Tuesday 14 October 2008

Listen Again to Baghdad Headbangers

Intending to catch Heavy Metal in Baghdad at the Borderlines mini-festival Hello Digital @ Hereford in ten days or so? There's the opportunity this week to 'listen again' to Saturday's R4 documentary Baghdad Headbangers which follows the fortunes of the Iraqi band Acrassicauda. Quietly subversive - if it's possible for a heavy metal band to be so - during the Saddam era ("Never mess with the leadership") its four members are currently refugees in Turkey, waiting to see what will happen next.

Thursday 11 September 2008

BFI Film Channel on YouTube

An item on R4's Front Row last week alerted me to the fact that the British Film Institute - with its tremendous National Film Archive - now has a YouTube Channel. The range and number of films to view available to view is set to grow steadily. Of local interest, this short bucolic extract from Claude Friese-Greene's The Open Road filmed in Much Marcle, Herefordshire in 1926 using his experimental colour process.

It's possible to view a even larger selection of films from the National Film Achive free at the Mediatheque at BFI Southbank and from October at the new QUAD Centre in Derby.

Saturday 7 June 2008


Clocked one cinema event on a brief excursion to the Hay Festival last weekend: director John Maybury talking about The Edge of Love which opens the Edinburgh Film Festival in a week or so and goes on general release almost immediately after. The film highlights a brief period in the life of Dylan Thomas, a love quadrangle featuring himself, his wife, Caitlin, his childhood sweetheart, Vera Phillips and her husband, William Killick. It's played out in the pub society of war-torn London and (by contrast) on a clifftop in Newquay on the Welsh coast. Much is made of the close friendship that develops out of rivalry between the two women. Even more, I'm afraid, by the tabloids. Scripted by Scottish-Welsh scriptwriter Sharmon Macdonald, mother of Keira Knightley, and starring - Keira Knightley (Vera), Sienna Miller (Caitlin), Matthew Rhys (Thomas) and Cillian Murphy (Killick), it's hard to gage the outcome from the series of truncated clips we were shown. Inauspicious that the official trailer sports a quote from She Magazine along the lines of "This year's Atonement - only better".

On the plus side, a previous 'biopic' Love Is The Devil: Study for a Portait of Francis Bacon that Maybury wrote and directed 10 years ago proved extremely impressive. Maybury was asked by a member of the Hay audience whether access to Bacon's paintings (denied by the Estate) would have made for a better film. Without hesitation he responded that the reverse was true. Being forced to devise a cinematic syntax to stand in for Bacon's grotesque, dislocated vision of the world, employing strategies as simple and effective as shooting through beer glasses, was a challenge that paid off. I wonder if the creative constraints brought into play with The Edge of Love will be sufficient to do the trick? Mick Jagger apparently owns and is hanging tightly onto the rights to much of Thomas's work though some poems have been incorporated. Much of the audience seemed to object to their being overlaid by an overblown musical soundtrack though Maybury vigorously defended the composer, Angelo Bandalamenti.

Time for that old truism about the inverse proportion between size of budget and freedom to take risks or liberties? Certainly talk of producers and compromises cropped up; Thomas was involved with the Crown Film Unit making propaganda films during WW2 and Maybury apologised for the crass edge to his own pastiche documentary. "American audiences need the obvious stated," was the gist of what he said. Ironic given the fact that much of the output of the Unit was geared towards stimulating US support for the Allied forces.

Oh well! It could go either way. Maybury started off making charged, inventive and frenetic films on Super 8 (Derek Jarman gave him his first camera) with titles like Tortures That Laugh and The Court of Miracles. His first Hollywood film The Jacket was produced by George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh and he has plenty of projects pending: Wuthering Heights, a biopic of Lee Miller. Maybe he'll go through the stratosphere and be able to do as he pleases. I'm not convinced it works quite like that. Don't subscribe to keeping the creative genius in the garret but maybe it's best to hope for competence with a few frills.

R4's Film Programme will feature an interview with Maybury, probably on Friday 20 June 4.30pm to coincide with the film's London release.

Friday 23 May 2008

Photography and Celebrity - screenings and talk

In partnership with the ongoing Hereford Photography Festival Borderlines is screening Annie Leibovitz - Life Through A Lens at The Courtyard in Hereford on Friday 23 May 2.30pm, 5.00pm & 7.45pm and Saturday 24 May 7.45pm. The 5pm Friday screening will be followed at 6.30pm by a talk by Richard Heatly, Principal of Hereford College of Arts, on Photography and Celebrity. More details on the Hereford Photography Festival Events page

Leibovitz was most recently the centre of a furore over her 'inappropriate' Vanity Fair photographs of Disney child star, Miley Cyrus. Some views:
Shame on You, Annie Leibovitz, Carter and Miley Cyrus's parents, Janice Turner, Times, Tuesday 29 April, 2008
Storm in a Teen Cup, Zoe Williams, Guardian, Wednesday April 30 2008
'We like our Venuses young', Germaine Greer, Guardian, Wednesday April 30 2008

Wednesday 21 May 2008

TV screening of Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go

If you missed the excellent Kim Longinotto documentary Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go at Borderlines (see Music, Rage and Joy post) there's another chance to see it tomorrow, Thursday 22 May, BBC4, 10pm. Producer Roger Graef and teacher Fiona Dahl from the Mulberry Bush School featured in the film were interviewed this morning on the Today Programme.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

A British film that doesn't disappoint

Finally, what a blast to discover a new original voice in British cinema. Steve McQueen's much anticipated Hunger lives up to expectations, an amazing film, definitely the strongest I've seen so far at Cannes. Although watching a man starving himself to death is really a terrible experience and certainly puts you off your next pain au raisin. For an hour it's almost wordless, showing his background as a visual artist and a great command of film language McQueen uses sound and crisply shot, beautifully framed images to tell the story of the IRA's H-block protests - refusing to wear prison clothes, to wash or shave, smearing the cell walls with shit, the brutal beatings and routine humiliations of prison life. Interestingly the film starts by focusing on a warden, then a new inmate before finally coming to rest on Bobby Sands and his extraordinary determination to take the protest to another level and force the Thatcher government to capitulate on their demand for political status. After about an hour there is the film's fantastic central scene between Sands and a sympathetic priest, a torrent of words flows between them, a 10 minute single take that seems to go on for ever and reveals so much, until you're actually disappointed when he cuts in to a close up. Then the film gives up on words again and concentrates on the slow self-destruction of the suicidal martyr, the horrific details of his body's breakdown. Plenty of time to think about why a man would do such a thing to himself and how he could have the will to see it through. Genius, but will anybody want to come and see it?

Monday 19 May 2008

More from Our Man in Cannes

An animated anti-war film about Israeli soldiers gradually uncovering their hidden memories of the '82 Lebanon War, Waltz With Bashir ends with a real punch by breaking into TV footage of the aftermath of the massacres of Palestinian civilians that took place. It leaves the audience stunned to silence. But also for me shows how I found the animated war scenes up to that point rather distancing. Although the sickly yellow and grey colour scheme did have a nightmarish quality that gripped I wasn't as bowled over as others. Queuing to get into the film I met Bill from National Film & TV Museum in Bradford & Maggie Pope, a Hereford producer here to try and raise money for a comedy with her Irish co-producer, who absolutely raved about it afterwards.

The rest of the day's movies weren't much to write home about. First, a Spanish comedy, Better Than Ever, starring Victoria Abril that initially looked quite promising descended into a very silly tale of hot-blooded Mexicans spicing up the lives of repressed Spaniards. Lucky Dog scrapes, totally credible, fine central performance , a Chinese story about the first day of retirement of a railway engineer who gets into all sorts ofbut somehow just too ordinary. And a documentary about blind people in love, Blind Loves that promised more than it finally delivered. Then off to the Film Agency for Wales party where I had a long chat with Mark Cousins who waxed lyrical about Soundtrack, the new Cardiff film and music festival, for which he's already secured his old mate, Danny Boyle. We talked Chinese films and African cinema and it was reassuring to discover that there was somebody involved in the festival who has the depth of knowledge and film contacts he does. Let's hope it goes well for them.

Staggered outside into the rain and gave up thoughts of chasing round looking for parties and went off to see a Tibetan film, Ganglameido, cue much ethnic exoticism in far too clean costumes and a rather confusing story of love and reincarnation - the confusion which of course might entirely be due to missing the first five minutes or the amount of wine I'd just drunk - but it did feature crisply shot beautiful locations that I love (Lhasa, Mount Kailas) and its real strength was a sense of Lhasa now where the bars play a mix of Chinese and Western music and there's a sense of a culture under pressure and in flux.

Sunday 18 May 2008

Greetings from Cannes

It seems that the arduous business of sifting through films in preparation for Borderlines 2009 has already begun. Festival Director, David Gillam writes:

Greetings from Cannes! All pretty good here - though I expect the weather is better with you as it's been raining on & off today and the one thing I didn't bring was an umbrella. Haven't actually seen any stars yet, just lots of motorcades with greying executives and dazzling blondes, the closest I've got to a star is watching Mike Tyson being interviewed for French TV.

Just seen a very funny Belgian comedy called Rumba, about 2 teachers who live for their Latin American dancing until they have a terrible car crash - she loses a leg, he loses his memory - and while they valiantly try to rebuild their lives it all goes down hill from there. Very non-PC - the scene where she sets fire to her wooden leg, then contrives to burn their house down sets the tone, lots of physical comedy, a bit haphazard, but in places absolutely hysterical. After 'three comedies' which barely raised a titter from the audience from beginning to end I was beginning to despair of ever doing a comedy season! But today has been a good day, two good if rather bleak Argentinian films and another very deadpan comedy, O'Horton from Bent Hamer, the guy who made Kitchen Stories and Factotum, about an engine driver who retires after 40 years, and gets into various rather bizarre scrapes, the moral being "It's always too
late, so it's never too late".

Cannes Film Festival in Review from The Independent on Sunday
Heavyweight boxer Tyson at Cannes film festival from The Washington Post

Monday 21 April 2008

The Lie of the Land wins BAFTA

Molly Dineen's The Lie of the Land won the BAFTA TV award for best single documentary last night.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

All over bar the blogging

Gosh it's all over and I haven't posted any blog comments yet; how did that happen? Must have been too busy seeing films/thinking/chatting/laughing/arguing about them afterwards with my family and other filmgoing animals. What a good festival though; a real quality buzz at the Courtyard (which could certainly do with it). Each year me and mine seem to see more films, start planning earlier and by now I can safely say that it doesn't come as a surprise (oh is it that time again already, I probably should think about finding out what's on) because we are actually anticipating it as an established calendar event.
A few niggles, maybe; the quality of the projection was not always up to standard , feels like there's room for improvement there. Also, I pesonally don't enjoy show introductions which tell you what shots you're going to see and what they mean - there are many useful things show intros can do, but pre-empting in that way is not one of them. Don't do it!
I also think there is a bit of a gap where a young peoples programme should be.
But - really enjoyed it. It was a proper festival. Well done all of you.

Sunday 13 April 2008

The Mayor of Hereford on Migrant Stories

From The Right Worshipful the Mayor of Hereford, Councillor Chris Chappell who, with the Mayoress, Mrs Alison Chappell, was present at the screening of Migrant Stories on Wednesday 2 April:
"I was very impressed by the professionalism of the Borderlines Festival, something very special for Herefordshire.

The treatment of migrants has been a concern of mine for a number of years, but my main concern is that the racist element in the county is getting worse. Politicians like myself need to be giving more of a lead for the community.

During my year as Mayor of Hereford I have had through the Mayor's Parlour almost every nation represented by the migrant population in the county. It is obvious that although there are many groups in the county from the church through to several voluntary groups, there is no co-ordinated approach to migrant welfare and that politically we are doing little to stamp out racism.

I would like the county to appoint a 'roving ambassador' to promote the county in Eastern Europe. Their remit would be to help provide training for those wishing to come to work here, to look after their interests when migrants are here, to co-ordinate the various groups working locally with migrants, to foster good relations with local people, many of whom see a threat to their homes and jobs and to increase cultural, business, educational and sporting links.

In 2012, Herefordshire will host the Paralympics at the RNCB. What a great opportunity for us now to foster good relations with workers from Eastern Europe in preparation for many 1000's more from across the world coming to our wonderful county!

The Borderlines Festival has gone a long way to put this right and my hope for the future is that the films of the migrants in Herefordshire will go into every school,
parish council, and to every Herefordshire Councillor. Well done Borderlines!"

Saturday 12 April 2008

84 and still Dancing

Sidney Lumet is still at it. 51 years after Twelve Angry Men he can still deliver something special, and there's another to come next year.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
starts with a sex scene that could not have been shown just a few years ago, then a setup and a robbery that goes horribly wrong. It circles round these same events, first slowly, then with gathering pace, picking up more damning details on every passage. As you begin to realise the inevitability of the trajectory, it spirals into a tragedy of Greek proportions. Philip Seymour Hofmann personifies the tragedy in yet another great performance.
In a way the film underplays the enormity of the transgressions it records - of parenthood, of brotherhood, of marriage. Mere professional relationships are sacrificed at the drop of a hat. The depth of the tragedy may not hit you until the credits roll, but when it does the blow is mortal.

Analysis Silenced

Silent Light defies analysis. Long static shots. Beautiful compositions. Minimalist script - and acting. Funereal pace. But the audience rivetted by every nuance of a small, which is to say huge, human drama, filing out quietly at the end at a loss for words. Film as experience.

Friday 11 April 2008

Singed by Celebrity

Things We Lost in the Fire is not a film that has had a great deal of fanfare either at Borderlines (a bit too mainstream Hollywood?) or as an Oscar contender. Its credentials on both scores are slightly surprising. The Danish director Susanne Bier (After the Wedding) is an ex-Dogme adherent and the film contains one or two subversive streaks (note the business with the eye-close-ups) though maybe not quite enough. It also boasts several of what a friend of mine calls 'Oscar moments', courtesy of Halle Berry as a grief-stricken widow whose near-perfect husband has died in a random shooting and the extremely charismatic Benecio Del Toro as a recovering heroin addict.

I was taken by the said friend to see the film at a BAFTA screening in Leicester Square. Because it coincided with the London Film Festival, director Bier, producer Sam Mendes and Halle Berry were present for the Q&A. Fairly early on a youngish man, sandy hair, in thick-rimmed glasses and ominously clutching a blue plastic bag, piped up from the front row. With lavish use of the first name ("Halle, first of all I have to say...") he fixed on the Oscar-winning star, prefacing his question by an account of how he'd been moved to tears 3 or 4 times in the course of the film. And after her reply he just wouldn't let go, even though the roving mike had moved on, "As a director myself, Halle, I know that..." As soon as he realised the spell of one-to-one interaction was over he made swiftly for the exit. Later, as the rest of us spilled out of the theatre somewhere round the back of of Leicester Square we caught a glimpse of him scurrying in the direction of the waiting limos...

In his defence, I have to admit that the sight of Berry in a bluey-purple gown (Versace) WAS quite mesmerising, even to an impartial female observer.

In the service of Cinema

I was engaged and moved by the gentle German documentary Comrades in Dreams which focuses on 4 sets of cinema projectionists in different locations and very different circumstances round the world, in the US, in India, Burkina Faso and North Korea. And particularly taken by the description by Hang Yong-sil, the only female Comrade Projectionist in the country of how she and her male co-worker at the People's Cultural Hall in a primarily agricultural region will grow old like "2 spry chicks on the frontline of film". Wish I felt even remotely similar at this stage in the proceedings.

Appropriately enough at the screening on Monday the film had not been properly rewound so we whiled away the time as the projectionist nobly did his or her business behind the scenes by trying to remember what other films focus on cinema, film, projectionists. Came up with some fairly obvious ones: Cinema Paradiso, The Smallest Show on Earth, The Last Picture Show, The Player, Peeping Tom, and there are some classic childhood reminiscences of the movies in Fellini's Amarcord. And key scenes in Lust, Caution too, come to think of it. Can anyone come up with any more?

Thursday 10 April 2008

Still Life - Rising Waters

Still Life is one of those 'little' films that stays with you longer than most big ones. It isn't easy to get into; you just find yourself in a washed-out, green-tinted, industrial landscape following a man trying to find someone. It's a while before you find out that it's his wife and daughter he's looking for and they have been separated for 15 years. Then there's a woman also looking for someone, and she is not connected to the first family. No one is connected. There is only the temporary comradeship of the men in the demolition gangs, but the gangs are at odds with each other and settle disputes with brutal violence.
The Three Gorges Dam is splitting families and whole communities as its waters rise 156 metres (just over 500 feet) and drown the towns and villages of the gorges. Perhaps the green-tint can be understood as the look of imminent submersion.
The scenes of couples meeting after years of separation and trying to find the words to talk again are as tense and moving as anything I have seen for years.
It seems cold-hearted to point out that setting personal and family dislocation against huge impersonal events is precisely the formula of epics like War & Peace, Zhivago and others, but it lets me suggest that this can stand alongside them.

Music, Rage and Joy

I saw two films yesterday. Many Borderlines regulars behave like reluctant smokers and say things like 'I'm trying to cut down this year'. So only two films yesterday, but the addiction is as strong as ever.
Film One was Tocar y Lucher (To Play and to Fight), a documentary about the Venezuelan youth orchestra system. Starting as a modest programme to expose rural children to classical music, this has developed into a social phenomenon of extraordinary power and beauty. With around 250,000 young people involved, it has become a training ground for classical orchestras of the world, but far more importantly, has had a significant impact on the cultural horizons and expectations of a generation of children in what is, in economic terms, a relatively poor country. You watch the film with an awareness of the grim alternative choices for most of these kids. The image of a young girl of nine walking through an alleyway in the slums of Caracas and practising her violin is one I shall remember for a long time.
Film Two was the BAFTA screening of Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go, a brilliantly apt title for a sometimes heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful documentary about the children and staff at Mulberry Bush School. This is a school for the most difficult and emotionally traumatised children who have been excluded from mainstream education. Their terrible rage coexists with a painful vulnerability and need for love and recognition from adults. The staff are saints. The fees are six times higher than Eton. There are ironies. The children are not allowed to see the film because of the level of bad language used by the children.
There were Q&A afterwards and the music teacher who features in the film was asked about the role of music, which seemed a regular oasis of calm within a setting that was often frantic and violent. The children enjoyed taking part in pop concerts, but it was the one to one sessions on recorder and violin where individual children were most focused and still. The teacher said that she had never had to deal with extreme behaviour in a music session, and that none of the instruments had ever been damaged. In the context of what we had seen earlier this seemed extraordinary.
So what is it about (classical) music? We seem (in the UK at least) to recognise its strange power, whilst ensuring that most young people have little access. Classical music is becoming completely professionalised. Not so in Venezuela! Where, by the way, the chorus wear bright blues, greens and yellows. Now I can just about take the imaginative leap to young people in the UK becoming involved in classical music. But the idea of the Hereford Choral Society wearing anything other than funereal black is, as Captain Mainwaring would have said, in the realms of fantasy.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

The smell of fish and flying pigeons

From newshound:
Jan Dunn who premiered her Ruby Blue, starring Bob Hoskins and Josiane Balasko, at a sell out screening in The Courtyard, shared some trade secrets with her audience.
Ruby Blue is completely different to anything Bob Hoskins has done before. “He’s in a lot of demand, but he will do the odd, low-budget film if he feels strongly enough about the script.” Persuading Josiane Balasko, one of France’s highest paid film actresses to take part, was no mean achievement either. Isabelle Huppert had been suggested for the part, but Jan wanted Josiane Balasko “and her agent told us she is always led by the script and not the money.” With Bob Hoskins on board, Josiane Balasko agreed to join.
Ruby Blue was originally called Ruby Red Checker, after a breed of racing pigeon which features in the film.
Sean Witton who joined Jan at the Festival, plays the part of Richard the fishmonger. He had to learn to handle racing pigeons and gut fish for his part. “Jan had me involved in the two things I hate: the smell of fish and flying pigeons,” admitted Sean who also played a part in Jan’s last movie, Gypo.
Jan’s next film, The Calling, starring Brenda Blethyn, Susannah York and Rita Tushingham, is already in the can awaiting editing. Meanwhile she revealed working plans for her next film, based on Rose Tremain’s novel, Sacred Country.
“Ruby Blue cost £300,000. We’re already trying to raise funds for The Sacred Country , but it’ll cost a lot more: maybe £3 to £4 million to make it.”
What did Jan, on her second visit to the Festival, think of Borderlines?
“It’s important to have a big independent film festival like this to screen the works of independent film companies like ours,” said Jan.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

No Film for Old Ears

OK. I admit it. I'm what is called these days an 'older adult'. I prefer older git. Not yet at the dribbling and incontinent stage but proud holder of bus pass. Most parts work well (legs, arms, isolated areas of brain) and I still enjoy the sound of popular beat combos. Very occasional problems in the hearing department, e.g. conversation at noisy party, embarrassed to say 'Pardon' yet again, so in response to "Unfortunately my dog has just died", am inclined to respond with something like "Excellent, that is good news!".
And so to No Country for Old Men. Set as it is in rural Texas this was always going to be a challenge. But the Coen Brothers are proud of their dialogue and a lifetime of listening to Hollywood means that lines like "mardy farn chur pah murylu y'all" can be taken at a canter. But I have to say I struggled - piecing together the dialogue from those words I understood. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the Coen Brothers. Worth the admission for the opening sequence to Fargo alone. And this is a good film with an impressive baddy and plenty of their trademark quirkyness (though the quirk count is difficult to measure when you are frustatingly missing what you suspect is razor sharp dialogue).
I'm also aware that it's unfair to single out No Country for Old Men, because there are many other films much worse than this. And it's usually the men. I blame Brando, since whom mumbling has become a sign of virility. And what about the sound system at the Courtyard? How much does this contribute? I do know that I rarely have problems with anything other than the southern drawl.
So compare and contrast. The Band's Visit is a low budget film from a new Israeli director. It's an absolute gem and must be seen, although probably won't be in the places where it should. The dialogue is part modern Hebrew, part Egyptian, and part in the only common language of English. This is 'common language' in a broad sense, in that I suspect quite a few of the actors didn't speak English at all. In view of the sometime idiosyncratic delivery, all of the film had subtitles, which I found unnecessary for the English speech. So I can understand an Egyptian speaking in a language he doesn't understand, but not an American speaking in a language that he does.
What is to be done? Short of sending all American mumblers to an elocution school run by Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, there may be a way. Certify American films set below the Mason-Dixon Line by giving them a 'Mumble Rating'. Failure to deliver lines with clarity would result in compulsory subtitles.
Or is it just me?

Hanging around at the Courtyard? Check out the Flicks

Borderlines has teamed up with the Hereford Photography Festival and The Courtyard to put on an exhibition of photographs of Flicks in the Sticks venues by Hereford College of Arts' student Rob McLean during the Borderlines Film Festival. Here is Rob's statement of what attracted him to the subject:

Flicks in the Sticks is a project run by Arts Alive, which was founded in 1999. Using a combination of professional technicians and generous volunteers, it has helped to bring almost 600 films each year to rural locations in Herefordshire and Shropshire. The Trust works at over 120 venues, from village halls to churches and even woodland.

These images are just some of a collection that was taken in the locations where Flicks in the Sticks movies are shown. They are intentionally focused upon only village halls, as the transitory nature of these buildings helps to emphasise the very nature of the project.

The community aspect of these events is deliberately missing from most of the images shown, as often the clashes between the current users of the halls and those who were there previously come to light in fascinating ways.

More than anything, I hope the images highlight those in-between moments when all attention is elsewhere. I feel that this is directly indicative of the environments that the films are shown in.

Monday 7 April 2008

End of the Row Redeemed

Celine and Julie go on too long. '60s playfulness has its limits. The sitting-at-the-end-of-the-row strategy was the right one and I left after a mere couple of hours. Yes, I think I did get the plot, but aren't the French didactic?
In the evening back to Ludlow for We Are Together on DVD in a very small space. It's about a South African home called Agape for kids orphaned by AIDS - a story that needs telling. There was a moment when I was disgruntled by the blown-out highlights. Another when I congratulated myself on recalling what Agape meant (it's unconditional, selfless love - not like Eros) only to have it explained on screen by a 'traditionally built' African lady (not woman, lady). The narrative thread may not have run smooth, and not for postmodernist reasons, but the story was so powerful that it overcame everything. The film-maker stayed firmly behind the camera and let the subjects speak. Never mind the technique, count the wet hankies. Wasn't cinema as experience what they were on about in Cahiers, or was that the senior common room facsimile of experience?

Terry Jones introduces Le Million

On the opening shot

On the chorus

On the 'message' of the film and bad acting

There for 2hrs 16 minutes

Back to Ludlow for I'm Not There and Cate Blanchett's astonishing performance. The latter was worth the ticket price and more. The film is nothing if not courageous and there's not enough of that, so hats off to Haynes. It's also about 'my' era so I'm half seduced already. But whether it all works is another matter. Deconstruction and distancing are not usually good tactics for involving an audience and sustaining it for 2hrs and 16 minutes is a challenge. I'm beginning to think there's a shortage of scissors in the industry. 80 to 100 minutes works really well for me; maybe the sixties did something to my attention span.
I'm off to see Celine & Julie Go Boating today which, at 3hrs 12 minutes, makes me a sucker for punishment - or perhaps I'll sit at the end of the row.

Saturday in the shoes of David Gillam, Festival Director

The favourite film at this year's festival so far seems to be The Band's Visit - if we had an audience award it would certainly be a front runner. Laughter, tears, during the roller disco scene tears of laughter, and all the time something going on beneath the surface that gives you something to think about afterwards. Its a perfectly formed, unpretentious film that is an object lesson for any low-budget, first-time filmmaker - beautifully played, a great script, no grand gestures or unnecessary melodrama, it just gently works its magic. And at 90 minutes long it gets on, does its stuff and gets off again. I can't count how many people have said to me how much they enjoyed it. Perfection!

1.00 I meet Terry Jones, his partner Anna, and his old friend and TV producer Jerry Bugler at The Courtyard. Over lunch it soon becomes clear that Jerry's first priority is to find a bookies to fulfill his duty of placing bets for all his family on the Grand National. Meanwhile Terry regales us with tales of directing opera in Lisbon (Infernal Machines - which may yet become a film) and how Richard II got a bad press from Henry IV, Shakespeare and various others. A wrong that six hundred years later Terry seems determined to right. He delivers an amusing, well-pitched introduction to the charming oddity that is Le Million - innocent, amusing, with a great piss-take of opera. The many different ways the music plays into and across the action, suggests that Rene Clair must have been quite an innovator in the first few years of sound. And you can certainly see the influence it had on the Marx Brothers Night at The Opera. Then Terry and Jerry are out and away to catch the National.

5.15 Saturday afternoon and director Jan Dunn still hasn't arrived and as her film, Ruby Blue starts at 5.30 and the screening is sold out, I think this is cutting it a bit fine - particularly as she has the DVD we're hoping to show. No director to introduce it is one thing, but no film is quite another! She'd set off from Muswell Hill at 10.30 this morning, then spent 2 hours completely stationary on the M4 because of a jack-knifed lorry. I give her another call to find out where she's got to - she's in the car park, phew! And she soon sails into sight, gives the poor sweating projectionist the DVD, we've time for a few quick photos with actor, Sean Wilton and we're off and into the Studio to introduce the film. And what a warm reception it gets at its first UK screening! Lots of laughter, applause at the end and a very warm and appreciative Q&A afterwards during which Jan's phenomenal energy and enthusiasm for her work and particularly the two leads - Bob Hoskins and Josiane Balasko - shines through. The audience - both young and old - really respond to the positive ending to a film about the fear and paranoia of small town England. Although its shot in Ramsgate, it could well be set in Hereford and people take it to their hearts accordingly. Over dinner at Miro's it's sad to learn how much time and energy she is putting in to distributing the film herself, when really with a little bit of tidying up and the right distributor it could be marketed like Billy Elliot. I feel immensely frustrated on her behalf and just manage to stop myself from offering to help. She's already shot her third film but has just been turned down by the UK Film Council for completion money to finish it. Why? She's bought the rights to a Rose Tremain novel and so is starting work on her fourth feature film in 3 years - how does she do it? Finally fall out of Miro's after a long, boozy, chatty, dinner with Jan, Sean, Carol and Alan from MovieMail around 1ish - a fine ending to a fine festival day.

Svankmayer's Alice

Is there some special appeal to east European sensibilities in Alice in Wonderland? This Czech surrealist take was a bit unsettling for a Sunday afternoon and remarkable for being very faithful to the original yet almost entirely visual. The original 'Alice' is already surreal, but highly verbal. Even Graeme Hobbs' clear and knowledgeable introduction slid over that last incongruity.
I was reminded of an old acquaintance who had spent a postgraduate year in Russia. He found that 'Alice' was very popular and got hold of a Russian edition. It was provided with pages of end-notes almost all of which consisted of one word - something like 'Igraslov'. He assumed that it was the Russian equivalent of 'Ibid', but later found out that it meant 'a play on words'.
So how do you do 'Alice' with just a few words? Visual puns and puzzles take the place of wordplay - the sawdust stuffing draining out of a doll becomes deeply disturbing, and drawers that open only after the handle has come off in your hand are a puzzle worthy of Carroll. But to be honest, I missed the words. A masterpiece of animation it may be, but I felt there was a dimension missing.

Saturday 5 April 2008

The Festival Ball

Hereford's glitterati last night invaded the town hall for the Festival Ball. Paul Shallcross provided the inter-course entertainment accompanying early (and inadvertently funny - especially the flying kitten) silent shorts. The film quiz created fierce competition between tables. In a roomful of film buffs the prize magnum of champagne was incidental; what really mattered was who knew their film references and was sufficiently fanatical to recognise that the dialogue played backwards was the 'row of beans' speech from Casablanca. (And yeah, we did win.)

Festival Director David Gillam with Carol Hunter of MovieMail

Peter Hill conducted three auctions including a classic print of Rita Hayworth. Meanwhile festival staff and board members schmoozed funders and sponsors and everyone congratulated board member Peter Williamson who masterminded the ball. I have to mention the food which was fantastic. It was a great evening, not so much a Ball, more a Gala Banquet.

Now for the films!

Ruth Williamson with Rita Hayworth

Friday 4 April 2008

Calling all Golden Ticket Holders

As the festival really gets into swing at The Courtyard we'd like to hear from you: what's struck you in terms of films and events, what have you seen, where have you been?

Please use the comments below to tell us. You'll be prompted to sign up with an e-mail adddress, password and display name. Only the display name will appear so anonymity can be preserved. Comments are moderated for bad language and relevance to Borderlines Film Festival.

No Country for the Young and the Middle-aged

As we drove home last night after No Country For Old Men I quizzed my 18-year old daughter about her partiality for the Coen Brothers. It turns out that she's watched everything they've ever done except for Blood Simple (though she's dug out an old VHS recording that she plans to watch tomorrow) and Barton Fink which she's put on our Lovefilm rental list. I asked her how she rated No Country. She said she admired it but missed the characteristic wackiness of some of their other films. Fargo would probably go at the top of her list. She also thought Intolerable Cruelty, slated for being slight and Hollywood-orientated and probably too for starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as well as George Clooney, was underrated.

A was telling me more about the Coen's symbiotic working relationship. Joel's contribution to their Oscar acceptance speech for Best Direction seems to sum things up nicely: "Ethan and I have been making stories with movie cameras since we were kids. In the late '60s when Ethan was 11 or 12, he got a suit and a briefcase and we went to the Minneapolis International Airport with a Super 8 camera and made a movie about shuttle diplomacy called 'Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go.' And honestly, what we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then."

One thing we did agree on was what a supremely assured, understated piece of cinema No Country is. No self-consciousness or flim-flam whatsoever. And we ended up talking about specifics rather than generalities: the way light is used to generate suspense - the barely perceptible glow of car headlamps below the brow of the hill when Llewelyn Moss returns to the scene of the shoot out after dark or the watch for a break in light under the door of a hotel bedroom that indicates that someone is just out side. And the meticulous detail and pacing of the way certain tasks are carried out by two of the main characters, the dressing of a wound, the hiding of a briefcase, the determining of someone's fate. Superb, experienced film-making. The cinematography (Roger Deakins, British) isn't bad either!

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Watch the body language

Ang Lee's Lust, Caution is definitely a film I will be trying to catch again over the next few days. It's much, much more than a carefully crafted period piece or even a highly polished thriller. It induced a physical reaction in me the first time I saw it. Felt really quite shaky - and it was an 11am performance.

I caught a riveting interview with Lee on BBC Radio 4's Front Row at New Year, when the film had its UK release. He pointed out that it covers a period in Chinese history - collaboration with the Japanese during WW2 - almost totally suppressed in both Taiwan and Mainland China. An interesting parallel with another film in the Festival, The Counterfeiters (a German/Austrian co-production) with its sidelong take on the concentration camps.

What struck me most was what Lee had to say about play-acting, a strong theme in the film. The moment of epiphany for the young heroine takes place on a student stage where her (acted) tears transfix and energise the audience. Lee described how he himself likes to sit and watch audiences watching his movies, to observe every flicker, every nuance on their faces. The nub of Lust, Caution has to do, of course, with body language, sex (3 scenes 100 minutes or so into the film) as the ultimate performance whereby we judge what's real and what's fake.

Lee also talked winningly about the strong feminine side to his work and the appeal of adapting stories by women, from Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility) to E Annie Proulx (Brokeback Mountain) to the Chinese American writer Eileen Chang (Lust, Caution), for the cinema. It's something to do with a different, more slowly-paced outlook on life. And it goes hand-in-hand with his alleged genre-hopping; he likes to make the effort to adapt and borrow from different conventions in cinema, then twist or break expectations. Maybe it's not so surprising that he finds it easier to make films in a foreign language than in his Chinese; it gives him the freedom to stand back. And observe.

Postscript: Skin-care commercials featuring Lust, Caution actress Tang Wei have been banned by the Chinese authorities. No such broadcast ban has been applied to her co-star Tony Leung. Read more from The Guardian

Monday 31 March 2008

Extra screening of No Country For Old Men (no more cataclysms, please)

An additional screening of No Country for Old Men will take place at 11.15 Saturday 5 April in The Courtyard.

Why? Because torrential rain for most of Saturday afternoon and evening caused structural damage to The Courtyard and led to all screenings being cancelled. Normal service has now been resumed. Here is the information from their website:

Over the weekend an inspection revealed damage caused by heavy winds to the end wall facing the car park. Measures were immediately taken to secure the building pending full repairs. The building is now completely safe and secure for the public and is open as usual.

The Lives of Others did go ahead at the WRVS Hall, the Flicks in the Sticks venue in Hereford, on the eastern edge of the city. The film drew a capacity crowd, an encouraging sign for the promoters who are participating in the Film Festival for the first time this year.

Saturday 29 March 2008

Opening Night in the Sticks

Bodenham Village Hall

From Festival Director, David Gillam:
There was a wonderful atmosphere at Little Dewchurch Village Hall for the opening Night of Borderlines Film Festival on Friday. 71 people packed in to see The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, a convivial crowd and charming film meant a great time was had by all. Little Dewchurch promoter Richard King was delighted, "It's great to see so many here enjoying the film, to see some new faces in the audience - and the free beer (sponsored by The Rural Media Company) was greatly appreciated. So thanks to them and to Wye Valley Brewery for that." Dave Berry, author of Wales & Cinema, who introduced the film was amazed to see so many people in the audience. And though he's introduced the film many times over the years he said, "The atmosphere tonight was something really special, unique really, I've never seen such a social scene around the screening of the film. Quite amazing really, when I arrived and saw the size of the village I certainly didn't expect anything like this!"

The omnipresent Dorothy Goodbody

A good night across the board. High turnouts for many venues with people, including quite a few Golden Ticket holders, arriving from much further afield than normal.

Audiences in Bodenham, Burghill and Bosbury

Moccas proved delightful; impressive trees surround the village hall and even the car park was festively lit. Made most welcome by Dave Collins, the promoter, and his team and there must have been around 70 of us at the screening - from Hereford, Madley, Clifford as well as Moccas itself. A surprise reunion for Dave; an old work colleague who'd moved to Brilley 4 years ago showed up unexpectedly. And I met local farmer, Owen Whittall, whom we've managed to persuade to join the debate which follows The Lie of the Land at the New Rural Perspectives event on Saturday 12 April. As well as a leading light in the farming community, Owen turns out to have been the driving force behind the renovation of the village hall. For some reason I'd imagined he'd be shy and retiring!

And, unusually, I enjoyed And When Did You Last See Your Father? more on second viewing. The first time I was picky about the film; this evening I was totally swept away by Jim Broadbent's marvellous performance. The opening scene - with its mixture of sheer exhilaration and acute embarrassment as Morrison's father jumps a traffic queue heading for the Races, waving a stethoscope and bellowing "Let us through, we're doctors!" - takes some beating. After the show we lingered till the bar was cleared, comparing notes about the reserve of our own fathers' generation and wiping away the odd tear.

And from Garway:
The weather turned out a bit wild for the Opening night at Garway for The Band's Visit - an Israeli film, promised on DVD, but held over by Sony until its opening in the USA. Undaunted, Flicks in the Sticks arranged for an ancient 35mm 'portable' projector from Staffordshire, delivered and set up lovingly by Simon, who then waxes lyrical about its pedigree. People arrive windblown and well wrapped up, with cushions under their arms, and only too happy to partake of a glass of free Dorothy Goodbody's Wye Valley Ale, courtesy of the The Rural Media Company. The film is a delight - only a little marred by the fact that the front half of the 50-strong audience cannot see the subtitles for the first reel. During the interval, when excellent home made cakes and coffee are consumed, Simon supervises the adjustment of the screen, supported by several tall men from the audience, and the projector is wedged up with two romantic novels from the village hall cupboard. All is well. The second reel can be enjoyed equally by everyone and gets a round of applause for this wry, touching human story.

Friday 28 March 2008

Good weather for films

The first day of the festival and the weather is perfect for watching films: grey skies, intermittent rain and high winds, cold but not freezing. Enough to drive you into a hospitable darkened room but not too inclement to prevent venturing out at all.

I'm off to introduce the film (And When Did You Last See Your Father?) at Moccas Village Hall this evening. I'm equipped with a Borderlines pop-up banner, a stash of Wye Valley Brewery Dorothy Goodbody's Springtime Ale (courtesy of the Rural Media Company and not purely for my own consumption, I hasten to add), my camera, a DVD of the newly commissioned festival trailer and a bottle-opener (just in case). And most of the rest of the Borderlines board are similarly spread across the countryside, popping up at Flicks in the Sticks venues in Bodenham, Little Dewchurch, Bosbury, Ledbury, Garway, Gorsley, Burghill and Ewyas Harold.

Thursday 27 March 2008

Heading into town?

Keep your eyes peeled...

Pre-festival press coverage

These are the items I've clocked anyhow:

Interview with Festival Producer, Naomi Vera-Sanso BBC Radio Shropshire, Friday 28 March
Listen Again has now expired

Interview with Festival Director, David Gillam BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester, Thursday 27 March
Listen Again
has now expired

Preview The Guardian Guide, Saturday 22 March

Valley Girl: a trip to the flicks Jane Wheatley, The Times, Saturday 22 March

Interview with Andrew Grieve (director of On the Black Hill) The Film Programme, BBC Radio 4, Friday 21 March

Listen Again has now expired

Budding actors take starring roles Hereford Times, Friday 14 March

Saturday 22 March 2008


Coming this way: controversy, celebrity, chit-chat, conversation. Compiling the hospitality list for the festival, Borderlines Producer Naomi has discovered that over 50 speakers will be turning up this year. And, as is the last-minute nature of these things, the figure is still growing. Guests range from ex-Python Terry Jones who'll be introducing the breakneck Rene Clair farce Le Million to some of those responsible for the two-minute Migrant Stories, personal takes on what it's like to come from Eastern Europe to work and live in Herefordshire. And many, many more.

It got me thinking. What makes a film festival? Particularly one that's not populated by industry delegates out to buy or sell. It's not simply a matter of watching films. Nor even of watching a lot of films in a short space of time. Watching films in the company of a lot of people begins to hit the spot. Rubbing shoulders with visiting experts takes the whole thing into another dimension: you look at films and the topics they cover in a completely new light, ask questions, argue the toss.

I heard one of the speakers due to take part in the New Rural Perspectives event being put on the spot on Radio 4's Feedback programme the other week. Graham Harvey, Agricultural Story Editor of The Archers, had been called in to answer listeners' complaints about the soap's anaerobic biodigester storyline. Too specialist, it was alleged. The digester is a piece of industrial machinery that chews up waste and spits it out in the form of biogas. There are very few of these in the UK (one happens to be close by, in Ludlow). Not only, Harvey argued persuasively, does the story reflect farmers' concerns among about tackling climate change; it's also a focus for the continuing power struggles within the Archers clan and is already causing ructions in the village. Big drama ahead.

Not sure that Borderlines can stretch to live wrangling and family feuds. No shortage of them up there on screen of course.

Friday 7 March 2008

Atoning in South Shropshire

Tagged along last week to the launch of the tours season at Stokesay Court where much of the film Atonement was shot in the summer of 2006. It's a massive pile. Though I'd heard that an entire wing had been airbrushed out of the establishing shot I hadn't appreciated - until standing in its opulent if rather gloomy wood-panelled splendour - that my whole cottage could have fitted into the central Great Hall with room to spare.

Mundane matters such as heating bills sprang immediately to mind. Ironically the chilliest spot in the house was the scene of greatest passion in the movie. Not, in actual fact, the library but a mere billiard room, the clinch taking place up against bookshelves crafted with considerable taste by Shepperton Studios carpenters and thoughtfully left behind. For the Court's owner, Caroline Magnus, who received Stokesay with its leaking roof as an unexpected legacy from an aunt, the filming came as a godsend. The production company, Working Title, was particularly generous in decorating and redecorating the rooms that were used and in leaving key items behind. Among these, the 8 foot Triton statue that dominated the fountain. This now occupies the landing at the top of the stairs and turns out to be made of polystyrene. There wasn't time to explore the grounds but I wouldn't have been surprised to discover that when Keira Knightley plunged into the fountain the water would have only come up to her ankles.

The tour as a whole provides some fascinating insights into the combination of skillful fakery and pure cash that continues to drive the cinema business. Fabrication and duplicity, coincidentally, are significant themes in Atonement but the estimated value of the production to the local economy is a substantial £1.5 million: location fees, extras, accommodation, transport, food and other services. Naomi, the Borderlines Festival Producer, remarked that the local osteopath, an acquaintance of hers, had seen a dramatic rise in business over the period of the shoot. Much stress, it seems.

Film tourism is Atonement's bequest to South Shropshire. Will it be as big here as in the US? One item that the production company could not be prevailed on to leave behind was the doll's house replica of Stokesay that, with its orderly trail of wooden animals, features in the film's opening shot. That was destined for an after-life - and a few bucks - across the Atlantic.

Festival promo

Take a look at what's been on offer at Borderlines in previous years.