Phone calls have become a short film staple in recent times. We’ve seen an Oscar-winner set in a helpline centre, a BAFTA-winner focused on an Emergency Services Operator and a dark comedy centred around a son trying to connect to his estranged father. With all those films looking to use this traditional means of communication as a dramatic plot device, Matt Houghton’s short Landline goes for a totally different angle, as he turns the focus of the camera on the UK’s only helpline for gay farmers.
Based around a series of calls the helpline has received since its creation, Loughton’s film uses visual reconstructions to bring these narratives to life on screen. Collecting tales from LGBTQ farmers, over a period of a year, Landline shares the story of a farmer’s discovery of Grindr, a bitter-sweet recollection of a first love and a harrowing tale of an attempted suicide.
This eclectic mix of personal experiences makes for a revealing, insightful and emotive watch. Outside of the obvious connection between the individual accounts, themes of community, family and masculinity run through them all. Most are downbeat tales, but there’s enough positivity and hope here to provide balance and give the film some emotional scope – which in turn means it resonates stronger.
Shot on film, Houghton admits his previous work in documentary and fiction pushes him to create films that look to blur the boundaries between the two. Visually, Landline does very much feel like a piece of fiction, but never to a point where it’s style over substance. In fact, his assured but restrained approach to the aesthetic means the focus still lies very much on the real stories at the heart of the film. Which as the director explains, was key to his filmmaking – “I loved the idea of making a film that in some ways felt like being on the end of a phone, listening to these stories.”Selected as one of the British Council and the British Film Institute’s FiveFilms4freedom back in 2018 (the 2019 picks are currently available until the end of March), Landline has had a successful festival run and even went on to win the Best Documentary Short at the 2018 Grierson Awards. Houghton is now working on a couple of new short films and a feature.