Review: 2017 LUFP Showcase

Sean Drury tells us what went down at the third annual Lancaster University Film Production Society Showcase

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Image courtesy of Sian Howells

Members of the Lancaster University Film Production society gathered at the Dukes on the 17th June for the third annual LUFP film showcase. A year’s worth of hard work has come to fruition in the last few weeks, and the result is seven short films covering genres ranging from rom-com to mockumentary to LUFP’s first ever action film. As someone who has never watched an LUFP production before, I was cautiously optimistic about what to expect from the showcase – and it did not disappoint.

Purgatory

The first film under the spotlight was Purgatory, a neo-noir thriller directed by Theo Bianchini and Ed Moore. It tells the story of Ernest (Theodore Garov), a former detective struggling with depression and addiction following the suicide of his wife Penelope (Kasia Bentkowska). Reluctantly called back into action by old partner Gavyn (James Adewunmi), Ernest begins to unravel the story of a mysterious cult, and a potential link between them and his wife’s tragic death.

If there were any sceptics in the room, this was the ideal tonic. The production value was high and Purgatory deservedly took the award for best cinematography. The performances were impressive too, particularly from Theodore Garov as a man struggling with his own demons. Even though this was the longest film of the afternoon the plot had enough strands to support a full-length feature, and the short running time meant that it felt a little compressed. But for ambition, Purgatory may be unmatched.

The Good, the Bad, and the Awkward

Film number two brought a change of pace with this short-but-sweet romantic comedy. It tells the story of Jake (Jason Naylor) and Sarah (Máire Robinson), and gives us snapshots of their romance, from sweet beginnings to the blissful honeymoon period to the troubles that came after, before their eventual break-up. The leading pair are in fact a real-life couple (the film pokes fun at this fact in its opening titles), and it shows in their on-screen chemistry.

Will Spicer’s film spans an array of emotions. The opening scene, in which Jake and his friend Ben (Matthew Jackson) discuss their current romantic relationships, had the audience chuckling, with one sight gag earning particularly big laughs. On the other hand, the final scene, in which a post-break up conversation between Jake and Sarah is subtitled with their real thoughts, was very poignant. It clearly struck a chord with the audience, and the film also took the award for Best Sound Design.

Proxy

With just two characters and one room, Proxy is perfect for the short-film format – but by the end, I was intrigued enough to want more. Will Evans and Shashank Sharma star as two unnamed young men with just hours remaining before they face the death penalty. One of them fears death, while the other seems quite aloof about it. Things start off in fairly light-spirited fashion, as one teaches the other to sing humpty dumpty and dance the Macarena.

But this soon gives way to revelations about abusive fathers and overprotective mothers, as each supports the other and helps them to come to terms with what they have lost. Evans and Sharma both turn in fine performances, and praise should also be given to the crew for creating such a good-looking film in the surroundings of a dingy basement. Shashank Sharma and Jamie Mills have created a fascinating premise, which could easily merit expansion.

Ha-P

Ha-P was the film I was most intrigued to see, on the basis of its publicity and its premise. In 2025, the world is ravaged by overpopulation and disease, but the Ha-P pill provides respite, inducing a state of betterness in anyone who takes it. That is the theory anyway, but there are concerns that the pill is linked to violence and childbirth complications. Pharmacologist Katya Burns (Charlie Larner) defends the pill, but struggles as she watches it ruin the lives of those around her.

A complicated premise and a short running time means that the film is a bit heavy on exposition at times, but these monologues are in safe hands with Charlie Larner. She deservedly took the award for best actress in a leading role for her performance here, brilliantly portraying Katya’s frustration at the pill’s horrific side-effects, and her hope for the brighter future it can bring. LUFP president Jamie Mills, in his final directorial role for the society, has pulled off a great film with Ha-P, and once again the biggest praise I can give it is that I was left wanting more.

A Pointless Fraud

A Pointless Fraud is funny, and I don’t mean ‘let’s-laugh-at-this-because-it’s-a-student-production’ funny. I mean ‘you-could-put-this-in-cinemas-and-people-would-laugh’ funny. In the style of a mockumentary, the film presents a behind-the-scenes take on the making of a film, as new director of photography Collin (Tom Hayon) is brought in to help bring director Pier’s (Dan Power) ‘vision’ to life. But it’s not long before the pragmatic Collin and the extravagant Pier begin to clash on key issues.

Dan Power’s performance as Pier absolutely steals the show, and it was no surprise when he took home the award for best actor in a leading role. The film feels quite authentic, in some cases with good reason. A scene in which a gazebo blows away in the wind was apparently a genuine accident, and expensive to the tune of an extra £80 – but for the hilarity it brings, I would say that was money well spent. I think what Bernadeta Beange and her team have pulled off here is fantastic, and well worth a watch when it comes out on YouTube.

Jigsaw

High production value, great acting, intense editing, and a gripping story. Put all those things together and you have Jigsaw, a worthy winner of the top gong for best picture. Michael Byrne is brilliant as Sean, a young man who wakes up in his trashed apartment and struggles to recall the events that lead to this point. Brief flashbacks and paranoid urges haunt him, and he pushes away all attempts to help him, from girlfriend Liv (Maire Robinson), best friend Nathan (Jason Naylor) and psychologist Ella (Sophie Goodman).

The words ‘anterograde amnesia’ immediately put you in mind of films like Memento and Before I Go to Sleep, and the influences of both are apparent here, as Sean struggles to piece together events and distinguish truth from fiction. In addition to best picture, Amelia Slater also took the awards for best director and best original screenplay, while there was also a richly-merited award for best editing – the visuals and soundscapes helped enhance the sense of Sean’s disturbed mental state. Jigsaw was considered the standout performer, and that’s a decision I can definitely go along with.

Shot Down

Shot Down was LUFP’s first ever action film and, after its success here, you imagine it won’t be their last. American soldier Colonel Douglas (Catherine Barber) parachutes down over a surprisingly sunny Eastern Russia and flees to a nearby warehouse, where she is informed that her rescue would be too risky. Meanwhile, three Russian soldiers witness the crash and set out in hot pursuit of Colonel Douglas. They are Dimitri (Dan Power), Sasha (David Gatward) and the dutiful Erik (Nat Marshall), whose father died fighting Americans.

Alistair White’s idea is ambitious and successful, managing to achieve tension and drama on a low budget. With three Russian characters and one American, the accents were always likely to be problematic, but for the most part the actors do a fairly decent job, and even professionals struggle with Russian accents sometimes – just ask Sean Connery. At the end of a long day of films, this was just the way to conclude – an action thriller that culminates in gunfire, betrayal, and a badass line to finish.

Full list of awards

I was blown away by the quality of the films on display. It’s incredible to think that this event didn’t even exist when I first joined this university, yet has already grown to this extent. Congratulations to everyone involved, but particularly to the following award winners:

Best Film – Jigsaw
Best Director – Amelia Slater (Jigsaw)
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Dan Power (A Pointless Fraud)
Best Actress in a Leading Role – Charlie Larner (Ha-P)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Jason Naylor (Jigsaw)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Kasia Bentkowska (A Pointless Fraud)
Best Original Screenplay – Amelia Slater (Jigsaw)
Best Production Management – Carmen Li (A Pointless Fraud)
Best Publicity – Jamie Mills, Andrew Simmons, Siobhan Diston (Ha-P)
Best Cinematography – Javier Orella, Ed Moore, Theo Bianchini (Purgatory)
Best Sound Design – The Good, The Bad, and The Awkward
Best Editing – Jigsaw
Best Visual Effects – Jigsaw
Best Original Score – Ha-P
Best Production Design – Ha-P