Film still from ‘Paradox

At a special event at Encounters Short Film Festival last November, outgoing programmer Mark Cosgrove explained his approach to selecting films. He assesses each submitted film with the aid of ‘Mark’s Compass’ – a curatorial tool which places the dramatic tension of Dylan going electric as its True North. South is represented by a Cézanne still life – conventional on the surface but abstract and chaotic in detail. West is the funky bass of Bootsy Collins, East the paranoia of Tom Wait’s ‘What’s He Building In There?’

It’s an ingenious solution to the problem of defining how a short film programmer selects films, a task that, truth be told, is probably three parts experience to two parts intuition and one part personal prejudice. Since then I’ve been trying to define the criteria I use in similar terms – the other night at a Bonnie Prince Billy gig I made a realisation. Each film I view must pass the Will Oldham Test.

The Will Oldham Test examines how each film attempts to balance a series of apparently opposing properties. Is the film sincere in its intent, without taking itself too seriously? Does it find something new to say, and new ways to say it, without losing its grasp on narrative conventions? Is it accessible to new viewers, whilst offering signs of an artist in transition to those already familiar with his/her work? Does it show signs of both sharp intelligence and fearless emotion? Does it manage to appear stylish whilst sporting a bushy beard, wine-stained shirt and shabby dad-jeans?

Okay, that last one doesn’t quite fit, but you get the idea. Will Oldham’s performance (that night and every other time I’ve seen him) was effortlessly passionate, articulate and experimental. He showed a keen respect for musical history, without treating his or others’ songs with too much reverence. And he was more than a wee bit rough around the edges. All of which qualities just about transfer to short film.

Our international competition selection is stuffed with films that share these qualities. Goodbye Mandima is an autobiographical meditation on a lost childhood in Zaire, constructed from clues glimpsed at the edges of aging photographs. A Piece of Summer is a masterful documentary portrait of a Polish city boy spending his summer with his wild-man-of-the-woods grandfather. German filmmakers Christina Ebelt and Mischa Leinkauf draw on the wildly varying stylistic influences of Lars Von Trier and Michael Haneke in their frightening, funny and on-the-money corporate exposé Power! A baby interacts with puppets in the hilarious Las Palmas and Will Oldham himself turns up in Pioneer, a film that courageously breaks that key rule of filmmaking: Show, Don’t Tell.

The whole GSFF12 programme showcases ramshackle, boundary-devouring, sincere but light-touch filmmaking. Recent film from Iceland is featured in four specially curated programmes. Our strand devoted to film archives includes several recently rediscovered Margaret Tait works and the early student film by Bill Douglas, Come Dancing. Chicago-based 16mm alchemist Ben Russell presents a series of visionary works exploring naturally-derived psychedelia. Slacker 2011 is a none-too-reverential remake of the the Richard Linklater indie classic, with 24 Texan filmmakers each revising a single scene in wildly diverse ways.

One film spans the various strands in the programme. At 54 minutes, the Icelandic film Paradox stretches the definition of short. This strange documentary, screening for the first time outside Iceland, tells the story of an unfinished short film, shot in 1967 but never completed. As such, it serves as a reminder of any filmmakers’ colossal achievement in completing a project. But the story doesn’t stop there. Forty years later one of the original actors obtains the rushes and recruits a young editor and composer to shape a finished piece. But the original filmmakers have other ideas… Paradox is a fascinating study of the creative process, generational differences, and the filmmaker’s responsibility towards archive film. And Will Oldham would improve.

Film still from ‘Pioneer’


The GSFF is very kindly offering 2 pairs of tickets to the screening of Paradox on Thursday, 9 Feb at 9pm to Central Station members.

To put yourself in the running to win, just send us an email to with the subject line ‘GSFF – Paradox‘ or let us know you would like them by adding a comment below.

Winners will be notified on Wednesday, 8 February.