Who likes short shorts?

Still from the short film "Manhunt". Courtesy of FURY.

It’s great to hear that the Iris Prize is raring to go for its 2012 festival as it announces that it’s open for submissions. I attended and covered it for So So Gay last year. It was my first time there and I utterly loved it. Despite being totally knackering it was enormous fun and I’ve already put this year’s dates (10th – 14th October 2012) into my diary regardless on whether I’ll be covering the festival again, or just going on my own accord. However, this piece of news reminded me of something that I’ve wanted to pen for a while now, so I thought this might make a nice first post for this blog.

At the festival, one of what I felt were one of the weaker films at 2011’s festival was a French flick called Manhunt (to give it it’s English title) by Stéphane Olijnyk, which I described as ‘…laboured with a sense of trying too hard to be edgy, and indulged in an overt and cliché military fetishism.’ I certainly wasn’t the only person who felt this way about it, from festival goers that I spoke to. But on my round-up article for So So Gay, someone posted a comment to a link to an altogether very different review by Amos Lassen that was surprisingly positive and interesting to read.

As much as I, like any other reviewer, can get a tad defensive when having an opinion challenged (depending on how nice or nasty it’s put), I do really enjoy it when someone disagrees with me. Indeed, what I think have been some of my stronger reviews are ones where myself and Arts Desk editor, Matt Wolf, have exchanged fevered e-mails enforcing our often very polar viewpoints. I feel I end up having my own thoughts challenged and therefore can stand back from a piece better.

Confronted to a very different review of Manhunt to my own, this was no different. Of course, no review is ever wholly objective. That’s impossible. There will always be the reviewer’s own tastes and past interactions with the genre that will heavily weigh their opinion. But what about immediate factors?

Manhunt was part of a block of short films that were shown at the festival. This particular batch included  the fantastically tense, violent, and erotic Spring, and the deliciously heart warming and funny Cappuccino; two of my highlights. By comparison, Manhunt appeared more than a little wounded.

When I read Amos’s review I immediately thought of several things:

1)      Really?

2)      Did the reviewer watch this feature by itself?

3)      If not, what was the calibre of the other films it was seen with? i.e. was this the best of the bunch?

4)      Reeeeeally?

Although I still stand by my opinion of the film, I do often think that I might have ended up with a different one if I viewed the film under different circumstances; if I’d seen it on its own, or if the quality of the films it was shown with had been a lot worse. Or, maybe I wouldn’t have.

Then, thinking back, the same thing happened when I wrote about May 2011’s Queer as Film event which I also reviewed for So So Gay. The film that was shown was a piece by Pierre Stefanos entitled Bedfellows which had won more than a handful of awards at previous festivals and screenings. Yet when it was shown at Queer as Film, and this is unfortunately not an exaggeration, the entire audience laughed AT it! ‘…unrealistically optimistic [and] crammed with every imaginable cliché,’ was my verdict.

However, on reflection, the films that preceded it were all British. One of them was the rather marvellous Toothless by Steven Dorrington (see embedded video), which, along with the others, was a fine example of the pessimistic and self-deprecatory dry humour that we’re famed for. Then, along came Bedfellows, which I still personally feel is a typically over-American, Disney-esque, slice of perfect, “happily ever after”, super-sweet…thing. But I do sometimes wonder that whether given the timbre of films leading up to its showing meant that myself and the other audience members rated it a little unfairly.

Both short films are obviously doing quite well for themselves despite my grumbles. Manhunt was part of the prestigious Iris Prize Festival 2011, and Bedfellows has an intimidating amount of laurels flaunted on its promotional material. Though they may not have wowed me, I still wish both films all the best, and hope that others find charm where I hadn’t. And I promise that when I review my next batch of short films, I’ll try my best to not be swayed too much by others shown alongside it.

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12 responses to “Who likes short shorts?

  • Amos Lassen

    I think that having different opinions is one of the things that makes life so interesting. Imagine how boring life would be if we all thought the same. I saw “Manhunt” by itself and alone in my home and I had a very positive opinion of it. Had I seen it on a large screen and with other shorts I might have felt differently. I really try to give new filmmakers credit for what they do and I feel that this is important if we want to continue having LGBT movies. I learned early on in my academic career that a pat on the back does much more good than a tongue lashing and there is usually something good to say about almost everything. Personally I am glad that we have differing opinions because in that way the moviegoer will have to reach his own conclusion.

  • Pierre Stefanos

    Really? You may think you were offering some kind of ‘mea culpa’ to my film, but as the person on the receiving end of the ‘confirmation’ that people were laughing AT my film, instead of enjoying it, let me assure it does not come off as such. I’m so glad that you understood every last person’s perspective in that room so you could speak so confidently for them. At least now I know that after attending 30+ festivals in 5 countries, and never not once hearing such a reaction as you so certainly express, that people must be laughing at my facile waste of time when I’m not present. Given how the QAF programmers said to me how much they enjoyed the film, much less programmed at all when it certainly did not have to be, you should be taking into account how your assertion that they placed it incorrectly in the line-up also embarrasses them.

    I’d also like to point out that I am not flaunting my laurels at anyone. It’s a fact that BEDFELLOWS won all of those awards, and so you can have your research about my film rounded out, my film has won over 30 awards and played close to 150 festivals. If I was flaunting the film’s success, there wouldn’t just be 12 laurels on the poster or postcard – in fact, it’s embarrassing that I don’t have those other 20 or so laurels there. It makes me look ungrateful to those festivals that I’m not showing them the respect to represent their festival artwork. The ones that are on there now represent HUGE Oscar-affiliated festivals, three of which presented me with awards and nominations, not to mention the one that programmed my short in front of WEEKEND at the 2nd festival it ever played, for which Andrew Haigh himself congratulated me. I dare say you maybe sorta kinda liked that film, as does our films’ mutual sales agent partners in the U.S., The Film Collaborative (and no, they had no hand in that pairing).

    Name any short film besides JAMES that has earned that many accolades from so many different sources, and then tell me how cliche my film really is – I can’t wait to hear the explanation on how so many venerable festivals around the world just plain got it wrong or had nothing better to show than my perfectly-sewn-up Disney pile of American crap.

    This is my first film and I didn’t have one single connection to programmers or funding bodies or press the way that so many others do at festivals like these and, somehow almost a dozen times, it was judged by a jury as the best in its entirety, not to mention earning multiple awards for its score, cinematography, and acting, and not just at gay festivals. Nine times, audiences voted it the best or favorite short, and again, not just at gay festivals, and when I sat at two screenings at the BFI Southbank, I didn’t fucking imagine it when the audience barely lifted their arms to applaud at the end of two UK shorts, but could then not stop applauding and buzzing about my film during the credits, and you can ask those filmmakers too because they were present. I had more than my fair share of audience members approaching me with congratulations after both of my screenings, thank you.

    And so your memory is correctly jogged, in no way, shape, or form does my film end with a fucking happily-ever-after. If you had really paid attention to the structure of my film, it would have been clear that the non-dream scenes were exactly that – intended to be reality. If you want to believe my sunny American perspective makes the film’s ending an impossible scenario, please note that my Queens, NY reality has little to do with some vague depiction in your mind about American films, much as you are probably more than some bearded gay stereotype hanging out in Vauxhall having 4pm tea with Becks and Posh as you watch cricket. My film gives my characters the mere chance for a happy ending, and like in reality, what they both do after that final question is what determines IF they do live happily ever after, the same conundrum we all have, gay, straight, young, old, black, white, or purple, when we realize we met someone we could actually be with.

    If you want to be simple-minded about my film’s intentions, be my guest but when you step from behind your computer and actually make something (and I’m a former critic myself, so you’re not impressing me if you say you have no desire to make films yourself, much less in general), and it achieves a quarter of what this film has in less than 2 years, I dare you to not feel as proud and protective of it as I do of mine. But then you’re British, so it’s expected that such things wouldn’t move you at all, right?

    Pierre Stefanos

    PS – Amos Lassen puts a positive spin on every gay film he reviews, and gave my film quite a fantastic review for its U.S. DVD release. As did Movie City News. And Rogers Broadcasting in Canada. And The-Numbers.com. And TLAVideo. And multiple UK sites from our screenings at Iris and BFI. And IndieWIRE, as a Best of Fest selection for the entire Seattle Int’l 2010 fest, where BEDFELLOWS only happened to be the audience’s highest-rated Live-Action short amongst films that played Sundance, Clermont-Ferrand, Berlin, SXSW, BFI, Frameline, OutFest, etc. I’d list the other dozen or so positive reviews and the other times my independently-financed film accomplished that feat again and again, but I’m sure you already consider it as more fucking bragging for an unjust and flippant project that I put my heart and soul and money and a lot of love and attention towards.

    PPS – I’m more than happy to let the rare person who reads this site decide what they think of the film, so they can download it on iTunes, watch it on YouTube in the UK as of March 1st, or buy it on DVD. Since there is zero interest from distributors in the UK (point, Waygood), people can buy the NTSC DVD from the U.S., or the PAL disc from France now, or PAL later in the year from Germany:

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/festselects-best-gay-shorts/id446916683?ls=1&mt=8
    http://video.fnac.com/a4034769/Short-Boy-Stories-Volume-1-DVD-Zone-2
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004NEF9G4

  • grumpyyounggay

    Dear Mr Stefanos (I think an air of formality is required here),

    I’m sorry you feel this way. I’m going to keep this short as I can, because I don’t think getting in too personal a spat in public is too constructive, especially in a space that isn’t really viewed by many people (seriously, this is a very young blog. This post alone has had less than a hundred views in total since publication). I’ve laid my opinions out, something I’m entitled to do in a free society, and I will stick by it. But none the less, I have read your response, which you are entirely entitled to, and have noted your opinions.

    This post wasn’t a “mea culpa” as such, but my own exercise in re-evaluating my own opinion in an attempt not to become too arrogant a critic (judge the results as you may)! The fact that I’ve conceded that my opinions might not be based as fairly as I think/wanted to have been, shows that I don’t at all think I’m perfect. But it is impossible for criticism to ever be totally objective, try as anyone might.

    Though I was not impressed by “Bedfellows” and also felt that I was far from alone, I’m only here to offer my OWN opinion, be it on my own blog, or for another publication. If you feel that I have written anything malicious, please contact the Arts & Cultures editor at So So Gay.

    In my intent, I have never attempted to contest the opinions of others on your film. I’m not at all asserting that other film festivals and other individuals have “got it wrong”. I am entirely aware of the awards the film has won and am pleased for you even if I’ll admit it does puzzle me a little when set against my OWN opinion. I’m not going to pretend that my opinion may well be outlying. But that’s the risk I take for putting them out there. And that’s the crux of it. Try as I might be as objective as I can, it doesn’t always quite work. Sometimes only a few people disagree with me, sometimes a lot! It’s the nature of the work.

    If people are giving your film as tremendous a response as you’re experiencing, then please take that away with you and put it into continuing creating your art! To be blunt, with the acclaim that you’re receiving, I’m a little surprised that you’ve taken to my opinions so argumentatively. You have a wealth of reassurances for your work, so I can’t quite figure out why my individual response has provoked such a furore. You are in every right to dismiss my opinion as poppycock, as you seem to. But I think it’s a little arrogant to call me up on my integrity as a critic. Everyone has a right to their opinion, and a forum to voice it, however many agree or disagree with it. That’s the beauty of freedom of speech and the importance of discourse.

    Sometimes wildly differing opinions can provide some wonderful discussions and can challenge your own point of view, which I think is important. I’m very grateful that Amos pointed me to his review of “Manhunt” because it did really get me thinking about how I viewed the film (hence what prompted me to write this piece).

    I could list the LGBT DVDs that my reviews are quoted on, but one-up-manship serves little purpose, and let’s face it, you’re pretty much in the lead!

    Please believe me when I say I am interested in seeing more of your work. Have you considered submitting something to the Iris Prize for this year?

    And as for the drinking tea with Posh & Becks and playing cricket? a) That would be fucking awesome b) as much as I like a good tea, I’d be happier with a double espresso c) Cricket bores me to tears. I prefer rugby. Fitter men, shorter shorts.

    Sincerely wishing you the best in your future work,
    James

  • Pierre Stefanos

    I’ve “taken to (your) opinions so argumentatively” because you have now twice taken time out of your masturbation schedule to publicly flog my work and used this 2nd opportunity to reply publicly to a personal message I sent you, using my own words in your prose, to disparage it and the QAF programmers again for anyone to read. I chose to let that first opinion slide on So So Gay precisely because, gratefully, I know what my film is and where it’s been and what it means to thousands of people.

    I just find it sad that, as opposed to being a human being and addressing my query directly, you chose to take yet another vague swipe at my nationality and my talent for your own entertainment, something which anyone would take some offense, then being dim enough to hide behind the false notion that your countrymen just didn’t get my work, when I know empirically how many more did. I’m just as entitled to make sure those facts are known too. You don’t get to determine the national response to BEDFELLOWS for me, thank you. That you needed to impress upon everyone here how a room full of people agreed with your opinion signals you’re not even confident enough to possess it while offering the sad admission that, as a critic, you lack the very basic fundamentals of being able to critique a film independently of others, which makes me pity you if this is something you intend to make your life’s work.

    You are the one who decided I was not worthy of a dialogue with you, and on top of that, you haven’t taken one word I’ve ever written to you about the content of my work and actually addressed it, clinging to your opinion like some Tea Party rube, pretending like a victim that I don’t understand that “wildly differing opinions can provide some wonderful discussions and can challenge your own point of view” when that was expressed to you 8 months ago as a means of thanks. Well, if you going to ignore actual discourse, then let me point out a word that describes a one-way system of information flow. That would be ‘asshole.’ But maybe you’re a bottom, in which case my advice is for you to find the nearest hand and go fuck yourself.

    Pierre Stefanos

    May 17, 2011

    “Hi James – I had the chance to read your review of my film Bedfellows. Of course, I’m a bit disappointed to find you didn’t enjoy it and that it was your least favorite at Queer As Film.

    I don’t begrudge anyone their dislike of the film – if anything for all the success that the film has had, it has actually been its perception in the gay world (specifically the largest gay festivals) that has been its one black mark. Perhaps your opinion goes a long way to describing what those programmers’ reasons were for turning it down, and why I’m all the more grateful that I had the only U.S. gay short at LLGFF during the truncated 2011 fest.

    My only comment in response is to ask if you really think condemning it as “unrealistically optimistic and was crammed with every imaginable cliché” is fair or accurate. Judging a character’s actual life and actions is one thing, but criticizing his dreams? Why does dreaming about having a family make someone a cliché or unrealistically optimistic?

    To me, those words are best for the kinds of American films I made Bedfellows to NOT be, ones where the cheap laughs come from obvious lowest-common denominator humor. Surely if you cover queer shorts, you know the type of U.S. gay shorts of which I speak (and the similarly flaccid features that are often borne from those filmmakers). I would like to think my film makes more demands of its audience than pandering at that level, so I’m disappointed that you’ve reduced my attempt at making a positive statement to that.

    Anyway, thank you for the kind words along with your own thoughts on the piece.

    Best,
    Pierre”

  • grumpyyounggay

    Pierre,

    You’re initial message was sent directly to me via Facebook, an incredibly personal and intrusive response, hence why I decided not reply. If you were that unhappy with my 50 or so words on a British website, then you had the opportunity to deal with it professional by taking it up with the editors themselves and not hunt me down on a social network. Seeing as you decided to bring the issue up again in response to my recent blog post, a space that I have chosen to make public, I thought it only fit to respond to it.

    Also, to believe you wield a power to stop critics writing about what they want is absurd. Censuring an opinion just because you take fault with it, even if you consider it bad opinion, is just silly.

    Anyway, I’ll say no more. I didn’t create this blog to take on public and increasingly personal fights with creatives. Post again as you wish, but I exercise my right to ignore you as this is not constructive. Judge me as you will.

    And Amos, apologies for the torrent of comment notifications!

  • Pierre Stefanos

    You really are a dolt. I DON’T CARE THAT YOU DON’T LIKE MY FILM! I don’t need to write thing one to anybody foolish enough to hire you because as you put it, it’s a free world and opinions are like assholes, cliche that it is. You have the gall to sit there, again, oh so victimized that I wrote to you in a much kinder way on SUCH a personal website since there was no other direct way, and yet you’re replying in a public way, at my expense professionally. Well congrats – I’m sure you’ve now gotten 8 more people to visit your site. Bring on the advertisers!

    Censuring an opinion…yeah, sure, go with that. And Becks and Posh can’t wait for you to join them at tea.

  • Ian Bell

    It’s funny, Pierre, the way I express not caring about something is not to respond to it.
    Your way of expressing not caring about someone’s opinion seems to be to write to them at length, multiple times, explaining why they’re wrong.

    • Pierre Stefanos

      It’s funny, Ian, the way I express not caring about something is not to respond to it too, which is what I did last May when my film was the only thing up for discussion.
      What I do care about is when a personal question from me is used as the first entry on someone’s public blog, so I and another filmmaker can be smugly targeted for a narcissistic ‘reflection’ in which he gleefully re-states his xenophobic distaste for us, so I chose to respond. I care when my character and identity becomes someone’s insidious joke and I don’t have to sit by idly as I’m painted as a braggart while my film is portrayed as emphatically ridiculed by an ‘entire audience.’ I care when someone takes a martyr’s stance after being challenged then hypocritically speaks about not getting in public spats when he began that conversation here and chose to continue it here for effect when other means were available. Maybe you wouldn’t, but I care when false assertions and asshole behavior are offered publicly about and at me, not whether someone dislikes my film and I said as much in my first reply.

      Does that clear up my intent for you? I do so deeply care for you. 🙂

      M., thank you. Please do share that iTunes link with those who should see it. Lord knows I could use a friendly reminder that my film is well-liked there.

  • M. Whiston

    Whilst I’ve no desire to enter the line of fire, if Mr. Stefanos’s reply did nothing except reveal where to see the film in question, I’m glad it did just that much. I quite enjoyed the film. I’m rather surprised that it looks as gorgeous as the other Hollywood films I’ve downloaded to my iPhone but with a queer sensability. I can’t say I understand the quarrel with it. Quite frankly, I’ve had that night out and morning after several times myself. In my experience the mixed emotions were captured quite perfectly. If I wreack my brain to think of another film like it, I can’t really except for Weekend, which was simply glorious. It’s regrettable to read such dischord but I still hope my friends back in England do discover this lovely film about a truly gay experience. From an Englishman abroad.

    • grumpyyounggay

      Indeed, M. Whiston, Weekend is phenomenal.

      I’m glad you’ve taken the time to comment on here and enlighten me to your views of Bedfellows. I do agree that the production values are good (something I did pick out as a positive in my initial review). As the post concedes in my reflection of the critiquing process, I’ll admit to the strong possibility the the tone of the films that went before it in the evening affected my opinion. It’s a shame I can’t wipe the slate clean of my opinions and re-review it. Oh well, that’s the nature of the beast. But I’m glad you enjoyed it where I was unable to.

  • Chad Husten

    Wow. I will say that the tenor of the Stefenos comments is aggressive. I was pointed here by a friend after I had (already) purchased Bedfellows and had been talking about it. I too was less than impressed by the film. Twas benign at best. It had not a thing to do with being an American film. I watched many other more original films on the collection that he is mercifully included in and found them to be highly enjoyable and thought provoking. To me it had more to do with the over saturation of desire to be something greater. I had the sense that the film wanted to be bigger and grander than it was, which made me think that the film was due something on a larger platform so that it could succeed at that. However, what I realized from reading his posts, the filmmaker is much more interested in making HIMSELF bigger and grander than he is. Terribly sad that someone can take someone else’s candid opinion and turn it so personal. He talks about having a swipe at his nationality and yet throws Posh and Becks into the mix…the gentleman might as well have tossed tea and crumpets in as well. If anything, this has shown me that this is a film student who will self destruct and might have hit his summit. After some research, I see that this movie had it’s premiere over two years ago. That he has not moved beyond, continuing to boast of Bedfellows “successes” is point enough. I did more research from the Bedfellows facebook page and the accolades are, well, I would look them up. Let us not feel angry at him but pray that he finds some strength to move beyond a mediocre experience. He clearly had some vision (what that is, I am not assured) with this film. Any time that someone feels something passionate is good. Whether or not they seem eloquent while executing that passion is another story. I believe the filmmaker has revealed his true self in his blog posts. And that is fascinating!

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