The standout offering of the block is 'The Critic', written, directed by and starring Stella Velon. It delves into the psyche of an actor and questions the role of critics; their value and the casual cruelty of those paid to judge, rather than do. Velon’s actress faces down a shadowy interviewer who belittles her and tries to trap her in cunningly worded questions until you’re willing her to cut him down to size. Although the mechanism of the narrative isn’t novel, it is immaculately executed and as the only visible face on screen Velon ably carries the film. Her wealth of expressions do far more work than any dialogue could, admirable for anyone directing themselves. Understanding the form and purpose of a short story is just as important as screencraft and 'The Critic' succeeds on all fronts.
'Ghost Dance' by Emilia Izquierdo may have gone over my head. On the surface it is a bewildering animation which felt wildly out of place in the programme and offered little more than diverting shapes. Several minutes of wiggling colours and swirling figures may well have been a triumph of animated technique but within the context of a series of clear narratives, and especially following such a strong contender, there is little to remark on.
Saam Farahmand’s 'A Portrait of the Artist Angus Fairhurst', an homage to the least-known of the Young British Artists of the late 80s, is a little worthy, an art student kind of film in every sense. That said, the cast do well with the convincing dialogue, and the intercut snippets of Fairhurst’s underrated work is well-managed and thoroughly entertaining. Likewise, the shaggy dog story that the eponymous artist tells to his enfant terrible contemporaries works as a neat metaphor for the whole era of thoroughly commercial art. The sumptuous black and white film cements the effect, and the affect.
Luke Bradford’s 'Risk' shows its cards early and what we expect to be the big twist is signposted a mile off, making the wait for the reveal a little tiresome. The true twist however comes in the closing credits when a few words reframe everything that has just passed. More of a PSA than an entertainment film it is nonetheless fully effective in its mission to shock and challenge. Confident direction shines through and the film easily stands up to much higher budget rivals. Perhaps a less obvious (and more contentious) consequence of the film’s proselytising is how it raises the question of how much right, and how much responsibility, others bear when a woman’s choices for her own body are potentially causing untold harm to another.