With the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings this year, filmmakers across the world have been endeavoring to tell their interpretation of the events that led the human race to make one small step for [a] man. First, Damien Chazelle brought us the underwhelming First Man towards the end of 2018. Despite a career defining score from Justin Hurwitz and breathtaking Apollo sequences, the focus on flat character drama drew away from the best elements of the film – the awe, wonder and danger of the missions themselves. For a more gripping take, it may be worth checking out documentary: Armstrong, coming to the picture house this weekend (Sat 3pm, Sun 1:15pm). It’s a must-see film for anyone who wants to look behind the curtain to see the true story of a quiet man’s journey from rural Ohio to taking the first steps on the moon.
There’s one more screening at the Picture House of the unmissable Apollo 11 (Wed 24th 1:20pm) . It’s clear from the start that this is the definitive moon landing film. Using stunning remastered footage from 1969 alongside a score rendered only using techniques from the same decade; Apollo 11 fully transports you back in time. For those familiar with the rhythms and beats of the famous journey already you can rest assured that this film will bring you something new. The film is so effective in its storytelling power that you feel tension and mystery at every moment. Will the eagle make its landing? Of course, it will, we know that. But somehow, I found myself questioning the facts I knew to be true every step of the way. The film is by no means perfect – sometimes overdramatic while at other points slowing down to focus on what feels like trivialities. But by the time that Mother Country starts playing on Buzz Aldrin’s tape deck none of that matters. The USS Hornet comes into view and we know that despite absurd odds, an American dream came true.
Keep a look out for Apollo 11 in the documentary category in awards season. It’s currently the frontrunner in the category with Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona just behind.
The following are the films that I most enjoyed and was most impressed by in the first six months of the year.
An Elephant Sitting Still / Da xiang xi di er zuo (China, 2018)
This is a four hour epic in ‘miserabilism’ but a powerful representation of life on the lowest rungs of society. It was the first and only feature directed by Bo Hu.
Ash Is Purest White / Jiang hu er nü (China, France, Japan 2018)
Another fine movie from director Zhangke Jia; he follows his muse Tao Zhao across regions and periods in the manner of the preceding Mountains May Depart / Shan he gu ren (China, France, Japan 2015, not seen in Leeds].
Happy as Lazzaro / Lazzaro felice (Italy, Switzerland, France. Germany 2018)
A ‘holy fool’ is found first in the countryside then in the run-down urban setting. Mixing myth and contemporary exploitation in a fascinating parable.
Rosie (Eire 2018)
This is a powerful drama taken from real life. The screening was also an event in which participants in the film talked about the work.
3 Faces / Se rokh (Iran 2018)
Film-maker Jafar Panahi produces another exploration of Iranian culture in typical quirky fashion.
And one archive film,
Rosa Luxemburg (West Germany, Czechoslovakia 1986)
Part of the programme of films directed by Margarethe von Trotta. Whilst the political representation is limited Barbara Sukowa is excellent as the revolutionary heroine.
This is the new film from director László Nemes. His previous film was Son of Saul / Saul fia (Hungary, 2015). This new film also enjoys the fine production work of many of the same team from the earlier film: music László Melis, cinematography Mátyás Erdély, Film Editing Matthieu Taponier and production design by László Rajk. And once again the film is screening at the Picture House in its original format of 35mm.
Son of Saul was a very subjective style narrative and the new film takes a similar approach. But is seems that there are even more ambiguities in the plotting this time. The film opens in Budapest in 1913 when a young woman comes to the city and encounters mysterious and threatening situations. The pre-World War I Austro-Hungarian empire offers a rich palette for such a story; witness the earlier Sunshine (1999) directed by István Szabó.
The film runs for 142 minutes in colour, widescreen with Hungarian and German dialogue with English subtitles. It promises to be less downbeat than the earlier film but likely will need close attention as the story unfolds. The effort should be repaid by the visual pleasure in the screening. The 35mm cinematography relies on random silver halide grains in the stock that reflect the light and give excellent contrast. Digital copies of 35mm film transfer this to uniform pixels and only rarely reproduce the particular characteristics of film stock. So, the illustrative still at the top of this post does not really give a sense of what we should enjoy viewing.
Five films that stick in my mind, in no particular order:
A very stylish Italian film directed by Paolo Sorrentino and starring Toni Servillo as Silvio Berlusconi. This is the ultimate cinema-goer’s guide to bunga-bunga parties, ostentation and (alleged … to protect me from the mafia 😎 ) corruption in Italian politics. It’s surely no coincidence that l’oro is Italian for gold.
Director Samuel Moaz. A powerful anti war film set in a remote military outpost where four soldiers are spending their military service in the Israeli Defence Forces. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos. Great fun with Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in C18 England. I doubt that Queen Anne would approve. A positive F-rating (highlighting what women contribute to film) for lead characters, and writer Deborah Davis (co-writer with Tony McNamara).
A documentary about American Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What a woman! What a career! Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen also score highly on the F-rating.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Based on the James Baldwin novel, directed by Barry Jenkins. A well told struggle for life and a struggle for justice in 1970’s New York.
So once again the Picture House has offered us a great variety of films from around the world. And I didn’t even mention Burning (South Korea), or Happy as Lazzaro (Italy).
This film was written, directed and edited by Chris Marker, who also provided the music. If you have not seen a Chris Marker film before it might help to write that two of his friends and cinematic collaborators were Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda. Associated with the nouvelle vague they were actually part of a distinct group of film-maker known as the ‘left-bank group’. Their films were more experimental, more political and more distinctive than the famous ‘new wave’ films. Marker himself is known for works described as ‘essay films’ and this title is a good example of that approach. Not exactly documentary but addressing the actual world. Wikipedia defines [informal] written essays as characterised by:
“the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humour, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme,”
Much of this will be found in the Marker film. As well as his personal involvement in so much of the production of the film Marker also appears in slightly fictionalised versions of himself.
The film’s written component is a series of letters both partly read with comments by a female character. The letters are from a cameraman visiting a variety of places: Japan, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Iceland, Paris, and San Francisco. The last includes locations used in Alfred Hitchcock’s highly regarded Vertigo (1958), a film that has pre-occupied Marker for years. I actually did the same homage to the film with a French guide and Marker fan.
The original French version of Sans Soleil opens with the following quotation by Jean Racine
“L’éloignement des pays répare en quelque sorte la trop grande proximité des temps.”
(The distance between the countries compensates somewhat for the excessive closeness of the times.)
The English version of the film opens with lines by T. S. Eliot:
“Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place”…
The screening today is of the English Language version. Marker shot the film on a 16mm camera in colour and standard European widescreen. There are film footage and stills in colour and black and white academy and some special effects. The film-makers quoted are given in the end credits as is the English language narrator, Alexandra Stewart. Marker recorded the soundtrack in asynchronous manner, thus the sound does not always match the imagery. So this is ‘montage’ in the full sense of the word. The film has been copied onto 35mm so we will enjoy a ‘reel’ film.
Sans Soleil is preceded by a short five minute film, also on 35mm and an introduction. The short film is Black by Anouk De Clercq (2015, Belgium). The double bill is the opening event in a weekend of screenings organised by the Pavilion, ‘Artists’ Moving Image Network Screening Weekend’. There are a series of screenings by artists working on film and moving images, including digital and 16mm projections. There are more events at the Hyde Park Picture House but also at a venue in New Briggate, number 42, sited between the entrances to the Grand Theatre and the Assembly Rooms [pre-booking is advised].
The artists include those based in Yorkshire and from farther afield; Alain Resnais has a title screening. This is an ambitious project which promises to be varied, fascinating and rewarding.
Postscript: I apologise; like Rick I was misinformed. Last night we enjoyed the original French language version of Sans Soleil with the letters and comments read by Florence Delay.
Black turned out to be a cinematic meditation on Marker’s use of black leader early in his film. And this 35mm print is a unique artefact, so we were fortunate to see it.
As we enter the second half of the year it seems like a good time to look back over all the films shown at the Picture House so far. 2019 started strong for me with The Favourite and I confidently claimed it would be the best film of the year. I loved how it took something quite familiar but presented it in such a unique way by mixing together humour, tenderness and some ridiculousness.
The Favourite remained at the top of my favourites list until very recently when I caught up with Minding The Gap (unfortunately I didn’t get to see it in the cinema). This is one of those brilliant documentaries that starts telling one wonderfully engaging story but as events unfold becomes a film about something else completely. I found it incredibly moving and if you missed it it’s currently available on iPlayer.
Something I’ve noticed this year is that here in the UK we’re having to wait a long time to see some really acclaimed American films. Minding The Gap was one of these but we had to wait the best part of a year to see Support The Girls (out this week and coming to Hyde Park later this month), Madeline’s Madeline and my third choice Eighth Grade. I’ve never been a teenage girl but I found Bo Burnham’s film so relatable. It manages to capture so much about hope and despair and all of life’s anxieties whilst being terrifying and funny in equal measures.
We didn’t have to wait quite as long to see If Beale Street Could Talk, a truly beautiful and moving film with an even better soundtrack and my fourth choice. Finally to keep this selection to only five films I’m going to include US. US didn’t quite live up to my expectations when I was watching it but it really hooked me in and it was a film I kept thinking about days later.
There we have it, my top 5 films shown at the Hyde Park Picture House so far this year are:
- Minding The Gap
- The Favourite
- Eighth Grade
- If Beale Street Could Talk
I should also mention there are quite a few other films that I really liked but saw them last year at film festivals before their 2019 release including: Pond Life, Colette, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Beautiful Boy, Border, One Cut Of The Dead and probably others I’m forgetting about now.
Now it’s over to you, do share your highlights of the year in the comments or if you want to say a bit more we’re still looking for contributors so get in touch.
This is the new film by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, a filmmaker from Chad who has lived and partially worked in France since 1982. His new film deals with the important issue of refugees and migrants and dramatizes the experience of an African widower and his children who are forced to flee to France from Central African Republic.
Several of Haroun’s earlier films have screened at the Picture house. There was Bye Bye Africa (1999), an unconventional docu-drama in which a slightly fictionalized Haroun visits and films his native country of Chad. It is an ironic and occasionally bitter record of Neo-colonialism in Africa. His next film Abouna (France, Chad 2002) follows two young boys who seek their father across Chad, including in the desert regions. A powerful drama which was beautifully filmed by Abraham Haile Biru, it won the prize for cinematography at The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou or FESPACO). This Festival is a major forum for African film.
Daratt (which translates as ‘Dry Season’, was funded by France, Belgium, Chad and Austria in 2006). The film follows a young boy who has suffered in the Civil War [2005 to 2010] but who finds a new life in a bakery. A Screaming Man / Un homme qui crie (France, Belgium, Chad 2010)was once again set in the period of the Civil War as a father and son struggle to cope with the adversities of their situation. Grigris (Chad, France, Belgium 2013) only received a single screening at the London Film Festival but no British-wide distribution.
Haroun’s film dramatize the ill effects of Colonialism and Neo-colonialism in Africa, especially that region once termed ‘Francophone’. His stories also frequently revolve around fathers and sons, making for powerful and emotional dramas. And he has a fine sense of visual presentation and has worked with really talented craft teams. Now his new film is receiving the release [though limited] his work deserves. But the two screenings at the Picture House are likely to be rare opportunities to see the movie in its proper theatrical setting.
If you want a preview:
My first time at Hyde Park Picture House (HPPH) was to see Much Ado About Nothing in 1993 – I was still at High School. I’m a huge Keanu Reeves fan and because this film was not to be shown at the former Odeon or ABC cinemas, off I went to the HPPH feeling exceptionally cultured to watch my true love play a plain-dealing Shakespearean villain.
I’m sure there are many of us who have similar first-time memories of visiting the HPPH. I took the opportunity to volunteer to contribute blog posts to the Friends of Hyde Park Picture House (The Friends) and was really excited about being invited to attend the AGM and to write a report from the perspective of a new volunteer.
The meeting started with committee member Ian Sanderson giving a tribute of a founding member and former Chair Peter Chandley who died last year. It was nice to hear about Peter and how passionate he was about the cinema.
10% of members needed to be in attendance at the meeting to be quorate (having the necessary number of people present for decisions to be made). There were only 49 at the meeting out of approximately 700 members. I wondered how well it had been advertised and if the importance of being in attendance was stressed, especially if decisions were to be made. Fortunately there were only procedural matters that required a vote this year and these will be carried over to a Special General Meeting on July 15th. The Friends are now a registered charity and the committee wanted the group to stay focussed and relevant to members (who pay an annual membership fee) and recognise the importance of getting more people to attend future AGMs.
The purpose of the committee and The Friends was discussed at length and to me, it was not as clear as it should be (something the committee acknowledged and want to work on). When the cinema was in danger of closing, The Friends are the ones who saved it. Now it’s thriving and from January 2020-December 2020 the cinema will be closed and massive renovations will take place. Plans will be to add a second screen, meeting rooms, to extend opening times, to increase programming and the number of film-related activities.
Where will The Friends fit into this new phase of specialist film showing in Leeds? One way is to ensure that HPPH continues to deliver a good variety of films. Should the HPPH be doing more or something different?
Wendy Cook (Head of Cinema) continued the meeting with an informative presentation on what had been achieved throughout the past year such as showing 374 different films and hosting 1172 private events. Two new members of staff have been recruited to join the small team – Creative Engagement Officer and Young Audience Officer. The HPPH is expanding into a new entity and the committee of The Friends would like to expand with it. There was a call for more volunteers to join the committee that reflects the community of Leeds. The Friends ultimately are the voice of the community who love and appreciate specialist films.
It’s an exciting time of change.
All ideas and names of potential committee members should be submitted before the 15 July 2019 via the contact form, Twitter (@friendsofhpph) or Facebook (FOHPPH) which is when there will be a Special General Meeting.
- The membership scheme is under review (suggestions are welcome)
- Volunteers are needed to help sift through the archives
- The topic of reinstating film appreciation clubs and group discussions was suggested
- A variety of alternative venues will be used throughout the temporary closure
- More blog contributors are needed
A quick recommendation for Sometimes Always Never, the debut feature film from Carl Hunter which is showing this weekend at the Picture House. Scripted by Frank Cottrell-Boyce who has previously collaborated with Danny Boyle (Millions, 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony) and Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People). It tells the story of a father (Bill Nighy) who is preoccupied by the disappearance of his grown son who stormed out over a Scrabble disagreement years earlier.
When I saw the film at the Keswick Film Festival, Hunter said he wanted to make something that was British but uniquely so and he employs many different techniques to achieve this. It will remind you of other things, for me it was Wes Anderson, but as a whole it is unlike anything else. The strong cast and writing tell a heartfelt and charming story and some great cameos and funny moments provide lots of entertainment.
There’s a great soundtrack by Edwyn Collins as well.
A great opportunity for members to meet with one another and hear from the Committee. This year we’ll be looking at how the Friends can work to support the changes happening at the cinema and it would be great for more people to get involved.
Please see the AGM page for full details.