ADVENTURES IN SHORT FILM-MAKING

THE EYE ON FILM
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Indy Lifestyle Online
What is the link between Haiti - Dreams of Democracy, a 15-minute "short" featuring 1,000 penises, and the forthcoming authorised film biography of Nelson Mandela? The answer is South African film-maker Jo Menell, who is responsible for all three.

Anyone who'd made the transition from phallus flick to Hollywood biopic might be forgiven for trying to cover their tracks. But Menell, far from whitewashing his past, has used some of the proceeds from his controversial venture to fund the "Dick award" for low-budget short films.

The annual award, worth pounds 4,500, is named after his provocative short, which was first released five years ago. This year's winner will be announced after a screening of the shortlisted works on Wednesday at London's ICA.

Menell, who began his film-making career with a study of Haiti, has just completed his follow-up to Dick - the biopic of Mandela. Despite this eminent rise, he claims to be very proud of his infamous piece, which has the distinction of having been banned twice in South Africa and pulled from Channel 4's Banned season, for fear of the offence it might cause.

Rather than a cheap porn film, its maker sees it as a blow against censorship and double standards. "I've always liked challenging authority and censorship - the hypocrisy that says you can have full-frontal nudity in women, but you can't see a man's willy. It struck me in films I'd made where it had come up absolutely genuinely in context, like one I'd shot inside a prison. Someone was knifed in the shower, yet when I illustrated it with guys just showering naked, I was told `my goodness, you can't show that', and I just thought it was ridiculous." He does admit, however, that "it was great fun to make", and that it was also partly the result of a bet with a friend that he couldn't get a work like Dick into the San Francisco Film Festival.

His new film, due for release here early next year, is in a wholly different league. With a budget which Menell reluctantly admits was "nearly pounds 1m", and with Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) as one of his co-producers, his study of Mandela is much more in keeping with his background as a former presenter/ director of among other things, Panorama.

Menell set up the award in a bid to regenerate the "short" format, and get it back into cinemas. This year's shortlist is a carnivore's dream, with two films entitled Meat: David H Evans's study of the digestion "of what was once living tissue", and Ian Williams's narrative about a man convinced that he's living with cannibals.

Also featured are True Blue - reminiscences of an all-girl summer camp; Snowstorms - a man's obsession with children's novelty toys; Wheel of Life - the story of original sin; Cancelled *4 - about life in the 1990s; and Bob Flannagan - a portrait of the performance artist. There's also the animated short, The Wind of Change, about musician Alex Balanescu, made by 1993 Dick award winner, Phil Mulloy.

Its maker says that Dick was "strictly a one-off" - he won't be making a sequel. On Wednesday, you can judge its legacy for yourself.

The Dick Award, , ICA Cinema, The Mall, London SW1 (0171-930 3647) 27 Nov 7pm, pounds 6.50/pounds 5 mems. The shortlisted films will also be screened at 6.30pm and 8.30pm on 28 Nov

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