Review: Aesthetica Short Film Festival

Fern starring Monica Dolan.
Fern starring Monica Dolan.
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It was an appearance by a homicidal pot plant which first suggested this was going to be a vintage year for the Aesthetica Short Film Festival.

There’s not much dialogue, but Fern, directed by Johnny Kelly, packs a lot into its six-minute running time. Starring Monica Dolan as a widow who finds love again with an overly jealous houseplant, this beautiful black comedy is surreal, laugh out loud funny and curiously touching. It is also the perfect advert for both short film as an art form and ASFF.

The York festival began as an offshoot of the successful arts magazine Aesthetica, but pretty much immediately took on a life of its own. Now it runs over five days and as well as the screenings, which take place in venues across the city, there is also an impressive programme of masterclasses, Q&As, workshops and networking events.

It’s impossible to see everything that’s on offer. Instead you’re encouraged to cherry pick, popping into a thriller showcase, before darting off to see a selection of documentaries via a bit of comedy and a helping of drama.

During the course of this year’s festival I saw supermodel Caprice playing a deranged music promoter alongside a fully made-up Tony Hadley, Vic Reeves as a celebrity psychic and comedian Richard Herring have sex with a robot. I also saw Dominic West (he off The Wire). Twice. Once as a man who spoke in rhyming couplets and again as a hapless bank robber.

It’s always nice to see a familiar face, but ASFF is more than just about a few big names. From This is Bate Bola, a documentary about the neighbourhood rivalry which goes on in Brazil’s forgotten neighbourhoods during carnival time to It’s Complicated, a slick South African comedy about two geeks who accidentally end up dating vampiric sisters there’s a breadth and depth of talent here which is hard to beat.

With Channel 4 opening a headquarters in Leeds and Screen Yorkshire launching a new film and TV hub, this is a good time for the big and small screen in the north and ASFF and its founder Cherie Federico might just be the jewel in that crown.