Part of the London Short FIlm Festival, the ICA played host to Ohioan directer Jennifer Reeder for a screening of three of her short films along with Valley Girls (like, tripendicular) and the modern riot grrl trio Skinny Girl Diet for an evening all about ‘The Teenage Girl Aesthetic’. Reeder’s films opened the night.
And I Will Rise if Only to Hold You Down starts wih a woman dancing alone in a studio as conversations play through her head. In this space there is only her and the mirror. After the opening, we see her in context, she is part of a crumbling family home full of painful conversations. But the film never lets you forget the minutes spent alone with her at the beginning. “What did you think?” whispers my friend during the credits. I can’t reply, my mind is whirring through the awkward dialogue, the images, the unicorns and the singing. She pipes up “I thought it was perfect”.
There are visual ticks that run through the three films -‘worlds greatest…’ slogans on mugs and clothes, cracked screens on gizmos, subtitles with floaty bits of ‘cinema magic’ as the director calls it. I love the connections; as I settle in for the second film, the earlier-made Seven Songs About Thunder, it feels like a return to Oz. There is more than a little David Lynch in this one; it has an emotionally gruelling and bizarre heart but there many flashes of humour, from amusing moments of uncanniness to the witty lead’s inner monologue. In a particularly arresting scene, a soon-to-be father practises on a raw chicken. It’s one of the few men we get any alone time with – the spotlight is firmly on the girls – but its a beautiful moment, funny and dark and private.
A Million Miles Away is the most simple but also the most complete short film of the three. Playing with what the Q&A labelled ‘female spaces’, the camera follows a choir of girls and their cat-jumper wearing teacher and shows how these spaces exist on a knife edge between hostility and comfort. It’s refreshing, it’s original and at the same time achingly familiar. It’s also the warmest piece; unlike Thunder and Rise I never felt lost or spooked – the forest is locked away by the schoolroom and bedroom walls.
Maybe I’m projecting my own neurosis about rooms full of teenage girls onto the film, but that’s kind of the point. Reeder talks about her duty to her audience and show a wide variety of types of young women when casting these films. It certainly struck a chord of teenage reminiscence for me, as I imagine it would for everyone. She shows the expressions we want to hide, the things we tell ourselves and the looks we give each other. There is nothing mawkish in Reeder’s depictions of emotion, the films gaze through a veil of sequins into the abyss and it’s wonderful.
Watch some clips here
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