The 24th Leeds International Film Festival

The 24th Leeds International Film Festival was a success both in terms of audiences and in the variety and range of films provided. Total admissions were 29,000, improving once again on earlier years. Certainly, most of the screenings I attended enjoyed substantial audiences. There were some screenings with just a few devotees. But the programmes of World Cinema that I favoured generally did very well. The art and foreign language films I saw seem to have larger audiences than similar films capture outside the Festival fortnight.

The change to the city Town Hall as the main venue for the Festival presumably helped in this, as the auditorium accommodates 900 people. Not all the films screened there attracted a full house, but there were still some sizeable audiences. The Town Hall is a definite improvement on the previous central venue, The Carriageworks. There is a large screen erected, about 25 feet high I reckon. And the prints and projections were generally very good. The acoustics are trickier, though still an improvement on The Carriageworks. As a concert hall it is not designed for film and dialogue in particular can be indistinct. As the Festival progressed the delivery improved, and sitting on the ground floor rather than the balcony was a good idea. For films with strong musical or sound mix it worked very well.

The critic’s judgements on the programme selected Tuesday After Christmas (Marti, Dupa Craciun, Romania, 2009, directed by Radu Muntean) for The Golden Owl Award. Note that the Owl graces the logo of the City. This is another film from what is now termed the Romanian New Wave. It offers a portrait of an extra-marital affair. The new award, the Golden Owl Lifetime Achievement Award went to Tsai Ming-Liang. A feature and a short film by him both featured in the Festival, and have been reviewed on this Blog. Another award went to a German horror film, The Last Employee (Der Letzte Angestellte, 2010, directed by Alexander Adolph). This award is part of the European Federation of Fantastic Film Festivals, and as such Leeds hosts its annual Silver Méliès competition for the UK. The film now goes forward to the final European leg of the competition. And the jury made special mention of the Irish thriller Savage (2008, directed by Brendan Muldowney). I would expect these features to get some sort of release for the wider UK audience.

Audiences get to record their own preferences by being able to score films from one to five stars. The method does not really enable strict comparisons because audience size varies considerably, as possibly do completion rates. Anyway, the music documentary High on Hope (UK, 2009, directed by Piers Sanderson) was the overall favourite. This deals with acid parties in the late 1980s. The King’s Speech was named as favourite fiction feature, [and is also reviewed on the blog]. After collecting audience votes from every screening during the Film Festival, High on Hope received an average score of 4.64 out of 5. Both films would seem to be likely to enjoy good audiences on a general release. In fact, The King’s Speech is apparently already doing well in the USA, with a tip for a possible Oscar. I can believe that Colin Firth will get a Best Performance Nomination for his characterisation of King George VI. Unfortunately for the producers they failed to foresee the recent royal announcement, otherwise they could have included a Royal wedding in the plot as well.

One film that other viewers recommended several times to me was Animal Kingdom (Australia, 2010, directed by David Michôd) a thriller set in the Melbourne underworld. This should be released generally into the UK. Another was The Art of Negative Thinking (Kunsten å tenke negativt, Norway, 2006, directed by Bård Brelen), a satirical black comedy. I think both performances for this feature were sold out.

In line with our own Blog’s interests I concentrated on World Cinema, [reviews are included separately]. There were some welcome revivals, especially Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors. Also the extremely rare print of Children of the Beehive. And there were contemporary releases; the best of which I think would be Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

One item of programming found in past festivals but missing this year was a focus on a particular director: the retrospective of Francesco Rosi a few years back was splendid. Nor did we get a particular national focus like the German films from last year. Despite this, the variety of films and the quality of the best features made this a very strong programme. And the attention given to documentary and experimental film is also very commendable. One hopes that the present cultural constrictions will not prevent an equally enjoyable Festival in 2011.

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