The British film industry's leading lights have come out in full force to support this year's Turner Classic Movies Short Film Competition and the celebrity jury speaks for itself, with names such as Hugh Grant, Richard Eyre, Stephen Frears and Neil Jordan gracing its panel.
No matter who eventually bags the winning cash prize, this year's shortlist is a strong indicator that talent in the British film industry, despite impoverished coffers, is alive and kicking.
Most of the films in the final selection reel will screen at the London Film Festival in the short film section, and most of them are worthy of notice.
Out of the shortlist, 'Thespian X', written and directed by Gerald McMorrow, stands out for its darkly comic script, where humans compete against machines for work. Drawing on the sci-fi film genre's obsession with the futuristic world, shades of Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol, and the subliminal Brazil, shot by Terry Gilliam, are evident throughout the film.
A graduate of the New York Film School, London-born McMorrow cut his teeth directing music videos for artists such as Tom Jones, My Vitriol, Catatonia and Space, before embarking on a series of commercials for agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, WCRS and Rainey Kelly. McMorrow has now decided to focus his talents entirely on developing his own feature films. 'Thespian X', his first short film, proves that he can sustain an audience well beyond the 40-second ad slot and create an accomplished film that demonstrates genuine feature film potential.
Another talented director to make this year's shortlist is Jake Knight, who won critical acclaim on the short film festival circuit when he took this year's Rushes Film Festival by storm, scooping best director for his debut short film, 'Salaryman 6', the tale of a lonely Tokyo office worker and his monotonous working life.
His Japanese wife co-wrote the script and produced the film, which was shot entirely on superwidescreen.
"Shooting was pretty mad but I used that technique to isolate the character from the real world. It's all about him being lost psychologically, like the classic outsider," he says. To create a true sense of monotony, the shots feature close-ups of Japanese architecture-based on modular structures in muted tones.
Jake Knight, who is represented by Manifesto Films, was featured in the September issue of Campaign Screen and it looks as though he's continuing to catch the critics' eye with his soulful, stylishly-framed short film.
In a change of tone, 'Journey Man', a 15-minute film sponsored by the Welsh Arts Council, is based on the story of an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone, who arrives as a stowaway in a freezing Welsh village for Christmas. This semi-documentary drama short touches on a raw topical subject with sensitivity.
Prior to the six-day shoot, the director, Dictynna Hood, and director of photography, Chris Maris, studied the way classical painters like Rembrandt handled natural light falling off into dark backgrounds. "We had similar ideas about the way a film should look and wanted to achieve minimal and objective lighting," explains the director. The striking flashback scenes show that their research was worthwhile. The film is also set to a powerful musical background composed by 23-year-old Senegalese musician Seckou Keiter.
Hood has written and directed several short films, including 'A Healing Touch', which featured at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and 'Small War', screened as part of Channel 4's Shooting Gallery.
'Ready', directed by Savina Dellicour and staring Imelda Staunton, was conceived by the director and her producer, Josephine Law, for their graduation piece at the National Film and Television School. The story of a woman who believes that she is about to die from a family curse is both absurdly amusing and tragic. It was a casting coup for the director when Staunton, (Shakespeare in Love, Sense and Sensibility, Peter's Friends) was taken with the script and agreed to play the leading lady.
Finally, 'Deep Down' is Christin Cockerton's first film as a writer/director and shows potential for strong characterisation and casting. A trained actress, Cockerton worked professionally on stage and in television, but decided to give up performing in pursuit of filmmaking. After going back to college to study scriptwriting, she landed a job in documentaries and has spent a decade researching, producing and directing projects for the BBC, Channel 4, PBS and the History Channel. Her work has covered a range of subjects, from art theft to sports science and environmental issues. Her script for 'Deep Down' will be included in The Short Film Script Handbook, to be published later this year.