Wednesday 29 April 2009

Gone but not forgotten

The seventh Borderlines Film Festival is well and truly over but in case you're wondering, like the subject line of a plaintive e-mail from one of our Board Members, 'What do I do now?' we can bring you some small comfort.

The good news is that there's not quite so long to wait till Borderlines comes round again. The Courtyard dates for the next film festival are Monday 1 March through to Sunday 14 March 2010, several weeks earlier than normal.

Naomi Vera-Sanso in front of Borderlines bannerSumming up, Festival Producer Naomi Vera-Sanso said ticket sales had risen despite the economic down turn. "This year's Festival has been a great success and we are delighted that Borderlines is managing to reach new audiences each year."

Huge thanks to our funders, our local sponsors and our partner venues without which the festival would simply not happen. And, above all, to you, our audiences, who give the event its buzz. We're still processing the questionnaires many of you filled in but are always happy to receive your feedback and suggestions.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Climate Change and Sustainability Day clips and info

A packed house, informative speakers and an informed audience made for a stimulating Climate Change and Sustainability Day on Friday 27 March.

It opened with a pledge from Councillor John Jarvis to set up a screening of The Age of Stupid for Herefordshire Council in its entirety. “You can't change your life if you can't change your thinking. We have to get the message (about climate change) across to the people who manage the budgets,” he said.

Among other green measures, county library services are to make energy monitors and intelligent plugs available for loan while many Herefordshire schools have now achieved their green flag as part of the eco-schools award scheme.

The Age of Stupid (which has had a phenomenal run of five consecutive weeks at the Odeon West End) will be available for independent screenings after its official launch date on May 22. Information about purchasing a license (on a sliding scale according to the size and nature of screenings) can be obtained from the Indie Screenings website from May 1.

Listen to Mark Lynas introduce The Age of Stupid.

And, from the Q&A after the screening, a proposal for a 'War Bond' type scheme for renewables was greeted with much enthusiasm by the audience.

A lively session on Alternative Sources of Energy featured presentations by Richard Priestley on the breakthrough technology of concentrating solar power, Alice Goldstone of Talybont Energy on hydropower and how Talybont is working steadily towards carbon neutrality and Jon Hallé of sharenergy and Energy4All who urged any audience members inerested in setting up or participating in renewable energy co-ops to contact him via the sharenergy website.

Richard was prompted by the potentially large demand from audience members to set up a new course of evening classes Global Problems : Global Solutions at The Barrels pub in Hereford. Details in the comment attached to this post or contact Richard by e-mail or on 01432 358104.

Re local hydropower, we've been contacted by Stephen Ainsleigh Rice of the Herefordshire Hydro Group(see comment attached to this post for more information).

Summing up the energy debate, environmental broadcaster Robert Lamb said that there had been some terrific insights but added a note of caution, "As we've seen from the film this morning, as science shows, we can't wait for attitudinal change. Governments have a huge role to play; at the end of the day they regulate things. They did something about acid rain in the US, governments got involved, ODS (ozone-depleted substances) were made illegal. We have to press governments to deliver. Where things are happening in Germany, Denmark, Spain it's where governments have intervened. We have to recognise that we're a middle-class outfit and that 95% of the people in the UK would not find it particularly shameful to travel on EasyJet."

Following on, here's Joss Garman of Greenpeace and Plane Stupid spelling out why 2 degrees are quite so significant.

Joss's full PowerPoint presentation will soon be available for download.

The session was billed as How Far Do We Go? Speaking after Joss, Trish Marsh, Sustainability Manager for Herefordshire Council argued for renaming it How Near Should We Stay?


Sunday 5 April 2009

Anvil!, or Na na nana na nana na, thumb tacks!

It's testament to the power of music that a band like Anvil (specifically founding members Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner) has stuck together through thick and thin. Relationships may have been strained at times, but there's no better healer of mental or physical wounds (with the possible exception of time) than music.

Now, it's hard to talk about the film without mentioning This is Spinal Tap, so I'll get that out the way. The similarities (references?) between the two films are striking. There's an early scene where the cover of every album the band has made is shown, along with titles. At one point, Kudlow and Reiner talk about the first song they wrote together, and even give an inpromptu performance. Their tour manager is also the girlfriend of one of the band members. There's a visit to Stonehenge, and a finale in Japan. Robb Reiner even shares the same name of the director of Spinal Tap (plus an extra 'b')! The crucial difference is, right from the off, you know this is real. And maybe the reason there are so many similarities is because Spinal Tap was more accurate than first assumed at presenting the experience of being in a metal band. If anything, Anvil! The Story of Anvil fleshes out these comedic fall guys into rich characters, and becomes an infinitely more human experience. It's funny in parts, naturally, but there's more to it than that. This is a film about friendship, faith, love and never giving up in what you believe in, despite how old you are, and despite how your older sister might feel. Surely that appeals to everyone?

Like Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, minus all the pretension, the film works simply because it takes that most indomitable thing on Earth, the human spirit, and shows off what it can do. There are laughs along the way, but also tears, and you really start to feel for the guys when continue playing shows for venues that can hold 10,000, but less than 200 show up. Anvil haven't seen the success they desire, or even deserve, but they keep journeying on regardless, keeping an eye open for the next opportunity to make it big. And maybe, just maybe, this film might finally be the key to open that gate.

A hell of a film, and a hell of a closer to this year's festival. It's been a blast!

Saturday 4 April 2009

Two thumbs!

As I flashed my ticket for Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson to the attendant and entered the auditorium, I was determined. Regardless of how much scrabbling around I had to do, nothing would stand in my way. My heart was full of joy. Come hell or high water, I was sitting on the balcony. Take THAT conformist members of society! You, who settle for sitting in the dank pit at the bottom of this magnificent structure, you can give me as many dirty looks as you like, but I'll simply laugh them away, casting off the dull shackles of self-consciousness, yelling at the top of my voice "LOOK AT ME!" I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger... a Man on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.

So, anyway, I couldn't find the door upstairs. So I considered my mission a glorious failure, and sat back down.

In two minutes, I was back on my feet again. A goatee'd gentleman, seeming to be doing his utmost to fit the cliche of 'Aging Hipster' walked up to me and proclaimed his congratulations.
"That's all very well," I said, "but what, may I ask, is the occasion?"
"You're sitting in my seat," he replied.
I looked around. There were roughly seven people in the theater, including us. I stared back blankly at the man and the shaven lemur hanging off his right arm, and quickly considered the outcome of this scenario of I were to say "No." I could probably take him in a fight, I thought, before noticing the oh-so-slightly menacing boots he was wearing. There was no part of my body that survive an impact created either of those things. And even if he wasn't a kicking person, he could still chase me outside, chucking roll-up cigarettes, Moleskine notebooks and copies of the Guardian at me.
I conceded. A good ninja always knows when to retreat. And then often just poisons his enemies late at night, but that would have to wait for another time. After the film was finished.

And after I'd had some dinner.

Oh, and the film was okay. It covered just about every aspect of Hunter S. Thompson's life and got interviews with all the right people (save Richard Nixon, but he's dead, so I'll let that slide), but is completely uncritical of the man, even claiming his suicide (spoiler!) as some sort of heroic act.
My question, however, is this: does this film serve any purpose? As a journalist, you could argue that Thompson always led his life in full view, so surely the best way to understand the man and learn more about him is to simply read his work? Indeed, the only truly entertaining parts of the film (with the grand exception of his funeral) were the quotes from Hunter himself, as read by Johnny Depp. Director Alex Gibney clearly has a talent for making confrontational documentaries (i.e. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side), but doesn't seem to have anything to add to what is more or less a standard biography.

Still, the music was nice.

Your favourite film?

We're into the final weekend of Borderlines 2009. The box office figures tell us one thing - The Reader sold the most tickets to date - and fairly predictable it is too. But did you have a clear favourite? A film that stood out for you above all others. That gave you the most pain or pleasure. Or simply entertained you and whiled away a few hours...

We'd love to hear about it. You can let us know by leaving a comment. If you don't already have a Google or a Blogger account you'll be prompted to register using your e-mail address (not displayed), a user name of your choice and a password.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Change of venue for Friday's screening of Garage

The screening of Garage (18) on Friday 3 April, scheduled for 7.30pm at Fownhope, will now take place at Woolhope Village Hall at 7.40pm. For enquiries, call 01432 860717.

The film stars the hugely popular Irish comedian Pat Shortt in a finely-tuned portrayal of a small-town guy caught up in a tragi-comic situation.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

99 minutes of near-perfection

A warning: A Man Escaped is not a film for the impatient. It's slow, lacking in dialogue, unbearably tense and ends abruptly.

And it's utterly fantastic.

As Kaz has commented on, it's refreshing to see that the smaller films and the pictures from overseas are the ones gathering the larger audiences. A Man Escaped was no exception, the studio full to the brim, exposing the slight shortcomings of the seating (to the two people directly in front of me, whom I accidentally poked in the back, I apologise). It also made a nice change to briefly discuss the film with members of the audience afterward, all of whom enjoyed the film and even seemed to understand the director's intentions. This is the polar opposite of every experience I've had with a multiplex cinema (the sole exception being...sigh...Mamma Mia), so maybe it's time people considered a trip to the theatre to get their next motion picture fix? It doesn't improve things that you can count the number of screens at Hereford's Odeon on one finger.

So, back to the film, which I'm immediately listing as a must-see to anyone with intentions to make their own feature (regardless of professional level) or any film student for that matter. Not only does the film represent how much can be done with a relatively slim plot, but it also represents how much can be done with a relatively slim budget. The technical ability director Robert Bresson displays is nothing short of inspiring.

And same can be said for the plot. Throughout his incarceration, the protagonist never backs down, never gives up, always quietly toiling away at his escape plan. It may well be the only thing keeping him sane. Naturally, I won't give away whether he succeeds or fails. At the end of it all, it isn't very important. What matters is the journey to that particular conclusion. All quite profound, and all very human.

The prison-drama genre doesn't get many installments these days, probably because there's only so many paths for the plot to follow. The Escapist is a recent (and British) example of how things can be done differently but, ultimately, isn't as satisfying as A Man Escaped. But how does Bresson's film measure to that sacred cow of the prison drama genre: The Shawshank Redemption? It can't be better, surely?

It's damn close, I'll tell you that much.

A Glass Of Watered Down Milk

Howdy folks, Jolene here again, this time with a spoiler free review of Milk.

On arriving to see Milk I was in two minds about what to expect and upon leaving I realise that the 2 hour run time still hasn't been enough for me to coherently organise my thoughts.

Some hours have passed since I left The Courtyard, and yet, here I sit, still slightly puzzled about whether or not the film was a success. On the one hand the story is compelling, the performances outstanding (though in my opinion it is relative newcomer Emile Hirsch, not Sean Penn who is the best of the bunch) and the message undeniably important. However, when one watches Milk as a piece of narative cinema, I am afraid to say that it just doesn't work.

Throughout the first hour of the film I found myself feeling virtually abandoned by both script writer and director alike. The narrative rockets along at break neck speed, so much so that in the space of the opening 10 minutes, Harvey has already met his lover, opened a shop and decided to go into politics. The emphasis seems to be upon setting up his political career and ideals as an early plot hook, a way of convincing us to love the character because of what he stands for, but it's done so at the expense of convincing us to love him for who he is. However much one may naturally sympathise with Milk the idea, this disregard of characterisation so early in the film leaves very little room for any empathy with Milk the man. Rather my sympathy lies with anybody unfortunate enough to choose these early scenes for a bathroom break, blink before the first 40 minutes and you are in danger of missing half of Milk's career.

However, it's not just the narrative that has problems, the visual style too seems intent upon disturbing any sort of connection you may feel with the film, it's characters, or it's story. I am thinking in particular of the puzzling choice to splice in historical footage from the real campaign. The effect is jarring to say the least, just as one begins to settle down into the accepted artifice of a Hollywood film, you are suddenly confronted with grainy, flickering footage of real events, yanking you out of the story and reminding you quite forcefully that you are in a cinema, watching a film. It is an effect which does not just break the fourth wall, it kicks it down and batters you to death with the bricks.

Which is a shame considering that once the first awkward hour is out of the way, the second half of the film is really rather good. It features some beautiful cinematography and, (an hour too late mind) finally gives you some insight into the nature of Harvey Milk himself. However, it still suffers from the schizophrenic vibe that haunts the first half, desperately asking us to believe in Penn as Milk whilst simultaneously reminding us that he isn't. This is not helped by the disjointed way the film is narrated, one forgets that this is all a reading of Milk's own words only to be reminded again at seemingly random intervals, as and when the director chooses to throw us forward in time.

I don't mean to sound overly negative, as there were parts of the film which were incredibly enjoyable, but I cannot help but feel that Milk is something of a wasted opportunity. With the seeming reams of historical footage (arguably the most interesting part of the film) one gets the impression that, with the compelling story of Harvey himself, this could have been an outstanding documentary. Instead, Milk is a rather confused fiction, never quite engaging the audience with its characters, or giving enough context to make it truly arresting. Watching it left me hungry to find out more, something which a biopic really ought not to do.

I won't argue that Harvey Milk's story isn't one worth telling, I just think it's one worth telling well.

It's being so cheerful keeps us going.........

I'm too easy to please. Plonk me in a darkened cinema and I'm anybody's. I know this because I usually come out of a film full of whatever emotions the director intended, to be greeted by fellow moviegoers looking earnest, disengaged and saying things like 'well, that could have done with an edit'. It happened with Milk, which I thought was just right at 2hrs 20mins. Others were firmly in the 90mins camp. I'll compromise on 2hrs - but no less.

, being a straight-forward biog, was unsurprisingly predictable, and rightly so as surprises in the story line would require the rewriting of history. But what about predictability in pure fiction? Should we expect an element of surprise? Or is the comfort and security of a well worn formula sufficient to keep us happy?

A Bunch of Amateurs is a broad comedy with fabulous over acting from Imelda Staunton and Derek Jacobi and under acting (or not much acting at all) from Burt Reynolds, who happily sends himself up a treat. The audience liked it, as did I. But ten minutes in, the entire narrative structure of the film would have been obvious to an eight year old. Prima Donna star, muddy field, clash of cultures, jealousy, tantrums, walk outs, it's off, it's on, it's a triumph! And, right on cue, the heartwarming reconciliation of BR with estranged daughter. It was charming, professional, and with an ambition to entertain. But, is this enough?

El Nido Vacio (The Empty Nest) had what might have been a predictable plot (middle aged male writer with block has mid-life crisis over children leaving home and daughter becoming sexually active). A wonderfully nuanced performance from Oscar Martinez ensured that even the (apparently) predictable developments raised smiles of recognition from the parents in the audience of a certain age. There were, in retrospect, some clues that all was not as it seemed, but the final twist was completely unexpected. It was imaginative and insightful, and I suppose that if you had read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse in the last couple of weeks you might have seen it coming. But I hadn't and I didn't. I won't reveal the ending, so as this was the only scheduled UK showing (shame!), you may never know (but try MovieMail later in the year).

Comedy is at its best when you don't see it coming. Deliberate and laboured quirkiness can be tiresome, but A Bunch of Amateurs had no quirk at all. I came out of both films with a smile on my face, but, as I say, I'm easy to please............

Pete Postlethwaite Introduces Age of Stupid at Ludlow

Pete Postlethwaite introduced the sell-out screening at Ludlow last night and bravely came back for a Q&A at the end. Despite saying that Pete wouldn't handle questions on the science or the politics, the audience was so fired up by the film that moderator David Gillam had a hard job keeping them in check.

It's a remarkably effective movie, and I say that from a scientific background with a healthy scepticism for the sort of fundamentalism that the environmental movement seems to be descending into. Franny Armstrong has done a great job using half a dozen, apparently unrelated stories to give several views of the situation - much more effective that a sustained polemic (Michael Moore gives me a headache). Everyone ought to see it.

But it would be good to see more focus on the possibilities and less on the guilt trip. Remember the '60s and the Silent Spring? The '70s and acid rain? The '80s and the hole in the ionosphere? We beat the first two and are well on the way to nailing the third. Did someone say 'Yes we can!'