by Francesca Warley
Last weekend saw the 11th edition of Leiden International Short Film Experience (LISFE) at various venues around Leiden. This year the theme was Light, in recognition of the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death in 1669. Rembrandt was born, lived and worked in Leiden, and so it seems a perfect subject to base this year’s selection on. As light is one of the fundamental tools for any filmmaker or photographer, it is not only Rembrandt’s use of chiaroscuro that makes this year’s theme a suitable one.
The festival programme began on Thursday evening and ran through to Sunday night. The main venue was Kijkhuis, situated just off Leiden’s main shopping street in the heart of the city. There, the cinema’s two screens were taken over by LISFE for the entire weekend and the films were organised into sessions of between 1 to 2 hours long, collated under related themes such as love, family, identity and refuge with titles like ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’, ‘Family Heritage’ and ‘Global Village’. There were 3 awards up for grabs, Audience, Student and General Competition and all three were hotly contested.
The winner of the audience award, which was based on the audiences’ votes as they left the screenings, went to Ian Thomas Ash’s The Father’s Love Begotten. The 17-minute film was almost entirely made up of a black screen accompanied by a monologue, of a man recounting his horrific ordeal of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in his childhood and describing its lasting emotional and physical affects. Only in the last few seconds do we see the narrator’s face, filmed for a matter of seconds while he smokes on his cigarette and reflects on this revelation. Many films in the selection such as this forced those watching to think outside of the box about what truly defines film and cinema.
The array of student talent was impressive and revealed a promising and talented roster of future filmmakers. A closely fought competition between the shortlist saw Danish student filmmaker Jesper Dalgaard take the prize with his documentary short Weltschmerz, a poetic semi-surreal narrative following a blind director who is searching to find the truth about love. Another contender which had me on the verge of tears was Dante vs Mohammed Ali by Dutch student Marc Wagenaar, about two teenage boys struggling in different ways to come to terms with their sexuality and mutual affection, within a deeply conservative and virile community. The variety of student films conveyed a sense of these young directors searching for meaning, brilliantly capturing the uncertainty and insecurity that defines youth.
In total 127 films were included in the final selection, out of 1166 submitted films from 72 nationalities, spanning a broad range of subject matter and differing widely in genre, cinematography and directorial and editorial choices. Such meant a great variation in the sessions’ themes, from ‘Anthropocene’ (exploring humans’ relationship to their natural environment) to ‘The Fairer Sex’ (discussing what it is to be a man in today’s world) to ‘WTF’ (interesting and downright bizarre), giving all the chance to find something to suit their personal interests. The overall winner went to Monica Santos and Alice Guimarães’ Between the Shadows, a brilliant black-and-white stop-motion with real-life actors and actresses, in a futuristic story about a woman searching for a lost heart. The innovative choice of using real people in a stop-motion film swayed this year’s judges to give it first place.
Other events over the weekend ensured that those less interested in sitting in a cinema could engage with the festival too. On the Thursday evening, a collaboration between LISFE and Leiden University saw British film director Peter Greenaway give a talk about his work and in particular Rembrandt’s influence in his films. The talk was overflowing with attendees and positively received by those who went. At Old School, a cafe and cultural space near the University, there was a selection of experimental films playing all through the weekend as well as a VR room, where you could experience scuba-diving amongst a school of sharks’ feeding time or an almost-too-real house of horrors. On Saturday night, there was a free outside screening of the student competition contenders in the square next to Kijkhuis. Around 30 people snuggled up on cushions with blankets and headphones in what was a nice alternative to the regular way of watching films on a big screen. The next morning, parents and their children were able to come and engage in an animation workshop to celebrate Mother’s Day, and throughout the day families could be seen revelling in the fruits of their (very fun) labour. A tailored session specifically for kids was on offer alongside.
LISFE is an entirely volunteer run organisation, with the core team dedicating hours of hard work because of their love of film and belief in the importance of making visible the talent of tomorrow. Its casual yet professional vibe means that you don’t have to empty the contents of your wallet just to see a few films and enjoy a couple of drinks, but that you certainly get your money’s worth by seeing even 2 or 3 sessions.
If you didn’t manage to attend this year then make sure to keep an eye and ear out for the dates in 2020. If 2019 is anything to go by, it promises to be a weekend that you cinephiles won’t want to miss.