Louis Le Prince International Competition Programme 6

Chorus

Chorus

This was the final set of screenings of short films from around the world at the Leeds International Film Festival.

Chorus (Coro Dos Amantes, Portugal, 2014 – 23 minutes – the Porutguese title, which translates as Choir of Lovers is better). Stylistically this was a surprise, with the image letterboxed within a 2.39:1 frame: a technique used by a number of filmmakers in these selections. In this case the noticeable letter-box seemed justified, as there was a split screen. As I adjusted to this I realised that the left of the image was in the right hand frame, and vice versa. And there was overlapping dialogue: sometimes cutting from one track to another, at other running simultaneously. The story is composed of three songs – the two lovers at home; a desperate drive to a hospital; emergency treatment at the hospital; and then a final sequence at home. The unconventional style adds to the emotional impact of the film. The performances, mise en scène, cinematography, editing, and sound design are exactly appropriate. This was for me the most impressive short film of the festival: more engaging than some of the feature length films.

Rosa (Portugal, 2014 – 15 minutes). A totally different atmosphere is this second Portuguese film. We meet Rosa on the beach where she has a spat with a woman who turns out to be her ex-husband’s girlfriend. Later he turns up at her apartment to collect their daughter for the day. Rosa finds her own day extremely curtailed at this point. She also makes contact with a younger neighbour. At the calmer end of the day we see him in the deserted evening street. The film was vibrant in colour and performances.

Greenland (Israel, 2014 – 18 minutes). The film follows Oren’s day as he packs up preparatory to moving into an apartment with his girlfriend. We see his interactions with his parents and hear conversations on his cell phone. The activities seem very simple, but the film effectively develops a sense of the relationships between characters. And the film has an open-ended conclusion.

Shit Eaters (Gówanojady, Poland, 2014 – 17 minutes). A teenage girl goes with her parents for a day or more at the seaside. The beach seems empty. Soon the girl is conjuring up friendly rather than frightening monsters. Her imaginings seem to comment in some way on the family relationships. This film has a strong and assured touch of surrealism, and it also reminded me of some of the early short film of Roman Polanski, though lighter in tone than those.

Person to Person (USA 2014 – 18 minutes). This film includes one of those record stores for old tapes and long players. But that sets the character of the protagonist: his day is pre-occupied with an uninvited guest who stays on after a party. The film is nicely droll with a touch of whimsy.

As can be seen this programme was very much about relationships, with nice variety of both approaches and situations. Chorus stood out for me but all the film were both absorbing and entertaining.

LIFF 28 #5: Modris (Latvia-Germany-Greece 2014)

Kristers Piksa as Modris

Kristers Piksa as Modris

My fourth visit to this year’s Leeds International Film Festival offered a mild disappointment followed by one of the best films I’ve seen this year. First I’ll deal with the problematic film. Before 2014 I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen a Latvian film and then two came along with very similar stories. At Bradford’s festival in April I enjoyed Mother, I Love You (Latvia 2013), an engaging film about a young teenager in trouble at school, deceiving his loving mother and having nighttime adventures in Riga and a brush with the authorities. Modris, the protagonist of the more recent film,  is older – he has his 18th birthday during the time period of the narrative – but he also takes off after a dispute with his mother (caused by his need to find cash to feed his slot-machine addiction). Again he is in a single parent family but up till now he hasn’t bothered too much to find his father, accepting his mother’s explanation that his father is in prison.

Modris is an apathetic teen, the kind of guy of whom older people are likely to say: “He doesn’t do himself any favours”. While that’s true it doesn’t mean that we can’t have any sympathy for his position, but writer-director Juris Kursietis makes it more difficult for me at least in shooting many scenes handheld in close-up and sometimes very shallow focus. Close-up and handheld here means an extremely off-putting image. And why shoot in ‘Scope if you are going to waste the potential for widescreen compositions? I can cope with handheld if it’s done with care but here it seems to be striving for some kind of effect. The young man playing Modris, Kristers Piksa, was present at the screening and in the Q&A he told us various things about the production. Kristers was not trained as an actor and he got the role almost by accident. A perceptive question from the audience prompted him to tell us that many of the handheld scenes were shot in one take – but that sometimes it might take anything up to 16 takes to achieve the desired result. Researching the film after the screening and taking on board the actor’s comments, I note that director was trained in the UK at the Northern Media School (Sheffield Hallam) and that this was his first fiction feature after documentaries and short films. He seems to have followed the ‘Ken Loach approach’ of giving his actors only the pages of script that they need for a specific scene, so that they remain fresh, reacting to events. I note also that Bogumil Godfrejow, an experienced and award-winning Polish cinematographer and some established Latvian actors in the cast means that even with a limited budget (€350,000?) there was the opportunity to make an interesting film. In the end it is the script that lets the film down. The story is based on a real character (who Kristers Piksa told us is now somewhere in the North of England) so it should have credibility. Kristers himself definitely has a screen presence – tall and gangly with a memorable nose. At times he presents an air of bemusement and incomprehension that reminded me of Vincent Cassel’s performance in La haine. But too much is unexplained or introduced and not followed up, so it becomes difficult to really care about the character. The potential narrative about gambling addiction seems to get lost completely.

There are, however, a number of interesting aspects of contemporary Latvian culture that do come to light in the narrative. The most obvious is the disconnect between what appears to be a society that validates music and other forms of cultural expression and has created a relatively high wage economy but which also operates a draconian criminal justice system that can lock up offenders for relatively trivial offences (i.e. the kinds of offences many teenagers commit. The film also offers the frictions of social class difference (like Mother I Love You) and hints at the legacy of Russian control of Latvia prior to 1991 and contemporary issues about migration. I wanted to like Modris more than I did. Perhaps on another day I would have done – but it needs a better script. I have to point out that the film has received good reviews from various festivals and Toronto called it “tough, but compassionate”. This trailer for the film makes it look much more exciting than I found it in reality:

Film on the Front Line: British Propaganda from WWI

FilmOnTheFrontLines3web

This is a presentation on video of films made during World War I. The films are from the archives of the Imperial War Museum. It runs at the Royal Armouries Museum for the duration of the Leeds International Film Festival. The screenings opened on November 8th with a presentation by Doctor Claudia Sternberg, a specialist on the First World War. And the films runs continuously daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There are five films ranging a 100 foot short to a two reel film.

The longest film is Exploits of a German Submarine (U-35).Operating in the Mediterranean (UK, 1918 – 36 minutes. This has an interesting pedigree. The film footage was originally a German propaganda film The Enchanted Circle, showing the exploits of one of the most successful examples of submarine warfare at the time. The British took the footage, changed the titling and possibly re-edited the material. Thus is became an example of what is called ‘counter-propaganda’. This version is quite clearly decrying the enemy. Title cards suggest that the Germans are lax about war ethics and about veracity, implying that the British are not. There is some interesting footage of the vessel and a large number of ships sunk.

Liveliness on the British Front (UK, 1916 – 8 minutes). This was produced by the same people who made the famous and extremely influential The Battle of the Somme (UK, 1915): Geoffrey H. Malins and Edward G. Long of the British Topical Committee for War Films. It was only at this stage of the war that the British Government realised and implemented using film for the war effort. We see British troops relaxing behind them lines, but also going into action. The latter are fairly clearly staged. However there is footage that gives a sense of the state of the trench system and the living conditions that troops endured.

Home on leave (UK, 1916, – 7 minutes). The film follows soldiers leaving the Western Front and retuning home for leave: something that soldiers generally had to wait a considerable time for. There is a light-hearted feel to the antics of the soldiers as they journey by road and then by ship.

The Destruction of a Fokker: Our Mobile Ant-aircraft Guns in Action (UK, 1916 – 6 minutes). The Fokker was one of the very effective German fighter planes. Most of the film shows the mobile gun crews, moving, manoeuvring and firing their 13 pound weapon. For much of the film the enemy plane is in extreme long shot. For the climax there is a special effect – the use of a model: and then shots of the burning wreckage of seemingly two downed aircraft.

Fighting U-Boats in a London Back Garden (UK, 1918 – 1 minute). This very brief film is a ‘digging for victory’ feature. Civilians demonstrate the cheerful resilience that is expected from the British as they dig and plant in their tiny garden.

As you might expect the condition of the old prints varies considerably. Moreover, video transfer is not that kind to the contrast and definition of old film. Quite a lot of the footage is reasonably sharp and clear. However, within the films there are passages [especially in the U-35 footage] which is fairly washed out and poorly defined]. It is still an interesting an informative 58 minutes. There is a musical accompaniment by the Ithaca Trio. This is a quiet and appropriately sombre piece: it avoids more rousing music even during the action sequences.

A word of caution. The Royal Armouries is not the best signposted museum I have visited. And there are not specific signs or indicators for this event – it was not listed in the Daily Events Calendar that I saw. Moreover the Museum has a large number of video installations in the permanent exhibition, and I was at first misdirected to one of those.

So Film on the Front Line is in the Cinema on the second floor, the first floor of the War exhibits. Coming in the main entrance take the right hand lift at the far end: turn left out of the lift on floor 2 and the first entrance has the cinema, also on the left. When I went the auditorium doors had been wedged open so there was extraneous noise from the other exhibits: but the wedges are easily removable.

One last note – if you find this interesting, after the Festival you could check out the Mediatheque at the National Media Museum in Bradford which has large collection of archive film, including from the World War I period.

Louis Le Prince International Short Film Competition

Say Nothing (No Digas Nada), production still.

Say Nothing (No Digas Nada), production still.

Over the next few days the Hyde Park Picture House is hosting three parts of the Leeds International Film Festival Short City programme: including the above, and the Yorkshire Short Film and the British Short Film Competitions. The selection was nicely programmed, bookended by two films all in 1.85:1 and a filling of two films in 1.37:1. And the programme still maintained a thematic continuity.

Art (Arta, Romania, 2013 – 19 minutes) featured two filmmakers auditioning a young girl for a short film with risqué content. It nicely satirised a sector of cinema and a certain dubious approach to moral content. I did not find it that cinematic and it relied extensively on the dialogue.

Behind the Curtain (Verhon Takaa, Finland, 20214 – seven minutes) was set in a junior school. This was also in a sense about an audition, for a music teacher and for the tyro singer’s class mates. The treatment generated a playful treatment of an intimidating class experience. The young boys in the film were excellent, the teacher and class mates nicely observed. The director and scriptwriter, Teemu Nikki, based on a school memory from the 1980s.

The Noisemaker (Triukšmafarys, Lithuania and Sweden, 2014 – 15 minutes) was a sardonic take on schools and targets. The Principal and his caretaker or assistant prepare a failing junior school for inspection. Their tactics produced some nice gags. I did think that the film could have made more us of the assembled teachers, all women.

Say Nothing (No Digas Nada, Spain, 2014 – 14 minutes) was the film that I most enjoyed in the programme. Set in a house with a ‘threatened woman’ the film was full of skilful camera movements and fine use of chiaroscuro. It also presented one of the effective strategies for short film, subverting a genre.

II (Two, Germany and Greece, 2014 – 16 minutes). Set in a desolate desert setting with a tattered mobile bar, it was full of striking shots of characters and the setting. It was also extremely enigmatic. I was absorbed but also bemused: as seemed other audience members. I am hoping I can find someone to offer an explanation as the Catalogue only offered one slight clue.

Travellers into the Night (Reizigers in de Nacht, Netherlands 2013 – 10 minutes). Like two of the other films this subverted a stereotypical situation. It was nicely played and made good use of music, but it needed a little more development and substance.

It struck me after the full screening that the different films had enjoyed differing production values and that affected my responses. Say Nothing certainly looked and sounded the best. All of the films held my interest and the general production level was good or better.

I hope to see more from this competition so I can place them overall.