Despatch from Hollywood #4: Vivien Leigh meets the teenaged hit-man

15 Feb
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Tears: Juliet Stevenson in Penelope

Another day, another five hours of shorts at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. Again, the standard was exceptionally high, which makes me even happier that our film Dotty won an award. Here’s the best of the fest:

Penelope, written and directed by Dan Susman, stars Juliet Stevenson. So you know there’s gonna be tears. She’s given a part worth sinking her teeth to here, and invests with it an extraordinary dignity: a jilted wife meeting up for the first time with her husband’s mistress (Hattie Morahan).

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Beers: Ray Larkin and Jack Kehler in Last Call

Another terrific drama was Last Call, about two ageing guys (Jack Kehler and Ray Larkin) shooting the shit and having a few last drinks after one has been given two weeks to live. This won Best Student Film for writer/director Ryan Moody, and deservedly so. It’s a surprisingly mature work that never stoops to cliché or easy sentimentality.

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Cheers: Caitlin Harris as Vivien Leigh in Love Scene

Probably my favourite of all was Love Scene, which is about as near to perfect as a short film can get: fantastic script in which not one word is out of place; terrific performances; luminous cinematography; blessedly brief. It’s the screen test of one Vivien Leigh (a hard act to follow, but Caitlin Harris nails it), in which she confesses her determination to bag Laurence Olivier – that both are currently married presents no obstacle to her. It won an award for Best Comedy, which is weird, because it may be Best but it ain’t no Comedy. Writer/director Bethany Ashton Wolf has already won a clutch of awards at other festivals. Remember the name.

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Fears: Martha MacIsaac and Keir Gilchrist in Seasick Sailor

Of the genre films, the one that really stood out for me was Seasick Sailor. It’s hard to put your stamp on hit-man films; there are so many. This has a unique voice. It’s about a teenaged killer-for-hire who hates his job, until he realises that it’s no more boring and time-consuming than others. A romance offers hope of redemption… Writer/director Torre Catalano not only wrote a terrific script, he coaxed pitch-perfect performances from his whole cast – notably the young lead, Keir Gilchrist.

I met Gilchrist outside the Gents before the awards ceremony, which was about as disconcerting as bumping into Joe Pesci would be after watching GoodFellas. I told him he was terrific… not a very original thought, as it turns out. He deservedly walked away with the Best Actor trophy.

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