Independent Cinema Office Blog

News and views on the world of independent film

Posts from June 2010

Edinburgh 2010 - Monday 21 June

Posted Monday 21 June 2010 by Tilly Walnes in Festival Reports

I didn't manage as much sleep as I'd hoped, due to neighbours in my guesthouse inexplicably pounding up and down the creaky floors from 5am to 7am. Luckily the first film, Nothing Personal, is a goodie. A young woman discards her possessions, leaves her home and sets out towards the Irish coast with her tent on her back. Evoking the protagonist of Agnes Varda's Vagabond, she is petulant and fiercely independent, with no time for polite conversation. When she meets Stephen Rea, a widower living in solitude in a pretty house on a rocky outcrop, she agrees to work in his garden in exchange for meals, on the strict understanding that they share no information about themselves. But their mutual curiosity gradually gets the better of them. This is a stunning film, with beautifully composed shots and displaying a delicate sensitivity to texture and colour. Although we never find out about the characters' backgrounds, it manages to engage and move on a deep level.

Next up is Undertow, a gay ghost-hunk romance, if you will. Living in a close-knit Peruvian fishing village, Miguel is in a loving relationship with his heavily pregnant wife, but also having a clandestine affair with a rich outsider, photographer–painter Santiago. As they discover, forbidden love is easier when one member of the couple is invisible to the neighbours. An inventive crowd pleaser that had the audience dabbing their eyes as the lights came up.

For my last film of the festival I pick Au Revoir Taipei. Young Kai is a sensitive soul who just wants to get to Paris to visit his girlfriend, for whom he's painstakingly learning basic French phrases. Working at his parents' noodle shack is not enough to raise the money for the flight, so he takes on some extra work trafficking a mysterious package. Kai and the cute girl from the local bookstore end up on the run from both hapless hoodlums and equally hapless cops, on the crowded, colourful, neon-lit streets of Taipei. A lighthearted caper that had everyone chuckling and doing the lindy hop out of the auditorium. At last! A happy ending! And with that, I head to Waverley to catch my train home. Over and out.

Edinburgh 2010 - Sunday 20 June

Posted Sunday 20 June 2010 by Tilly Walnes in Festival Reports

It turns out that I wouldn't have been able to get into the ceiligh last night anyway, as no one was leaving since the knees up was being led by none other than Sean Connery. Sounds rubbish.

The day begins with The Crab, a tale of an Nuyorican intellectual with ecrodactyly, or claw hands syndrome. More significantly, he has a self-destructive tendency, drinking himself into a stupor, picking fights on the street, robbing prostitutes and doing a great job of offending everyone he meets. His bellicose exterior, however, belies a passion for the Romantic poets: in fact, he could have been an academic but, too self-absorbed to acknowledge other people, he refuses to add citations to his thesis. He becomes infatuated with his best friend's new girlfriend, a smart and beautiful woman who takes her deafness in her stride, which leads him into an even deeper spiral of despair. A bold take on issues of disability and identity, with strong performances, but the film is overlong.

I feel the need to watch something more upbeat, so pick Thunder Soul, a documentary celebrating the Kashmere Stage Band, an all black high school group from Houston, Texas that hit the big time in the early 1970s. While other school stage bands at the time were churning out the same old sanitized jazz, band director Conrad "Prof" Johnson moved with the times and wrote funk tunes for his band and choreographed dance moves to turn their set into a dazzling show. They toured internationally, recorded records (sampled by DJ Shadow) and became a source of pride for the local community. On the occasion of Prof's 92nd birthday, the original members of the band, now in their late 40s, come together to stage a celebratory concert. The film is an uplifting love-in, but unfortunately too niche to make it onto UK screens beyond the festival circuit.

I take time out from films to attend an industry discussion about the recent report commissioned by the UK Film Council, 'The Cultural Impact of British Film: 1946 — 2006'. Mark Cousins, who chairs the event, is wearing a tie belonging to Michael Powell. Researchers examined a selection of films, both those in the canon and a random selection of forgotten films. It will be interesting to see whether the new government will be convinced about the cultural value of film beyond its economic impact.

After a catch up coffee with Lesley Anne Rose, who has just finished working at Northern Film and Media, I buy a ticket for Nénette upon the recommendation of a random person I meet in the Filmhouse bar. The latest documentary by Nicholas Philibert (of Être et Avoir fame) is a gentle portrait of the 40 year old orangutan exhibited in the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, the oldest inhabitant of the world's oldest zoo. The film consists of 68 minutes of static camera shots focused entirely on the beast, the outside world only glimpsed through the occasional hazy reflection in the glass of the enclosure. Commentary is provided by the humorous conversations that visitors to the menagerie have between themselves — desperate attempts to decipher the animal that remains a mystery throughout — with the waves of excited hubbub followed by disconcertingly silent periods after closing time. A handsome and thought-provoking gem of a film.

I stay in the Cameo for The Hunter, a revenge thriller set in Tehran, written by, directed by and starring Rafi Pitts (It's Winter). An ex-con and night watchman finds out that his wife and daughter have been killed in the crossfire during a shoot out between police and insurgents, so he goes on the rampage picking off policemen at long range with his hunting rifle. It was nominated for the Golden Bear at Berlin, but personally I found it unengaging.

Earlier in the day I spotted one of the actors from Vacation!, my favourite film so far, in the Filmhouse (only just resisting the temptation to ambush her and ask if I can be her new best friend), so was plotting to watch it again at the public screening. However, by this point I'm feeling my eyelids droop so opt for my pyjamas instead.

Edinburgh 2010 - Saturday 19 June

Posted Saturday 19 June 2010 by Tilly Walnes in Festival Reports

The morning starts off bright and early with Obselidia, a romance (of sorts) between a librarian, who's obsessed with the past who is compiling an Encyclopedia of Obsolete Things, and one of his interviewees, a projectionist at the local LA silent movie theatre. The opening titles were fantastic, a series of slide projections featuring Victorian illustrations, but the rest of the film was disappointing, with ridiculous dialogue, pretentious references to Sebald and Antonioni dropped in willy-nilly, and annoying performances.

Ironically enough, after the film I met the projectionist, who was praising the HD Cam format which allowed him to “just press play”, a development that the film's protagonists were lamenting. Discuss.

I can't be bothered to trek over to Cineworld so stay put in Filmhouse 1, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the synopsis of the next film, Vacation! But I loved it! Four cool (and horny) young women, old school friends, take a trip to the beach for a week to hang out and catch up. Despite the premise, it's a world apart from Sex and the City: a very low budget American indie movie, with candy colours, electro-pop soundtrack and American Apparel wardrobe. Even when the holiday turns into a nightmare, it never lets up on the realism or the genuine humour. I want to be on holiday with them too!

Next up is Monsters. It's been described as Before Sunrise-meets-District 9, but to me it felt more like Jurassic Park-meets-In Search of a Midnight Kiss (with the same male lead as the latter). When central America becomes contaminated with aliens (giant floating octopi), a young press photographer is asked by his boss to chaperone his daughter out of the zone and back to the safety of the United States. Inevitably a romance blossoms between them along the hazardous journey. It was well shot and well scripted, with endearing lead performances, but there wasn't enough action for it to be exciting and we never learnt enough about the aliens for it to be scary. A few journalists I spoke to afterwards loved it, but I didn't really get it.

I stuff down some nachos, then rush over to Cineworld for The Dry Land. Esther, who used to work at the ICO and is currently coordinating screenings for the festival, excitedly informs me that America Ferrera (the star of the film) just touched her arm. Shame the movie isn't that exciting – a relentlessly bleak issue film about an Iraq war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and struggling to fit back into life at home. But it's a contender for an Audience Award and the programmers I spoke to who'd seen it thought it was great. I was tired. And the ceiligh which sounded like a good idea two hours ago suddenly seems impossibly energetic so I stumble home to bed.

Edinburgh 2010 - Friday 18 June

Posted Friday 18 June 2010 by Tilly Walnes in Festival Reports

Today was the Organising Accessible Screenings course, devised in partnership with Shape and funded by Skillset and Scottish Screen, with support from Edinburgh International Film Festival. The course was fantastic – it's the third time I've sat through it and it's still inspiring. The feedback was really positive – everyone was talking excitedly afterwards about the changes they're going to make and initiatives they're going to start to ensure their venues and festivals are more welcoming to all.

After the course, I catch A Real Life (Au Voleur), starring Guillaume Dépardieu (in one of his last roles before he died of pneumonia) as a compulsive thief who develops an unlikely relationship with a supply teacher. The first half hour is nothing to write home about, but all of a sudden it takes a Bonnie and Clyde-meets-Night of the Hunter turn, grabbing at the heartstrings and lingering on the mind long after the screening finishes.

Later I grab a bite to eat (my annual Filmhouse chickpea curry) with a friend from my MA course and have a catch up over a well-deserved beer with Simon Duffy from the BFI, before bedtime.


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