A Review of Aesthetica Film Festival’s Most Innovative Films

The ninth annual Aesthetica Film Festival was packed with wonderful films made by independent artists and directors, who are unfettered by the shackles of corporate interests (ignoring the advertising category, though I would call B-Roll footage of a Mercedes Benz a “film”).

The submissions came from all over the world – a testament to the growth that the film festival has achieved in the last decade of its existence. There were over 400 films and more than 100 industry events, the most in the festivals history. However, this huge breadth of films is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the volume of films played at Aesthetica is reflective of the growth of independent film making, slowly bringing cinema out of Hollywood’s clutches and back into the hands of people who love cinema as a form of art, not a form of money making. On the other hand, the volume of films also means there’s a few… less than outstanding films. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and art is all about interpretation, but a shit film is a shit film. Overall however, the festival was excellent. I laughed, I cried, I paid way too much money for a pint. Anyway, here are my favourite films from Aesthetica.

This absurd short follows Barry, a quiet man with the loudest mullet and tache combo in the northwest of England, in his attempts to win back his ex and get her to help bury his nan. Barry, in a fit of rage fuelled idiocy, chopped his grandma into bits and is now in a bit of a sticky situation. Norteños was a stark contrast to many of the other comedies at the festival. 80% of them boiled down to takes on Brexit that the director, still wet behind the ears from their degree at Durham, read a month ago in the Guardian. For Christ sake, there was an entire film (Alex Helfrecht and Jorg Tittel’s NYET!) that boiled down to an 11-minute joke about the difficulties of buying French cheese post-Brexit. Norteños was so different to all of these. It was an absurd masterpiece that showcased how humour about people is so much better than pathetic satire made by people from the Home Counties (looking at you Lemon Press).

Viva Løten
Viva Løten is a heart-breaking documentary about young adults in a rural part of Norway trying to find their place in the world. The two young men at the centre of the documentary have been through harrowing trials throughout their lives and haven’t necessarily come out better because of it. Daniel, a young binman who has had a past of getting into trouble with the police, drinks to deal with the pains of growing up without a purpose or guidance. Meanwhile, Tom’s mother has died of emphysema, and he wasn’t able to properly say goodbye because he was so scared. Tom’s dad is currently in a care home, unable to take care of himself. The 27-minute-long documentary deals with so much, from the lack of hope that they have as young adults trying to get by in an unforgiving world to the façade of happiness that comes when Tom and Daniel drink with their friends to forget their sorrows. I wish I had something snarky or funny to say, but Viva Løten was a deeply personal and sorrowful experience that brought tears to my eyes. It is a prime example of the idea that what doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger.

Spring Fever
In the most oddly sweet film I’ve seen in a while, Anna Snowball documents a sex ed class for Dutch tweenagers. Spring Fever is the name of a Dutch sexual education programme implemented in schools for children between the ages of 4-11. The children in the film ask a lot of candid questions about health, sexuality and growing up as young people in the world. I’m calling it oddly sweet, because sex ed really isn’t something that anyone would call sweet. But the honesty that these kids display, as well as their curiosity about the way that they’re growing up, really is charming. More than that, it is excellent to see the openness and maturity that these Dutch children have about themselves. One girl speaks very comfortably and openly about having her first period, and what it was like to experience it. The classes are mixed, allowing boys to learn from girls and girls to learn from boys (I know, gender is a spectrum, but the documentary didn’t explore the nature of performative gender in its 8-minute runtime. #SpringFeverIsCancelled ???), which showed a genuinely mature response from everyone (of course everyone laughed at the word penis, but who can really blame them). The documentary is an honest portrayal of the benefits of talking openly about our bodies and ourselves to get rid of the stigmas that surround them. Plus, its quite nice to laugh at the word penis.