Monday, 17 November 2008

Filmstock 9

One of the main reasons why it's been a while since my last proper post is because of Filmstock. As a click on the link will tell you, I don't mean the actual stock you would use to shoot a film, but Filmstock, a great independent film festival which takes places annually in the heart of Luton, England. I first became aware of the festival through an article in the Film & Festivals Magazine, and was struck by the friendly, passionate and supportive ethos with which the festival was run. Left with this lasting impression, I looked them up, and, when the time came, I submitted my film Canbury in the hope of getting in, but thinking that I might attend the festival anyway (at £15 for a pass for the whole 11 day festival, you can’t really go too wrong!). Luckily, however, my film was accepted into the festival, and I was able to attend the festival not only as a film fan, but also as a filmmaker.

As anyone who has been through the process of submitting films to festivals will tell you, it can become a very trying and depressing experience. It takes a lot of hard work and determination, and of course a thick skin to deal with the inevitable wad of rejections. But even from the off, Filmstock was friendly, personal and approachable – in short, everything that many film festivals are not.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the festival for the whole 11 days, but I was there for the opening film and the first weekend (dedicated to short films), and I returned for the final day. As a whole, my time at the festival was a little crazy – I saw over 125 films and was out till the early hours every morning. But hey, that's what festivals should be all about: seeing great films and meeting great people. The friendly vibe and approachable ethos continued throughout my time at the festival, with all of the staff at the festival going out of their way to help you out and also to introduce all the filmmakers to one another.

The festival opened with a sold-out screening of
Clark Gregg's Choke, based upon the novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk. The screening was seemingly a big success, and it's an interesting and funny work, though at times a little too ridiculous for my personal taste. That said, even at its most extreme, it was never less than entertaining. The only other feature I got to see during the first half of the festival was Fear Strikes Out, showing as part of the Mind Frames strand, a selection of films dedicated to 'looking at issues surrounding mental health'. Notable for staring a pre-Psycho Anthony Perkins, the film was perhaps a little long, spending time explaining things which didn't need to be explained (and thereby making it a little too obvious), but overall it was really quite something; a truly powerful and captivating film.

Seeing such a high number of shorts in such a short period of time makes it hard to have the energy to think about them all, let alone write about them all, as individual works. Overall, as is always the case with collections of shorts, the quality was mixed. I don't think there was anything terrible in the selection, which made a nice change, and there was certainly a lot of quality work on show. Interestingly, it seemed that Fear Strikes Out set something of a precedent for the opening weekend, with many shorts seemingly continuing the theme of mental illness, and a lot of the lesser works suffering from (but not overcoming) the same shortcoming of trying to explain too much. Watching the eclectic programme, I became aware of a clear divide within the works on show; at its simplest, I suppose it's best expressed as a divide between 'mainstream' and 'art house' works. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my taste leaned towards the latter, while the general opinion seemed to be in favour of the former. There was a fair amount of humour on display, and a number of the films were essentially filmic retellings of jokes. Around three quarters of the films which won the audience awards were comedies, proving that humour is still what connects most with audiences. The programme was also notable for its strong selection of animations (mixed in amongst the live action shorts). Generally, I was very impressed with the standard of the selected animations, and I was pleased to see animation being taken seriously for once. Although there were a lot of great shorts on show, the two real stand-out films of the festival were, for me, Alexey Nevolin's The Hit and Antoine Bourges' Hello Goodbye. Both of these films showed an incredible grasp of the filmmaking medium, and what's interesting is that both filmmakers had two different shorts showing in the festival. Bourges' second film, People Were There showed a different, more experimental side to the filmmaker, and the combination/juxtaposition of his two films, in my opinion at least, really singled him out as a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

Due largely to the poor travel services which run on a Sunday, I was only able to catch a couple of films on the final day of the festival,
1 Giant Leap: What About Me? and Puffball, introduced by none other than Nicolas Roeg himself. I was also pleased to be able to see festival organiser Justin Doherty's excellent photography exhibition Look Now and Then, for which he photographed many of the locations used in Roeg's Don't Look Now as they stand today.

Screened in the gallery space,
1 Giant Leap: What About Me? is an impressive and fascinating documentary detailing 'the complexities of human nature on a global scale'. Incorporating philosophical, spiritual and artistic ideas from a host of well known names from the world of film, music, and cultural theory (amongst others), the film played like a musical version of Richard Linklater's Waking Life. It's a sprawling and visionary work, but one whose ideas occasionally get lost amongst the hectic rhythm of its musical emphasis (though this is perhaps beside the point for something which is first and foremost a musical project). Puffball, meanwhile, proved to be a gripping and intriguing return to filmmaking for Nic Roeg. Never having personally connected with Roeg's work in the way that many other people have, I approached the film with something akin to trepidation, especially given its poor reception upon release. However, a few creaky moments aside (there were a few sniggers in the audience), the film drew me in and took me 'all the way'. Perhaps its most moving and heartbreaking moments, however, do not come from the places one would expect. It was not so much the human characters that forged my connection, but the 'character' of the cottage; renovated and whitewashed, it gave a sense of the erasure of the past and of a new beginning which not only so clearly paralleled the emotional and physical journeys of the human characters, but also proved far more moving then their relative plights (perhaps, though, I found this so moving because I was reminded of Olivier Assayas' extraordinary film Summer Hours). In the talk before the screening, Roeg talked about his use of location as character, and it seems that in this respect, as in many others, Puffball does belong firmly in the Roeg cannon.

Unfortunately, I had to leave shortly after the screening of Puffball, and as a result missed the closing party. In all, my inaugural experience at Filmstock was excellent; as the friend I went with said to me, you can 'really feel the love'. The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, and the selection of films never less than interesting. I can't wait to go back next year.

(L-R: My friend and collaborator Rahim Moledina, myself, festival organiser Neil Fox, Canbury actress Sari Easton, festival organiser Justin Doherty, actress Fiona Geddes)

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Friday, 14 November 2008

Quote for the Week

On the 16th October 2006, I was lucky enough to attend the Guardian Interview with Gael Garcia Bernal at the NFT (now the BFI Southbank). During the interview Bernal said something which I’ve never forgotten, and which, in a way, has permeated my approach to filmmaking ever since. What he said was this:

If you have something to say, you have nothing to lose.

A full transcript of the talk can be found on the Guardian website,

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Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Quote for the Week

I was all set to go with another Quote for the Week, when the new issue of Sight & Sound (December 08) dropped on my doorstep. Opening it up, I was confronted with this gem from none other than Ingmar Bergman himself, and was so blown away that I couldn't help but share it:

I cannot help thinking that the medium at my disposal is so fine and complicated that it should be able to illuminate the human soul more strongly, to reveal more ruthlessly, cover new realms of reality of which we are still ignorant...we who are engaged with filmmaking take advantage of only a fraction of an immense capacity. We use the little finger of a giant's hand and that giant is so far from harmless.

The quote is sourced in S&S as coming from Bergman's Self-analysis of a film-maker, included in the new book
The Ingmar Bergman Archives from Taschen. I'm very excited about this book, having read The Stanley Kubrick Archives from cover to beautiful cover. If the Bergman book is even half as good as the Kubrick one, then I would say that it’s an essential purchase for any Bergman fan. And as the quote above suggests, Bergman is one of the most sublime of all filmmakers, so you should all be fans...

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