Hannah Clugston


Six of the best films from the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2019

York’s annual showcase of groundbreaking short-form cinema returned for its biggest ever edition.

In Martin Smatana’s stop motion animation The Kite – one of 400 short films programmed at this year’s Aesthetica Short Film Festival – the central character is caught by the wind while flying a kite. With flailing legs, he shoots skywards looking out across the vast landscape spreading out beneath him, constructed from an array of patchwork textiles.

A visit to the ninth edition of this expansive festival in York can feel a bit like this. With hundreds of films covering subjects as varied as the dream life of monkeys and the last supper, the world is revealed from all sorts of angles, through all sorts of pairs of eyes.

Lasting no more than 30 minutes, these succinct films get right to the point, creating a catalogue of impactful snapshots that resonate long after exiting the cinema (or, in ASFF’s case, the beautiful historic building hosting the screening). Here are six of our favourites.

Locals Only

In 1970s South Africa a white teenage boy skates through the glittering, sun-soaked streets. ‘Sugar Man’ by Rodriquez plays over spliff sharing and hazy afternoon drives. In an affluent leafy neighbourhood, the protagonist introduces two black friends to an abandoned swimming pool perfect for skateboarding. The euphoria of wheels speeding across concrete is soon blunted by the arrival of the authorities and the rude reminder that this is a freedom only afforded to those of a certain race.


A painterly animation follows three young men as they jump headfirst into university life in Liverpool. When a new friend alters the dynamic of their familiar childhood bonds, the line between banter and bullying becomes hard to define. Exploring alcoholism, toxic masculinity, depression and the strength of friendship in just 15 minutes, Roughhouse proves that the best animations aren’t reliant on intricate scenery or fancy illustrative tricks but good old-fashioned storytelling.


So-called “dimwit” Barry and former lover Linda, sit face to face beneath the cold lights and outdated furnishings of a social club. Linda eats cold beans from a can and Barry details how the bin bags under the table contain pieces of his grandmother, who he recently murdered and chopped up. Delivered in a deadpan monotone with some surreal bucking bronco riding thrown in for good measure, Norteños was certainly the worthy winner of the Best Comedy Award.

Kofi and Lartey

Nicknamed “Sodom and Gomorrah”, Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana is home to one of the world’s biggest e-waste sites. Consequently, it is a hot spot for the Western media to preach the ills of irresponsible waste disposal. Fed up of seeing his community through such a negative lens, local teacher Abdallah gives cameras to two young boys, empowering them to engage in education and tell their own story. The documentary blends the kids’ insightful and funny footage with captivating portraits of the locals and surrounding landscape.


Suitably placed in the Experimental programme, Play offsets the familiar tropes of advertising – branding, emotive language, childhood memories, bright colours, exciting music – with the horrific tale of a son witnessing the murder of his mother. We watch, as he relives the events through a TV set whilst his mum stands behind him in the kitchen furiously grating her own hand. Confused by the subversion of the usual cinematic signifiers, we are thrown into a world that is both repulsive and appealing in equal measure.

Miss Chazelles

Clara and Marie are not meant to be friends. As the runner-up and winner of Miss Chazelles-sur-Lyon, respectively, their families use them as trophies to fight over. The camera rarely strays from the framing of Clara’s face, where we can watch in detail her ambivalence over losing, her joy in Marie and her distress in the ongoing conflict. Together, the sweltering heat, close camerawork and tension of the script, makes for an oppressive environment where the mere presence of a beautiful young woman becomes volatile.

For more on this year’s festival visit asff.co.uk

Published 12 Nov 2019

Tags: Aesthetica Short Film Festival ASFF Short film

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