Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Something for your short list

Seeing eighteen feature films in six days—as I did at the recent Galway Film Fleadh—isn’t too shabby. Okay, it’s actually merely adequate. I used to do better back in my glory days of the Seattle International Film Festival. But that was before I actually, you know, had a life.

One thing I always feel bad about is that, when I attend a film fest these days, I end up seeing few or no short films. I suppose that’s because they tend to be scheduled early in the day and, as a filmgoer, I tend to be drawn to the weird kind of stuff that gets shown late in the evening (The Ghastly Love of Johnny X anyone?) and I’ve gotten too lazy in my old age to burn the candle at both ends.

It seems to me that there used to be a short film shown before many, if not most, of the feature films at film festivals. But Galway doesn’t do that these days—probably because of tight schedules in which they are trying to fit in lots of stuff or maybe it’s just the way my own schedule works out. And, of course, the regular cinemas are too busy showing advertisements and reminding you to turn off your mobile phone before their features to bother showing short films beforehand.

I used to make more of an effort to see short films at festivals because it was kind of demanded of me when I was doing scouting for the Irish Reels film fest in Seattle. And the cool thing about shorts is that sometimes that twenty-minute or half-hour flick that really impresses you turns out to be directed by someone who goes on to make a really good feature film or two or three. Anthony Byrne comes to mind. He blew me away with his short Meeting Che Guevara and the Man from Maybury Hill, and then didn’t he go and follow that up with a really hypnotic feature film, Short Order.

If you dig through the cv’s of your favorite filmmakers, more likely than not you will find that their promise was first signaled by a low-budget short film, usually as a student, whether it was Spielberg’s Amblin’ or Lucas’s THX 1138 (which was later expanded into a feature).

Even though I don’t see enough short films, I’m sometimes lucky enough that an interesting one comes to me. That’s what happened this week when I was contacted by Kerry-born filmmaker Bertie Brosnan. He recently completed a 13-minute flick called Jacob Wrestling With The Angel, which he wrote, directed and appears in as an actor.

It has the feel of something that is meant to be a much longer movie. The production values are top-notch, and it has just enough enigmatic touches that it keeps you wanting to know more about its three characters. Before I saw it, my kid happened to glimpse the trailer over my shoulder and she said it looked kind of like a Doctor Who episode. While that is high praise in our house, Brosnan clearly has more on his mind than a Saturday evening’s entertainment. Still I can see why she said that. There is an element of dark fantasy about the film.

The titular Jacob is an artist. And for some reason he keeps shifting from one locale to another—a beach, a forest, an abandoned building, a studio. The film’s locations are in County Dublin, but they feel remote and far away from any population center. Is Jacob time-shifting? Travelling between alternate realities? Dreaming? Is he mentally ill? Or is there some supernatural or sci-fi force at work? The cool thing is that the story is open enough to fit into just about any genre you like. Central to the mystery is Jennifer (played by a mesmerizing Amy Hughes), who turns up variously as an object of desire, a vaguely sinister talking head on a screen and Jacob’s domestic partner.

If the literal truth of the scenario is elusive, its theme is not. Like his namesake in the Book of Genesis, the artist Jacob is in a struggle with forces greater than himself and he is determined to prevail.

The film stands quite well on its own, but I could easily see it being expanded into a longer, more developed story.

Brosnan and his collaborators are currently in the process of getting the movie screened wherever they can. It has been submitted to the Cork film festival, which is Ireland’s premiere showcase for short films. In the meantime, you can find links to the film’s trailer and all its social media thingies at

I hope this movie gets the audience it deserves. And I expect to see more good things from Brosnan and crew.

-S.L., 23 July 2013

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