Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Edinburgh International Film Festival, Part III

Please note that this is Part III of a three part post. Part I is here, and Part II is here.

Day 4: Tuesday 23rd June
Started at 09:00 at Cinemaworld for the industry screening of
Masquerades. The film took me a while to warm to, but by the end I really enjoyed it. It’s not so much funny as humorous, but somehow it’s a very human and feel-good film, and possibly one of my festival highlights. I’d certainly recommend it strongly.

After the screening I actually had a few hours with nothing scheduled, so I decided to head into the videotheque to check out
A Light in the Fog. For those that don’t know, A Light in the Fog is a new Iranian film which had two public screenings and one press screening scheduled at EIFF, and which was actually the film I was most excited about seeing (I had a ticket for the first public screening). Unfortunately, however, the political situation in Iran meant that the print of the film the festival was going to screen couldn’t get out of the country. I checked the EIFF website on a daily basis in the hope that the print would arrive in time for me to see it, but as it wasn’t looking likely I decided to settle for seeing the film in the videotheque. I later found out that the second public screening of the film did go ahead, which was rather frustrating. I heard a lot of great things about the videotheque but I have to say I didn’t enjoy my experience. Quite rightly, press and distributors get priority, but that means that as a filmmaker it took me a long time to get a machine, and when I did it was only under the proviso that I could get kicked off at any time to make way for press or distributors. For an action film that extra sense of anxiety might have been a bonus, but for a film like A Light in the Fog, it was a bit of a killer. To make things worse, the film was low quality, had a logo in one corner, and writing across the screening saying ‘for screening purposes only’. Based on what I saw on the monitors around me, this quality wasn’t typical, but it was annoying. So, obviously these viewing conditions were not ideal for watching a slow art film. But the film’s power was clear all the same. Compared by EIFF to Sokurov, the film called to my mind the works of Tarkovsky and Angelopoulos, not only because of the long takes, but also because of the texture of the images and especially the mist. It had an almost magical quality, and was a breathtaking piece even in the compromised circumstance under which I saw it. The ending was fantastic too, and I would love to see it again in better circumstances. But film distribution being what is I doubt I ever will...

Next up, at 15:00, was the public screening of Black Box Shorts 1. As it happens, the one-to-one that I was able to get after the Film Funding in the UK ended up being slap-bang in the middle of the screening (although it was originally supposed to be between 12:30-13:30!). So after seeing the introduction and the first couple of films (including my own), I rushed out to have my one-to-one meeting. The meeting was with Katherine Butler from Film4, and we discussed my feature project,
Life Just Is). Although the project is too microbudget for Film4 to consider (they don’t get involved with anything under £400,000) it was a very worthwhile meeting, and I found Katherine to be a very friendly person. As soon as I was finished with her, I had to rush straight back to the Filmhouse to do the audience Q/A. Having done a few of these things now, I’m starting to get a little more confident, even though I’m generally a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, so to speak. But I think it went well overall and I managed to answer people’s questions in a reasonably successful manner.

With my collaborator Rahim Moledina outside the Filmhouse before our screening.

Our screening was followed by the now obligatory networking up until 19:00, when I headed to the Cameo for the public screening of Lynn Shelton’s Humpday (which picked up the Rotten Tomatoes Critical Consensus Award at the festival). I know I’ve been seen to be a bit biased towards this type of cinema, but I have to say that Humpday is a really great piece of work; as well as being very funny, it also offers a good exploration of friendship, relationships and the nature/creation of art. In the Q/A that followed the screening Shelton described how the project partly came about due to her desire to work with Mark Duplass and I think that he is undeniably a large part of the film’s appeal. In its approach to onscreen relationships and off-screen creative process (as discussed by Shelton), the film reminded me of Duplass’ film The Puffy Chair. Interestingly, Shelton explained the film’s premise was inspired by a filmmaker friend who came to stay with her and, although being straight, couldn’t stop talking about the gay porn that he had seen at real life ‘Humpfest’ (although Shelton didn’t reveal the name of the filmmaker, it should be obvious to anyone who has been keeping half an eye on some her recent acting work...). She then explained that she was drawn to the idea of straight men and gayness. The reason why I find this interesting is that I would not necessarily outline this theme as one of the film’s main ideas. I guess it just proves that the film explores a strong, wide-ranging number of issues. Shelton also spoke about how they tried to make the film believable even though they thought that it was a ridiculous premise to try and make believable. The fact the filmmakers managed to pull off making it believable is testament to the skill of all involved. It really is a strong piece and I hope that it achieves the success that it clearly deserves.

After the Humpday screening, I headed back to the delegate centre for the Short Filmmakers Party, which was actually a bit of a letdown in that it wasn’t particularly well attended and it ended rather early. Still, I met some great people, and that’s what it’s all about.

Day 5: Wednesday 24th June
09:00 and time for the first industry screening of the day:
Pontypool, which was a lot of fun, and which offered an interesting spin on the zombie genre along with the best one-liners of the festival (‘We’re going to need a flamethrower!’). In all, it was a bit ridiculous and I’m not sure if it all made logical sense, but it was funny and had a few genuine scares which more than made up for all that. One piece of advice for anyone viewing it – make sure you stay till after the end credits!

11:00 bought the second industry screening of the day:
35 Shots of Rum. For me, there was a lot interesting stuff going on in this film, but it didn’t quite work – I wasn’t fully engaged, and I felt like it suffered from multiple-ending syndrome. There was one scene in the film though – when the characters go to a cafe after their car breaks down in torrential rain – which really was quite extraordinary. Later in the day I caught up with some friends whose opinions I trust, and they really liked the film and made some very interesting points about it, so I think in all I’d like to reserve proper judgement until I see it again.

Next up was the 13:00 public screening of
The Wild Angels. It was a solid, well made film with some great moments, but which, for me personally, was actually a bit too nasty to be enjoyable or to recommend; personally I don’t enjoy films which show morally reprehensible behaviour in this sort of casual way and I’m aware it’s a subjective criticism and not an objective comment about the film.

I was due to go and see
Gulabi Talkies at 16:00, but I found out at the last minute that I had been given a slot for the ‘Meet The Experts’ event, which involved having a private session with a panel of industry experts to talk about my feature. Although it was a shame to miss the film, the session was worthwhile and I was pleased to have the opportunity.

Next up I got to see the legend that is
Roger Corman live in conversation. Unfortunately, the event wasn’t as interesting as it could have been. The talk was conducted by Kim Newman and, although I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for Newman, I don’t think hosting interviews is his strong point. Corman himself was graceful and fascinating but the event contained too many clips which went on for far too long, and overall it didn’t have the appeal that it could have had with a stronger interviewer. Still, Corman did reveal some interesting facts, such as that the reason why he worked so hard and made so many films was simply because he loved it, and how he typically plans 80-90% of his films in advance in order to be able to shoot them so quickly (most were shot in just ten days). He talked about never wasting time on set, even when they’d finished shooting everything they had planned (it was in a spare half hour at the end of the day that he shot the murals in the pit in The Pit and Pendulum). He also revealed that he shot The Masque of the Red Death in England with flats left over from Becket, and talked about how he tries to put a theme or a comment in every film that he does.

After the Corman talk I actually had a bit of spare time, and didn’t know what to do with it – it seems that only having twenty minutes between screenings is vastly preferable to having an hour and a half! Still the film that was after the break was
Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, so it was certainly worth the wait. I thought it was a really interesting, powerful film about human interaction and dependency, but I’m not sure that it was quite the masterpiece I was expecting. I’ve seen it said that Soderbergh wanted to continue in the vein that he started with The Limey, and although the structure of The Girlfriend Experience raises a number of interesting reactions, I think that, as a whole, The Limey works better as a way of using cinematic language to reflect the contours of the human mind. As ever with Soderbergh, the filmmaking itself is impeccable and I look forward to peeling back further layers of the film in subsequent viewings.

The Girlfriend Experience was followed by the DigiCult Party, which was a little too noisy and sweaty for me and the people I was with, so after a while we defected to the Filmhouse. It was a good way to spend my final evening in Edinburgh.

Day 6: Thursday 25th June
I had been hoping to make the 09:00 screening of Black Box Shorts 3, but as it was my final morning I needed to start getting ready to check out and ended up just heading to the Filmhouse for the 10:45 screening of
West Point, which was also screening as part of the Black Box strand. The film was a sensual and impressionistic account of two siblings looking back over their lives and the effect of their mother’s murder while they were children. It took an interesting approach to the narrative and I’m sure it’s a film which would be rewarding in subsequent viewings. For some reason it reminded me of Chris Marker’s work, but I’m not sure why. The film played with two shorts and, although one didn’t do much for me, the other – Horse Camp – was the surprise of the festival and, if I dare say it, the film which I liked the most...So, in all, a great end to a great trip!


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