Farewell to Leeds International Film Festival

Audience Award Winner The Rocket

Audience Award Winner The Rocket

On the last full day of the Festival a friend commented that by the weekend she expected to have ’withdrawal symptoms’. I sympathise. After seeing at least one really good film every day we are back to the variable delights of the UK distribution system. We have enjoyed sixteen days of a varied film programme with some real gems, a lot of very good film work, and a few ones to be forgotten. As you can see in the reviews on this Blog, I was most interested in the Retrospective section of the Festival. But there were some fine new releases as well. I was impressed with Gloria and The Retrieval. And Apples of the Golan was an impressive documentary.

The Festival publishes a list of those films that have most impressed the general audience. This is weighted in some fashion but I am not certain of the equation. Voted the most popular film was The Rocket (Australia 2013). This film is set in Laos and follows the adventures of ten-year old Ahlo when his village is displaced by a dam. The film has an UK Distributor (Eureka), so there will be opportunities to see it. The second most popular film was Filmage: The Story of Descendants (USA 2013), a record of the band of the same name.  And third was Revenge of the Mekons (UK, USA 2013), another music documentary. The last two films demonstrate the popularity of musical documentaries in the Festival and a continuing strand in the programme.

Another important strand in the Festival are the several Short Film Programmes. I only saw a few but the standard seemed high. Friends and colleagues also commented favourably on the quality of many of these films. The winner in the Louis le Prince International Short Film Competition 2013 was Just Before Losing Everything (Avant que de tout perdre, Dir. Xavier Legrand, France, 30 minutes). The film follows a mother and children in a gripping drama. The film has already won a Grand Prix at the Clermont-Ferrand Festival.  The British Short Film Competition 2013 winner was Sea View (Dir. Jane Linfoot, 24 minutes). The film presents a date that does not go well. And there was the World Animation Award 2013 Winner: Guilt (Kalte, Dir. Reda Bartkute, Lithuania, five minutes) a combination of dream and hallucination.

Animation Award Winner Guilt

Animation Award Winner Guilt

The audiences for the festival were very good, up on the previous year. A number of screenings, including in the large Victoria Hall and at the Hyde Park Cinema were sold out. I missed a couple of films for this reason. And there were lots of positive reports from friends and acquaintances on the programme. A number of the more popular films were given repeat screenings on the last couple of days. I finally caught up with Harakiri in the Victoria Hall. Perhaps everyone who wanted to had already seen it. It was, I think, the smallest audience I experienced at the festival. We felt rather lost in the great hall, but it is a fine movie.

This year most of the programme was sited in four main venues, at the Town Hall, The Hyde Park Cinema, the Vue Multiplex and the brand new Everyman multi-screen.  I was not struck with this newest venue. It is more akin to a video parlour than a cinema. And both the Everyman and the Vue manage without projectionist. So the Festival team had to monitor these venues as well as running the Town Hall.

Most of the programme was in digital formats. There were ten 35mm prints, all screened at the Hyde Park as it is now the only Festival venue with celluloid projection. The 35mm prints were generally good, with one exception. And most of them featured in the Retrospective section. But over a dozen of the other Retrospective features were screened from digital video. This seems mainly to be the result of distributor policy: 35mm prints are becoming unavailable but the task of transferring to theatrical digital lacks impetus. A number of the 35mm prints, of excellent quality, were in the programme of Kobayashi Masaki. This stems from the relationship the Festival has developed with the Japanese Film Center. Which promises more classics in the future from one of the great World Cinemas.

Now it is eleven months to the Festival in 2014. The World War I centenary is likely to be a strong focus. But just an important will be the centenary of the Hyde Park Picture House. This was the venue for the launch of the first Leeds Film Festival in 1987. And its long history should provide great scope for revivals and restorations.

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