The fourth Manchester International Film Festival (MANIFF) continued to build on the foundations put down in previous years with a packed programme of events, including one that featured a local landmark pub, the Star and Garter. The festival grouped its cinematic entries under umbrellas such as Narrative Features, Documentaries and Music Videos. With people such as Shia Labeouf (the Transformers franchise) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Mission Impossible) here to present their works, this is a festival with pulling power. Based at the Odeon in the Great Northern, MANIFF was spread over four days, which just happened to be some of the coldest days for several years.

Not all events required a ticket, including the return of a free Experimental Films showcase at the Saul Hay Fine Art Gallery, which nestles between the railway and the canal. This section found space for six short films that totalled 30 minutes, with contributions from international filmmakers. Strangely enough, despite originating from Australia or USA or mainland Europe, they all had one commonality: none of the featured actors uttered a word. All the storytelling was delivered via voiceover.

As could be expected, their subject matter varied wildly. Dazed, by US director Ezra Spurrier, appears like a glossy commercial for smoking, shagging, more smoking, holding a guitar, injecting, more shagging, then sleep. Or was it death? It’s based on the Dazed novel series by Nikki Palomino and fits much of that in, but perhaps trying to cram a life story into eight minutes is a tad ambitious.

Another of the shorts, Flicker, comes across as a demonstration of someone’s ability to play around and show off their editing skills. It could have been a job interview for the next Matrix movie.

The most intriguing of these six experimental offerings was the European contribution, The Dead Man Speaks, by Marcos Mereles. Perhaps recorded on the Amsterdam canalside, it’s simple in its visual delivery and engaging in its concept. The idea is that the dead are here, living all around us. “We only mess with you if you mess with us.” Fair enough. And, in case you want to take them on, just beware that there are more dead people than alive. Obviously, it doesn’t address what can be the distressing manner of how one gets there. Once deceased, there’s no need to be afraid and among the hypothetical advantages to the afterlife are that the requirements for food and sleep disappear.

Yes, it’s experimental and should generate a debate. And isn’t that what the intention of film should be?

The MANIFF Experimental Films showcase took place at Saul Hay Fine Art Gallery on Saturday 3 March.

Ged Camera