Buxton Film's contribution to the Fringe may appear to have shrunk somewhat but that is only because their exciting Festival of World Cinema will take place in November when we all have more time to enjoy it. For now we have the fantastic Open Shorts, representing the winning entries of a competition for amateur filmmakers and featuring offerings from all over the country. Now in its fourth year, the competition's standard seems to have gone up and up and the great variety lends an enjoyable lucky dip frisson to the proceedings.
Maz Bradley's Summer Wine Women, an all-female Last of the Summer Wine tribute, got things off to a jolly start though I question whether the actors did quite all of their stunts... By contrast Keith Large's Summer Ice was a slow-building thriller in which a smart young woman revealed the quiet desperation of a life so poverty-stricken that she was leaving her bedsit to live in a garage. In many ways, all this was interesting enough without having to worry about who was following her into the garage... It was intriguing to catch Keith Large's other short, Everyone's a Lunatic, a very different piece in which a couple squabble about the use of the term 'lunatic', with the wife finding a novel way to unsettle her opinionated hubby.
Thirty Days by Berta Valverde was a brilliantly shot film full of visual interest but somewhat incoherent which was a shame. I later read the synopsis with interest - perhaps the idea of a man's changing identity after a car accident was just too difficult to convey in five minutes. Joe Conneely's Deathwish was comparatively leisurely, offering an absorbing insight into the lives of a devout and caring black professional and his wayward son who has just been diagnosed as HIV positive. Picking up the pace, Teacup by Peter Andrew showed how simple is often best - take one lad, an empty house and a persistent knocking and you have all the ingredients for a real nail-biter.
The evening was divided into three with the final session featuring the two commended films and the winner. Birdie by Rhys Fullerton was a real three-minute gem in which an old man with a stick wanders through the park recalling his finest hour as a golfer, his stick becoming a golf club as the comforting memory grows in his mind. I know nothing about golf but it struck me as extra touching that his treasured recollection should be a birdie rather than a hole in one. The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway was a well-crafted documentary about a fascinating subject, the restoration of the track between Duffield and Wirksworth. Hearing how they cleared ten miles of track and how the oldest volunteer was in his seventies having had 'a couple of heart attacks and a touch of cancer' was truly inspiring.
After the two commended films came the more than justified winner. Nic Blower's Periphery blew me away, in 17 minutes rocking my comfortable world with the story of a migrant worker who fatally trades in his tent on the Essex marshes for a terrible existence in a shed at the bottom of the garden of an abusive yet horribly believable couple. Well acted and inventively shot with a dark vision of suburbia that put me in mind of David Lynch, this was unmissable stuff with evocative original music by Sheridan Tongue.
It seems almost unnecessary to assert that Nic Blower's name will surely be heard again and indeed it is likely that many of these filmmakers (some present at the screening) will be making waves elsewhere. As if to prove my point, Sunday night's Wallander turns out to be directed by Esther May Campbell, winner of the first Open Shorts contest. Organiser Keith Savage tells us reliably that the Buxton Open Shorts prize is the one that she cherishes more than any of her many subsequent gongs including a Bafta.