Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts from February 2008

Berlin 2008 - Sunday 17 February

Posted Sunday 17 February 2008 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports

One more film before heading home — back to the Zoo Palast for the Kinderfest favourite Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger — this is the fourth time they've screened it. Today it's audience day and you can't get in to see anything with a pass — you have to buy a ticket. It's 4 euros though, which puts London cinema prices somewhat in the shade…This is very likeable — Australian, Jewish, ugly duckling comedy but again fairly difficult for a younger UK audience due to its sexual references and some of the subject matter. The director and producer are here for a Q+A and it's a very impressive debut feature from them.

Berlin 2008 - Saturday 16 February

Posted Saturday 16 February 2008 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports

Screen have tipped a South American film called Before The Fall, so I queue up for half an hour and then sit on the floor to see it but it's all to no avail. I found it very slow and slightly strange in its sexual politics by the close. Definitely not impressed. Make mental note to stop reading Screen Daily reviews. I then go to see competition film Ballast which has also been tipped. This is much better but very like a David Gordon Green film, apparently the director counts the Dardenne brothers amongst his influences. It's very beautiful but again very slow, with very sparse dialogue so requires patience and a bit of investment on the part of the audience. It's the story of two families — estranged and troubled and how they come back together. Next I go see the new film from the director of We Shall Overcome which the ICO distributed in 2006. It's called World's Apart and is part of the Kinderfest 14+ programme. The cinema is packed — it's in a lovely UGC multiplex in a fashionable part of Berlin and there are a lot of teenagers here. It's based on a true story, about a girl from a Jehovah's Witness community and how she becomes torn between loyalty to her family and the wider world including her first love. It's well-acted and worthy but disappointing after the triumphs of We Shall Overcome.

Back to Potsdamer Platz for one more film, this time playing in the Panorama programme. This is Dream Boy, a US gay-themed indie about the relationship between a farm boy and his high school neighbour. In some ways it's relentlessly grim with a lot of punishment being meted out by the narrative to the leading character and it seems like a first feature. However, the leads are good and it's well acted and directed - Isaac Julien and his producer come in late looking for seats as it's another sell-out.

Berlin 2008 - Friday 15 February

Posted Friday 15 February 2008 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports

I get up early to see the press screening of Andryej Wajda's competition film Katyn. This has been a huge hit in his native Poland, it's a sombre drama based on the infamous incident during the Second World War, where in the forests, Stalin's secret police slaughtered thousands of Polish officers. Among them was Wajda's own father. This is a heavyweight, period film, serious and harrowing but Wajda's direction is light rather than heavy handed and unsentimental and all the more effective because of this. It's a very well-made film which deserves to be seen.

Next it's time for my second Kristin Scott-Thomas film of the festival - The Other Boleyn Girl. She does her best but am sure she would rather be working for the French…This is quite a lightweight historical romp which eschews political detail for the personal. The great Sandy Powell has done the costumes so it looks fantastic but it may not go down well with the critics.

My next film is the eagerly awaited Derek, directed by Isaac Julien and produced by Colin McCabe, I am looking forward to this.

Friday cont…

I really enjoyed the film — it's a very clever assimilation of an 11 hour interview which Jarman undertook with Colin McCabe in the early 90's, found footage, home movies and clips from the films. Tilda Swinton wrote the commentary and does the voiceover and both for those familiar and unfamiliar with Jarman's work, it's both intelligent and moving. Everyone was there at the screening — Isaac Julien, the director, Tilda, the producers — Tilda was asked what Derek would have thought of her appearing in the Narnia films and she said ‘He loved witches!’ and would have definitely approved. I think Tilda would make a great culture secretary, perhaps she'll enter politics one day…

Berlin 2008 - Thursday 14 February

Posted Thursday 14 February 2008 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports

Today I decide to start at the Kinderfest, in the Zoo Palast in the centre of the city. It's always refreshing to watch films with 2000 children as they are so enthusiastic, always clap at the end and are not eager to impress anyone with their film knowledge. The first film today is from Malaysia and called Flower in the Pocket, it stars some very sweet little boys and follows them through everyday life, together with their Dad who seems to be a mannequin maker. Like the film that follows Chop Shop (from the director of last years Man Push Cart) they are enjoyed enthusiastically by the young audiences here but you could never screen them to children in the UK as we have such different cultural expectations of what children should be allowed to see. In some ways it's a shame, as you do see a fantastic selection here in the festival of films for 3-18 year olds but many of them would get 15 or 18 certificates in the UK due to the language or sexual content. Chop Shop centres on a brother and sister living hand to mouth in urban New York. Alle, the boy ducks and dives and finds them a garage to live in in exchange for helping out at a motor workshop, in the meantime saving money so that he and his sister Izzy can buy a takeaway van. She doesn't entirely fall in with his plans however, and in between shifts at the van currently operating, turns tricks for the itinerant workers who people the garages. This is gritty and urban, beautifully filmed and light years away from the world usually depicted in US independent cinema. It's probably not a film that you could ever show to 14 year olds in the UK however, who are the main audience here and who applaud at the end of the film.

I catch up with some friends back at Potsdamer Platz, meeting Kathy Loizou from the Showcomotion festival in Sheffield. Kathy spoke on our film festivals course in Belfast a couple of weeks ago and last night she went to a party thrown by another one of our speakers, Albert, the Programmer of the Hamburg Film Festival who is staying in Charlottenburg, it all sounds lovely and much nicer than lots of the official parties…

Next I see one of the other festival raves, a press screening of Il y a longtemps que je t'aime which roughly translates as ‘I've Loved You So Long’. There's a huge squeeze to get in and every seat is taken. This stars Kristin Scott Thomas as a woman, who is released from prison after 15 years slowly acclimatising to life on the outside and living with her sister (played by Elsa Zylberstein) and her family. You can see why it has its fans — it's very well written, clever, keeps you guessing and at the same time, fraught with emotional tension. The two leads are fantastic particularly Scott Thomas, who would never get cast in an English language part of this kind — she's without vanity in this film, subject to endless close-ups and no make-up, saying everything by saying nothing and something of a revelation.

After a scooby snack, my last film of the day is another official competition entry Restless which has its red carpet screening in the Palais. Unfortunately I forget to check the programme and although the film has some English dialogue, it's mostly in Hebrew but with German sub-titles. Clearly it's an emotional rollercoaster centering on an estranged Israeli family, the father living in New York and the son, serving time in the army in Israel who have not met each other since the son was born. However, the nuances of the plot are lost on me given the lack of a headset so I do definitely feel lost with no translation. It does appear to star Karen Young though, who I remember best from a Tony Garnett film Handgun from a couple of decades ago, so it's interesting to see her in this Israeli/Canadian/Belgian/French/German co-production which has great roles for older women including one in her 70's, not something you see very often in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

My date for dinner has come to pick me up in a taxi but at the wrong palast, he's at the Zoo Palast and I'm a few miles away at the Berlin Palast but eventually we find each other. It's a common mistake apparently..


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