The 24th Leeds Film Festival opened on November 4th with a screening in the Town Hall of the new UK/Australian production The King’s Speech. It was a fairly full auditorium and an appreciative audience received an introduction both to the Festival and its new facilities. The Town Hall, a splendid and large venue, has a new screen and a new sound system. The screen is excellent and did full justice to the 35mm projection. The digital surround-sound system is still being bedded in: this is a venue whose acoustics are a little challenging for modern film sound. Early on there were one or two cries of ‘too loud’. However, adjustments were made and it definitely improved. I suspect that some seating areas are better than others, but the dialogue was generally distinct and the music and sound effective.
Before the main feature we had an introduction from the Festival Director, Chris Fell, and a trailer of some of the attractions. Two of the features that caught my eye were Never Let Me Go, a drama based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel set in an English boarding school: and also Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale by Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander, which looks to have a very original take on the Santa Claus myth.
The full programme is sizeable and contains a range of new or current film releases, and some classics, many of which look like screenings not to be missed. There are a number that excite my interest, or which I have fortunately already seen and enjoyed. Among these are:
Children of the Beehive, Japan 1948, on Monday November 8th. This is screening at the Hyde Park cinema, my favourite venue. It was directed by one of the less-well known Japanese masters Hiroshi Shimizu. A number of his films were screened at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival this autumn, and they were impressive melodramas from a director who has a distinct style. This film is a Japanese neo-realist story set among the ruins of post-war Japan. I would mark Shimizu out as a director not to be missed. Even older are the silent films in the Laugh out Loud concert in the Town Hall. Apart from rare early film comedies, the attraction is the accompanist Neil Brand, one of the leading pianists in this area of cinema. He also regularly does excellent inputs on film music and film composer for BBC Radio 4’s Film programme.
Other classics are Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (Tinny zabutykh predkiv, 1964], from the unique filmmaker Sergei Parajanov. And there is of one of Stanley Kubrick’s best films Dr Strangelove or: How I stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb (1964). More recent highly praised movies include The Wayward Cloud (Tian bian yi duo yun, 2005), with the director Tsai Ming-Liang from Taiwan introducing his surreal musical drama. He also appears in an event at the University of Leeds with his recent short film Madame Butterfly. And there is the Cannes Festival Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Loong Boonmee raleuk chat, 2010), from another very distinctive filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Then there are the new unseen but promising treasures. For fans of Hollywood stars there is George Clooney in The American (USA 2010). There is the third part of the Stieg Larson based trilogy The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, though this series looks weaker as it develops. There is a Chilean film making its UK premiere, Huacho directed by Alejandro Fernández Almendras (2009), a simple portrait of peasant life and its problems in the C21st. The Leeds-based director Mohammed Al Daradji [who directed the powerful Ahlaam) has a Iraqi road movie Son of Babylon (2009). There are a host of documentaries, one of which should be really topical is Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson (USA 2010). An expose of the economic crisis of 2008. And there are ‘film plus’ events. I confess to a special interest in Palestinian Voices, featuring the ‘film diary’ of the Israeli invasion of Gaza at the end of 2008.
The whole programme is online at www.leedsfilm.com, and there are still copies of the printed festival brochure to be had, which helpfully list both the film and the screening format. I tend to go through and select interesting titles and topics. But you can work through the sections which include the Official Selection of major feature films: Fanomenon including fantasy, horror and the like: Cinema Versa which includes documentary, environmental and human rights issues: Cherry Kino present experimental; film works and a dedicated Short film City. Clearly none of us will be able to see all the films available, and there will probably be a few misses in this programme. But it offer an intensive treat for cineastes and an opportunity for more laid-back film viewers to get a little more cinematically serious for one fortnight in the year.