20th Bradford International Film Festival Preview

biff2014

The Bradford International Film Festival (BIFF) begins its 20th programme on 27 March with an opening screening of The Lunchbox, the Indian film that has been pleasing festival audiences around the world since its appearance at Cannes last May. BIFF ends with Steven Knight’s claustrophobic British thriller Locke with Tom Hardy on April 6th. That pairing looks like a double banker for festival directors Tom Vincent and Neil Young and in between BIFF is offering a diverse range of films, personal appearances and events.

BIFF has a structure that sees the two weekends packed with events and guests and a solid weekday offer of screenings for committed cinephiles. We find ourselves usually in the latter camp but if you are working all week and can only make Bradford at the weekends there is still more than enough on offer. This year’s guests include director Sally Potter who will receive the 2014 BIFF Fellowship and actor Brian Cox with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Festival director Neil Young has previously programmed several films from the American avant-garde director James Benning and he too will be a festival guest this year, promising “to do something interesting”. All three guest appearances will be accompanied by substantial retrospectives.

The BIFF Brochure has been designed this year by David Doran, a young designer from Falmouth whose work has already become established as  unique and personal. The brochure has become a desirable object in itself and its 160 pages are packed with interesting material. The two sections of the programme that interest me most are the European Competition (now re-branded as the ‘Bradford UNESCO City of Film European Competition’) and the retrospective of Japanese director Nomura Yoshitaro. The European competition began in 2012 and this year it has been expanded to eight films, including documentary features for the first time. This years’ films include two each from France and Spain, alongside films from Belgium, Latvia, Slovenia and the UK. I’ve found the last two competitions to be rewarding and I’m now structuring my viewing choices around the films in competition.

'Stakeout' (Japan 1958), one of the films in the Nurua Yoshitaro retrospective.

‘Stakeout’ (Japan 1958), one of the films in the Nomura Yoshitaro retrospective.

Nomura Yoshitaro (1919-2005) was a Japanese director of the 1950s through to the early 1980s. The five films showing in Bradford were all adapted from the crime stories of Matsumoto Seicho, a popular writer of the period and each film offers a setting in a different part of rural Japan. The BIFF brochure features a useful essay and background on each of the films by Tom Vincent, who has also interviewed Nomura’s assistant in the early 1980s, Kobayashi Masahiro. Alexander Jacoby has also been invited to introduce Nomura’s work before the first screening on Tuesday 1st April. The films will be screened at the ICA in London 18-23 April. As Tom Vincent points out these popular crime films were not the kinds of films that were exported to international festivals and so these are rare screenings outside Japan. I’m looking forward to these screenings with great anticipation. All kudos to BIFF for including this retrospective which sounds as if it will be a fitting follow-up to last year’s celebration of Indian cinema.

BIFF’s other strengths are also on display again this year with the Shine Short Film Competition, the Filmmakers’ Weekend and the Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand accompanying Hell’s Hinges (US 1916). Bradford After Dark offers five late-night screenings of  new horror films and the National Media Museum presents a profile of Charles Urban, the prolific early producer and distributor of films in the UK. A selection of Urban’s early scientific short films is included in BIFF’s programme. There are also programmes of short films from the ‘Sydney Underground’ and the Russian ‘Cinetrain’ and other festival guests including Richard Jobson and John Shuttleworth. And that isn’t it – there are other special events and then, on the following weekend, the Widescreen Weekend. You’ll just have to get the brochure! In the meantime I’m going to clear the decks of everything else and prepare to cover as much as possible in depth.

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