The Festival des Cinémas d’Irlande et de Grande-Bretagne has been taking place in the heart of Cherbourg for the past 19 years. It is friendly and well organised but despite a massive poster campaign throughout the region, audience attendance, especially at the short films, was extremely low. It seemed that the only people who turned up to see them were the filmmakers themselves and the jury. The British and Irish features shown in competition tended towards the conventional style of films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral. The jury brought in to judge them were so laid back about their job that the audience often waited for them to arrive, sometimes as long as 45 minutes!

The selection process for the student short films seemed a bit haphazard. The festival relies on schools presenting their best films of the previous year. An opportunity for schools to advertise themselves seemed lost, as there was no information about any of the schools or what type of film courses they were providing.

The Festival organisers informed me that all work submitted had been made by undergraduates. Bearing this in mind the standard of work submitted by INIS in Montréal and the Edinburgh College of Art (Film and Television Department) was absolutely exceptional. The attention to detail was astounding: from lighting to sound, to cinematography and the use of professional actors. Films that really stood out were Pas de Deux by Francis Lussier (INIS), Dead by Mark Henrichsen and Déja Vu by Chris Thompson (both entries from the Edinburgh College of Art). Pas de Deux is held together by absolutely superb acting (from both the lead actor and the dog) and is a roller coaster of despair as a man awaits the increasingly improbable arrival of his girlfriend. Both Dead and Déja Vu are inventive, novel, and filled with suspense, with Dead having the added bonus of being incredibly funny.

With examples such as the above, it is difficult to understand why a director, even (or especially) a student director, would choose to work with untrained actors. Using an easily accessible mum, dad, best friend or neighbour simply does not work, not even if you have a brilliant script! In fact many a half-way intriguing plot was completely and utterly ruined by monotonous voices and self-conscious acting. Look at the Clouds by Scott MC Thompson and In Passing by Lee Williamson (both from the Bournemouth and Poole College) spring to mind in this context.

Isaac and Ellen by Michael Pearce struck me as a particularly risky project to undertake for a film student. Pearce casts a child as the lead and tackles the topic of euthanasia, which in this case sees the child helping an old woman to her death after a stroke/heart attack. His direction is even handed and he ably drives the plot to its conclusion. The enforced relationship between the old woman and the young miscreant is endearingly developed and is at times quite comical, the more unusual to watch given the lack of verbal communication.

The subject of love at a distance is the theme of Full Circle by Fitzmaurice Simon (Dublin Institute of Technology). As the plot develops you really desperately want Philippa, who works in the chip shop, to get together with Paul, who works across the road as a guard at the local bank.

The Remembering by Geraint Thomas (Bournemouth University) and Baggage by Greg McManus (Arts Institute of Bournemouth) were both perfect examples of one idea being enough to propel a film forward at breakneck speed. They both use an element of comedy to depict fear and panic. The Remembering deals with the problem of writer’s block in filmmaking and Baggage deals with the fear that a self-employed drug dealer has of getting his stash through customs. Non! By Mehdi Mostefa_ (EICAR) is an absolutely professional anti drink-driving short. The implied comparison between a gun and a car and whom they randomly kill is positively inspired. If I were commissioning films for an anti drink-driving campaign, I would pick this one up in a flash! Considering the different subjects, the above three films left me with a remarkably similar feeling of panic and nausea, a tribute to the filmmakers!

This feeling of excitement was totally lacking in Exit by Lucy Wallace. Although a period piece, most of the actors looked uncomfortable in their clothes and seemed detached from the script. I had no idea where the plot was heading, partly because it wasn’t really clear what the relationships were between the characters, partly because the staging seemed contrived and the acting stilted (apart from one exception). I can only surmise that the jury allocated this film the prize of Best Film as they were impressed by the appearance of John Hurt in it.

Several animation films were also of a high quality. Live Stock by Dicken Franklin, My Third Arm by Joe Bor, The Typewriter by Richard Haynes and Mikolaj Watt (all from The Arts Institute at Bournemouth) and Train Train Medina by Ndyoye Douts (Belgium. Atelier Graphoni a.s.b.h.). Live Stock made for compelling watching to a frantic soundtrack of Old McDonald had a Farm, while My Third Arm although lacking in originality (based on the cliché that there is someone for everyone) depicts endearingly cute animated characters. The Typewriter was notable for the well-synchronised action of the animated character to the music of Leroy Anderson, to comic effect. Train Train Medina was in a league of its own. Directed by Mohamadou Ndoyehe, a graduate from the School of Fine Arts in Dakar, this is a continually moving collage which represents the building and growth of a village in the sand and its eventual demise as the sea recaptures the sand it has been built on. The activities are accompanied by the everyday sounds of a town that seem to have been recorded in a metal bucket. This made for intriguing, original and very very interesting viewing.

Short films, often referred to as a director’s ‘calling card’ should really be acknowledged as an art form in their own right – a point proven by many of the directors whose work was screened at this festival.