Short Films - Wheels and Fins International Film Festival

Susan Omand hangs ten and does a 540 as she watched ALL the short films on offer at today's Wheels and Fins International Film Festival in Broadstairs...

A whole new aspect of film making has been opened up to me with the advent of a new film festival in Broadstairs, Kent, this weekend that is attached to the popular sports/beach/music event Wheels and Fins that happens in September. Combining the sports of skateboarding, BMX and surfing with beach fun, a huge variety of music and even a soapbox derby, film was just about the only thing missing from the Festival. Enter Bou Mou Productions, run by Mark and Charlotte Bousfield who, along with Wheels and Fins organiser Dave Melmouth and the good folk at the Palace Cinema in Broadstairs, where the film festival will be hosted today, have put together a full day of short films with submissions from all over the world. The films all have a common theme - some kind of connection to the ethos of the Wheels and Fins Festival, with a link to either extreme sports or the sea in some way. With an esteemed judging panel on hand, headed up by Raindance winner Marc Price, they will pick the top film in each of five categories (Action/Sport, Documentary, Mobile/Drone, Local and Fiction) and then announce an overall winner for the day.

I know Mark Bousfield's own work a bit as I reviewed his short film Ghost Nets last year (read my review here and, if you go to the festival, you can see the film as a special screening in the Second Showing at 3pm) and he mentioned then that this film festival was in the works. So when he recently got back in touch asking if I wanted to review the short films from the festival, I jumped at the chance. Then I discovered there were 21 of them! Undaunted, OK slightly daunted, I decided on a plan. I’d watch all the films from all 3 showings at the festival and give brief thoughts on each of them, then pretend I was a proper judge and pick my top films from each category before deciding on my own winner. If you’re going to the film festival, I’ve tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible but you should get an idea of what each film is about.

First Showing – 1:30pm

1 Cinecitta on Wheels, an action/sport film from Inti Carboni (Italy)

Highly skilled skateboarding in the surreal backdrop of an Italian film-lot. The cinematography and lighting is amazing and the director makes full use of the unique location to capture amazing footage of some of the best skateboarding I’ve seen outside the competitive arena. Usually the use of slow-motion in this kind of films is over-done and unnecessary but here it just adds to the rush of adrenaline. I must also mention the fantastic title card done in stencil graffiti style. I need this on a T-Shirt!

2 Great Whites to Skyscrapers, a mobile/drone film from Douglas Thron (USA)

Wow. An assault to the senses in a really good way in this action filled montage as we flip from ocean to farmland to cityscape. The artistry in some of the shots is outstanding and the flow between them, with the abrupt cutting, works incredibly well. The music choice adds to the drama and I love the eagle screech.

3 Xenogenesis IV, an action/sport film from Thomas Kolmans (USA)

The thing that stands out for me with this, as well as the bravery/lunacy of kayaking over waterfalls and the absolutely dazzling scenery, is the very clever use of both monochrome and vivid colour in this film. The music was a bit of an odd choice though, it would have been better to stick to the same style throughout, and, if I’m honest, the “story” at the start spoils it a bit for me as I’m not really sure what it was trying to achieve. I would have quite happily just watched more of the kayaking which was utterly superb.

4 Unordinary, a local film from Sidonie Carey-Green (USA)

A complete change of pace and a breathing space in this tiny abstract study of textures, sounds and colour that proves there is absolute beauty in the most mundane if you look for it. As a fan of experimental visual art this would work as a gallery art installation very well indeed.

5 From BMX to Brain Injury, a documentary from Tim Wardle (UK)

What a stunning documentary! Fascinating and professional, emotive without tipping over into the sensationalist, the mix of old home movies and interviews with family and friends serves to build up a vibrant picture of the fun-loving BMX mad Jamie and the reconstruction of the event itself is very well done. But I don’t mind admitting I was in tears by the end. Bravo.

6 Dis.Traction, a documentary from Polaf Crato (USA)

The Aloha Classic wind-sailing championships in Maui comes under the spotlight for this documentary about Marcilio Browne. Even if you don’t “get” the technicalities of it, the cinematography and personal story of athletes training, competing and talking about a sport that they love is enough to hold the interest although it sometimes felt a little drawn out and fragmented as a whole and the narration wasn’t as engaging as it perhaps should have been.

7 Coco Love, a mobile/drone film from Hannes Guggenberger (USA)

This high quality mobile film is a lot of fun as we sit in on a roadtrip in a classic VW campervan. The music choice suits the subject matter perfectly as does the portrait presentation that the phone gives.

8 The Mountain Within, a sports/action film from Philippe Woodtli (Switzerland)

I really want to try this although my vertigo would have vertigo! More stunning camerawork here as we get a feel for the mountain as it is climbed and then jumped from. There’s a lot more depth to this film than just the pretty pictures and the adrenaline rush though as I very much enjoyed the empowering narration.

Special Screening: Wasteland by Surfers Against Sewage

Although not part of the competition I also wanted to say something about the special screening at the first showing: I loved this. Shocking. Horrifying. Disturbing. Insightful and inciteful it’s 80 seconds of absolute power that smacks you in the face with its message and does its job at making you angry at the devastation humanity is wreaking on the natural world. Watch this.

Second Showing – 3:30pm

9 We Live Underwater, a documentary from Hendrik S Schmitt (Germany)

A fascinating and fact filled documentary about how the health of the ocean impacts our own lives and what can be done to protect the waters that surround us. Beautiful underwater cinematography is interspersed with footage of a team building an artificial “biorock” reef in the ocean to try and rejuvenate sealife and re-establish the ecology of the area. Calming music accompanies a strong message.

10 The Great Wide Open, short film fiction from Ciaran Dooley (Ireland)

A lovely little story about the relationship between a little girl and her grandfather as they work together to finish “The Great Wide Open,” the boat at the bottom of the garden. Narrated by the girl, with minimal extra dialogue, you hear about the family dynamic and her grandfather’s love of the water as they plan a pending trip that he’s going to take, soon and alone. But there’s so much more depth to her story with analogies for living life to the fullest while you can, so I have to praise the writing, and the acting of young Elena o’Connor and her onscreen bond with Grandad (John Kavanagh) is absolutely believable.

11 The Philippines by Drone, a mobile/drone film from Greg Leighton (UK)

This is the stuff of paradise holidays. Clear blue water, lush jungles and a mix of the traditional and the modern working in harmony. The thing I noticed most though is that editing is excellent, precisely cut to fit the well chosen music while still giving time to appreciate the stunning views of the Philippines.

12 Not2Bad, an action/sport film from Darcy Wittenburg, Colin Jones, Darren McCullough (Canada)

Not2Bad was... not too bad. The opening sequence is well executed but confusing. It was a novel way to get all the sponsors and cast names on the screen but, for me, had nothing to do with the film itself so the “cleverness” is lost and it did the rest of the film a bit of a disservice. The actual BMX/mountain biking sequences are amazing though, both in style and execution and the use of the abandoned house as a location in one section is inspired. The adrenaline of the runs is palpable thanks to the filming technique which, itself, felt precarious at times. What the hell was the recurring sheep about though?

13 South Coast, a mobile/drone film from Scott Palmer (Australia)

The coast lends itself beautifully to the cinematography achieved by a drone and this is a serene advert for the South Coast of Australia, showing off the amazing colours and textures of the coastal landscape in a way that is almost painterly, forming a moving abstract of blues and red-golds on the screen.

14 Eastern Caribbean, a mobile/drone film from Kai Jonny Thue Venøy (Norway)

There’s a great use of tilt-shift at the start of this fly-through of the Eastern Caribbean, giving an almost unreal stop-motion feel to the footage that was interesting to watch. I also really liked the fact that it made use of the “people” aspect of the islands rather than trying to make it feel like an “unspoilt” natural landscape and, as a ship geek, I appreciated the look at the cruise liners.

Special Screening: Ghost Nets by Mark Bousfield

Watch a trailer for Ghost Nets then read my original review.

Third Showing – 5:15 pm

15 An Eye in the Sky of Lebanon, a mobile/drone film from Carlos Haidamous (Lebanon)

A beautiful quote from the film-maker opens the film and sets the tone for a film of amazing contrasts, stunning scenery and, as he says, a view of completely unexpected aspects of Lebanon, a country so often negatively portrayed in the media.

16 988 in Brazil, an action/sport film from Riccardo Marca (Italy)

Windsurfer Riccardo Marca is the focus for this film and his skill on the water is undeniable. I really liked the filming technique used with the camera pretty much on the waterline on occasions so that it sometimes dips below the surface and the lens splashes added a good feeling of realism. But mostly, and rightly, you spend the time watching a master at work.

17 The Door of Opportunity, an action/sport film from Sam Parry (UK)

When a film starts with a husky and a skateboard – what’s not to love? This time the initial story aspect of the film really worked as a fun way to link to a montage of different sports. Nice to see some motorbiking included too.

18 Riptide, short film fiction from Chantelle Bertino-Clarke (Australia)

The surfing lifestyle forms the background as four friends head for the beach but a tragic accident turns the fun of surfing into a constant reminder for one of them. A nice film, if a bit predictable, and the lack of drama in the story failed to be lifted by the acting which, to me, felt very forced with no chemistry. Not bad but not brilliant.

19 Confection, a local film from Ed Rigg (UK)

Eli (Perry Millward) is cool! The story is told from his point of view and his narration has a real Adrian Mole feel about it. The writing is top quality, the acting superb, especially Millward’s, and the comedy sharp, poignant and slightly surreal as we follow schoolboy Eli through a half-term holiday of work experience. Highly entertaining and very appealing, if this was a pilot episode, I would definitely watch a TV series based on this outing. I loved it.

20 Outlangish: Skateboarding Against Poverty, a documentary from Tim Drabandt (South Africa)

An absorbing look at how a skateboarding initiative in Langa Township, Cape Town has brought the young together, given them a focus away from poverty and crime and promotes hope and inspiration for a better future. What struck me most is the eloquence of the children interviewed; they really “get” what the initiative is trying to do and that buy-in is attracting others. I found it a positive and uplifting film.

21 Northbound, a documentary from Jørn Nyseth Ranum

The final film of the day starts with an almost unbelievable statement: “The skateboarding in this film is done on frozen sand and water only.” But it’s true. And it’s seriously impressive as is the stunning landscape. Who wouldn’t want to skate on a beach! The cinematography, making use of the beautiful light in that part of the world, just adds to the atmosphere and watching the return of the sea at the end is really powerful. My only gripe is that I would have liked subtitles so that I could get the snatches of conversation that make up the only words in this film. The lack of narration or dialogue means that I think this film is badly classified as a documentary but that doesn’t take away from the beauty of the film.

Phew! Still with me? Good. Here’s my UNOFFICIAL category winners.

Documentary: A very easy choice as From BMX to Brain Injury wins this by a mile for me.

Action/Sport: A lot of choice but again a clear winner in Cinecitta on Wheels as I loved the concept and location choice.

Mobile/Drone: A tougher choice with so many beautiful places being featured but, in the end, I went for Great Whites to Skyscrapers because of the fantastic contrasts.

Local: I really wish I could give both films in this category an award as they are so different from each other and both excellent in their own right. However, I have to pick one so, even though its link to the theme is tenuous at best, I went for Confection. Because it’s going to be a TV series (sez me).

Fiction: Again only two films in this category but The Great Wide Open was by far the better film for me.

And now the moment I’ve kind of been dreading. I’ve got to pick an overall winner from the category kings. There's so much to commend in them all and they're all so different it is very difficult to compare them. OK here we go. Drumroll please. My winner by a very narrow margin (although not necessarily the real winner because I’m not a real judge) is...

[insert dramatic pause here]

From BMX to Brain Injury because there is such an important message behind it and Jamie’s zest for life and utter determination needs to be a lesson to us all. As he says in the film “shit happens” but we can’t let the either possibility or the reality of “shit happening” stop us living our lives. Watch the whole film (only 11 minutes) here.

Find out more about the Film Festival on the Wheels and Fins and Bou Mou Productions Facebook pages

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