The Leeds International Film Festival Short City included this opportunity for filmmakers working in ‘Gods Own County’. As you might expect the audience included a fair number of the filmmakers and their friends. Despite, or maybe because of their investment they were a very responsive audience.
The Man Who Thought a Hat Was His Wife was the winner of the Spotlight competition at Leeds City College of Art [films of five minutes or under]. The film was developed from a ‘true story’ involving ‘visual agnosia’. It is a film about bereavement. In this case emotionally loaded objects stand in for the lost one. The treatment offered a touch of surrealism. The style and detail were very effective as was the sense of the character’s feelings.
Cushy – 11 minutes. This was set in the Doncaster prison. The protagonist, Vernon, an inmate, talked the audience through his situation with a cocky and at times ‘in your face’ manner. But other currents were at work less obviously: the film leads up to a pair of visitors for the innate. The visit shed a rather different light on Vernon and hi situation. This is a powerful and very effective film: and on area, offending and imprisonment, that receive less attention.
The Devil on Each Shoulder - 18 minutes. This was a fairly bizarre tale. It included a sorry protagonist, the model devils of the title, and an oddball packaged box. The film was developed or inspired by a number from Velvet Underground. I never developed any sympathy with the characters, though I quite liked the devils: and the pixilation and puppetry were effective. However, the audience at the screening found the film fairly funny.
Children of the Holocaust – Suzanne’s story – 5 minutes. The film was funded by the BBC so it enjoyed quality resourcing. Suzanne’s story was of a child who, because of a brave neighbour, survived the Nazi round-up in Paris, whilst her parents did not. There have been a number of films that translate the memories of survivors into visual images. This film was extremely effective. The animation was finely done and treated the story with an absence of despair.
Hunting for Hockney – 3 minutes. The film is as the title, seeking out David Hockney’s Yorkshire home, though the context is recent bereavement. The animation is excellent and captures the colours and style that is found in much of the painters work.
Scrap – 17 minutes. Set in a scrap yard with a protagonist wearing a cardboard box on his [?] head. The film was clearly offering comment on the contemporary world. But the surreal treatment did not work for me. And I also found the film rather repetitive, though that is part of the treatment.
Rare – 14 minutes. The film was about teenage affections and misunderstandings. The young performers were effective as was the use of settings and changes, semi-rural West Yorkshire. I thought some of the style overplayed effects, especially with some of the soundtrack. The film makes a point about relationships which is credible, as is the treatment of teen situations.
The Last Smallholder – 9 minutes. The last of small farms raising livestock owned and run by Carson Lee. His character seems to embody familiar Yorkshire characteristics. The film shows a warm interest in his work and situation. And the filming of his livestock and acreage was very effective.
Don’t Forget Your Hat – 15 minutes. A tale, set to ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht’, of a rambler who encounters more than he expected. The situation soon became recognisable as was also the likely outcome. But the story was told in a stylish manner with lots of effective detail and edits. The film is fairly sardonic, a nice note to end the programme.
We then had a presentation with the Competition Jury. They selected Cushy as the winner, a worthy choice, and the film was also the Audience Choice. There was also a Special Mention for Rare. I thought there were three possible contenders that stood out, but this film did include stand-out performance by a young tyro.
More from Short City at the Leeds International Film Festival. This selection featured another six films from in and near Europe. The length, style and content all varied considerably, though they all offered a dramatic situation.
Last Base (Norway 2014 – 15 minutes). The film featured ‘base-jumping’, jumping off high buildings and places, with some sort of wings to enable gliding. The film opened with an unsuccessful base-jump – wack. The main narrative featured Joachim and Ǿywind climbing Mount Katthammeren to spread the ashes of the departed Roger and honour him one last time. The whole expedition seemed extremely hazardous – they crossed a steep snow slope on foot, a place where I would definitely have used an ice axe. At the summit we watch as the two friends weigh the options to honour Roger’s memory. Well photographed, the landscape is impressive. The friends differencing responses are well explored, and there are two exhilarating moments.
Kapi (Turkey, 2014 – three minutes). This is set on an underground station as characters, partly defined by ethnicity, board and exit a train. The film has a strong sense of atmosphere and is clearly allegorical. I thought maybe it was too compressed but a friend judged it finely done.
Birthday Present (Israel, Austria, 2014 – 23 minutes). Set in Jerusalem the film follows an evening with an Israeli student and a visiting Austrian tourist. It is the eve of his birthday, she leaves next day. They make love, but also wander the city. Their excursion is partly fuelled by his wish/fear that she take a ‘morning after pill’. The character and sense of place is well done. There is a delightful sequence in a late-night pharmacy when the girl converses with the female assistant in French, whilst he stands by uncomprehending. The conversation ends with a smile between the two women, the best moment in very well made film.
Lothar (Switzerland, 2013 – 13 minutes). This was my favourite in a strong programme. The film has a very effective title sequence – Lothar’s birth. A cut brings us to the present where Lothar has locked himself away in a room that resembles a set from Brazil – the parallel is deliberate, this is dystopian fiction. The main prop is a stylish toaster – though the room is filled with suggestive stacks of everyday necessities. Later we see Lothar leave his room for the outside world. This is an apocalyptic tale, but vey witty rather than downbeat and grim.
Bye Bye Melancholy (Bye Bye Mělancolie, France, 2014 – 22 minutes). Set on a Bastille Day in a fairly remote Service Station, we meet Morad. First we see him converse with an ex-girlfriend and then later at night he meets Emma, who drives an ambulance. The film is very much about relationships, loss and recovery. It gave me particular pleasure because it was the first short film to feature and effective canine part: and unlike some films the dog is not forgotten at the end.
The Dancing (Belgium, 2014 – 16 minutes). This is a well staged film, with effective use of music and absence of dialogue. It clearly relates to a classic text like The Bacchae, However, it did not really engage me: I think it was too drawn out; it needed a much quicker pace.
This was a very good programme of films overall. They all enjoyed high production values and generally offered well structured narratives. And they mainly offered the virtues of short filmmaking, inverted, subverted or character led dramas.
One of many retrospectives at LFF 28 featured the work of Álex de la Inglesia in the Fanomenon strand – the wide-ranging genre/’cult’ section of the festival. Ferpect Crime is one of de la Inglesia’s most commercial films with nearly 2 million admissions across Europe – but not in the UK. Although UK distribution was available for some of the director’s early art films such as Acción mutante (1993) the later films have generally not been picked up and especially not a black comedy like Ferpect Crime. (The more recent Balada triste de trompeta (The Last Circus, Spain/France 2010) was reviewed on this blog when it appeared at the Viva Festival at Cornerhouse in Manchester.) ‘Popular comedies’ from other European countries are supposedly the most difficult sell in the UK and distributors simply won’t go there – unless it is Almodóvar. This means that often the biggest hits in Germany, Italy, Spain and even France simply aren’t seen in the UK. It seems that a DVD from a relatively obscure UK company, TLA Releasing (the UK arm of an American company specialising in LGBT and global horror) is available and LFF used this for projection. It didn’t look at all bad.
Ferpect Crime is not that dissimilar to some of Almodóvar’s films from the 1980s, but arguably less complex/surprising. However, it’s very difficult to define precisely why one is ‘art’ and the other is ‘popular’. I should also say that while Almodóvar has depicted all forms of sexuality, often outrageously, he’s never in my view been ‘sexist’. De la Inglesia, based just on the two films I’ve seen, does seem to stray a bit closer to the edge, even if the representations are exaggerated in order to drive a form of social critique.
The plot outline sees Rafael as a super-successful salesman in a Madrid department store. He employs mainly beautiful women as sales assistants on his territory (women’s fashions). They all appear to love him and he spends his nights seducing them one by one in the store after it closes, bribing the security guard. The store is his life – until everything goes wrong and he accidentally kills his rival who runs the men’s department. Miraculously his problems are solved by the one woman who he has never noticed – the plain woman who desires him and who now has power over him. How is he going to get out of this mess?
I confess that I enjoyed the film and certainly laughed out loud at several of the scenes. I suspect as with many Spanish films, that I might have missed some cultural references and I did wince at some of the sexist moments. But I took the film overall to be a comedy about gender roles and a critique about consumerism and reality TV. I’ll file it next to several other popular Spanish films that have failed to get into UK cinemas but which have generally been very entertaining.
This was the 28th festival of film held in Leeds. My impression was that this was the strongest programme for several years. Friends I talked to were mostly in agreement. Given the number of films shown, not all were completely entertaining or top line films, but there were enough to fill up the fortnight over which it ran.
The most popular film with audiences was What We Do in the Shadows (New Zealand, 2014). This is an unconventional vampire movie. And it is getting a UK release from Metrodome. Friends and colleagues also recommended a number of other films: there was the Possibilities are Endless with Edwyn Collins (UK 2014). This is a documentary about overcoming a near death ailment by the songwriter of the title: this film was highly praised by several people. This should also be available in Picturehouses venues. Another was Stations of the Cross (Germany 2014) which combines the form of this Catholic ritual with the story of a young woman, Maria. Everyone who had seen it praised it to me. It is released by Arrow on Friday. And there was Stray Dogs (France, Taiwan, 2013), one of two film directed by Tsai Ming Liang. This director has a growing reputation in the International art cinema, though it may not be easy to find opportunities for seeing his films. Roy has reviewed some of them other films in the Festival. And some of the ones previewed here were successes. Abel Gance’s J’accuse (1919) made a strong impression and was well accompanied on the Town Hall organ. My biggest regret [due to a teaching commitments] was missing Goodbye to Language 3D (France, 2014) Jean-Luc Godard ‘pushing the boundaries’ at 83 – one response was ‘brilliant’, another was far less polite about the film, someone’s ‘worst experience’ of the Festival..
One of the substantial elements in the Festival was the Short Film City programmes, including several competitions. The most prestigious is the Louis Le Prince International Short Film Competition: named after the pioneer inventor who produced film in Leeds in 1888. The eight person jury selected Art (Arta, Romania, 2014). This is probably a filmmaker’s film: I thought Chorus (Choro Dos Amantes, Portugal 2014) was the best of these films that I saw – this got a special mention from the Jury along with Greenland (Israel, 2014).
For the British Short Film Competition 2014 the jury selected Exchange and Mart commenting ‘A beautifully executed coming of age film.’ – I read the film rather differently though it was a fine production from Creative Scotland. I preferred the Audience Award: Anthony – if you can access this film save it for December 24th.
There are further details including the other competitions such as the Animation Shorts on the Festival Website. Apparently ticket sales this year topped 40,000 for the first time. It was an extensive programme and there were a few duds – one of the Iglesia films merited the description ‘a wretched piece of sexist crap’! And there were a few technical and presentation problems with some digital and digital video – what Festival did not suffer such glitches? Overall a real success and the omens for 2015 look good. All the more important as that year will not see a Festival across the way in Bradford.