Entire Worlds Brought to Life: A Look Back at Aesthetica 2023

Last month SCENE attended Aesthetica Film Festival to see the power of film!

(Image: Aesthetica 2023)

This November the Aesthetica Short Film Festival took over the cinemas and museums of central York, providing a host of fascinating short films, industry talks, galas and exhibitions for industry icons and film fans alike. 

As visitors flocked to York, donning yellow lanyards and a booklet full of film timings, York Vision joined their ranks and immersed themselves in a morning of cinematic wonders.

Eager to glimpse the best of the best at the festival, we popped into the Gala Film session at York’s Picturehouse Cinema, before heading downstairs to try out their array of exciting VR headsets.

The Gala session itself mimicked a wander through time and space, as filmmakers of all backgrounds and experiences presented their visions. Covering everything from political affairs, sisterhood and grief, the session was really one not to be missed.

Opening night started and ended from points of vulnerability. Safe, written and directed by Debbie Howard, opened the event. We follow the route back home for an office cleaner Anne (Laura Bayston) who waits at the bus stop after finishing late. Anne is approached by a man who refuses to leave her alone, making unwanted advances and not letting Anne or the audience go. Safe successfully puts us in the cramped, scary confines of that darkened bus stop.

Outlets is a funny, heartwarming short by Duncan Cowles which follows his filmmaking process as he tries to come to terms with the passing of his clearly much-loved granny. He’s looking for a way to grieve his loss and celebrate their relationship through film with a quick fire range of ideas for how he can show it pictorially. Stylistically all over the place, Outlets gets into the messy, very personal experience of the death of a loved one. Most of all, it’s a fitting tribute for his granny.Outlets finds a way to both process loss and to celebrate the vastness of this woman’s life. Outlets won the festival’s award for Best Editing.

Another equally mournful and nerve-wracking film was The Red Suitcase, by Cyrus Neshvad, which won Best Cinematography. 

Observing a young girl navigating a foreign airport, the film draws attention to a conflict between tradition and freedom. The teenager is due to meet her new husband at after security, and spends the majority of the film searching for an escape. The striking visual of the red suitcase as a source of identity, both personally and for those searching for her, is reminiscent of the red coat of Speilberg’s Schindler’s List, and throughout the film the stakes feel just as high. 

The many close calls and moments of near opportunity leave audiences silently screaming for the girl to ask authorities for help, as fruitless that may be, and the film certainly leaves you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Beyond the lead actresses’ nuanced and fear provoking performance, the film really shines for its artistic use of airport architecture throughout its cinematography, and the claustrophobic way it navigates feelings of being trapped.

One final favourite film of ours was The Girls Room by Tracey Lopes, which brought a sense of colour and fun to the middle of the gala. 

Focusing on three teenage sisters who share a bedroom, audiences watch this film as what feels like a fly on the wall. With the story never going beyond the confines of the sisters’ room, this was a full and nuanced story of sisterhood, individualism and growing up. The gorgeous personalisation of the girls’ room and the vast chemistry of the three leads really made for a treat for the eyes and heart. We left talking about how we would have happily watched a whole movie or sitcom focused on the daily troubles and life-changing growth of the sisters.

Each year Aesthetica Film Festival provides a little something for everyone, with a wide array of film screening options and activities on offer throughout the week. From horror, to humour, family films and yes, the incredibly vast range of films selected for gala screening, a trip to the film festival is a chance to delve into many different stories and perspectives as entire worlds are brought to life around you.

Aesthetica Film Festival will return to York next year from the 6th to the 10th November, 2024. Book a Ticket Gift Voucher for 2024 here.