The Joy of the Film Festival

“So, where’s the Cannes film festival being held this year?”

(Christina Aguilera)

LAST year in the name of cinema I attended several film festivals throughout the UK and Ireland. As an aspiring film-critic and burgeoning programmer it’s a necessary, often expensive commitment towards my profession, which gives me an opportunity to see some fantastic films from around the world I mightn’t normally get the chance to see.

Here in Northern Ireland, we have several excellent film festivals which run annually throughout the year, each serving up wonderfully eclectic programmes on an annual basis. The Queen’s Film Theatre remains Belfast’s only real art house cinema, in a city overpopulated by multiplexes; it’s often the only place you’ll get the chance to see that fantastic new foreign film by that director, you’ve heard so much about. There’s also brilliant work done by various community cinema groups, who continue to serve up something different for local cinemagoers beyond the usual blockbuster releases.

Nevertheless in true Father Ted style I’ve found it essential to pack my suitcase and travel to the mainland and attend higher profile festivals to see a greater variety of  left-field cinematic releases. Living for several sleep deprived days on copious amounts of caffeine, pre-packed sandwiches and often too much alcohol (medicinal reasons of course). Attending a festival is often a frantic few days of your life, spent largely indoors watching movies and scrambling from one screening to another; it’s a tough job, but hey someone’s got to do it.

More importantly, well for me anyway, attending these more high-profile events is often a great opportunity to speak with some of the filmmakers behind these movies. In February Last year whilst at the Glasgow Film Festival I briefly spoke with David Robert Mitchell, the director of It Follows; a wonderfully effective horror movie and fantastic throwback to the work of John Carpenter, of whom I’m a massive fan. It was great to chat with him, albeit briefly about his work on the project and the films that inspired him to make it.

At Glasgow I also got to see one of my favourite films from last year, Eskil Vogt’s brilliant feature Blind; with nods to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (One of my all-time favourites) and Stranger than Fiction, Vogt’s film about an aspiring author coping with the loss of her sight by retreating into a world of fantasy is a deeply poignant, but also genuinely funny feature. Had I not been at the festival, I probably wouldn’t have heard of the film or ever seen it.

There’s also the small matter of red carpet premieres, events where you tidy yourself up beyond your normal scruffy attire and try to look respectable, well for a few hours at least anyway, as you press the flesh and hopefully get the chance to speak with some of the festival’s more esteemed guests. Last year on the opening night of the Edinburgh Film Festival, I got an opportunity to interview the cast and crew of Robert Carlyle directorial debut The Legend of Barney Thomson.

Whist they were undoubtedly great interviews to get for my TV show on Northern Visions, the two ½ hours spent standing around within the media scrum beforehand, valiantly defending my turf just wasn’t an enjoyable experience; believe me the red carpet scene isn’t as glamourous as it may seem and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted.

When I get a chance to attend a festival outside of Ireland, usually I’m only ever able to attend for just two or three days, so trust me it requires considerable planning. Mulling over the festival’s programme repeatedly with several cups of coffee and your highlighter, as you plan your visit hoping to fit in as many film screenings as possible. Last October however, thanks to Film Hub NI, I was able to spend an entire week at the BFI’s film festival in London. Undoubtedly it’s the highest profile event on the UK film festival circuit, with a flurry of gala premieres, high-profile guests and diverse screenings from around the world. It’s a great opportunity to see many releases in the run up to the awards season, long before their Oscar buzz has even begun.

From 3D Chinese musicals about big corporate business, to low-budget documentaries about the murder of Mark Duggan, like any festival’s eclectic line-up there’s usually something for everyone. As an aspiring programmer, who’s planning some events under the BanterFlix banner later this year, it was a great opportunity to sit down with some of the festival’s organizers and get their programming advice. It’s also a great opportunity to speak with local programmers from the likes of the QFT and the Strand Arts Centre in a much more relaxed atmosphere, over a pint, glass of wine or even just a cup of coffee in-between screenings and attempt to develop some professional relationships for back at home.

During my time in London I saw 16 different films in total, not all of them were necessarily my cup of tea, but I did see some real gems; including the gala screening of Truth, the Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford feature about the scandal that engulfed CBS after its 60 Minutes investigation into then-President George W. Bush’s military service; it’s a solid piece of filmmaking that’s due out in March later this year.

I also attended the closing night screening of Danny Boyle’s latest movie Steve Jobs: the film has had its critics and mightn’t have been the box-office success its producers would’ve hoped for, but nevertheless I still loved it. It’s a superb of filmmaking, with some great central performances; for now anyway it seems like my love affair with all things Aaron Sorkin related shows no sign of waning.

Had Film Hub not supported me I definitely wouldn’t have been able to stay that long in London, it’s a bloody expensive city to visit after all and without their support I wouldn’t have been able to attend the festival’s closing night screening and the press-conference which preceded it. At the press-conference alone I made some useful contacts for future reference, which have opened the door to some exciting opportunities for both myself and the BanterFlix brand.

Of course the most important aspect of attending any festival is the movies you get to see, so in closing I’ve cherry-picked five of my favourite films I saw on the festival circuit last year. Hopefully you’ll get an opportunity to see them here locally in Northern Ireland at some point, because many of them are still due to be released. 

Victoria –Sebastian Schipper (BFI Film Festival Screening)victoria-2015-film

This future cult classic is one effortlessly cool movie that’ shot in one continuous take; the director attempted the project over three nights in Berlin and finally got it right on his third and final attempt. Forget Birdman because this film about a girl’s night out in Berlin going horribly wrong is just a fantastic piece of filmmaking, you won’t believe its been shot in one take, it’s also got a great soundtrack and an amazing central performance by Laia Costa

Green Room /Jeremy Saulnier (BFI Film Festival Screening)untitled

This grungy grindhouse feature is Jeremey Saulnier’s follow up to his fantastic directorial debut Blue Ruin. It’s an ultra-violent movie with clear nods to Straw Dogs, it features a memorably terrifying performance by Patrick Stewart, as the leader of a group of neo-Nazis, who attempt to murder the members of punk band, who witness something they shouldn’t whilst performing at their venue. Whilst Green Room mightn’t be as accomplished a feature as Blue Ruin, it’s nevertheless a solid follow-up that continues to showcase the director’s burgeoning talent; if you liked Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, you’ll love this.

Homesick/Jakob M. Erwa (BFI Film Festival Screening)

With clear nods to Roman Polanski and Michael Haneke, Jakob M. Erwa’s slow burning drama is a deeply unsettling feature that explores the nature of mental illness. Ambitious cello student Jessica finds herself gripped by paranoia when she moves into her new apartment with her boyfriend, as she becomes increasingly convinced that she’s being harassed by an elderly couple who live upstairs.

It’s a film that really deserves more than one viewing, to fully appreciate how well it all clicks together. If you liked Rosemary’s Baby, Cache and Amore, this is a film you might enjoy, if it’s really possible to use it in that context.

Welcome to Me/ Shira Piven (Edinburgh Film Festival Screening)welcome-to-me-netflix

Kristen Wiig gives an outstanding central performance as Alice Klieg, a woman suffering from borderline personality disorder. When she wins the lottery, Alice quits her treatment and decides to follow in the footsteps of her hero Oprah and starts her own daytime chat show. It’s a wonderfully funny film, the humour is dark and deadpan, just the way I like it. There’s a slight of whiff of Network about proceedings as Klieg’s erratic onscreen behaviour becomes a ratings sensation, much to the delight of the ailing TV Company’s producers.

King Jack/ Felix Thompson (London Film Festival Screening)KingJack

Written and directed by Felix Thompson, who makes his directorial debut on this feature, King Jack is low-budget coming of age drama about a 15-year-old boy who finally stands up for himself after a summer of neglect and bullying. It’s wonderfully bittersweet little feature with a great central performance by Charlie Plummer as the aforementioned Jack. We watch as he discovers the importance of true friendship and family and it’s hard not to have a smile on your face as the film reaches its finale. I you like films like Stand by Me, Mud and The Kings of Summer; trust me you’ll love this film.

Review by Jim McClean @legcurrylad
written by Jim McClean (@legcurrylad)






Here’s also a piece about the BFI Film Festival from our TV show on NvTv.



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