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Introducing IFFR’s Tiger Short winners

On Sunday, IFFR proudly announced the first big winners of this year’s festival.  Ismaïl Bahri (Apparition), Maïder Fortuné and Annie MacDonell (Communicating Vessels) and Dorian Jespers (Sun Dog) all won an Ammodo Tiger Short Award, along with a €5,000 prize. These are their films.

The Ammodo Tiger Short Competition jury – Nathanja van Dijk, director Kunsthal Rotterdam; Greg de Cuir Jr., film curator and writer; Safia Benhaim, filmmaker and Tiger Short Award winner 2015 – awarded the filmmakers and also designated a special mention to Wong Ping (Wong Ping’s Fables 2). 

Apparition

Apparition is a three-minute work by Tunisian artist Ismaïl Bahri in which a photograph is revealed paradoxically through a process of obstruction. A static camera records hands framing a brightly lit rectangular item. Through the movement of the hands – casting shadows over the item, rotating and bending it – fragments of the image it holds appear. We start to see heads, faces, a street scene, and soon a mass of people come into view, a number of whom stare directly into the lens. Bahri manages to capture a fleeting image while creating a statement on the mediation of history.

The jury cited Apparition as “a short, poetic piece that contemplates history and memory through the materiality of the moving image.” Bahri feels “very happy and surprised” to win the award with what he characterizes as “a short, simple and humble film, which I made quite in secret.”

There’s something that feels immediate and contemporary about the gaze of the people in the image, their eyes focused directly on the lens and the way their faces are gradually revealed. In reflecting on Apparition, Bahri describes “a kind of tension between the materiality of the photograph and at the same time something very much about light, projection and questions of photography and cinema.”

Communicating Vessels

Like a cup brimming with overflowing liquids, Maïder Fortuné and Annie MacDonell’s Communicating Vessels incorporates many different forms, ideas and visual techniques over its 30-minute duration. An art teacher recounts her history and relationship with a student referred to as E., an enigmatic personality who reveals herself as an art savant. What starts as a student-mentor relationship becomes increasingly consuming and confounding for the professor, whose investment in E.’s life begins to eclipse her own world.

The film’s title refers to the phenomenon in which liquid will fill connected containers to the same level, evening out despite differences in shape or height. It’s a metaphor for the relationship between the two figures in the film, poetically relating how an unexpected and all-encompassing fascination with someone can pull one completely out of their own skin.

Fortuné and MacDonnell were awarded for what the jury called “an incredibly intricate and layered work about being haunted by someone else’s story.” Fortuné recalled the journey it took to bring Communicating Vessels to IFFR: “It’s a collaborative film I did with my best friend. We worked on this film for two years – she lives in Toronto and I live in Paris – working together from far away and coming together to shoot it.”

The duo has worked together before in performance and writing, but this was their first collaborative film. Fortuné discussed the challenge of working together in a different form, though the film found its initial shape in the writing. “First it was challenging to articulate a desire of narration. However, because the story is linear, we can really work with images and are freer to be abstract, playful and work both alongside and against the text at different times.”

Sun Dog

Dorian Jespers’ masterful evocation of snow, shadow and distorted camerawork Sun Dog is a portrait of Fedor, a young locksmith in the north-western Russian port city of Murmansk repeatedly solicited by customers locked out in the cold. Though he’s ostensibly working and on call, Fedor ambles around the city aloof, with a sense of rootlessness. This, combined with an atmosphere of surreal hostility, lightly romantic poetry and magical realism – recalling perestroika-era feature films by Kira Muratova, Nikolai Dostal and Sergei Solovyov – results in a refreshingly unique form. Rather than presenting documentary as fiction, Sun Dog proposes that life can sometimes feel like a movie, in all its strangeness and beauty.

Describing Sun Dog as the work of “an emerging young artist who demonstrates a visionary approach to the tale of a young man adrift at the end of the world, a subjective piece that captures the acute delirium of tedious work”, the jury awarded Jespers with both the Tiger Short Award and IFFR’s European Film Awards Nomination. The filmmaker dedicated a special thanks to his community, “of course my crew, but also the people who surround me every day and comfort me when things are a bit dark. The fact that I can count on them allows me to do such a crazy thing as going to the Arctic Circle and dive into the unknown.” He recounted going to Murmansk twice to shoot tests and returning a third time at which point “the style and image was developed very clearly.”

Finally, he wanted to thank the IFFR programmers for not only inviting Sun Dog but placing it within a larger constellation of films—like Albert Serra’s Liberté and the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems – which delivered inspiration and energy in huge doses.

Written by Herb Shellenberger, film programmer, writer and editor of Rep Cinema International.

Photo in header: Dorian Jespers (l), Maïder Fortuné (m), Ismaïl Bahri (r) © Marwan Magroun