NAFN were back last Easter Monday, as they headed to Café Roya in Beeston to present their second showcase of alternative films. Titled NAFN’s Comedy Night and presented in conjunction with the Beestonian Film Club, this programme focussed this time on screening sixteen ‘under-the-radar’ comedy shorts from recent years. And the Network had worked hard to create the best possible experience for each attendee. The environment itself was incredibly welcoming for a start, and there was that immediate community feel which made it seem as though you’d arrived at some family occasion where everyone knew each other.
Upon arriving, we quickly shuffled straight upstairs to a cosily small room on the first floor. This room had been darkened and filled with chairs to create somewhat make-shift cinema. Yet this created an exceedingly relaxed atmosphere, which I’d bet most would agree is an indispensable ingredient for getting the most out of any experience, let alone a comedy night in with NAFN. It was an impressive start, worthy of genuine applause.
This sense of community is held dear to the ethos of NAFN, but so too is breaking away from the mainstream and delving deeper into the unknown areas of film. So Mike A. Smith’s Cooped (2014) seemed like a great way to kick start their showcase. Despite there being no dialogue, this short’s cartoon mime and exaggerated caricatures made it easy to follow and pick out the humour. I somehow became captivated as I watched this animated dog create havoc and chaos around the home of its stressed and lethargic owner, who remained somewhat oblivious to the gradual destruction of his house.
Smith just seemed to have brilliantly found that perfect combination of two completely contrasting characters. Whilst at the same time he subtly posed darker and perhaps more saddening questions about the desensitising reality of modern work today. Fuelled by a mischievous soundtrack too (which had the audience continuously preparing themselves for the next stint of chaos and hysteria), this short film already looked hopeful as a contender for the winnings. You see, the audience had been invited to vote for their favourite film of the evening, and the winner would be awarded the evening’s profits.
That said, a definite second contender had to be Jonathan Van Tulleken’s Anthony (2014). This short followed the squabbling exchanges between Santa and one of his elves, Anthony, in the aftermath of a cataclysmic sleigh crash somewhere in the northern hemisphere, just hours before Christmas morning. Immediately you could tell that Tulleken’s film was clearly a very different, high-budget beast. But nevertheless, I soon found myself laughing just as before.
Throughout Tulleken’s nightmarish scene, the humour was created through a similar exquisitely contrasting double. Santa is portrayed as a pessimistic, sadistic arsehole, whilst his youthful assistant remains hopeful and energetic (bar a gradual loss of patience with his tubby, red-coated counterpart that is). Moments of comedic genius, scenic beauty and unexpected gore flitted all through their peppery interchange, and ultimately the audience was left almost not knowing what was to come or when to laugh. It was humour with an ever-lingering feeling of guilt, and NAFN were clearly very interested in exploring comedy shorts that could make their viewers feel both emotions concurrently.
However, the profits were inevitably going to be handed over to Andrew Kelleher’s Dog Judo (2011). We all sensed it, and in the end it made sense. This animation’s unusual plot saw the arrival of a mafia gang member (expertly voiced by Joe Pantoliano), who takes the place of a missing ‘judo exchange student.’ And it was the machismo of this visitor meeting the overall confusion of Dog Judo regulars Roy and Rexley which provided most of the humour. Persistently calm and innocently inquisitive, the two regulars repeatedly and hilariously undercut this mafioso’s menacing power.And full credit goes to those who played a part in the making of the film, because who would have thought that a few dogs in shirts and combat attire could provide so much entertainment.
At an affordable price, this interesting event seemed like the perfect antidote to an otherwise sullen Easter Monday, leaving audience members with a much broader taste for comedy (and curry, as served during the interval) and a hunger for more. Getting audience members actively involved in the outcome of the profits meant that our focus was increased, which when combined with the relaxed atmosphere, ensured a truly immersive and priceless experience.