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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Digitally Born KidsIn the end I didn't go to the Winter Celebration to see Christmas Carol Theobald, the Silent Night mayor. I thought my time would be much better spent watching twenty films in three hours. So at great personal sacrifice (there was horse racing on the TV), I headed down to the Sallis Benney Theatre yesterday afternoon for the Digitally Born Kids Film Festival, a free one-day screening of films made by under-18s.

I don't like to complain (I'm more of a whiner than a moaner), but it does annoy me that I live in a city which frequently offers top quality events in return for no money whatsoever, and yet still people can't be bothered to go. Speaking as someone who spent eight years living in a village where the most exciting event was the annual Litter-Picking Day in Ganges Wood, I can't help feeling that the residents of Brighton have no idea how lucky they are.

Sallis Benney TheatreSo at 2pm I arrived at a modern state-of-the-art theatre which can seat 300, for an entirely free film festival organised by a committee of eleven local teenagers, who had personally sat through more than eighty films submitted from all over the UK, chosen the best twenty, produced trophies and certificates, and even arranged for a documentary film crew to cover the event... only to find that about sixteen people had turned up. The kids had even put out extra chairs in case the venue was full, which was what really broke my heart. They deserved so much more.

But anyhoo, it turned out to be a fab afternoon. The teenagers did everything from handing out the programmes and introducing the films, to warning us that anyone who chewed gum would be forced to come back at the end and scrape it off the seats. The films were shown in three groupings, with two short breaks to allow the audience to make their way into the theatre cafe and be interviewed by the documentary crew. I gave that part a miss. Anyone who's seen my moustache movie will know that I'm better in print than on film.

As for the films themselves, they were what you'd call an eclectic mix, from animations about recycling and joy-riding, to live action films about time-travel, M.E. and murder, plus one featuring kids dressed as dogs eating Coco Pops (I didn't really understand that one), but almost without exception, they were phenomenally good.

I particularly liked Best Friends, a Welsh film about dyslexia, although it slightly ruined its own argument by telling us that both Robbie Williams and Britney Spears are dyslexic, and suggesting we hold them up as role models. I think it was made before they both went off the rails. Then there was 'By The Way, I'm Gay', a brilliantly funny film about coming out of the closet, and 'You Hussy', a comedy made at City College, Brighton. But even up against those two, the prize for most outrageous title has to go to 'Getting Stuck In' by Hadlow Youth Club in Kent. It's about a boy who stabs his father with a bread knife. To be honest, it would have been more gruesome if it wasn't for the fact that you could see the chopped herbs in the tomato sauce they were using as blood.

I came close to seeing blood of my own when it came to 'Albana's Asylum', a Scottish drama so bleak that it would have made Ken Loach slash his own wrists. But by far the most impressive film of the afternoon was another Glasgow-based effort called 'Happy', a brilliantly made film about happy-slapping. I can't seem to track it down on the internet, which is a shame because it was so well acted and directed that the teenagers behind it will no doubt be winning Baftas in years to come, and I want to be able to say I spotted them first.

Other highlights of the festival included 'The Monster of Hove Lagoon' (that was a documentary) and 'Brief-Case', a 7-minute whodunnit made by the DBK committee themselves, which featured a man being bludgeoned to death with a pumpkin, and a lawyer who looked like Elvis. I haven't laughed so much in years.

My favourite film, however, would have to be 'Don't Open The Cupboard', a five minute movie written, directed by and starring Ben and Rory, Brighton's answer to Vic & Bob, who appeared to be aged about 12. They'd shot the whole thing at the Phoenix Gallery (where I once posed with a totem pole), and in addition to displaying a talent for surreal comedy, provided the highlight of the entire afternoon by dancing to a mobile phone ringtone over the closing credits. I'd give them their own TV show immediately.

Fortunately, by the time the trophies were handed out at 5pm, the audience had grown to a few dozen, and that was despite the fact that most of the award-winners had failed to turn up. The makers of 'Happy' (Best Drama) were apparently absent because "they're from Scotland and couldn't be bothered to come" - a line also put to good use by the people behind 'Beach' (Best Film With a Moral Message) who live in Swansea - but the most original excuse of the day came from the winners of the Best Chiller award, which went to 'The Curse of the Circus'. According to the official announcement, "they're actually in a circus, and are touring at the moment". You never hear that one on Oscar night.