Box’ by St Andrews’ Tony Heron was perhaps the least conventional of the lot, yet it had a hauntingly beautiful quality to it. Jacob Topen’s hypnotic ‘Antonio’s Tale’ meanwhile deservedly won Best Director at the end of the evening.
It was also a good day for comedy, a genre which lends itself well to short-form, low-budget projects. ‘Back in 5 Minutes’ produced one of the biggest laughs I have ever heard in a cinema with its impeccable comic timing and took home Best Sound for its efforts. Comedy also won over the public vote, with the audience award going to ‘The Last Biscuit’: the tale of a heart-warming friendship blossoming out of a battle for the last jammy dodger.
The award for Best Picture ultimately went to ‘Short-Changed’, a stop-motion animation by Edinburgh College of Art graduate Zoë Hutber. The attention to detail on this charming yet thought-provoking film was simply astounding. It is easy to see why Hutber took home the top prize – more than any other her film exuded confidence and skill.
I am pleased to say that in amongst all this talent St Andrews held its own, with 11 entries and three awards. Truman Ruberti’s disorientating and unsettling ‘Date Night’ won Best Screen Play and Best Actor went to Montrose-based Ian Laing’s in ‘Today’. Lastly, Boris Boslikov won Best Editing for his work on ‘Back Side of the Moon’, which seamlessly interwove a daunting job interview with footage from the Apollo lunar missions. My personal favourite of the festival was the submission by St Andrews student Morgan Corby, ‘Blue in Black and White’. Corby’s story of a woman trapped in a silent film played with conventions of cinema in clever and entertaining ways, but also managed to be a story of human connection.
Attending the St Andrews Film Festival as a student also allowed me to appreciate the various ways in which local filmmakers chose to incorporate the town into their work. We are fortunate to live in a very photogenic place, and striking shots of East, West and Castle Sands featured in many of the entries. Iain Carson’s hilarious ‘Salt’ featured perhaps my favourite single shot of the festival, with the silhouette of a private detective stood atop the pier with his trusty sidekick, a garden gnome, by his side. It was also strangely comforting to see a familiar student lifestyle depicted on the big screen. A quiet, understated sequence in Teo Yarkova’s ‘Bestseller’ showed a student preparing cereal in a salad bowl with a wooden spoon rather than do the washing up.
In the space of this article, I barely scratched the surface of the talent on show. So many excellent films have gone unmentioned. As someone who is not very spontaneous, the highest praise I can afford the St Andrews Film Festival is that I decided last minute to stay longer than planned in order to see all four screenings. The only downside of the day was how empty the Byre was. Hopefully the St Andrews Film Festival continues to go from strength to strength and gains the reputation it deserves as one of the cultural highlights of the year.