Discoveries Made at Recent Film Festivals in London
As a true film fanatic and avid cinema-goer there are few things I value more than seeing a the beautiful stills of a masterpiece moving picture on a big screen. The rare occasion that surpasses a normal cinema experience is watching a film that no one else has seen yet.
That might be why I love film festivals so much. The premieres do not only have a festive and glamorous touch – with the red carpets, flashing cameras and goodie-bags of branded chocolates and sponsored champagne that’s surely a given – but they convey a sense of buzzing excitement. Young filmmakers are nervously waiting until the screening of their debut project starts, beginning actors are flattered when asked for their autograph for the first time, producers feel they have got gold in hands with a new distribution deal and directors look anxiously at the faces of the audience members to see how they react to the crucial scenes. A festival performance is much more than a screening; it is an insight in the production process and the expectations of the makers.
In many cases film festivals are also the market places that determine if a film will receive a big cinema release or if its distribution is going to be of a much smaller size. I have made a selection below of those films that I think deserve a huge success, but that will probably not reach the general audience through major marketed campaigns. If you want to watch one of them, you might need to order its Blu-ray online (sometimes even directly from its distributor), try to find a web streaming version, or wait until a cinema near you runs a ‘hidden gems’-like season. The list below will show you which titles to keep an eye on, because they are all worth waiting for.
KUZU (THE LAMB): The storyline of this Turkish film is as simple as that of a fairy tale: a young boy will have to be circumcised soon, but his family does not have enough money to buy a lamb for the required party afterwards. As a prank, his big sister tells him that if they don’t find a lamb soon, their father might butcher him instead. As she does so, the eyes of the little boy widen and he runs away to go search for a lamb. The family clearly does not understand what has got into the boy, which makes for comical dialogue and a great twist at the end. The film perfectly balances the funny storyline with the grave social environment in parts of Turkey represented by the family’s poverty. And it should be said that the acting skills of the five year-old are impressive, as his little face shows an incredible range of seemingly authentic emotions. The film was released in Turkey this December, and is definitely worth trying to get your hands on. This film was shown at the London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Feature Film selection.
NE ME QUITTE PAS (DON’T LEAVE ME): In a small, dark Belgian village two middle-aged friends are not only battling their issues with society and their families, but mainly their dependence on alcohol. One of them, a recently divorced father, is brave enough to enroll in a seemingly naive rehab programme, the other, who looks like a toothless pirate, doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with drinking one-and-a-half bottle of rum a day but decides to stand by his friend. It is a compelling documentary, which gives an almost endearing image of the frail and vulnerable lives of the two men. The documentary was only shown in Dutch and Croatian cinemas, but DVDs are being sold more internationally. This film was shown at the London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Documentary selection.
THE KARMAN LINE: The storyline of this short film is comical and completely absurd, as it shows the journey of a woman who, one day, started to lift off the ground and keeps on rising up at a slow but ever increasing pace. She starts off being a few centimetres above the floor, but within days her husband and daughter have to make a hole in the ceiling for her and a few weeks after that she seems to be nearing the end of the atmosphere. It is an interesting thought experiment, which might have been the reason for it winning the Best Short Award at the UK Film Festival. The film has been screened at a series of film festivals in the US, but might be released online fairly soon. This film was shown at the UK Film Festival 2014 as part of the Short Film selection.
NATIONAL GALLERY: Frederick Wiseman – who previously created the four hour long documentary At Berkeley about the American university – is a master of institutional portraits. His films consist of lengthy, observation shots of day-to-day scenes occurring at the museum. He refuses to provide any interpretation, so the documentary does neither have a voice-over nor any interviewees. It only shows who decides where all the paintings are hung, how conservators work on restoring old paintings and even what is said during a directors meeting. It gives a great insight in what happens behind the public rooms in a museum, but having a certain prior interest in that field might make it easier for the audience to sit through the entire three hours. The documentary was released in cinemas in France, Germany and Japan, and more countries are being added still. I imagine the BFI might show it at some point, as they also did an extensive run of At Berkeley this year. This film was shown at the London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Documentary selection.
GREYHAWK: In one of London’s darkest council estates there lives a man and he is blind. He has a dog to assist him moving, but when he gets involved in an unnecessary fight with a youth gang, one of the boys steals the dog. The man’s desperation leads him to knock on all the doors of the estate to ask his neighbours for help, but only shockingly few seem to be able to give him a hand. The film is a compelling piece of social critique that makes one realise how much we depend on the goodness of others. The work had various screenings at film festivals in London and Edinburgh, where the owner of the star dog had an even bigger smile on his face than the director himself. This film was shown at the East End Film Festival 2014 as part of the Feature Film selection.
THE IMMORTALISTS: ‘Live forever or die trying’ is the motto of this documentary. It follows scientists Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey in their quest (not to say obsession) to find a cure against aging, which brings them to explore a range of eccentric theories and collaborations. It is an interesting concept, but its absurdist logic makes it easy to choose the side of the old guard of biology, who deem living forever as neither possible nor desirable. The film had a limited US cinema release, but is still touring on many other film festivals across the world. This film was shown at the London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Documentary selection.
FREE FALL: Remembering that one of the audience members at György Pálfi’s previous film Taxidermia said it made them ‘physically sick’, I was prepared for the worst. I wasn’t at all disgusted though, but the film was indeed utterly bizarre. It is a collection of absurdist short stories, connected by the fact that all characters live in the same flat building. It included people having sex while being hygienically wrapped in plastic kitchen foil – even kissing with the foil in between their mouths – and a woman visiting a gynaecologist to have her baby returned to her womb. It also featured a young boy who perceives a colossal bull in his house that only he can see, and an old lady who drops herself from the roof of the building, only to get up and try again. It touches upon a very dark type of comedy, and the director admitted during the Q&A that he was relieved we laughed. The film has been on general release in Hungary and was shown on film festivals both in London and Leeds. This film was shown at the London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Short Film selection.
MARC QUINN – MAKING WAVES: Marc Quinn, the artist known for his Buck and Allanah statues, bonsai trees, bronze shells and drip paintings, is the glorious subject of this documentary. While many critics accuse him of being too commercial and going for ‘easy money’, the documentary shows the elaborate thought process that precedes all of his art and the honest enthusiasm he has for new textures and shapes. It gives a great peek into the life of an artist, and shows how much of its time is taken up by networking, selling the artworks, installing exhibitions, travelling and talking to press and curators. Apart from the film festival performances, the film has not been shown in cinemas, but Quinn’s representation by the White Cube Gallery means that it will certainly be shown by them at some point in the near future. This film was shown at the London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Documentary selection.
THE PHONE CALL: The story is built around a simple premise: what do you do when you have a stranger on the phone who admits he has just taken enough painkillers to kill himself? You can’t call an ambulance, because you don’t know who (or where) he is. You can’t hang up, because you are the last person he might be talking to. You can only listen. And it is not easy to listen to someone’s life story and last words, even if you don’t know him. Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent give a fantastic performance and you are sure to be swept up in the film, even though it is only twenty minutes long. The film has been at many film festivals during the past year, but is now available online. This film was shown at the UK Film Festival 2014 as part of the Short Film selection.
THE AUCTION HOUSE: A TALE OF TWO BROTHERS: This documentary is a very honest portrayal of Indian life and the complicated relationship between two brothers owning one of India’s most important auction houses. While the older brother decides to set up a business in London, the younger one takes over their father’s auction company. However, when the elder decides to return to India they have to find a new balance and to get used to the other again. Their collaboration doesn’t necessarily improve the management of the auction house, but it makes for a very authentic story of Indian family relations. This film was shown at the Open City Docs Festival 2014 as part of the Documentary selection.