“This year, from 7-10 September, Heritage Open Days is back to shine a light on England’s fascinating historic places. This annual festival celebrates our diverse history, architecture and culture, offering you the chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences all for free.”
On Sunday, September 10th, film fans had a chance to explore the Hyde Park Picture House as part of a Heritage event. Between 1000 and 1500 they could enjoy the beauty of the cinema auditorium, one of the finest surviving examples in Britain, with its distinctive gas lighting. There was screening a looped visual presentation of memorabilia associated with the cinema. And in the foyer a copy of the cinema Log Books donated by the family of one of the original founders of the cinema in 1916. This was the 1919 log book and included among the titles were films starring Geraldine Farrar. She was a star singer with the Metropolitan Opera in New York and launched into films in Cecil B. De Mille’s famous version of Carmen (1915). By 1919 she usually worked with the director Reg Barker in productions with the Goldwyn Company.
There were also conducted tours of the Projection Room every half-an-hour: including the 35mm projectors. The Cinemeccanica Victoria 8 projectors came from the Lounge Cinema [sadly converted into bars and fast food outlets], fine specimens of a species that is in danger of extinction. These tours are a little like the recently screened German silent film, Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (1927): just as the Berlin of 1927 is no longer, the Picture House will soon be remodelled thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund Award.
Appropriately there followed screening of 35mm films. These were all the work of the ‘Poet of British Cinema’, Humphrey Jennings. This was package prepared by the British Film Institute from the National Film Archive and titled ‘Their Finest Hour’. Jennings films are beautifully crafted and imaginative portraits of Britain in the 1930s and 1940s and combine vision and sound in a distinctive manner. They display often unexpected juxtapositions, a sign of Jennings’ admiration for the Surrealist Movement.
The programme opened with a documentary influenced by his work with the Mass Observation Movement and then offered three of his wartime films, the period when he achieved the peak of his poetic representations
First was Spare Time (1939, 13 minutes) which visits several regions in 1930s Britain to examine the culture of ordinary working people. The commentary is by Laurie Lee, another poet. The film mirrors the anthropological concerns of Mass Observation. This is very much an observational mode. Jennings and his team of the cameraman Henry Fowle and sound recordist Vorke Scarlett worked for the GPO Film Unit under producer Alberto Cavalcanti. The film was commissioned for the British Pavilion at the New York World Fair. In a sense propaganda for the ‘US cousins’, a stance that was part of Jennings war work as well.
This is what is has been termed an ‘associational documentary’. It lacks the explicit social commentary of the Griersonian films, relying more on the connections between people, objects and settings. The theme in the words of Laurie Lee offers
“as things are, Spare Time is a time when we have a chance to do what we like, a chance to be most ourselves”
So there is an sub-text about labour and working people. This is reinforced in the visual style of the film where actual labour tends to appear in static shots whilst camera movements are more likely for people’s leisure activities.
There are three sections. In Sheffield we meet the steel industry and then the pastimes organised round the three-shift system. We see and hear a local brass band, visit a pub, see the walking of whippets and the release of pigeons, a cycling party and a crowded and popular football match.
Then to Manchester and Bolton where the cotton industry is based with weekend leisure. The most famous sequence of a Kazoo band was most likely shot in Rotherham and before the production included Jennings. Then we visit the Belle Vue Zoo, see children in the street and a ballroom where the dance floor soon fills with the couples circling to a band.
Finally we visit Pontypridd and the coal collieries. A hooter accompanies the pithead and then the evening fun at a fair. The sequence is mainly in low key lighting. An amateur choir assembles and starts to sing Handel’s ‘Largo’. The music follows as the camera shows us streets and shoppers, then a youth club match and, as the evening passes, the start of mealtime.
The various musical troupes overlap the visual source to provide the accompanying track, punctuated by industrial noise. The film opens and closes with recorded music and the words of Laurie Lee. He also introduces each section The inconspicuous camera records the events, at one point observing as the pianist with the choir slips out of her coat whilst commencing the accompaniment. We see a family preparing to dine on a magnificent meat pie. There are several relaxed scenes in public houses. The Welsh section includes a notable tracking shop down a street. otherwise the camera relies mainly on long shots and ‘plain American’, with straight cuts and just the occasional dissolve. The film was edited by Jennings, there is no other person credited. And the cuts between sequences weaves a tapestry whilst the commentary sets up the separates sections and the finale.
Then the wartime film Words for Battle (1941, 8 minutes): documentary footage of Britain during the Blitz is accompanied by a selection of poetry and prose read by Lawrence Olivier.
The film was produced by the Crown Film Unit under the auspices of the Ministry of Information. This is a ‘compilation’ documentary. The film intercuts short scenes of town and rural life – Westminster Abbey, evacuated children in the countryside – with scenes of military action, fighter pilots on an aerodrome, destroyers at sea.
The film appears to be completely based on ‘found footage’. it was constructed by Jennings with Stewart McAllister as editor. McAllister is a key member of the production team in the war-time films and brings a precision to the cutting of and between images,. He also brings a complex treatment to the tapestry of sound that accompanies the images. The war time films directed by Jennings use noise and music as well as words and this melange is increasingly complex. The soundtrack includes music by Beethoven and Handel, but the important part is the prose and poetry read by Olivier.
The C16th Britannia accompanies a map from that period. Then we hear selections from John Milton, Williams Blake, Robert Browning and Rudyard Kipling: a rather unusual combination. The film moves on to Winston Churchill’s famous address to the House of Commons ‘We shall fight on the beaches’, [also featured in the recent ‘Dunkirk’]. And finally we hear words from Abraham Lincoln’s Address following the Battle of Gettysburg. The last opines widely held beliefs in ‘western democracies’. But the word accompany tanks passing the statue of Lincoln in Parliament Square: a clear pitch to the allies across the Atlantic.
The Silent Village (1943, 36 minutes) is a retelling of the massacre by the Nazi occupiers of the Czech villagers of Lidice [a mining community] in 1942. This was notorious event carried out as retribution for the assassination of the Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich. Jennings and his team relocate the events to a Welsh mining village (Cwmgiedd) with the local inhabitants playing the population under Nazi occupation and becoming the victims of their terrorism .
The suggestion for the film was made by exiled Czech officials to the Ministry of Information. This was a Crown Film Unit production. Jennings is credited with both script and direction. And his colleagues on the film are the familiar and experienced team, with Stewart McAllister as editor, H. E. Fowle as cameraman. Ken Cameron is the sound recordist.
The film opens with an aural and visual introduction to the world of a mining village in a Welsh valley. This is typical of Jennings work and it weaves sounds and images to produce an effective portrait of the mining community. The film uses both English and Welsh, without any subtitles for the latter language: in fact, the words are not necessary. This, as in other wartime films, uses ‘actual sound’ as well as ‘found sound’; an important aspect of the films. Then the German occupation arrives. As the narrative develops their repressive tactics increase. With the news of the assassination we reach the stage of reprisals. This involves the deportation of women and children and the murder of all the adult males. We do not see the actual execution but hear the gunfire as the men defiantly sing ‘Land of our Fathers’.
The entire cast are non-professional and the film is a fine example of how effectively Jennings and his team work with ordinary people. The sense of place is reinforced by the coupling of images of people with images of settings and objects which combine to effect a sense of a recognisable place and community. The accompanying sounds – industrial, domestic, rural – add to the effectiveness of this.
And finally Listen to Britain (1942, 20 minutes) is one of the true masterpieces of British cinema. Jennings and his colleagues weave a tapestry of documentary footage, dialogue, sound and music to present the Home Front of a Britain at War.
The production team is the now familiar one – McAllister, Fowle, Cameron – with an editor at the Crown Film Unit, John Krish, assisting. Once more we have the inter-weaving of actual and found footage with actual and found sound, including recorded music. And once more Jennings and his team display their unrivalled ability to capture ordinary people carrying out ordinary actions: though in extraordinary times.
The film opens with a pitch to the North American audience by Leonard Brockington. But then we move into the film proper, relying completely on the sounds and images of Britain and its people.
It is evening and we are presented with the British countryside. Then a Spitfire flies low over the scene. The film progresses through the night and on to the evening of the following day. In the course of the film we see countryside people, town and city people, factory workers, troops and the military. And we see these people both at work and at play. Among the famous settings are a grand ballroom packed with dancers; a wartime factory and the lunchtime canteen concert; in parallel the National Gallery in London and a concert of classical music. This provides a seamless tapestry of British wartime life. The film glosses over differences of class, gender and place. The one anachronism, as the film ends we hear ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ on the sound track: a false note which I suspect was dictated by producers rather than the actual filmmakers.
All these films are in black and white. They famously made Jennings an undoubted ‘auteur’ for British film . But the subtle developments apparent in the war-time films point to the importance of the contributions by Fowle, McAllister and Cameron. Jennings would seem to bring an overall form and the recurring themes.He has been criticised as ‘patronising’. But I think it is more that he remains an outsider but one with real empathy for the subjects of the films. What is apparent is that the films offer an ‘imagined community’, smoothing out troubling wrinkles and contradictions such as class. The war time films in particular embrace the notion of ‘A People’s War’; a concept that is closer to notions of propaganda than actuality. But the films do generate a sense of authenticity that was powerful at the time and which remain abiding images of Britain’s past.
This is a compilation of short films shot in the British countryside (and in the north of Eire) between 1904 and 1981. It is part of the Britain on Film series which has already offered Railways and has a forthcoming compilation Black Britain. This is an archive project to ‘digitise’ thousands of films, originating on celluloid, and making them available for public viewing. These ‘tours’ are distributed by the Independent Cinema Office, who have an excellent track record of providing features and archive material to independent cinemas. I saw this compilation at the Hyde Park Picture House as part of the ‘Leeds Young Film Festival’.
Before the film we had an interesting introduction by Kate McGann, a curator with the National Film Archive in the documentary section. We had some notes with details of the films included in the compilation but she added some particular comments on especially interesting aspects. Her main thrust was to provide a context for these films. She commented that much of the period represented on the films had seen real ‘change and upheaval’ in the countryside. An aspect that is the focus of Laurie Lee’s memorable ‘Cider with Rosie’: Lee provided the commentary for one of the films.
She also talked about the changes in technology and style across the films. Cecil Hepworth, who made the earliest film in the programme, would have been working with bulky cameras, and the supporting equipment like tripods etc. It seems likely that he staged much of the action, seemingly merely observed. And since synchronised sound only arrived in the 1930s several film rely on title cards [intertitles] to provide information for the audience.
A little later Basil Wright, filming in the Cheviot Hills, was able to work alone with his camera and accessories, but the now available sound would have been added later in the studio. Both these films were in black and white. But another example from the Pathé Company used colour stencilling, one of several techniques like hand painting and tinting/toning for adding colour.
By the 1950s colour film stock had become available and the Technicolor brand offered a rich palette of colours on screen. We had two films that used this technology. (Note, you can see one of the Technicolor Cameras at the Insight Collection at the National Media Museum. Signposts re Science and Media Museum).
The camerawork in many of the films relies mainly on the static shot. As technology developed camera movements like pans and tracks became available. All the film used some sort of editing (cutting between shots), though the later films are more sophisticated .
The programme also illustrated a number of genres in what we now term documentary. The earliest would have been known as ‘actualities’. Early on there were also Newsreels, and there was an extract form one of these. And there were examples of ‘travelogues’, ‘marketing films’ and ‘public relations’, both commercial and state funded. Some of the later films came from television networks and a couple of films really fall into the amateur or ‘home movie’ category.
The compilation ran for 75 minutes. It was partly chronological but partly thematic.
“Machynlleth (In the Heart of Cambria) | Dir: unknown | UK | 1929 | 2 minutes
This glorious Pathécolor film of the ancient capital of Wales pops with the beauty of rural life. “
This short film was essentially a travelogue. It offered a series of shots, beautifully coloured with hand stencils. These included shots of a valley, river, trees in blossom and sheep grazing.
There was an accompaniment on the sound track by piano and flute.
“O’er Hill and Dale | Dir: Basil Charles Wright | UK | 1932 | 18 mins
The first sound documentary produced in the UK, this is an affectionate and at points humorous account of a Scottish shepherd’s daily life in the Cheviot Hills.”
Basil Wright has been described as a ‘humanitarian poet’. He was a member of the rightly famed British Documentary Movement. The film mainly uses single static shots with a couple of pans over the landscape. But Wright (filming himself) makes extensive use of angles, especially low-angle shots that emphasise the scale of the mountainous vistas. He also (later in the studio) edited the film into a mini-narrative. So after seeing the Shepherd, Martin, with his flocks drama ensues when a storm sweeps across the hills. This leads into a ‘happy’ ending with a lamb saved from expiring.
The commentary, by Andrew Buchannan, and the orchestral accompaniment were added later. And the film was seen in British cinemas courtesy of Gaumont British.
“Great Hucklow Jubilee | Dir: L. du Garde Peach | UK | 1935 | 9 mins
These gorgeous scenes of Great Hucklow capture the Derbyshire village’s preparations for the celebration of King George V’s Silver Jubilee, presenting a charming portrait of life and laughter in the Pennine village.”
This is an example of amateur filmmaking in the period. L. du Garde Peach actually worked in the Film industry as a scriptwriter. One of his most famous contributions was co-authoring the 1935 Yorkshire -based Turn of the Tide. Here though he is showing off his locality and the Village Players whom he organised.
The film uses intertitles and was accompanied by a piano and percussion on the soundtrack.
“‘Dry Village’ | Dir: Unknown | UK | 1964 | 5 mins
A cautionary tale of the ‘dry village’ of Bessbrook, Co. Armagh, whose founder believed that the absence of a pub would remove the need for both the police and pawn brokers.”
This appears to be an ironic offering from television reporter James Boyce, presumably working with a network team. The film offers a series of interviews and comments. Boyce’s offerings for viewers appear to have capitalised on the eccentric, this is a good example. There is no hint of the ‘troubles, only a few years away.
” The Village Pet | Dir: Unknown | UK | 1931 | 1 min
After Billy the seal was caught in the Wash and rehoused in the village pond, this heart-warming newsreel item shows him tentatively accepting a fish supper from his adoptive family – the good folks of Warham in Norfolk.”
This is an extract from a ‘Topical Budget’ newsreel; a newsreel series that ran from 1911 until 1931. The film opens with a highly embroidered intertitle. Then we meet Billy and the village inhabitants, especially the children, enamoured with this occupant of the pond.
The film has an accompaniment by piano and accordion.
” West of England | Dir: Humphrey Swingler | UK | 1951 | 10 min
Glorious Technicolor casts a dreamlike spell over Gloucestershire’s Stroud valleys in this gorgeous short film. Author Laurie Lee contributes to the script for a narration which accompanies painterly images of evergreen scenery, people and industry. “
This was a fine example of the lustrous palette found in Technicolor. The commentary is read by Stephen Murray. The film is full of glorious shots of the Stroud Valley, old buildings and a graveyard, valley slopes, smooth rivers and nestling tress and flora. Later we enter an old linen factory where the rich colours of the cloth exploit the colour process. The film is edited into a gentle narrative. The opening shows a horse and rider wending their way down hill. There follow later some good example of forward and reverse tracking shots. The commentary proposes a ‘secret’ which is followed till we hear and see an explanation of the Stroud cloth industry. At the end the horse and rider wend their way back uphill; then a cut shows us a modern tractor, presumably as comment that Stroud is modernising.
The commentary and orchestral accompaniment were added at Merton Park Studio,. And the film received a cinema release from United Artists.
” Cold War Villages | Dir: Unknown| UK | 1981 | 3 min
In 1981, with no end to the Cold War in sight, plans are afoot in the Midlands to prepare for nuclear attack. These include a bunker for 400 people in a Rutland village with a population of 300, while in Derbyshire a local landlord takes responsibility for the somewhat simplistic advance warning system.”
This looks like one of those programme fillers in regional television broadcasts. The reporter, Terry Lloyd, introduces two mini-stories related to ‘the nuclear threat’ with interviews with local people. Rather like the ‘dry village’ this looks like an ironic comment on eccentricity, possibly even invented. By 1981 (despite the 1984 TV film Threads) the nuclear question was less of an issue than that of US missiles based in Britain.
The first case is a plan to turn a disused Rutland railway tunnel into a commercial bunker; £2,000 for a single person. Predictably it was never built.
The second tale is a Derbyshire pub with an ‘early warning system’. Among the limitations of this device are the absence of a warning device. There is (almost certainly staged) film of the publican warning the village on his bicycle. It seems the village was spared a nuclear attack.
“Any Man’s Kingdom | Dir: Tony Thompson | UK | 1956 | 5 mins (extract)
A standout from the British Transport Films collection of travelogues – this one highlighting the attractions of Northumberland, the northernmost part of England. In this extract people travel from far and wide to enjoy the delights of Bellingham Fair, which includes traditional Cumberland wrestling.”
This film has a commentary and an orchestral accompaniment with actual sound including traditional pipes. It offers shots of the people attending this traditional fair and of some of the attractions. There is a fine sequence of a country dance edited through a series of close-ups of the band and the dancers. Towards the end of this extract twilight falls and a young couple are seen in silhouette followed by a pan over a river. The film, in Technicolor, was finalised at The Anvil Studio.
“Blacksmith | Dir: Peter Baylis | UK | 1941 | 5 mins
‘Things aren’t what they used to be’: Mr Bosley, village blacksmith at Corfe, near Taunton, is the subject of this nostalgic study of ancient craftsmanship. As his commentary talks us through the process of shoeing a horse, the patiently composed images gracefully evoke an ageless sunlit Somerset day.”
The film was part of a series on ‘craftsmen’ by the Shell Film Unit. This commercial film’s documentary unit was launched in 1934 and carried on to the present, now ‘The Shell Film and Video Unit’. Its output of mainly short films was an important contribution to British documentary. This film follows a farm horse into the forge as we watch the traditional techniques of shooing in a series of close-ups and mid-shots. .
“Eardisland Village | Dir: Unknown | UK | 1978 | 5 mins
The residents of Eardisland, a picture postcard Herefordshire village, are unhappy about their impending conservation status which would curtail new development. How can a village continue to thrive with an ever ageing population and no new blood?”
This films is from ATV’s ‘Today series’ with reporter Peter Green and shot in colour.
The camera takes us round the village and a series of interviews with inhabitants. There are few young people and ‘conservation’ threaten to embed this further. The catalyst for this concern is the proposed closure of the village school. Added to this is the comment that they have even
‘taken the vicar away’.
Despite the film the school did close in 1979.
“Day in the Hayfields | Dir: Cecil M. Hepworth | UK | 1904 | 3 mins
Enchantingly beautiful, Cecil Hepworth’s modest interest film captures the essence of an English midsummer and the harvest in a time before tractors with men cutting hay using a horse-powered reaper. Less productive but very charming are the local babies and toddlers playing in the cut grass.”
Cecil Hepworth is one of the most important pioneers from the early days of British cinema. One of his most famous titles was a the key contribution to canine cinema, Recued by Rover (1905). Here he is filming on location alongside the Thames near to his studio at Walton-on-Thames. The film offers a series of static shots, almost like tableaus. we see the harvesting, transport by horse and cart, and the local children playing.
There is an accompaniment on piano and accordion, as lyrical as the film itself.
“Skating on Lough Neagh | Dir: Unknown | UK | 1963 | 2 mins
As the Big Freeze plays havoc with the working life of Northern Ireland, there is plenty of time for play. The frozen Lough is a call to the adventurous and the ridiculous as dogs, dancers and even drivers take to the ice.”
This appears to be either amateur footage or something filmed for a local television network. It appears that it is actually the ‘Black Lough’ at Dungannon. And like some earlier films it is partly a record of oddities and eccentricities, including a group performing the twist and a mini car travelling over the frozen lake.
The end credits of the compilation include Stephen Horne who performed the musical accompaniment for the films without soundtracks. Stephen is a multi-instrumentalist as demonstrated in the accompaniments.
The films came courtesy of BFI National Archive, the Media Archive for Central England and the Northern Island Screen Digital Archive.
They were all transferred on to a 2K DCP. All were in either 1.33:1 or 1.37:1 ratios. The image quality was generally good. Note, as usual the DCP was in 1.85:1 and the titles for the individual films was spread across the complete frame; this was a shame as it prevented the cinema bringing in the masking to the Academy ratio. The sound was variable, presumably partly due to older prints and also to transferring optical or magnetic tracks on to digital.
Definitely a programme worth seeing. And there is more information about the films, the series and ‘Britain on Film’ at the BFI.
This was the Children’s Programme toured from the London International Animation Festival screened at the Hyde Park Picture House. A rather nice idea, a set of films suitable for all the family. That is what we got at the Picture House, and [with a few minor wanderings] the kids and their parents seemed to really enjoy the selection. I gathered from the projectionist that the programme was provided on a disc and then the staff copied this to a DCP: one would have hoped that an International Festival could mange to use a theatrical format for this. Still it was an entertaining selection of varied animation films from a number of different countries.
Simon’s Cat: Pizzacat (2015), 1’50
A hungry cat gets the last slice. This was the first of two ‘cat cartoons’. From the credits it seems that this character appears both on film and in books: I suspect the latter was the earlier appearance. The films are drawn in black and white lines. The cat is typical of its kind:. clever and self-contained, usually battling with his owner: in this case over a pizza. The second example – Box Clever. In this case a regular character, the neighbouring boxer/bulldog, assists the cat caught in a cone guard.
You can check out episodes and creator Simon Tofield’s techniques at https://simonscat.com/about/
Perfect Houseguest (2015), 1’35
A house is visited by a clean, organised and well-mannered guest. The film from the USA uses models, the houseguest being a domesticated mouse who makes the house ordered and shipshape.
Rita and Crocodile – Fishing (2014) , 5’00
Rita and Crocodile are going fishing and Rita lectures Crocodile on how to fish.
We also had a second film in which Rita & her Crocodile visit the Forest in search of conkers. The Crocodile is extremely affable, far removed from the threatening beasts common on screen. The films, produced by Ladybird, are from Denmark, but this was an English-language version.
Submarine Sandwich (2014), 2’00
The first step to a delicious sandwich is slicing the meat. Only in this case what the film animates is a set of food substitutes: balls, gloves, medallions and so on. This is a new stop-motion film from the director of Fresh Guacamole (PES, USA 2012), the latter had the status of shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar.
With Different Eyes (2015), 4’10
A trip around the world on a wooden train set. This film is almost abstract, playing with sets of mecano-type-like parts. There is also a song, translated via subtitles.
Boom Boom The Fisherman’s Daughter (2013), 8’25
A lonely fisherman with a long nose befriends an orphaned baby elephant who believes that the man is its mother. This was beautifully drawn though the plot was rather opaque. The relationships between characters are very nicely done.
A Single Life (2014), 2’20
A life can be lived, measured and manipulated in so many different ways but beware the cracks and the sudden endings. The ingenious story here offers a series of transformations, which also take us through the cycle of life and death. This Dutch film makes ingenious use of an usual prop, an old 45 rpm vinyl record.
Airmail (2014), 6’10
A fish, a cat, a wrestler and the woman who would save them all. Unusual ingredients for an unlikely long distance love affair. The title and the style of this film suggest homage to Len Lye. There continuity is tied together by the continuing efforts of a cat to catch a goldfish.
Taipei Recyclers (2014), 7’00
A riot of sound and colour using trash collected from the streets of Taipei. The film uses all the possible detritus from its setting, a rather abstract presentations.
Very Lonely Cock (2015), 6’00
It’s a hard day for the very lonely cock. Perhaps tomorrow it’ll be better. Who knows? Anyway, it can’t get any worse. Or can it? Bizarre but entertaining Russian film with no dialogue. The film is almost surrealist in its antics and humour.
Sweet Dreams (2015), 11’45
A coincidental meeting of a house hamster and a pair of squirrels. It took me time to identify one animal as a hamster. Their relationships are built on accords, though winter and into spring.
Some of the films are featured on YouTube.
Rita and Crocodile – Submarine Sandwich by PES – A Single Life
This was a programme of the winners in Short Film City at the 29th Leeds International Film Festival screened at the Hyde Park Picture House. This was a good opportunity to see the films selected as the ‘best’ all at one shot. One of thing I noticed about the programme overall was the amount of explicit sex and violence. There was more than I remember from earlier festivals and more than I saw among the short films I did catch during the actual festival. So I had a look at the four Juries. The four trios consisted of five filmmakers, two film programmers, three artists working with film and two members working in Higher Education. Their short biographies did not shed any light on the issue. Perhaps there was a higher level of such content this year.
The programme ran for 85 minutes. The various films and formats were projected from a DCP.
Louis le Prince International Short Film Competition 2015
Winner: Drama (Guan Tian, USA)
This is an eleven-minute film, and whilst made in the USA has Chinese dialogue. The protagonists, a boy and girl, watch the outside world from inside a car. “An intimate look at human voyeurism’. This was a film I really liked. I thought the plotting was imaginative and the technical aspects were extremely well done. It was very funny as well.
World Animation Award 2015
Winner: Manoman (Simon Cartwright, UK)
Another eleven-minute film using puppets. The premise is the protagonist Glen creates his own ‘homunculus’, [a representation of a small human being]. This attempt at sublimation opens ‘uninhibited impulses [that] lead to disastrous consequences in this night-long insane rampage . . .’ The film aimed to be disturbing and succeeded, though I was not convinced that there was an articulated comment. The catalogue also includes a comment, [presumably by the filmmaker], ‘A film about limits, with no limits!’
British Short Film Competition 2015
Winner: Rate Me (Fyzal Boulifa, UK)
This film ran 17 minutes. Its main protagonist was a teen escort Cocoa. But we do not really see much of her directly. The extremely smart premise of the film is to learn about her through reviews posted on an online forum. This was effective and witty, but I thought that there was not enough import for the whole length of the film. The postings do reveal as much about the authors as the object, but there were limited variation. I suspect if you follow such online forums the film is more effective.
Yorkshire Short Film Competition
Winner: Cargo (Oli Carr, UK)
We had a slight hiccup with this film; the sound did not work at first. I thought this was going to be a really strange type of story. Then we stopped and re-started, with sound and dialogue. Two Syrian refuges hide out in a truck crossing from Europe to the UK. This takes 15 minutes and the opening is deliberately slow and then the tension mounts. I thought the plotting was well thought out, since the story is one that repeats many times a day. And the resolution left space for the audience to consider the implications.
Leeds International Screendance Competition 2015
Winner: Choreography for the Scanner (Mariam Eqbal, USA)
This film used animation for nine minutes. Apparently the technique involved a flatbed scanner: this might be a first. It relies on repeating and multiplying sets of images. Variations were introduced by compressing and elongating the imagery. I did find that the repetition ran out of interest before the end.
Leeds International Music Video Competition 2015
Winner: Lightning Bolt – The Metal East (Lale Westvind, USA)
I cannot really write much about this film. It had the loudest sound track I have heard in ages, surpassing that of Mad Max: Fury Road. I took shelter in the foyer for the approximately four minutes of running time.
Leeds Short Film Audience Award 2015
Winner: The Reinvention of Normal (Liam Saint-Pierre, UK)
This eight minute film follows “an artist / inventor / designer. on his quest for new ideas.” The creations in the film were oddball. There was a slight feeling that this was meant to offer a sense of the surreal. What is did offer was the eccentric. But I felt that needed a more personal voice to sustain interest.
Audience favourite across all short films.
Madam Black (UK New Zealand 2015)
This was almost a family friendly film. A photographer accidentally runs over the pet of a little girl. In order to avoid the painful truth he constructs an alternative world for the child. So we follow Madame Black on her travels and the postcards that she sends back. The film also managed to tie in a slight romance. A pleasure to watch.
I am afraid I missed the last two entries in the programme,
Dark Owl International Fantasy Short Film Competition
Winner: A Boy’s Life (Howard McCain, USA)
Winner: Milk! (Ben Malleby, UK)
This offered two programmes in the Leeds International Film Festival Short Film City section.
The Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź (Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa, Telewizyjna i Teatralna im. Leona Schillera w Łodzi) is the leading Polish academy for future actors, directors, photographers, camera operators and TV staff. [The current name is in honour of the actor and first rector Leon Schiller].
You get a sense of the school’s status when you look at the list of alumni:
The School has three Oscar-winning alumni: Roman Polanski, Andrzej Wajda and Zbigniew Rybczyński, while alumnus Krzysztof Kieślowski was nominated for an Oscar. Both Polanski and Wajda won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 and 1981, respectively.
So it was a must for me to turn up for the first programme which was a series of short films produced between 1958 and 1986. The selection repaid my interest.
Two men and a wardrobe (Dwaj ludzie z szafą 1958) in black and white and running 14 minutes. The film is without dialogue and follows the characters and prop of the title. This is one of the famous films made by Polanski as a student. It is a real surrealist piece, droll and engaging as we follow the antics of the men and their interaction with passersby. The film opens and closes on the sea-shore which seems highly symbolic.
Conflicts (Konflikty 1960). Directed by Daniel Szczechura, this is a seven minute animation using stop-motion techniques. The plot concerns a marital triangle leading to a violent conclusion.
The Game (Zabawa 1960). Filmed in black and white and directed by Witold Leszczynski, the film runs for 9 minutes. The game in question involves a couple in a car and another driver with whom they race. This is a very sardonic piece: I wondered if Spielberg saw it before Duel (1971)?
The Office (Urzad 1966). This is a five minute documentary in black and white. The focus on an administrative space and the interaction betweens staff and users seems typical of the director, Krzyztof Kieślowski. The sort of sequence that appears in far more complex fashion in his later films.
Kirk Douglas (1966). A 10 minute documentary directed by Marek Piwowaki recording the visit by the Hollywood actor to the Film School. Douglas is clearly exploring h his routes, but also enjoy the intense interest and even adulation that he is accorded.
Concert of Requests (Koncert zyczeń 1967. This 16 minute drama in black and white was directed by Krzyztof Kieślowski. Like The Office it has recognisable themes and style. A couple on a motor bike, packing up after camping, encounter a fairly rowdy bus load of people. The latter include band members, perhaps returning from some concert event. The film follows the encounter and the brief conflict that develops. Like the filmmakers later and longer features, this was fascinating to watch.
Market (Rynek 1971). This five minute experiment was directed by Józef Robakowski and Tadeusz Junak. The film uses fast motion over a period of about a day and in long shot to record the event.
Square (Kwadrat 1972). Another experimental film with animated colour by Zbigniew Rybcznski. The four minutes are filled with changing shapes and music in a sort of abstract ballet.
With Raised Hands (Z podniesionymi rekami 1985). This 6 minutes black and white film won a Palme D’Or for the Film School and the director Mitko Panov. The photograph which the film uses is a famous one. But we are offered an alternative narrative. One that offers hope and which seemed to speak both to Polish history and recurring pre-occupations in the work of the Film School.
Krakatau (1986). This was an essay film rather than one with story. In black and white and running for eleven minutes the director, Mariusz Grzegorzek used ‘found footage’ to present a picture of rising frustrations. The footage included what seemed to be a volcanic eruption and reference to the famous one at Krakatoa.
Most of the films were in academy ratio, but a couple were in 1.66:1. They involved a whole host of School students in cinematography, editing sound and other production functions. The one flaw in all of this was the sound track. The volume went up and down from film to film. Apparently the poor projectionist was turning the output up and down as the films, copied to digital, ran. It seems this was on the disc supplied from Poland. This was not only unfortunate, but given the standards in the recent Martin Scorsese Masterpieces of Polish Cinema [with more Łódź alumni] surprising.
There was a second programme of short films made in the last couple of years. One, Hangover (Kao 2015) had arrived without subtitles. With a certain amount of effort I followed the main plot, but not all the subtleties. Set in an Alcohol Recovery Centre it looked rather good. The director was Maciej Buchwald, who likely also scripted the film.
The film that I was most impressed by was Gigant (Giant 2015). The film follows the romantic adventures of young Bartek and his mother, a single parent. I do not know if Polish Television ever featured Yellow Pages adverts, but this seemed to provide a back-story to one that involved French Polishers. I thought the cast were very good, and the development of the characters over 33 minutes was very well done. There was an engaging ironic take on the events as they unfolded. The film was both scripted and directed by Tomasz Jeziorski.
All the films were in colour and widescreen and this was an interesting and enjoyable screening. [Quotations with Links – Wikipedia].
This is fairly short film, 37 minutes, screening in the Leeds International Film Festival. However it offers as much interest as many longer feature documentaries. The subject is a cache of art works by people who were committed to a long-stay hospital, Netherne in Surrey, diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia. The collection has been named after Edward Adamson who operated a studio in the hospital from 1946 until 1981. Adamson is regarded as a pioneer in the use of art for therapy.
The collection comprises over 5,000 works created by patients in the period. Some of the early works appear to have been produced by patients before the studio was opened. Items 1 to 3 were drawn by a patient on toilet tissues. At this time the regime in the hospital was extremely oppressive: the film refers to the removal of organs like teeth to assist in controlling patients. And this was a regime that seems to have denied the inmates any autonomy.
At first the studio was regarded by the psychiatrists there as a diagnostic tool. One almost surrealist-style painting was described as revealing,
‘deficit conceptual ordering of space.’
Other comments on the works tended to see the patient/artists as divorced from reality.
In the 1950s a more liberal regime appears to have developed. Adamson was able to develop the studio for therapeutic purposes and to allow a degree of self-expression for the patients. Over the life of the studio some 100,000 art works were created. These were stored but when the hospital closed in 1993 many were dumped and only the 5,000 or so housed by the Welcome Trust survive.
These do not appear to be a selection of the best, just the fortunate survivors. The items used in the film are really impressive. The illustration at the head reminds me of the work of Salvador Dali on Hitchcock’s film Spellbound (1945). Among these works are paintings, portraits, landscapes, sculptures and artefacts – they are imaginative, often technically impressive, sometimes derivative and sometimes approaching a surrealist response to ‘reality’. Some of the work was by artists who were committed to the hospital, but some was by apparently untrained eyes and hands.
The film combines footage shot at hospital, stills, examples of the art work and more recent film. There are also interviews, including briefly Adamson himself, and some earlier film of patients and more recent interviews and comments. The film uses recurring voice-overs, both from recordings and by a commentative voice. Visually the film relies on skilled editing, cutting between the artefacts, found footage and illustrative film. Some flaring on the images appears to be technique for highlighting the content.
The film, scripted and directed by Pia Borg and Edward Lawrenson, manages to provide a narrative of the work at the hospital: to suggest something of the oppressive regime that operated, at least for a time; and to give some voice to the creators behind the work. Later in the film there is footage of an exhibition of the work in Paris: there is no sign of an equivalent in the UK. The collection is now housed in the Welcome Trust Library and by SLaM Arts.
The is documentary is accompanied by a short experimental or avant-garde film, Exquisite Corpus (2015). This is by the Austrian director Peter Tscherkassky. It is on 35mm, in black and white, academy ratio and runs for 19 minutes. The film is
‘based on various erotic films and advertising rushes. I play on the “cadavre exquis” technique used by the Surrealists, drawing disparate body parts constellating magical creatures. Myriad fragments are melted into a single sensuous, humorous, gruesome, and ecstatic dream.’
The film makes extensive use of fast editing, superimpositions and dissolves as well as reverse imaging. The soundtrack is equally experimental. This is one of the experimental work that appears to have a strong subjective focus. Its purpose is experimental and – I am not sure. It is adult material. It also appears to include footage from feature films as well as ‘the erotic’. I recognised a clip, in black and white, from Tony Richardson’s film of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1963). Whilst it accompanies the Adamson documentary I think it is actually of a different order of art. Abandoned Goods is 12A but Exquisite Corpus is 18.
Note, the screening only lasts an hour and is on again at 2.30 p.m. this Sunday [Nov. 8th] at the Hyde Park Picture House – really worth fitting in.
I wrote in detail about this local Yorkshire festival with a global reach last year. I enjoyed that visit so I returned this year. As far as I can make out there were less films screened this year but the standard was just as high, possibly higher overall even though I didn’t find the one standout film that so impressed me last time. With 50 short films in the programme I managed to see 19. An innovation this time was the switch to ‘mixed’ programmes in each of the seven screening rooms (three of which were deemed ’15+’ to give viewers some guidance to suitability). The ‘certification/advice’ idea is a good one but for me personally the mixing of animation, drama, science fiction, documentary etc. in the same programme was a bit of a pain. However, I’m not the target audience and there seemed to be more people viewing the programmes (and they were a more diverse audience) than last year. The festival screens the winning films voted for by festivalgoers in various categories at Keighley Picture House in the evening.
In terms of the films themselves, they seemed to be from a similar range of sources – though this year I was more aware of multiple entries from a handful of filmmakers. The interesting point remains that most of the films come from Europe, especially Spain. The film I enjoyed most was Desintegración by Álvaro Martín. This satire about the current economic crisis in Spain imagines an Orwellian future (in beautiful black & white) in which children are bought by the government or put out on the streets tied up like a dog and hoping for pity. You can see this film on Vimeo (but without the subs unfortunately). My selection also included films from Italy, Ireland and Israel, Germany, Estonia, Portugal, Poland and Croatia plus the UK, Australia and the US. (It’s strange that there are no shorts from France.) Most of the filmmakers appear to have been trained and to have started their own companies and Vimeo accounts where examples of their work can be found. Whether this means they are no longer ‘amateur’ is an interesting question. Most of the information about the films I found through online searches. RATMAFF is organised by a college lecturer and staffed by volunteers with funds raised going to Cancer Research UK, so I’m not complaining. Well done to everyone I say. Putting foreign language films before the good people of Keighley is a public service and I hope they can carry on offering a diverse programme for many years.
Here are Vimeo links to two more of the filmmakers featured at the festival:
Pedro Santasmarinas (Portugal)
Olga Guse (Germany)
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.