Interview The Rejected Shorts Picture Show: “We have unlearnt how to fail.”

In a society where we “can be anything we want” we have unlearnt how to fail. School, you’d think, is a place, par excellence, where experiment could be stimulated. But some film schools have instead started to glorify certain films by giving out awards. ‘This creates unnecessary competition in a learning space that should be safe for experimentation and failure,’ say Teemu Kettunen and Veera Tapper who themselves studied at the Baltic Film and Media School and are now, for the second time, screening their ‘The Rejected Shorts Picture Show’ at Black Nights Film Festival.

“Bad production value itself does not equal a good rejected short.”

The Rejected Shorts Picture Show: Electric Boogaloo is a 1:13 hours long selection of ‘terrible’ shorts and an instant cult classic, that will screen as part of PӦFF Shorts. The shorts in this year’s selection take us from Finland all the way to South East Asia. And from a very dramatic and teary teenage heartbreak to an unexpected pregnancy acted out by Barbie dolls. Teemu: ‘We’re also bringing back a classic from our own university times. We throw in a lot of romance and a lot of emotions. We cry every time when we watch it, for a variety of reasons.’

‘Of course, there are exceptions, but just bad production value doesn’t immediately equal a rejected short,’ says the Rejected Shorts team. ‘What we love are films that are made very seriously, trying as hard as you can and putting all of your heart into it. That makes us feel like there’s something “pure” about it.’

Still from Good, Bad, Ugly by Arshia Zenali

Filmmakers from Europe and the USA are afraid to show their rejects; Southeast Asians still know how to fail.

Something that Teemu and Veera have discovered, is that the attitude towards failure is very much rooted in cultural differences. ‘Almost all of the submissions from USA or Europe either claim to be misunderstood because of the technical issues (i.e. “amazing story, but the lens was wrong”) or are not made seriously (i.e. “there was no budget so we just went cuckoo”).’

Especially from Southeast Asia, the team gets tens of submissions that scream the pure essence of failure and attitude that they’re looking for. One of them, Gladys Llanes, a 23-year old producer and filmmaker from the Philippines, who has her student film One Thousand and Twenty in the Rejected Shorts this year, comments: ‘I honestly think that as a director, I did pour my passion into that film and I think the audience can see it in the film. Of course, I would have loved to have more budget or experience to tell this story.’

The filmmaker adds that each time she sees the short, she is also reminded that she didn’t give up on her dream to be a filmmaker even if she did something horrible in the past. Llanes: ‘I have discovered that there is really no such thing as rejected effort.’

‘A sexist film could be funny, but only in the right light. It’s too risky to show to a big audience.’

One of the biggest challenges for Teemu and Veera, when selecting terrible shorts, is finding the balance between bad and inappropriate. ‘Our sense of humor is very twisted,’ says Veera. ‘So it’s very important to understand why are we laughing, and why would the audience laugh.’

She presents an example: ‘A sexist film can be hilarious, obviously not because it’s sexist, but because it represents a different decade and a different mindset and that makes us cringe.’ This concept, though, is way too abstract and risky, according to the team. So, everything that is sexist, racist, homophobic, objectifying or otherwise inappropriate is ruled out.

As a young filmmaker, you have to be brave

‘Making this movie made my fears of the camera go away,’ says one of the other selected filmmakers, Iranian Arshia Zenali, about his short, that is appropriately named Good, Bad, Ugly. ‘I saw friends with high cinematic knowledge at our university who were afraid to start making films. Everything I did in this film’s decoupage was completely instinctive and I myself had no cinematic knowledge. I just wanted to make it, so I knew I had to be brave.’

Only a few films are credited to Estonia or Finland. Teemu: ‘When in reality we have seen dozens of terrible Estonian short films suitable for The Rejected Shorts!’ In the end, Teemu and Vera say, it’s all about realizing that no matter who you are or where you are, you have probably created something terrible as well, and it’s totally fine!

The Rejected Shorts Show: Electric Boogaloo
Tuesday 19-11, 19:00 Sõprus Cinema
Get your tickets here

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