Bill Douglas Award 5: Connection Signals

The Bill Douglas Award concentrates on innovative and new cinema, and the fifth instalment of the programme, Connection Signals, focuses specifically on routines, patterns, and codes to express socio-cultural effects and influences.

IN HER STEPS follows Lena, who is now in a reintegration programme after a stint in prison and begins a new placement in a rural juvenile prison where she has to confront her past. There are hints to her past and personal life, but they remain largely hidden, with only meagre nods to her family life and the reason for her sentencing. IN HER STEPS is an understated but authentic portrayal of a woman working on getting back her life; director Anastasia Kratidi has created an almost dystopian feel to the narrative that mirrors Lena’s unsettledness and maternal confusion, looking to be a mother in an environment that doesn’t easily lend itself to that.

Nothing sparks emotions and influences quite like art, and SIGNS explores a physical reaction to artwork in sign language. Participants are shown various pieces by the likes of Van Gogh, Francis Bacon and Yves Klein, and their responses are recorded.  Each subject is different, some very matter of fact with their interpretation and others adding a backstory to the piece or imagining the subject’s future in the painting. For those not proficient in signing, don’t worry. The wonderful thing about SIGNS is that the physical and intellectual reaction expressed through signing is, much like the artwork, interpreted differently depending on the person watching. Still, there is a universal understanding and connection in these portrayals. Director Louise Stern has begun to bridge the gap and challenge accessibility in the art industry as well as offering a much more authentic expression and response to artwork.

Forging forward in a much more abstract form is MASS, directed by Nadeem Din-Gabisi, a surreal and meditative approach of tuning into the Black experience, flitting between bustling cityscapes and peaceful refuge, between community and isolation, with radio waves tuning and changing at a touch. MASS uses static and sound to demonstrate Black intimacy and ever-changing personal narratives as well as collective narratives and fluctuations within the Black community. It’s a story of finding your sanctuary and solitude in a world that demands so much.

Almost a piece of visual and audio art in itself, ONE THOUSAND AND ONE ATTEMPTS TO BE AN OCEAN showcases superficial images and the absence of substance, in an online world where “satisfying images” have swamped the internet. Knives cutting through jelly-like bubbles, trees struck by lightning and time-lapses of growth and death are all put together into a collage complete with a surreal audio soundtrack in this rhythmic and hypnotic short. The soundtrack slowly builds then retreats. Director Wang Yuyan has produced a mesmerising (which I guess is one of the problems she’s trying to address) study of contemporary distraction but has attacked this superficial visual culture with an uncomfortable and repetitive soundscape that adds another dimension and will make audiences question the use of these “satisfying images” and their value – if any.

Every weekday inmates at Huntsville Penitentiary in Texas are released on parole. For many of them, their first stop is the nearest Greyhound station, where they’ll jump on a bus after being incarcerated, some for most of their lives. HUNTSVILLE STATION is a story following the start of freedom for the former inmates, documenting their fears, reflections, and future plans. The station is ready for them, stocked with clothes, cigarettes and phones, with vendors selling spritzes of cologne for $4 a pop. Understandably, many of the newly paroled men find life out of prison too overwhelming, it being, for some of them, the first contact with the outside world for thirty years. The local Greyhound station becomes a bustling place, with exciting calls to families being made as well as silent reflection of those unsure of where they’ll go or what they’ll do next. Directors Chris Filippone and Jamie Meltzer have created something that stands well alone as a short film and lays a foundation for something more in-depth. HUNTSVILLE STATION offers a unique insight into the first glimpses of freedom after imprisonment and will have audiences pondering the future of these men.