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The New Renaissance Film Festival at Close-Up Film Centre

SEEN does love the sheer variety of her work: restaurants, art exhibitions, theatre, fashion shows and now film festivals. Namely, the New Renaissance Film Festival at the glorious Close Up Cinema, in Sclater Street between Brick Lane and Shoreditch High Street Station. If you didn’t know, Close-Up is a small arthouse cinema that is packed with books on film, and DVDs. It also serves food and drink; the perfect place for cinephiles.

The NRFF is the brainchild of Massimo Barbato and Jan Verstraten and showcases a selection of short films and features in all genres set in different categories. Earlier in the year, SEEN reviewed the spellbinding Thessalus and Medea (a short film written and directed by Jan) and so was delighted to return to the festival and see some more cracking shorts.

I watched the category ‘History in the Making’ which, as the name suggests, took the past as its subject. They played to a packed house of fans, cast and crew of the films concerned.

Pitfall, the first film, took as its subject the fighting between the German troops and Belorussian rebels during the Second World War. A young German trooper fights a rebel in the woods and they tumble into a pit. The rebel turns out to be female, who initially holds a knife to the trooper’s throat to prevent him giving her away to his comrades… The woods near Pinewood studios stood in for the war front and Chislehurst Caves for the pit. It was a piece that spoke to the humanity that is possible between enemies, even in the most extreme of situations.

The second film William Martin was taken from a true story. The body of William Martin was set adrift in the sea off Spain with fake orders, in the hope of deceiving the Germans into attacking on a fake front. It was a poignant film. The four fishermen who find the body and recognise the significance of the orders argue about the best course of action. Should they throw the body and the orders back into the sea or hand them over to the authorities?

Eden was perhaps the most elliptical and ‘difficult’ of the films. Set in a Portuguese seminary in the seventies, it details the boys’ attempts to connect with the outside world in the face of growing religious oppression. It was certainly SEEN’s favourite.

Secret Child had a winning performance from its central character ‘Gordon’ who, bullied for his illegitimacy, inspires his mother to get in touch with the father he has never known. Pleasingly ambiguous in its treatment of maternal doubt about respectability, it was a salutary reminder of how times have changed.

UB13 reminded SEEN of Das Boot, as a submarine in the First World War risks everything on the one torpedo they have left. When it misses its target and has to dive to the bottom of the ocean to avoid retaliation, courage and bravado quickly unravel. It was skilfully shot and filmed in black and white. It was a remarkable achievement given that there are no extant WWI subs left.

What the films all had in common, aside from being set in the past, was that they all spoke to how we live today. Difficulties in human relationships are eternal, never mind the technology of 21st century life, and that is a very comforting thought. The production values were second to none.

Massimo told SEEN that the festival has been running for a while now and is going from strength to strength with each passing year. A series of masterclasses run concurrently with the screenings and it is an excellent place for filmmakers to network, find collaborators and celebrate achievements. Short film as a medium is very satisfying, as it can tell a whole story in a relatively short space of time, and of course, acts as a calling card for its creators – the next generation of cinematic talent. Recommended for 2019.