Doors into other worlds

Previous winner Jackie van Beek returns to the Show Me Shorts Film Festival with a tale about a young teenager with autism, writes Shane Gilchrist.

Brittany-Anne Romijn plays a girl with autism in short film <i>Go The Dogs</i>.
Brittany-Anne Romijn plays a girl with autism in short film <i>Go The Dogs</i>.
Selected from hundreds of entries, the 47 films at the sixth annual Show Me Shorts Film Festival will be divided into seven themed sessions: Master Chef, Unlikely Bedfellows, Small Pleasures, Unexpected Adventure, Love You to Death, Extreme Measures and Hitting the Road.

For the first time this year, Show Me Shorts will screen films from outside New Zealand and Australia.

The international line-up, added in response to audience demand, includes entries from France, the United Kingdom, Germany/South Africa, Ireland and the United States.

New Zealand highlights include international award-winner Blue, by Stephen Kang, which screened at Cannes this year, and Ebony Society, the first short film by Tammy Davis (Outrageous Fortune's Munter), which featured at this year's Sundance and Berlin festivals.

Previous winner Jackie van Beek returns to the festival with Go The Dogs, a touching tale about a young teenager with autism who embarks on a strange adventure.

Winner of the 2009 event with her film Just Like the Others, van Beek shot her latest effort in Australia, where she got her inspiration from a group of youngsters.

"When I shoot films they generally come from where I've been working at the time or through the people I've been working with. I'd been teaching at a school for special needs; that's where I met Brittany-Anne Romijn, the star of the film.

"Brittany and I had always struck up conversations and a lot of the film was written around her.

"I then asked the principal at the school whether she was autistic or not and she said Brittany was one of the few who wasn't; she had more general special needs.

"I worked as a teacher for a term and became quite fascinated with the kids there and thought I should write a story for one of them ... I tend to work like that; real life often inspires the project.

"I was living in Melbourne for about three years and shot the movie in March last year just before we moved back to New Zealand. We did all the post-production in New Zealand."

Go The Dogs offers a glimpse into the world of an autistic girl: innocently following a dog she had spied outside her suburban home, she ends up in the countryside, where she meets a runaway teenage boy.

"For me, it's about a girl just going on an adventure," van Beek says.

"I did try to create a story of how her imagination might work. It could have easily become a thriller but I wanted to keep it quite playful.

"I wrote the script in an afternoon and the only change I made was, originally, I had an older guy, a wino, instead of the runaway teen. But I thought it better to have someone who wasn't threatening."

Towards the end of Go The Dogs, there is a scene in which the key character is asked to write down her address; instead, she draws a detailed map of her suburb. In doing so, she opens a door into another world, one where communication can come in different forms.

"That story came from a teacher at the school," van Beek says.

"He'd asked his pupils to draw a picture of their homes and one of the students had done a draughtsman-like floor plan of his house, complete with power points.

"I love that idea, that you can't judge a book by its cover; people have hidden talents."

Go The Dogs, which has been nominated for two awards at the Aotearoa Film and Television Awards (Best Short Film and Best Performance in a Short Film), has also enjoyed success overseas, having screened at festivals in Berlin, Sundance and Melbourne.

Such acknowledgement is fuelling van Beek's desire to make a feature-length film.

"There are various schools of thought on short films. Some people think they have nothing to do with feature films, that they are such a different form and are not a stepping stone. But I disagree with that.

"Even though trying to capture an audience for 100 minutes is quite different to grabbing their attention for 10 minutes, it is a way to learn different things as well as create a team you are comfortable working with.

"I'd love to make a feature. I have one I'm slowly developing."

See it

The Show Me Shorts Film Festival screens at Rialto Cinemas, Dunedin, from November 10-19. For more information, visit



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