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Bolton International Film Festival – An eclectic triumph of short-form filmmaking



Since its inception in 2017, Bolton Film Festival has gone from strength to strength. The BAFTA and BIFA qualifying festival is heading into its sixth year. It’s consistently voted one of the best film festivals on FilmFreeway, and it’s clear to see why. There’s a whole team of people, led by festival director Adrian Barber, who are wholeheartedly dedicated to the industry. There is adequate room for emerging talent to bloom, and their mission to tell a diverse array of stories (full strands for LGBTQ+ and Black cinema) is inspiring. They also specifically champion films written and directed by women with their unique “F” rating. The festival also attracts industry giants with Boltonian Maxine Peake, who has a film in this year’s programme, being a Festival Patron, and The Clarkson Twins, whose original BBC series Red Rose was filmed in Bolton, being on the festival jury. There are over 300 short films on offer over the festival’s run, and here are a select few that you shouldn’t miss.

Express – UK Shorts

Our lives are unendingly intricate and, if you go out, each stranger you walk past has their own multi-layered and complicated existence. At times this can be hard to comprehend, but in Express the idea is beautifully boiled down into fifteen minutes. We are thrust into the lives of various people as we observe their routines. None of them share an explicit connection as we move jarringly through each story without explanation. However, their paths end up converging. Despite the fact the disconnection is still there, as none of them interact, their destination is the same. Express was entirely street-casted. The three main characters are all impressive, especially as the dialogue is sparse, and most of the emotion is portrayed through facial expressions. This slice-of-life short is simple but effective, and it’s one you’ll be thinking of long after the credits finish rolling.

Heart Valley – UK Shorts

Wilf has lived in the Welsh valleys his entire life. His identical daily routine consists of looking after his one-hundred-strong flock of sheep, eating the same meals, and going on his walk. It’s a routine that so many people wouldn’t dream of wanting, but Wilf is content with its simplicity. Heart Valley treads a day in the life of Welsh shepherd Wilf Davies. We see him preparing his meals, herding his sheep, and doing general upkeep on his farm. This is all underpinned by the voice of Wilf himself, talking about his everyday experiences. Christian Cargill, the director, mixes the visuals with the audio of Wilf speaking in a wholly empathetic way. Free of judgement, and in a way that helps us fall in love with the man in front of us. Wilf is such a wholesome soul, and his story is well worth getting invested in.      

Backflip – Animation

One man’s desire to learn how to backflip starts as a silly experiment and soon transforms into a deep contemplation on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. The filmmaker Nikita Diakur wants to learn how to backflip but trying to do so can lead to physical injury. What better way to combat this than to use a virtual avatar to learn how to do it instead? Using a 6 Core computer processor and machine learning Nikita’s avatar consistently tries to perfect the backflip. This leads to some side-splitting physical comedy. The avatar wrecks its virtual surroundings, and itself, on its path to success. As the attempts pass by, the need for this 3D mock-up of a human to complete its task grows, and when it does a feeling of elation washes over. If one person can teach an A.I. avatar to do something as menial as a backflip, what else is possible on a grander scale? Here lies the magic of Backflip as it helps us question the endless possibilities of a virtual future.

North Star – LGBTQ+

In North Star, Colman Domingo plays James a man simultaneously looking after his disabled husband, Craig, and the ranch that they live on. When Craig’s sister Erin visits, hard questions are faced as she brings her religious ideologies along with her. North Star is as difficult to watch, and as heartbreaking as you might expect. But it’s also impeccable. The narrative is moved through tenderly but doesn’t shy away from the reality of living with a disability and also being a full-time carer. The exploration of Christianity’s relationship with gay people is also well done, and the conclusion is that true love, especially between people of the same sex,  transcends negativity. Colman Domingo and Malcolm Gets’ chemistry on screen is unparalleled. Domingo’s affection when looking after Gets, whether that be whilst bathing him or feeding him, makes their relationship all the more convincing. North Star is a beautiful story, and if you’re interested in seeing gay relationships authentically portrayed on screen then this is one for you.     

Swim – LGBTQ+

Two men form a bond at their weekly swimming sessions, but when this friendship ventures away from the pool it’s a different story. Sid and Luke frequent the local swimming pool and throughout a few sessions, they start to interact more. They soon become friends and Luke asks Sid if he wants to go for a drink with his friends at the pub. However, when Sid turns up at the pub and is presenting in a feminine way, Lukes’s friends laugh at him and Luke seems ashamed of the friend he made in the swimming pool. Swim challenges the prejudices that people face for simply wanting to be themselves. Men not being masculine is, wrongly, against societal norms when realistically we should let people be free to be who they want to be.     

Portrayed – FFF Rated

Taking a professional headshot should be easy. In  Portrayed however that couldn’t be further from the truth. A female politician is getting her picture taken surrounded by the photographer, her publicist, and her hair and make-up artist. Hair up or hair down. Not enough Make-Up or maybe too much make-up. Stood up or sat down. Smile or no smile. No matter what she does the picture is never quite right. Unsurprisingly when it’s the turn of her male counterpart it’s one and done. Portrayed is a punchy six-minute short exploring the double standards between women and men. Something so simple for the man is overly complicated for the woman through fear of how it will be received. A small picture will end up making you think about the bigger one.

Candy – FFF Rated

Mandy (played by writer and Director Sarah Grant) is preparing for her inaugural Burlesque performance and hoping to do it side by side with her best friend Jenna. But when she doesn’t show up Mandy must find the courage to do it all on her own. Candy gives center stage to a character that has long been kept on the sidelines. Through doing this at the forefront there is a funny well-written character that portrays a message of body positivity that is massively inspiring. Candy deals with some stronger themes through Jenna, the supporting character, and although they take second billing to the true story being told, they are still well served within the runtime. If you’re looking for something with depth but also something that’s unashamedly uplifting then candy is the one for you. 

Honourable Mentions

A few more swift recommendations from the festival line-up

From the LGBTQ+ strand, Little Sky is a coming-of-age drama about a nonbinary drag queen returning to China to confront their father about their childhood. From the UK Shorts strand, You From the Future is a comedy-drama where a couple coasting through life has to face their older selves and decide what future they truly want for themselves. From the Documentary strand, Skating and Talking: Ben Raemers is an important piece about skateboarding and mental health. From the Animation strand, Middle Watch is a beautifully animated short about trauma out at sea. Finally from the Thriller strand, Cruise is a snappy short where people have three attempts to convince randomly selected people from the phone book that they have won a free cruise.

All of these shorts and over 300 more will be available online between Wednesday 12th October – Sunday 23rd October for £12.  

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