BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: brief encounters.

THE FILM SOCIETY’s playing of New Zealand short films this year has been a bonus. Too often, the short film has been marginalised as an art-form and within film criticism or exhibition (admittedly, I have neglected to cover the short films in my reviews). This also means short films are often neglected by the artists themselves – for many (and this seems especially true for New Zealand Film Commission funded shorts) it’s seen as a stepping stone for feature films. This means the shorts are merely an excuse to throw in as many ‘quirky’ camera angles as possible, or rely on clichéd or dull storytelling (perhaps the reason why Taika Waititi’s Two Cars, One Night was so good was because it understood what a short film should be doing). It’s a shame as the short film can be just as poignant or thought-provoking as a feature. The Film Society presented six “classic” New Zealand short films, and each had varying degree of success in justifying this classic label.

The first, The Lounge Bar (1988) was a collaboration between Don McGlashan and Harry Sinclair, and they both acted, score, directed and wrote the piece. The story opens with a singer providing dry commentary to the events, and forwards back and forth in time. The circular and satisfying narrative arc worked well even if the acting was a little wooden, and the film ending up being quite silly.

The second film was Grant Lahood’s Lemming Aid (1994). A bunch of Kiwi environmentalists seeks to stop a lemming mass suicide, but find their beliefs challenged by a adrenaline-junkie Norwegian (For the purists, it is a myth that lemmings commit suicide). It was a funny tale, and a tight narrative, as the animal activists find their ideologies in sharp contrast with how they act with other humans. In what was a mini-theme of the programme: never trust hippies.

The third by Peter Salmon, Playing Possum (1998), was shudderingly awful. A hyperactive tale of two savages who like putting a possum under a car, the film was grating, tiresome and overlong for its seven minutes. And I wasn’t the only person to detect a faint whiff of racism within the storyline. His short film Fog from last year was rather good, but the less said about Possum, the better.

George Port’s Valley of the Stereos (1992) featured the most all-star cast of the lot (Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Costa Botes were all involved in the production). That said, again this was a little too long. It was basically a battle of the contrasts (a hippie and a bogan battle over noise). The story was clichéd, but the execution was good enough (particularly the folding house). But the story outlasted its welcome, and repeated its joke a bit too much.

Robert Sarkies’ Signing Off (1996) was a sweet tale about an aging disc jockey trying not to let down his one fan. It had nice chestnut visuals, and a humorous storyline. Admittedly the film rushed its last half – it was as if Sarkies had to chop quite a bit off to make time, but overall this was a pleasant tale.

The final film, Permanent Wave (1996) by Jonathan Brough was technically an excellent constructed piece of work. A one-shot wonder, with the multi-person narrative expertly choreographed and constructed. The film takes a sharp aim at New Zealanders who go over to do their OE in England, and end up hanging with other New Zealanders. The characters were by-and-large annoying, but the visual ballet worked well. It was a short film which actually utilised its ‘quirky’ visual sense for a particular purpose, and was nicely done.