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