LCC Student Writing: In The Lab We Are Distant

This year, LSFF collaborated with the London College of Communication (LCC) BA Film and Screen Studies and lecturer Ed Webb-Ingall to commission students to write reviews of some of our festival strands. Several students on the course also volunteered at the festival, to whom we are eternally grateful for their hard work.

The event In the Lab We Are Distant to be featured during the London Short Film Festival, is set to bring to the audience a number of unique films encapsulating our relationship with the environment through an array of different mesmerizing shots, soundscapes and images. From Brazil to Lebanon the program curated by Emma Bouraba is not short of surprises and experimental approaches to telling unique stories.

One of the films that I have been lucky enough to watch was Time Is by Zaur Kourazov. It tells the story of a mother and daughter living in a Chechnyan village, who openly debate the appearance of an old acquaintance. This calm and at times very slow documentary, features a juxtaposition of beautiful yet cold landscapes as well as quiet discussions round a small kitchen table that allow for the viewer to be immersed in this story, set in a place where time does seem to stand still. From this student documentary I moved along to a short video collage whose soundtrack includes practice IELTS tests and music recordings. As bizarre as it seems, I found this short played well into the program. Even though the images might not have much in common, featuring found footage, animations and screen-recorded performances, the video glides along at a brisk pace that only adds to the overall event.

By reading the introduction to this program I felt already encouraged to watch it, as there are few opportunities to view such a wide spectrum of films, that have been curated in a way where the audience can be indulged and yet still left with questions after. By giving space to discussions and interpretations, I was moved to watch these films again and perhaps view them with a different perspective. I can state that the art of storytelling is not yet lost, as this program proves how filmmakers, bring new worlds and stories to our notice using new and ever changing approaches.

Victoria Gogolinski

As the years progress, Earth watches its own rapid extinction of animal life, loss of communities, growing restrictions on our daily lives. We can watch these events happen on the news or social media posts and forget how much it affects the future of human life, which is why Emma Bouraba’s curated programme In The Lab We Are Distant is such a warm reminder on why we should take into account our complex relationships with nature, with the films in the programme exploring our past relationships with nature, contemporary developments, and potential dire futures where humanity are closer to nature more than ever before.

Face Recognition (Martinus Klemet) is a great contrast to the other slower paced films in the programme with its simplistic but surrealist animation used to commentate on growing digital surveillance of Earth’s future. Communicating the terrifying nature of Face Recognition within this outlandish world should give a sense of comfort watching this story, however Klemet does the opposite with an ending that reminds us how closely we may become with nature in ways we don’t consent to. And this theme of becoming closer to nature is carried into films like WATA (Ronan Mckenzie, Joy Yamusangie) which dives into a historical journey of Black Jazz music, tying black identity closely to a piece of nature so attached to humans already.

Associating Jazz, such a big development in Black History, with the imagery of water immediately stood out to me. Black people have seemingly only had relationships with water, the many racist stereotypes of ‘black people can’t swim’ to the actual historical events of the early African slaves been thrown off their ships and drowned to death. So, the choice to use a water spirit, Mami Wata, as this personification of Jazz and how it’s developed over history felt empowering, a negative association now being reclaimed to harmonise all parts of black history together.

Another stand out film was We know a better word than happy (Helen McCrorie), a look to how children adjusted to playing in nature after the coronavirus lockdown, a great emphasis on why this closeness to playing outside is such a key aspect to child development. A reminder on how damaging human development if we remove this relationship permanently, which perfectly encapsulates the programmes core message of exploring our complex but closeness with the world around us, a message which I suggest we all should be reminded of.

Elijah Smith-Ayton

Soil shifts, rivers run, cicadas click, and children cry, connecting the viewer with the earthly elements that mold In The Lab We Are Distant (Ecologies of Space) together.

Sol de Campinas tangibly follows a group of archeologists as they methodically excavate mounds in Brazil, tracking the movements of previous civilisations as the camera tracks them from field to lab. Despite excavation being proposed as “the most boring job in the world”, Jessica Sarah Rinland’s film reveals the beauty of monotony.

Wata conceptually follows jazz music from its origin through to its modern rejuvenation. The African mother of water acts as the physical embodiment of jazz music, frenetically swinging her way overseas. Ronan McKenzie and Joy Yamusangie deftly equate jazz to water, dancers wear blue eyeshadow and silvery garments, mesmerically mirroring light shimmering on the sea’s surface.

Water & Wall studies ancient and contemporary space by concentrating on the homogeneity between 17th century New Amsterdam and modern-day Manhattan. Cassandra Celestin stresses the significance of the unchanging body of water that can presently be seen from skyscraper windows.

We Know a Word Better than Happy is a community video project that defiantly states that “kids have the right to play outside”, specifically when they live in an environment with limited green spaces. Helen McCrorie gracefully intertwines gleeful images of children playing in nature with their narration, poignantly identifying how nature allows all their worries to float away.

Face Recognition facetiously creates a worryingly recognisable animated world determined by state surveillance. Martinus Klemet’s animation amusingly follows a man on a wild night of drinking that leads the audience to query the ways in which they escape reality.

Underground Shopping Mall tells its story though the answers given by a Chinese student when taking part in an English oral exam. Jing Harren endearingly questions the notion of an individual experience of a communal place by using stock-like footage of active city life.

It’s Just Another Dragon tracks a Lebanese filmmaker and a Hungarian storyteller on their way to Budapest. Taymour Boulous readily blurs time whilst the narrators and the audience ironically question how they feel “about images being forced” upon them.

Time Is graciously captures a simple day in the life of a mother and daughter living in Chechnya which is punctuated by a woman returning to their village. Zaur Kourazov assembles a peaceful film that studies the domestic, inserting the audience into the characters sequestered lives.

In The Lab We Are Distant (Ecologies of Space) contemplates the complexities of the multifaceted relationship between us and our surroundings with powerfully sensory storytelling.

Erin Quigley

In a time of a raging virus, humanity is forced to remain indoors. And just like that, the bond between person and nature becomes more disconnected than ever. London Short Film Festival's programme In The Lab We Are Distant, enables the revival of this relationship. It features 9 short films which explore nature in its different states and forms, as well as how our internal world is influenced by it. The five-minute short by Helen McCrorie - We Know A Better Word Than Happy is a great example of that. It showcases nature as the outlet for freedom, creativity, and happiness.

The movie allows us to take a glimpse into the purely joyous, imaginative, and unconfined world of the children of Maryhill, Glasgow. Playing in nature's realm - pretending to be factory workers, climbing trees, jumping in the mud - these are but a handful of the things the kids are free to do. The little green space they are playing in is created thanks to a decade of community activism for families which do not have access to a private garden. Yet, now more than ever, when the abnormal conditions of today's world are disturbing childhood's normalcy, this park serves as a safe space where kids can be kids without being burdened by today's issues.

Mixing together the sounds of nature with the children's voices expressing their right to playing and learning in the outdoors, their screams of happiness, and the noise they make when playing around, create an unusual ambiance of serenity. The blend of these different noises resembles life as it were before the emergence of all the restrictions and lockdowns - calm, happy, and liberated.

We Know A Word Better Than Happy stays true to its title. Most of all, however, it shows that joy and bliss could be found where we often take for granted - amongst mother nature.

Maria Kraevska