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Melbourne Short Film Festival 2024

2024 Melbourne Short Film Festival poster

From riveting documentaries to hilarious animation, the 2024 Melbourne Short Film Festival offered 12 unique stories and gave a platform to filmmakers from around the world.

The Melbourne Short Film Festival aims to spotlight emerging and established filmmakers from Australia, Europe, and the United States. In its sixth consecutive year, MSFF featured an amalgam of stories and conversations told through varying lenses including genre-bending music videos and meticulously crafted Claymation. I attended the festival on February 8, 2024 at Thornbury Picture House, a 1920s motor garage converted into a single-screen boutique cinema. I collected my festival program on the way in, passing the painted brick entrance featuring a mural of J.R. Eyerman’s famous photograph of an enraptured audience watching the first ever full-length colour 3D film in 1952. The program revealed categorical winners will be announced at the end of the festival.

When I arrived, the 57-seat theatre was near full and the unmistakable hint of salt and butter wafted in the air. The festival began with Mauricio Battistuci’s Ana Wants To Be a Great Actress, a quiet tale of obsession and losing yourself in the pursuit of perfection, followed by Lingvo Obskura, an informative dive into the artificial language of Esperanto. Esperanto was created in 1887 to erase language barriers between ethnic groups. Directed by Brendan Keane, Lingvo Obskura featured amusing interviews with those who still speak and practice the language.

The order of the films made for great pace as no two correlating films were alike. Directed by Kai Kurve, Cornerboy, an experimental dance piece where a boy gets possessed by a fly, came before the moving documentary short Courage, two unanimous women’s tales of endurance to break free from a life of despair in prostitution. Courage, which won Best Short Documentary at the festival, was shot in a fascinating way, as we never saw the women’s faces and instead caught sight of their clothes, tussled hair, or the way one fiddled with the cotton at the end of their sleeve when revealing a deep truth. Directors Star Bazancir and Jasmina Pusök successfully painted a human narrative without the need for a face behind the words.

A still from the short film Courage, screened at the 2024 Melbourne Short Film Festival
A still from the short film Courage (Courtesy of 2024 Melbourne Short Film Festival)

I find the beauty of short films is concise storytelling and being able to peer through a small window into the human condition. MSFF included a mix of international voices as well as my familiar Aussie tongue. From director Ned Donohoe, Australian short The Forum dealt with themes of self-acceptance and personal growth. The Forum’s vulnerable but sharp dialogue made me feel seen and understood, in particular a bracing discussion about the escape hatch we allow ourselves to fall back into when overcoming anxiety. Another think piece was Jules Ronfard’s This is Not a GIF, a short composed entirely of GIFs concerning the superimpose between our dying planet and our dependence on technology.

Slot one ended with Themba Wahlstrom’s One in a Billion, a dumfounding documentary about finding the ‘Michael Jordan’ of Microsoft Excel, and Shane Poss Crosland’s The M Word, where a nihilistic bartender (Michael Tam) divulges his atypical lifestyle to the viewer. I felt The M Word would’ve benefited from a more urgent sense of pace.

Intermission meant popcorn became a secondary aroma to the refilling of sour liqueur and sitting by the bar fitted with 1930s vintage cinema seats. I sat comfortably in the foyer adorned with memorabilia including old film canisters and classic Cuban film posters. I was disheartened to see that more than half the theatre had left the festival before the second slot of films had even begun. It felt less of a testament to the films and more a reflection on how difficult it has become to command a modern audience.

Slot two opened with Bellus. Directed by Alexis Pazoumian, Bellus focuses on young drug dealer (Michel Pubill) mourning the death of his father and wanting to settle, but his partner (Santos Rizzo) has no intention of letting him go. Though shot and made well, I found Bellus didn’t move me the way it intended to. It felt like an earlier piece of context was missing which meant spending much of the runtime playing catch up.

Musical Claymation My Vagina won Best Animation. Writers-directors Shannon Burkett and Neil Burns’s hilarious lyricism tells the story of a suburban mum (vocals by Dee Roscioli) who accidentally sent a picture of her vagina to her male nanny, who also happens to be an assistant teacher at the school. However, the film that earned the most laughs, even in an emptying theatre, was the satirical mockumentary Co-Star Master Class. Michael L. Garcia’s short threw some clever and catty snipes at theatre kids and poked fun at the narcissism linked to actors. Co-Star Master Class had me chuckling behind my palms, fittingly receiving Best Short Comedy.

A still from the short film My Vagina, screened at the 2024 Melbourne Short Film Festival
A still from the short film My Vagina (Courtesy of 2024 Melbourne Short Film Festival)

MSFF unquestionably saved the best for last. Best Short Film recipient Beyond the Sea concentrates on connecting in a moment of stillness. Lady Casca (Jean-Michel Vovk), a drag queen in her sixties, receives some sad news before taking the stage at her cabaret for the last time. Retirement by the sea awaits, but she must first confront the dwindling relationship with her son (Thomas Mustin). Beyond the Sea is a technical marvel. Director Hippolyte Leibovici embraced Birdman’s (2014) sharp pace and percussive sound while tipping its hat to La La Land (2016) with a glittering musical epilogue.

The 2024 Melbourne Short Film Festival offered twelve impressive shorts, justly celebrating established and emerging filmmakers. It’s unfortunate audiences were unable to sit through a carousel of inimitable stories. The festival left me wondering how do we begin managing audiences’ pre-conceived notions enough to keep them in their chairs.

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