Big stories, bold ideas: Encounters Short Film and Animation festival launched its 2016 programme

This Wednesday, Bristol-based short film and animation festival Encounters  launched its 2016 programme at the Roxy Bar and Screen in London, in a very friendly event that included a brief sneak preview of the competition.

The tagline for this year’s edition (the festival’s 22nd) is “Short Films, Big Stories, Bold Ideas”, and ‘bold’ does seem to be the operative word here, judging by what can be guessed from the appetiser provided.

The centrepiece of the screening was a Slovenian short film reframing the fear and loathing around the refugee crisis as a home invasion thriller (“A new home”, Dir. Žiga Virc); it’s the work of a director who knows horror movie tropes and how to subvert them, while also making good use, visually, of harsh architectural shapes and surfaces. (Incidentally, I was sat next to a Slovenian cultural delegate, who warmly recommended a feature mockumentary by the same filmmaker, “Houston, we have a problem!” I can only pass on this recommendation to you- as for the short film, you’ll be able to see it at Encounters as part of a competition programme ironically titled “Bloody Foreigners”)

The rest of the films we were allowed to see, while much briefer, tackled similar daring and relevant contemporary themes, from mental illness to racism to stalking in the era of social media. The announced programme is committed to this approach, including a pitching competition aimed at showcasing diversity (“Widening the Lens”) and a curated screening of short films from all 28 EU countries (“Contimental”), a choice made more poignant by Britain’s recent announcement that 28 are soon to become 27. Encounters 2016 doesn’t exist in an ivory tower: its feet are firmly planted in the troubled times we’re living.

Animation-wise, the highlight of the festival is the 40th anniversary of its fellow Bristolians at Aardman, with a talk from founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord, and a family-friendly model making workshop. The animation competition looks strong, including familiar names like Oscar nominee Koji Yamamura and BAFTA winner Ainslie Henderson, although I am most of all looking forward to discovering weird and wonderful unknowns. The preview (starting with “Eagle Blue” by Will Rose) included a few cartoons utilising simple, colourful shapes and sound design in an almost hypnotic manner; of course, as a narrative-oriented person, I’m hoping to find more story-driven pieces at the festival, too.

Since I was there as a representative of a Romanian publication, it’s worth mentioning that Romanian cinema still enjoys recognition amongst connaisseurs and makes for a good topic of conversation at film events like this one. In fact, Encounters had a focus on Romania last year (this year, it’s Ukraine). I’ve spotted two Romanian shorts in the 2016 competition: “A night in Tokoriki” by Roxana Stroe, and “Seven Months Later” by Andrei Cretulescu, both in the “Modern Love” programme. The familiar face of Romanian actress Ana Ularu can be seen in the British sci-fi short “Trial”, also in competition.

There is really too much happening at this year’s Encounters festival to summarise in a few paragraphs: and in fact, variety is part of the joy of a short film showcase. Do peruse the programme at your leisure;  the festival takes place in Bristol, from 20 to 25 September.