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I keep thinking that one year I’ll actually make it to some screenings at the Africa in Motion film festival in Edinburgh, to attend some screenings and discussion panels in person, rather than catching a film on tour when the films tour the country. (Though to be honest, that is one of my favourite parts of this film festival, that it tours its films round more provincial art cinemas.) I did not expect that in this plague year of ours, I would see more AIM films and events than I normally do by virtue of the film festival having gone entirely virtual. This was my first attempt at attending a virtual film festival and I must confess it took me a while to get the hang of it – films were mostly available for 48 hours after their ‘showing’ time, but keeping track of what was available until when and lining them up with what I was in the mood for on any given day was a bit of an adventure.

This is the thirteenth year that the Africa in Motion festival has a held a short film competition. The short-list this year comprised of 15 films from 12 different countries, from across Africa and further afield throughout the diaspora, whittled down from over 450 entries. There is both a jury prize and an audience award so all the online viewing pages have an option to rate the films.

I was working from home for most of last week, so I took advantage of that to watch a couple of short films each day on my lunch-break.

Ser Feliz No Väo (Happy in the Gap)

This is a documentary about Afro-Brazilian culture, assembled almost entirely from archive footage. It’s got some really nice use of archive to weave together several different themes regarding recent Brazilian history, but while I do feel like I got an insight into something I know very little about, I felt that the film itself needed a stronger narrative through line to hold it all together. It started off strongly but then drifted away a bit and I got lost.

Sun and Moon

A short but sweet little stop motion animation about a man playing chess with himself, alone in an Egyptian coffee shop – an ahwa. After he stares at the board for too long the pieces seem to come to life and enact an epic battle of good versus evil, seemingly playing out some internal conflict of the man’s own. The little plasticine characters we follow seem a little rough and ready, but that quickly becomes part of their charm. It’s a rather enchanting little film all told.

Roger

This one is a dreamy little piece about a jazz musician – Roger Kosa – as he struggles through the frustrations and mundaneness of life to find the transformative escapism of playing the piano. According to the film’s summary there’s a lot of other things going on in this documentary, but honestly I don’t think you would get any of it from just watching the film. Which isn’t to say that the film isn’t any good. It’s a dreamy and enjoyable watch, but it feels like the opening to a much longer documentary – or perhaps the trailer for it, and if it were I would definitely like to see the rest of that documentary.

Kauna Pawa (Invisibles)

This was hands down my favourite film of the shorts available to me – the first competition short that I rated five stars – a magical realist, surrealist fable. The score is excellent, almost doing the work of the absent dialogue, cueing us into the mental and emotional states of our two taciturn leads. It is beautifully shot, the use of colours, the shot composition – all the little perfect details – and the cinematography are just stunning. Doubtless helped along by the stunning dramatic scenery of Namibia – I always forget until I see it on film again how gorgeous those landscapes are, and wonder why more films don’t shoot there – and I loved the visual referencing of Mad Max: Fury Road which did in fact film there. Much like that film this one has an excellent line in show not tell – I don’t think there’s a single line of dialogue in the film – visually taking us on a journey with our protagonists, as they carry their literal and metaphorical baggage through the dessert and find closure together. It’s dreamy and strange and lovely – highly recommended.

Days, Nights: Queer Africa Shorts

These films were not were not in the short film competition but as short films on my lunch break was the order of last week I managed to squeeze in most of these too. These four films could not have been more different in style, tone and genre but they were all excellent little films. (I’d have given them all four stars at least!) From the sci-fi dystopia of 2064, to the London gangster buddies of Mandem, through the Sao Paulo scene kids of Bonde, and onto Ife which navigates the difficulties of being a lesbian in contemporary Nigeria; they all have very different perspectives on what being LGBT in different parts of Africa and the African diaspora means today and might mean in the future.

Serotonin

This one is a straight up art film. That’s not a criticism in the slightest, the film knows exactly what it is and fully commits to it, so while I was at times not really sure where it was taking me, the confidence with which it moved forwards allowed me to relax and just enjoy the ride. It’s beautifully shot, mostly in black and white, but with certain scenes in colour, and it really makes the most of that, to illustrate shifts in tone and mood. There’s also some lovely use of sound in the film, from the opening sound bridge to the recurring motif of the train coming ever closer.

I think it’s about the protagonist’s struggle with his mental health, choosing to pursue and hold onto the small joys in life, and not to be consumed by the struggles and darkness of life. I think. It’s all very metaphorical, but in an appealing way, rather than an irritating way, which given how many shorts I’ve seen that cover the same ground, is considerably harder than you’d think.