We at Cult Critic take pride in championing independent world cinema and it is this motivation that drives our monthly film awards. Like every month, a host of films spanning genre, form, and length was inducted into the Cult Criticvie Award – Winner’s Circle for June.
Impressing viewers and jury with their finesse, filmmakers from across the world showcased their craft, sharing the fruits of collective labour put in by exceptional writers, editors, cinematographers and actors. Here’s a glimpse into some of the entries that bagged CCMA’s coveted titles this month.
The Avant-Gardener BY Lindsay Katt, US
Best Debut Filmmaker, Best Editing (Fiction and Documentary)
Genre: Experimental Short, Music Video, Adventure
NYC-based musician and performance artist Lindsay Katt’s latest project is an ambitious mixed media project that won hearts for its original soundtrack and originality of vision among the CCMA jury, also taking home the Best Film on Women Award, Best LGBT Film Award and Outstanding Achievement awards for Best Silent Film and Best Experimental Film this month.
Edited and produced by Daniel Madoff, The Avant-Gardener uses visual storytelling to stitch together an extended music video for Katt’s latest album. Three other directors Heather Matarazzo, Jeremiah Kipp and Carl Byrd join her to concoct an overarching and connected narrative for ten of her original songs, much like Anima (Thom Yorke) and Guava Island (Childish Gambino).
The mise-en-scene ranges from cityscapes drenched in neon light and Tom Rosenthal-esque animation, to split screens and dance routines choreographed by the Tony-winning John Carrafa. From puppets and office workers to animated flora and fauna (supervised by visual artist Michael Hofftka), each element sways to the lilting rock music. Paintings come to life and fill the short film with endless colour and adventure.
The most impressive facet of the film is its seamless edit that not only links the ten segments together but also introduces depth and realness to the story of Katt’s protagonist. In an interview, she says how important it was for her that her central character is allowed to save herself, and be her own hero. She also cites the visual albums from multi-faceted rock legends of the sixties as her inspiration to produce a film track to her record. The Avant-Gardener notably won the grand prize for Experimental Short at the Rhode Island International Film Festival last year.
The Other You BY Brandon Wade, UK
Best Women’s Film
Directed by Brandon Wade (Wadebe), The Other You is an innovative and sensitive portrayal of dissociation, depersonalisation, and derealisation in women, that often go undiagnosed and strike with the early onset of hysteria.
In the short film, Wadebe uses dance movements, sensory overload, blurry images and mirrors to depict the crumbling psyche of his protagonist Amelia Marren (Sophie Wilson), a young girl on the cusp of adulthood. In many ways, therefore, this is a coming-of-age tale that leaves the audience with an important mental health PSA in the end. Visually, the displacement between Amelia and her other self is represented by Sam (Charlotte Monkhouse), who is invisible to the world and embodies all that Amelia aspires to be but can’t.
As her condition steadily deteriorates, she develops harmful coping mechanisms, finds herself untethered to reality and does Sam’s bidding to maintain a facade of normalcy. The narrative unfolds to reveal how Amelia is tormented by anxiety and triggered by pressure to conform to her mother’s expectations (that involve going to law school) and how Sam ultimately helps Amelia understand why she struggles to connect with others and her own self. The film is an eye-opener for anyone who wishes to understand what dissociative disorder looks like and Wadebe’s cast and crew couldn’t have outdone themselves.
Caminhos Longos (Long Paths) BY António José de Lemos Ferreira, Portugal
Best Cinematography (Fiction and Documentary)
Caminhos Longos is a rumination of the past and documentary of the present, narrated by director Antonio Jose who recalls his childhood memories of life in Macao, an erstwhile Portuguese colony situated on the Chinese coast.
Born and raised in a Catholic Macanese family, Jose returns to his homeland sixty years later with a camera in tow, to document the urban temporality and the heritage of Macao he left behind. He is confronted with the drastic changes his old neighborhood of St. Lazaro has undergone, offering a marvellous testament of oral history of the Chinese Catholic community once living in their own land as a diaspora.
Traversing the Long Paths, Jose attempts a portrayal of the multicultural history of the town, especially during the St. Joao Baptista Festival, and captures the cultural shifts over time with the help of archival footage. Parallelly, he also notes how the place has evolved into a tourist hub.
As Jose tried to relive and reconnect with the past, he compares old browning photographs with the streets and architecture of modern Macau. The documentary has been awarded the best cinematography award this month for good reason – an array of camera angles and shots help recreate a holistic view of contemporary Macao, and follows Jose diligently as he conjures a Sunday school from memory, the church where his parents got married, the view from his favourite tower, or a wide corridor where he used to play in the afternoons.
He calls upon an old friend and together they wander about the town, visiting the old haunts, exploring the fast nightlife and local cuisine, and stumbling upon reminders of a forgotten past. As Jose himself says, “Making a documentary is like the adventure of living. You plan and organize, but there are always unexpected surprises.”
Qassem Haddad – The Last Door’s Hour BY Khalid Alrowaie, Bahrain
Best Director, Best Documentary Film (Any Length)
Genre: Experimental, Documentary
Based on the life and works of iconic Bahranian poet Qassem Haddad, “The Last Door’s Hour” is an experimental documentary presented as a visual poem, and like Haddad’s verse, the film is also free of formalist constraints.
It has been fetching Alrowaie global recognition for introducing the world to the genius, intellect and revolutionary spirit of Haddad – for the first time on screen. The film even garnered an outstanding achievement award at Calcutta 4th International Cult Film Festival (CICFF) and was recently conferred Italian honours.
A seasoned filmmaker, Khalid Alrowaie, has a number of critically acclaimed films, docu-series, and shorts under his belt. He has helmed this rendition of Haddad’s prolific and eventful writing career, with powerful adaptations of his lyrics beginning from his extraordinarily short scholarship.
One of the most celebrated poets from the Gulf, Haddad, now 71, never completed his secondary education. He was an active believer that Arab society needs a radical revolution and for this, he was imprisoned and tortured. An important figure in Bahrain’s push for modernity, freedom, and justice, he never stood for tyranny and oppression.
To translate this man’s images from the page to the stage, Alrowaie deploys a whole range of stylistic tropes and techniques including animation, archival footage, and symbolic tones. The documentary thus offers a great starting point for anyone who seeks to explore the essence of contemporary Bahranian politics and literature.
En Fer BY Olivier Ross-Parent, Canada
Best Short Film
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Olivier Ross-Parent’s En Fer is one of the most minimalist thrillers I’ve seen in recent times. In fact, it is far too experimental to be bracketed off as a thriller. The film is four odd minutes long and essentially depicts the inner workings of a homicidal psychopath through interesting visual elements. But it appears deceptively simple, insofar as Ross-Parent sticks to a single location, keeps dialogues to a minimum, and focuses on a silent solo act by the protagonist.
We don’t get full disclosure regarding his misdeeds, guilty conscience and comeuppance as thrillers generally offer. We only get a monotone in the form of a disembodied voice asking “Why?”
The film is shot on a noirish grainy greyscale and the camera movements are brave, inventive, free and unpredictable at times. While usually, it’s the camera that minutely tracks the protagonist, in this case, Yuli Malderle as the killer follows the gaze of the camera. Malderle accordingly lunges and stops in his tracks, and breaks the fourth wall at will. The impact of these inventive devices are heightened by stylistic elements like the searing background score and frenetic closeups.
The plot is for each one of us to interpret as we please as the film does not attempt to demystify the narrative for its viewers – which is what makes for a compelling watch.