Wednesday 17 April 2019

Labours of Love

Irene's Ghost
Documentary film-makers have always been well represented at Borderlines and 2019 was no exception. Irene's Ghost (2018), directed by Iain Cunningham, was a quest to resurrect the memory of his mother who died when he was just three years old. Watching it was a deeply immersive and highly emotional experience. In the Q&A afterwards, Cunningham revealed that he had worked on the film for five years. This got us thinking and talking about other great documentaries where the film-makers had been willing or driven to put in the time: Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1995) followed the hopes and aspirations of two young basketball protegees over the course of four years, for example. Marcel Ophuls worked for decades on Hotel Terminus (1988). This was the documentary maker on an heroic quest, to track down and expose the war criminal, Klaus Barbie, the infamous 'Butcher of Lyon' and in which he succeeded and procured justice in the name of all who suffered and died because of this man.

Of Love and Law
Of Love and Law (Hikaru Toda, 2017) follows two young lawyers, who live and work in Osaka, over the course of a year. Openly gay in a still deeply patriarchal and closeted society, they specialise in minority cases. The camera throughout is effortlessly unobtrusive and it is a little startling when, whilst bickering across the breakfast table, one of the lawyers turns directly toward the camera and talks to the film-maker and of course, by extension, to we the audience. 'Are you happy' he chortles, 'to have caught us arguing?' When the film ends we feel as if we are deserting the lawyers mid-stride, as they continue to strive for change and equality one small step at a time.

The Raft
The Raft (Marcus Lindeen, 2018) documents a flawed social experiment from the 1970s where anthropologist Santiago Genoves wished to explore human behaviour in a confined setting without access to the outside world. He, together with six women and four other men, set sail on a specially commissioned raft to cross the Atlantic. Genoves had very set ideas about what would probably happen but when the sex and violence failed to materialise as he had envisaged he became somewhat disengaged and acted in the very way he had expected of his 'specimens'. Fe and Maria, the raft's captain, clearly recognised Genovese's deep rooted sexism and prejudices and these two came across as the ones who most challenged and angered him. It was interesting that the other women interviewed for this compelling and revealing documentary seemed accepting of his behaviour even when he placed their lives in danger having mutinied and taken over as ship's captain during a life threatening hurricane and then had to relinquish this role back to Maria. The ending, which records his not particularly convincing apology, also shows him turning it all to his own advantage when he later published a book about the experiment. Thankfully, this documentary has helped to set part of this record straight.
Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg (Margarethe von Trotta, 1986), was introduced by Selina Robertson, Film Programmer at Club de Femmes and ICO, who explained that von Trotta had inherited the project from Fassbinder following his death. Von Trotta spent some two years researching her subject and was given access to 2,500 of Luxemburg's letters to study. This level of dedication and commitment is up there on the screen and this is a richly detailed and masterful biopic because of that research. Along with actress, Barbara Sukowa, von Trotta brings Luxemburg vividly to life.

Performance (Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg, 1970) was written by Donal Cammell, his Ortonesque gangsters a gallery of camp grotesques, their banter shocking and absurd. Cammell co-directed the film with Roeg, who of course went on to have a distinguished career. Not so Cammell who faded into obscurity and who committed suicide in 1996, aged 62. It is difficult not to draw comparisons with Jagger's reclusive musician Turner. 'He's stuck', Anita Pallenberg's Pherber tells James Fox's Chas. Cammell's script is wonderful, witty and subversive and quite literally one of a kind.

Christine and Mark Renney ©Matthew Evans
Christine and Mark Renney
From Dull and Flat Bedfordshire

Sunday 24 February 2019

Watching films online

The Wife

Borderlines Film Festival 2019 will screen 10 films featured among this year’s Academy Awards nominees. But you can see every single nominee pirated online. You have nothing to lose but your identity. It’s a small risk.

I missed Bad Times at the El Royale, the potential word of mouth sleeper hit that disappeared from cinemas after a week. The DVD is a tenner from Sainsbury’s. A 23 year old friend pointed out the many ways I could watch it online, none of which contribute towards the production’s balance sheet. He imagined that they received some money from the ads.

I don’t care that, apparently, watching an uploaded DVD is not illegal. It’s not illegal because the legislative process is outrun. It is, however, wrong and a lot less fun than doing the square thing.

Do you remember when films weren’t ubiquitous? You can buy them for pennies, there are dozens broadcast on Freeview every day and thousands are streamed online complete with their creators’ permission. “Ah,” I hear you say, “You miserable hypocrite. What about those ‘otherwise unavailable’ examples of ‘cult’ British cinema you ‘discovered’ on YouTube the day you got broadband?” Yeah, well, that crime was its own punishment. To quote Marx, “Those are my principles and if you don't like them... well, I have others.”
Green Book
Borderlines Film Festival 2019 will screen 10 films featured among this year’s Academy Awards nominees. The winners will be announced over two days at the end of February. The Borderlines picks are: A Star Is Born (8 nominations), Vice (8 nominations), Green Book (5 nominations), Cold War (3 nominations), If Beale Street Could Talk (3 nominations), The Wife (Best Actress), Free Solo (Best Documentary) and Border (Best Makeup and Hairstyling). There are three nominees from the Best Foreign Language Film category: Cold War, Capernaum and Shoplifters.

Free Solo
Faces Places (Dir. Agn├Ęs Varda, 2017) was nominated for Best Documentary Feature last year. It is, I believe, the first film to be screened at the Borderlines Film Festival two years running.

Faces Places
However, there are three nominees that are only available to Netflix subscribers: Roma (10 nominations), End Game (Best Documentary Short) and the Joel and Ethan Coen “anthology film” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (3 nominations).

This is problematic. (Particularly in a blog encouraging you to go to Borderlines). Steven Spielberg, in an interview with ITV News in March 2018, spelled out the issue: “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”(Source)

Last week J. Timothy Richards, the founder and CEO of U.K. exhibitor VUE, the largest exhibitor outside the U.S., wrote an open letter to BAFTA about these concerns. He stated, “It is clear that Netflix made at best a token effort to screen Roma, screening it to less than 1% of the U.K. market solely because it wanted an award.” (Source)

I spoke to a manager of a local independent cinema. Their customers are asking to see Roma. The cinemas want to screen Roma but the studio that made it, Netflix, wants film-lovers to stream it from their website. This is a new development: film-makers used to support cinemas.

There was a similar situation last October. Peter Jackson’s They Will Not Grow Old was premiered at the London Film Festival, received a lot of media attention and cinema-goers wished to see it. It was broadcast on BBC2 the following month and no more was said. The BBC helped to make it and I doubt they’d object to cinemas showing it next Armistice Day. (Source)

The issue isn’t exclusivity. A month’s subscription to most streaming services costs less than the average price of a cinema ticket. I’m reminded of 1980s drugs awareness campaigns: “I thought I could handle it. The dealer started me on the best stuff but I began binge-watching third-rate American shows within days.”

Other pushers are available. Wired magazine listed 16 mainstream Oscar-nominated movies available via iTunes, Amazon Prime Video or YouTube. HBO Go has a deal with Isle of Dogs and Hulu stocks Minding the Gap and RBG. Other territories have their own services and the web is world wide. (Source)

Awards season is vital to cinema and cinemas. The previous Yorgos Lanthimos flick, The Killing of the Sacred Deer, was picked up by one venue in the entire south-west quadrant of England. It starred Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell. Many people liked The Lobster but not many people went to see it. I suspect that cinemas lost money. Four years on The Favourite is playing to full houses. Some of the audience want to see what’s getting all this attention. Most are there because Olivia Colman is in it.

As Sacha Baron Cohen pointed out Hollywood wouldn’t bother with certain genres if it wasn’t for the awards season. These films need the chance of an awards buzz to have a chance of making money. Thus awards promote the more ‘demanding’ films and art houses show them. This is very old news.

Basically the movie industry is a whale decomposing on the ocean bed. Cinematic masterpieces are the miniscule flecks of protein flaking off it. One-screen cinemas are the tiny crustaceans which survive on these scraps. Independent cinema managers sense that an Academy Award for Roma is good for Netflix but cuts them out.

The moving picture industry has been facing up to crises since the first gas-powered Magic Lantern exploded. What will independent cinemas do if they cannot screen the award-winners?

Still, they won’t be the only business plans thrown against the wall this year.

Robin Clarke


Friday 6 April 2018

Borderlines and the Snow Show

After all the grumbling about the snow and the films we missed, we thought it would be good to say something about some of those we did manage to see and so here goes:

Custody by Xavier Legrande was as unsettling as it was compelling. Comparisons to the Dardenne Brothers are certainly apt, especially their earlier works such as The Child. We agree with the review in Little White Lies that it is a film of two halves and the second half built to a fraught and nail-biting conclusion with the precision of the most effective of thrillers but not at the expense of its social commentary.
Lucrecia Martel's existentialist tale of colonial displacement, Zama, was beautifully framed. It made us think of Werner Herzog, especially Aguirre, The Wrath of God (definitely a good thing) but unlike Klaus Kinski's Conquistador, the central character sits as a relatively rational being which contrasts with the levels of crazy going on around him. A flawed character, yes, but Zama just wanted to return home to his wife and family but could not grasp how to be or what to do to achieve this whilst others, apparently being punished, seem to reap the rewards Zama seeks for himself.

The Shape of Water
The Shape of Water is not so much a remake of Jack Arnold's Creature From The Black Lagoon but more a second attempt at a sequel after Arnold's own Revenge of The Creature but it also so much more than that. A magical love story, set in the immediate post-Joe McCarthy era during which Hollywood produced many great films, Westerns, Melodramas and of course Film Noir with the screenwriters and directors un-credited and the anti-McCarthyite message cleverly cloaked. Conversely in The Shape of Water, nothing is hidden, and shows everything Guillermo del Toro and his team intended. It is a fable, a fairy tale about the beauty of otherness and as such reminds us of Cocteau's Beauty and The Beast, a mythic and stunning creation to which we would compare The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro, recently interviewed on Radio 4's Film Programme with Francine Stock, explained how he showed Sally Hawkins many silent films to study the use of expression in place of the spoken word, which she did brilliantly, and let us not forget that this is the woman who couldn't stop talking in Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky.

And thank you for showing Behind The Door - it was so worth seeing.

We came to The Wound, directed by John Trengrove, without any preconceptions but quickly found ourselves immersed in its questioning of what is manhood and why does it need to be publicly proven to other men via the traditional rites of circumcision? The principal character is gay and, if it were known, would not be treated as a man within the society he inhabits, and yet he submitted to the tradition in which he now oversees teenagers as they go through the same ritual. His treatment by his 'annual' lover, whom he has known and cared about for many years, is difficult to watch as we see the price paid by gays within deeply entrenched traditional communities. Some critics have questioned the ending and whether it was a mis-step but we felt his final action was still to protect the man he loves from being 'outed' rather than for his own safety. We found it both absorbing, educational and upsetting.

Lean on Pete, based on the book by Willy Vlautin, a great American storyteller in the vein of Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson, and a musician par excellence, was beautifully realised and so well researched as were the perfectly drawn performances from Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny, who last appeared together, as Robin has pointed out, in Buscemi's directorial debut Trees Lounge from 1996 which we know he is not fond of but what can we say, we kinda love it.

Is Loveless a film where the message is also cloaked? It is certainly an important work from Andrey Zvyagintsev, a powerful and searing indictment of Russia under Putin where no lessons are learned as we watch the two main protaganists recycle their bitter and unhappy experiences together with new partners. The missing child, an innocent, is not even worthy of investment of time by the Police and it is left to volunteers to try and trace him. There are no questions about why he would go missing and this is in a country which is happy to erase people from its history in one way or another with no conscience on show.

And has the mobile phone ever been as prevalent as it is in Loveless? The lead female character is certainly obsessed with hers, constantly taking selfies and gazing longingly down into its screen. It is reflected in the windows of their apartment and in the windshield of the car. It is often the only source of light when it is dark but none of this is about communication which all fail to do face to face. It is the era of having many contacts and few friends.

We will see you next year.

Christine and Mark Renney from dull and flat Bedfordshire.