In a continuation from Part 1, we have an additional four interviews from a range of directors, across the world, including Kazakhstan, Iran and a little closer to home…Nottingham!

Mergen by Raiymbek Alzhanov

Screening: Unspoken (Variety Pack)
By referencing one of the most difficult periods in Kazakh history, Alzhanov makes his debut with an exciting historical thriller enriched with ancient magic. Up for 3 awards, including ‘Best Infestival’, the science fiction, fantasy short film is a standout as its immaculate cinematography tells the story of a boy, Mergen, who must defend his family in the place of his absent father, on the strife torn Central Asian steppe.

The idea came “shortly after finishing my studies at the National Kazakhstan University of Art” says Alzhanov who expresses his preferences in film production to be cinematography. “I was very much inspired by films. For example, ‘The Witch (2015)’ and TV series ‘Game Of Thrones (2011)’. I really like the genre of fantasy”. He continues to explain how “a lot of people don’t know about our culture and mythologies. After the Soviet Union history, we need to remember who we are, so I want to show the films to my people at first, but I think the people around the world will be interested in our folklore, so I want to show my films to people around the world. But first, of course, for the people and my country.”

The short film which took four months to film, is the first part of two. The second film taking just one week to film as Alzhanov expresses how “the first one was really hard to do”. When discussing the challenges that himself and the crew faced during filming, Alzhanov recalls, “During the shooting, during one of the night shifts when the generator broke, for a while half of us were in the dark in the mountains up to our knees in the snow. It was very scary. We could hear wolf screams. It was difficult but the final production was perfect, and in the movie, I think I’ve done my bit.”

Spooky Bastard by Michael & Rafe Bird

Screening: Home Team (East MIds Focus)
The grassroots directing duo, Michael Bird & Rafe Bird speak about how they utilised their five years of knowledge in music production and acting, to learn how to make films, during the pandemic. “When lockdown hit, I was like ‘hey let’s make something for my showreel, so we’ve got something to do creatively.’ So, we made a short film and then we realised we really enjoyed it, so we made another one and started to really focus on the craft.” Rafe explains whilst Michael nods his head in agreement.

After creating a variety of “snappy” shorts, each focusing on different aspects and techniques of filmmaking, the pair were ready to take on a bigger challenge, which is when they developed the idea for and wrote their short film ‘Spooky Bastard’. With excellent comedic timing, enhanced by its use of music/sound effects, the comedy, horror short film, follows main character Jamie, who has found himself in a horror movie. He’s just trying to get a good night’s sleep when he hears a loud crash and sees a cloaked figure in the garden. Jamie and his girlfriend must find a way to rid themselves of the Spooky Bastard.

When speaking about what inspired them, Rafe said “people often say it’s quite reminiscent” of films by Edgar Wright, who is known for his satirical style genre and expressive music. Michael added how ‘Gremlins (1984)’ had really inspired their film “in a really subliminal way which we hadn’t really realised, down to certain shots and certain kinds of things basically lifted from the film we hadn’t considered ourselves paying homage to.”

Talking about working so closely together, they joke saying “It was awful” before Michael expresses how “In a lot of ways it’s like a lot of collaborations. There are distinct differences in ways we want to do things.” However, they both agree that there is a huge benefit as they play to each other’s strengths throughout the filmmaking process.

The film which was written, directed, and produced by Michael & Rafe Bird has been nominated for the ‘East Mids focus award’ at the B’ Oscars.

Cosmo by Jonathan Hawes

Screening: Beeston & Beyond
Nottingham born director, Jonathan Hawes has 9 years of experience writing and directing short films, from the age of 14, which is evident in his latest project, ‘Cosmo’ which gravitates “towards themes of trauma, grief and obsession told through lens of gallows humour”. ‘Cosmo’ is Hawes’ second film to be shown at the festival because in 2016, his film ‘Forbidden fruit’ was selected. Speaking about this, Hawkes says he was “very proud to be selected then and very proud to be selected now” “It’s great to be back!”

The original inspiration was based off true events in Hawes’ life as he explains how “the cogs just started whirring” as he began to develop the unique idea. The short film sees an obsessive man conducting an investigation to find the animal who keeps pooping on its lawn. Speaking about the challenges that came with working with Squibs the cat, Hawes said they “were always on hand with a bag of treats”. He expanded saying, “It was challenging but it was so satisfying when you saw kind of the dailies, the slow-motion scenes of the cat”.

Hawes describes composing music for the opening shots of the film with a triangle and cable feedback to create the “sound of a cable just hanging out of a guitar amp, to sort of convey that sense of paranoia”. The music also composed by David Rubenstein, who Hawes praised as being a “fantastic composer and always a pleasure to work with” amplifies the emotions and captures the atmosphere of the short film incredibly well.

Shcool by Kimia Rahmani

Screening: Breaking Boundaries
Directed by a 19-year-old Iranian filmmaker, ‘Shcool’ is an eye-opening and inspiring documentary by Kimia Rahmani who “made a promise to be the voice of the young women… to do whatever it takes to show the world what these girls are going through to achieve their dreams” The documentary is incredibly informative as Rahmani creates a space for the girls to courageously speak about their dreams, hopes and frustrations about living in Iran as a girl.

Kimia’s manager, Dorreh Khatibi says that “the documentary captures the struggles of a young group of girls in one of the most under-privileged schools in Tehran, Iran”. Rahmani states, “The Islamic republic of Iran was turning teachers and tutors into dictators, and I’ve been engaged with this whole system from a very young age, and I’ve tried to fight back this dictatorship in schools for years. It wasn’t enough so I’ve decided to make this documentary.” Rahmani states “Women, Life, Freedom. Those three words are the only reason I made this documentary.”

Rahmani has promised the girls and made it her mission to make their voices heard. Rahmani’s manager and lecturer explain that “you’ve got to look at it as a group of people, children, these are children, that are in prison.” When asked about the challenges that came with filming, they said “Rahmani was doing it secretly. They banned her from school. They banned her from shooting the rest of the film. We just sort of found a new way to put this footage together. In her mind back then, there was a much bigger film than this and the editing was hard because of the lack of footages that she needed. Some of these girls in the film can easily get into trouble for just being in this film so this makes the process of making this film in Iran even harder.” Another significant aspect of the film is the low budget and how Rahmani wrote the script, filmed, and edited all by herself as well as borrowing a camera from a friend.

Along with the powerful short film, ‘Shcool’, Rahmani has filmed 2 more, including one film which covers the topic of abortion. ‘Shcool’ described as “more than just a film, it’s a message” is nominated for 2 awards at the B’ Oscars, ‘Best Infestival’ and ‘Non-fiction’.

Many thanks to Matthew, and Jakob for conducting these interviews! And of course, the amazing filmmakers for finding time to give us an insight into their incredible short films!

See you in Beeston!

Screening times and categories can be found via the festival programme or at https://beeston.arccinema.co.uk.

– Abigail Stilborn