Thursday
Nobuhiko Obayashi, 'Thursday', 1961. Courtesy Glasgow Short Film Festival.

Glasgow Short Film Festival hosted their first online edition from 17 - 23 August. The programme showcased dynamic curation and thought-provoking discussions; this digital version still providing the scope and scale of the annual event. Notable highlights were the retrospective and archival offerings, such as a Nobuhiko Obayashi Retrospective curated by Matchbox Cineclub, included The Girl In the Picture, Emotion and Thursday. ICO’s 2020 touring programme Second Sight—featured Martina Attille’s Dreaming Rivers, and was introduced by a selection of shorter works by Tako Taal. Here, I have provided some glimpses of these programmes, looking at Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Thursday and two of Tako Taal’s films.

*

Thursday | Nobuhiko Obayashi | 19 mins

Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s Thursday follows a teenage couple, Man (Masahiro Sumiyoshi) and Woman (Noriko Takemura) over the course of an afternoon. They picnic in a forest, smoking cigarettes and wading in the babbling stream at the foot of a waterfall. The twenty minute short is silent. Early on, ‘Woman’ gestures to her stomach and indicates pregnancy. Ôbayashi prioritises the young man’s point of view, and this knowledge sends him reeling.

The afternoon that follows is suspended in a dreamy state of timelessness, where only the surrounding trees anchor the couple to earth. Ôbayashi employs playful yet alert filmmaking to conjure the feeling of waiting in silence, of processing bad news, of being trapped in a moment. One distinct scene that highlights some of Obayashi’s signature whimsical flair comes when the camera frames his love interest from the left to the right, mimicking our male lead as he closes and opens his respective eyes. Realistic, yes, but amateurish and humorous, almost mocking contemporary realism in cinema. The backdrop of the tall forest knocks the linearity of time on its axis. In the first scene our protagonist strokes the bark of a tree, as if willing time to pause for a moment. There is a tension between feelings of urgency and endlessness in this study of adolescence, employing both realism and the fantastic.

*

You Know It
Tako Taal, 'You Know It But It Don’t Know You', 2017. Courtesy Glasgow Short Film Festival.

You Know It But It Don’t Know You | Tako Taal | 7 mins

Tako Taal’s two short films offer another candid yet dreamlike observation on their subjects.You Know It But It Don’t Know You utilises the location of a hotel to frame the rhythm of monotony—the everyday routine of training and preparation for a day of service. Unpicking scenes of apparent ordinariness, Taal’s camera follows students at the Gambia Hospitality and Tourism Institute preparing for service and going about their lives. Taal draws parallels early on, flitting between a musical evening performance where white tourists sit faceless in the background watching traditional dancers, and quiet footage of a kitchen porter cutting potatoes, their face also obscured.

The narrator delivers an audio glossary of Mandinka phrases, chosen by the filmmaker’s grandmother. Taal’s narration acts as a disembodied tour guide through the microcosm of the hotel. It becomes poetic; an oral testimony. They recite translations for words like Bantaba, or the meeting place of men, and finally Tubabo, or a ‘person from across the great sea.’

The unravelling of this set up is felt further still as the film visits, and returns to, a scene of three pairs of hands slowly and carefully rolling up a towel, eventually revealing its shape and purpose—they form a decorative heart to be placed on the beds of guests. Two ideas present themselves here, at odds with each other: the painstaking hidden labour of domestic service; and the art of caring for others. Through a pairing of sound and documentary techniques, You Know It But It Don’t Know You is a quiet storm.

*

Halo Nevus
Tako Taal, 'Halo Nevus', 2018. Commissioned by Grand Union, Birmingham with support from Creative Scotland. Courtesy Glasgow Short Film Festival.

Halo Nevus | Tako Taal 13 mins

Halo Nevus is another artful short by Taal, partly documenting and partly reflecting on the progression of a birthmark as it changes on the skin. An early scene views a droplet of water from underneath a glass pane, observing how it reverberates to the sound of percussion like vocals. The film’s name refers to the process in which a birthmark develops a ring of white around it, muddying the boundaries between itself and its host. In Halo Nevus, the birthmark is the catalyst and the protagonist. Like You Know It…, Taal imbues the film with a sense of scale and stake. The mark is a ticking time bomb. In an empty white room, the image of the mark is projected onto a wall like a gallery piece, its dimples and speckles enlarged. The camera, with the eyes of the viewer, studies it. How can a tiny collection of cells uproot a life? The answer is slowly, over the course of five years to be exact. Here, the viewer is guided again by a disembodied narrator, amplifying the meditative quality of the work while suspending a cord of distinct tension throughout. Halo Nevus has a visceral universality, the ever changing body, while being grounded in a specific sphere of non-fiction.

***

Naomi Gessesse is a movie watcher and Aries sun from Glasgow. They have written for several publications and wrote an undergraduate thesis on the politics of space at the lgbtqia+ film festival. Naomi now works for Berwick Film And Media Arts Festival while continuing to write.

Glasgow Short Film Festival is an annual festival and short film competition in Scotland.