“After the sell-out screening last year, Short Sighted Cinema heads East once more to present an evening of short film inspired by the buzzing borough of Hackney. From Hoxton Hipsters to Dalston Darlings, we invite you to join us on a cinematic journey through the neighbourhood; meet the locals on screen and off, mingle with industry insiders and enjoy a drink or two.”
I must admit that, as far as I know, Short Sighted Cinema Presents ‘HACKNEY’ was the first time I’d been to the borough, so I didn’t know anything about Hoxton or Dalston, or much at all beyond the five-minute walk from Bethnal Green to the venue, and I’m not sure I’m any the wiser now. But just because the programme wasn’t educational doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun, because it was, a great deal of it. The venue was Behind the Wall, an inauspicious rooftop behind a water tower that’s been decked out with a bar and the sort of hazy atmosphere in which you can imagine waking up freezing at dawn with a tropical drink beside you. A look over its programme of events shows that it’s frequently host to film nights and other art endeavours including DJ sets, which strikes me as a smart use of the space, even if it is rather out-of-the-way. Oh, and they serve oysters, delicious with a bit of Tabasco. And on this evening they had a guest appearance by a Persian food stall from Broadway Market, which was also pretty reasonably-priced given the heavy infusion of saffron in the food. So by the time the films began at sunset, it had been worth leaving my home in North London already.
But the films were, of course, the highlight of the evening, a nicely diverse selection with docu-shorts well-represented but not exactly dominating. The best short was Aneil Karia’s Beat, in which a bearded Ben Wishaw, driven mad by Rice Krispies and the relentless rhythms in his head, grooves like a loon all over the town, but there was a gentler pleasure, too, to be had from Liam Saint-Pierre’s The Way of the Dodo, a portrait of a film collector – film as in films on actual film – that’s equal parts sad and arch. A Comprehensive Survey of Historical Plaques in Shoreditch, East London was an unexpected hit, too, the audience going from an anticipatory groan of boredom when its title came up to belly-laughs within a minute or so.
There were many, many good moments outside of my personal “top three” above, but the main thing that prevented the rest of the films from standing out, for me, was a shared visual style: those sweeps across an aspect and slow focus changes that you find in BBC documentaries or council-commissioned promos. It’s a shame because the subjects of the films are interesting, so you find yourself waiting for the “arty” bit to end so you can get back to the real meat.
Of course, it’s forgivable: “films inspired by Hackney” strikes me as a tricky prompt, and I’m not sure I wouldn’t include a few of the same stock establishing shots as an excuse to shoot whatever I wanted the rest of the time and still call it a Hackney-inspired film. But then, the diversity of the films thematically, if not visually, is precisely what prevents the programme from ever establishing any sort of identity for Hackney. It seems to me from the films it’s just another place where life happens, and it’s just possible that it takes life itself, not a series of movies, to get to know a city or a region. It makes sense, anyway: the primary interest in most narrative art, including the short film, is individuals, and individuals are just as individual from Hackney to Honshu. The fact that the high street on which Ben Wishaw makes mischief is in Hackney is neither here nor there, really, especially when high streets with greengrocers, all-night off licences and minicab hires look the same all across London.
But why nitpick an evening as enjoyable as this one was? I’d go again. I might see you there.