To Truro, in Cornwall, for the 50-Second Film Challenge, in which the invitation to create a short film lasting no longer than five-sixths of a minute (credits included) has attracted more than 60 entries.
Previous years have seen the ceiling set at 90 seconds but with 2016 marking the 50th year of film at nearby Falmouth University, the limit has been lowered to a number commensurate with that anniversary.
From the moment the competition was announced in January, entrants had precisely 50 days to shoot and upload a 50-second film that incorporated in some form the number 50.
I am driven to the Plaza Cinema in Truro, the location for the evening’s screening and ceremony, by Kingsley Marshall, head of film at the university’s School of Film and Television, which is sponsoring the challenge along with WTW Cinemas and the local film and theatre group o-region.
On my lap rests one of the hand-made wood-carved awards that will be handed out at the end of the night. Mine is the audience award and I realise suddenly that it is difficult not to compose an acceptance speech while clutching such a prize, no matter how temporary one’s guardianship of it might be.
The organisers must detect the maniacal glint in my eye, since they relieve me of my cargo without delay as soon as I reach the steps of the cinema.
The evening’s host is Simon Harvey, co-founder of o-region, and he informs the packed cinema that films have been submitted from far and wide. “We had entries from Iran and from America,” he says. “Even” – dramatic pause – “from Devon.”
There is the sound of air being sucked through hundreds of sets of teeth. “Don’t be like that,” Harvey cautions the home crowd with a smile. “We’re not the Oscars. We like diversity here.”
I had anticipated a programme of commercials masquerading as short films but the surprise of the evening is that flashiness and superficiality are thin on the ground: short in this instance doesn’t mean shallow.
Ker Ching follows the adventures of one 50p piece passed from pavement to hand to till to hand and back to the pavement; call it a benign miniature L’Argent. Another 50p is the star of Loose Change, which concerns the secret lives of the coins you leave on the coffee table.
Fifty Years 1966/2016 contrasts documentary footage from then and now – the founding of the Black Panthers, for instance, placed alongside Beyoncé’s recent Panthers homage at the Super Bowl – while I take a shine to Living at No. 50, which compiles shots from different addresses across Cornwall, so that a scene of a family preparing breakfast sits alongside images from the lives of an undertaker, a puppeteer and a hoarder.
Meanwhile, Dear Sophie is a daft but appealing account of the doomed multiple attempts at writing and sending a love letter.
The winners are announced by one of the judges, Chris Morris (no, not the one you’re thinking of – the Bafta-winning documentary maker and director of the School of Film and Television), who gives a special mention for a short that went down well with the audience: the nicely observed Iranian film 1–0, which surely missed out on a prize only because no case could be made that it had anything to do with the number 50.
The prize-winners are called on stage. The audience award goes to Saskia Dedman for The Partnership of the Fifty Pence Piece, a dotty little mockumentary about a secret society revolving around sharks and the number 50; this likeable piece was all the more amusing for being played with straight faces all round.
The young person’s film prize is awarded to Day 50, an animation by Shannon Symens in which a zombie apocalypse is presented in four grisly stages.
Kieran Sebille receives the Best Film award for Too Late, which cleverly renders one man’s struggle to create a 50-second film in an impressive variety of styles, while the runner-up is 5 Decades by Matt Harris, a judiciously edited and hugely poignant selection of his grandmother’s faded Super-8 home movies.
What seemed at the outset like an impossible challenge has prompted a minor explosion of creativity and resourcefulness. And, miracle of miracles, the evening ended without any reference to Fifty Shades of Grey.