Bill’s Highlights From #LIFF2018

Bill Walton looks back at his highlights of Leeds International Film Festival 2018:

This year I got to 32 screenings, the majority at the Hyde Park Picture House. My choices were nearly all booked in advance from the programme, often with little background knowledge. This can mean missing out on some films that turn out to be very popular, but also means a lot of delightful surprises. Now that the experience has had time to settle, here are the films that stuck in my mind.

Night Train

A lot of my highlights were in the Time Frames section, and were in black and white: Night Train (1959), 12 Angry Men (1957), Odd Man Out (1947), The Docks of New York (1928) with live musical accompaniment, and my festival favourite La Notte (1961) which is just beautiful. I also enjoyed comedies like After Hours (1985) and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018).

Capernaum

One of the things I like about the Festival is the rare chance to see films made in areas of conflict, often in the face of physical danger and on a financial shoestring. I would highlight Capernaum (2018) set in Beirut, The Journey (2017) set in Baghdad, and The Reports on Sarah and Saleem (2018) set in West and East Jerusalem. They were nicely complemented by the thoughtful documentary What is Democracy? (2018).

Tampopo

Then there were delightful films like The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) – another top film for me -; a very funny Japanese food-based comedy Tampopo (1985); In The Aisles (2018) set in a huge German supermarket; and highly original Belgian animations This Magnificent Cake + Oh Willy (2018).

I avoided headline films like Peterloo (2018) and Suspiria (2018) because I know that I’ll soon be able to catch them when they are released more widely. A big thank you to everyone who made LIFF 2018 possible.

 


Bill Walton

My #LIFF2018 roundup

The film festival is over for another year and what an amazing two weeks it was. I managed to fit in 47 films with a total running time of 82 hours which I thought was a lot until I saw somebody had made it to 70-something screenings. I think it’s an incredible achievement by everybody involved that it’s possible for somebody to see so many films and find something to like about all of them. There were some films I struggled with (Happy As Lazzaro and Birds of Passage) but I think this was more down to my own tiredness (one of the problems of seeing so many films). Other films such as Genesis 2.0, Killing God, Await Further Instructions and I Feel Good all had great ideas that got a bit lost in the final film.

My favourite films this year were all retrospectives from the brilliant Time Frames series. I’ve always loved the Before films and it was relief to find Before Sunrise was as good as I remembered. I finally got to see 12 Angry Men for the first time and it was every bit as good as I had expected. 12 Angry Men was one of many films that seemed surprisingly relevant for 2018, as was Sidney Lumet’s other film,  Fail-Safe, another first viewing for me and made even more tense by the shadow of Trump hanging over it.

Of the new films it was Anna and The Apocalypse that I enjoyed the most. It’s the best Scottish zombie high school Christmas musical you’re going to see for some time and the soundtrack (out now) is brilliant. The audience for Pond Life seemed to be made up mostly of cast, crew and their friends and I’m not sure how many festival goers saw it or what people not involved with the film thought of it. It’s far from a perfect film but there was something about it that I really loved and I do hope that when it’s released next summer it finds an audience that appreciated it as much as I did.  In Fabric was another new film that completely pulled me in;I can’t begin to explain what it was about but I absolutely loved it.

This year I was also pleasantly surprised by a lot of the more ‘mainstream’ films. One of my few 5 star ratings was for Beautiful Boy and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Widows, The Kindergarten Teacher and Colette were all much better than I was expecting.

I’ve tried to put all the films I saw in some order over on Letterboxd where you can also find my brief thoughts hastily written between films or at the end of a long day.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on the festival in the comments or if you would like to write a longer blog post (on the festival or anything else) get in touch.

Wajib (Palestine, France, Germany, UAE 2017)

Tuesday November 20th at 6.30 p.m.

This is the second title in the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival following on from the very fine Reports on Sarah and Saleem in the Leeds International Film Festival. It testifies to the variety of Palestinian film that whilst the latter film was in part a thriller this is essentially a road movie. The journeys involve delivering invitations for a forthcoming Palestinian wedding in Nazareth [the meaning of the Palestinian title is ‘duty’]. This event is both an important traditional occasion in Palestinian culture and a regular feature in Palestinian films; notably in the pioneer feature A Wedding in Galilee (Urs al-jalil, 1987).

This new film is written and directed by Annemarie Jacir. She has written and directed a number of films; the earlier When I saw You / Lamma shoftak (2014) was set in 1967 amongst Palestinian refugees in Jordan. This was a splendid drama that I saw at a screening organised by Reel Solutions in Bradford. Her new release has already won awards including being selected as ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Screenplay’ and ‘Best Actor’ by the Arab Critics assembled in Cannes this year.

The film works partly as a family drama and partly as a ‘bitter-sweet comedy’. The treatment of the political situation is handled with subtlety. It was shot in colour and is in Arabic with English sub-titles. It has received very good reviews; you can check out one here.

Daughters of the Dust, (USA 1991) – Leeds Film Festival Screening

Tuesday November 12th at 1230 p.m. and Wednesday November 14th at 3. 15 p.m. at the Hyde Park Picture House.

 

The film is screening the ‘Time Frames’ series. It was directed by an Afro-American woman, Julie Dash. It is a seminal film for both the Afro-American and the USA Independent cinemas. The basic story-line follows the migration from a Georgia island by women from an isolated and creole speaking community, once enslaved on plantations, in the early 1900s. However, the film has an unconventional use of time and space and an unusual narrative voice. This enables Julie Dash and her team to provide a film that is full of vivid imagery, metaphors and symbolism. It also dramatises the clashes within Afro-American cultures between tradition and the modern.

The film is full of poetic mages whilst the dialogue is in a form of Creole. The cinematography by Arthur Jafa is particularly fine, offering sumptuous images to accompany the characters and story. It won the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Festival and the film has since been included in the Library of Congress National Film Register

The film was partly funded by PBS American Playhouse after being turned down by major studios. Unfortunately none of Dash’s subsequent productions have received proper distribution. It remains her only well-known title despite a considerable output for cinema and television.

The film could be challenging; apart from an unconventional narrative it eschews sub-titles for the Creole [mostly understandable]. But it is a rich and compelling work. The film was originally shot on 35mm in colour and standard wide screen. It has now been restored and is distributed in a digital format. Hopefully this will do justice to the original. For two decades after its initial release it was not seen at all in Britain, so this is a welcome return. The film runs 112 minutes.

Reports on Sarah and Saleem (2018) Leeds Film Festival Screening

Screening at the Vue in the Light on  Saturday 10th November at 1030 a.m. And on Sunday 11th November at 3.30 p.m.

This is a new film from the developing Palestinian Film Industry and it is both a welcome feature in LIFF and [as in previous years] launches the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival which runs on until December.

The film deals with an affair between two married people, a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman. Affairs between Palestinians and Israeli’s have been a staple of the cinemas of both Palestine and Israel but adding marriage to the complications is rarer. The film combines the thriller genre with the romantic drama genre. The film is the work of director Muayad Alayan and [his brother] writer Rami Musa Alayan. They have worked together on both a feature and short films but I have not seen any of these. As is often the case the production relies on funding from a number of different countries, Netherlands, Palestine, Germany and Mexico.

The film was shot digitally in both East and West Jerusalem with their contrasting cityscapes and cultures. It is in colour and a 2.35:1 ratio with Arabic, Hebrew and English dialogue and sub-titles in English. It promises to be an engaging and thought provoking film. Palestinian film-makers have become expert at combining cinematic genres with political issues and characterisations.

NB. The Festival online pages do not seem to have an straight alphabetical listing,; I found the title under country [Palestine].

Film Festival Programme 2018

The full programme for the 32nd Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF2018) is out now. The film guide should be available to pick up in the usual places, including the Picture House (an online version doesn’t seem to be available yet). The programme is  on the Leeds Film City website,  a Clashfinder has been put together which is really useful tool to help plan your festival and there’s a Letterboxd list of all the films.

There are more than a hundred films to choose from as well as several programmes of short films and other events. The difficult process of deciding what to see begins and we’d love to hear what you think of the programme and are planning to see; let us know in the comments and we look forward to seeing you in November.

Keswick Film Festival

Keswick FIlm Festival Poster

As well as serving on the committee for the Friends I’m also involved with Keswick Film Club and in a few weeks their 19th Film Festival will be taking place. I grew up near Keswick and the film club played an important part in developing my love for art house cinema. I’ll be heading back to the Lake District town for the festival and would easily recommend a visit to see some great films in an idyllic location.

There are many films from LIFF in the programme so a great chance to catch up with some you may have missed or just want to see again. The Rider (a wonderful surprise for me and I may see it again), Sami Blood, Blade Of The Immortal, Dark River, The Square and, like Leeds, the festival will be closing with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.

There are films you (probably) won’t have seen yet. Director Simon Hunter will open the festival with Edie, starring Sheila Hancock as an 84 year old who is determine to climb a mountain. A Fantastic Woman has been wowing festival audiences and critics around the world and François Ozon’s L’Amant Double has yet to get a UK release date. We also have one of the first screenings of John Hurt’s final film, That Good Night. John was the patron of the festival and visited a number of times, his wife will be introducing the film.

We’re also delighted to be showing Ken Russell’s Clouds Of Glory, thought for many years to have been lost. Commissioned by Melvyn Bragg for Granada TV, this is Ken Russell’s interpretation of the lives and loves of Coleridge and Wordsworth and was filmed locally. The screening accompanies a talk, Cumbria On Film, exploring how the region has been used for films over the years including Withnail & I and The Force Awakens.

There are also talks on director George Stevens (with screenings of Shane and Woman Of The Year) and “Scared Stiff in the 1960” before a late night screening of the original Night Of The Living Dead.

There are many more films and more guests and I haven’t even mentioned the short film competition which I’m most heavily involved with.

The festival runs from Thursday 22nd to Sunday 25th February, tickets are £6.50  and passes for the whole weekend are £55 (concessions are available). It mostly takes place in two venues so you can see about half of the entire programme if you get a pass.

And it’s not just about the films, Keswick is great place to visit (especially at this time of year?) and it’s only a few hours away from Leeds.

 

Our #LIFF2017 Highlights

The film festival may be over but with arguably one of their best programmes, there’s still plenty to talk about. We asked our contributors for their highlights from LIFF2017 and it would be great to see yours in the comments:

Bill

  • Thelma
  • Félicité
  • The Wages of Fear
  • Loveless
  • Lover for a Day
  • The Teacher
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Gaza Surf Club
  • Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

Jake

  • The Rider
  • Western
  • Untitled
  • Félicité
  • Happy End

Keith

  • Happy End
  • Félicité
  • Taste of Cherry / Ta’m e guilass

And the best film not screened at the Festival, Oktyabr / October 1917 (Ten Days that Shook the World, 1928), co-written and directed by Sergei Eisenstein.

Stephen

  • Amélie
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Journeyman
  • The Florida Project
  • Good Time
  • Bad Genius
  • You Were Never Really Here
  • Jane
  • The Breadwinner
  • The Rider

 

Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2017


The 2017 Festival launches during the Leeds International Film Festival with a new documentary Gaza Surf Club. The film has been directed by two young filmmakers with funding from German Public Broadcasting Company, Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln. In Gaza there is a small band of enthusiasts who ride the surf in the coastal waters. The added dangers of the sport here are the Israeli blockade and maritime restrictions. It is in colour and with both English and Arabic.

The Occupation of the American Mind is a documentary produced by the Media Education Foundation. The writers and directors Loretta Alper, and Jeremy Earp have provided an exploration of that central movement attempting to protect Israel from scrutiny and justice in the USA. This ‘propaganda’ and pressure is replicated to a smaller extent in Britain as well. Filmed in colour and all in English. The film will be followed by a talk and discussion with former Reuters journalist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi. Naomi is a leading campaigner for ‘Free Speech on Israel’.

Firefighters Under Occupation is a distintive documentary. Sponsored by the Fire Brigade Union it was filmed by a South Wales firefighter on a trip to the Occupied West Bank where indigenous firefighters operate the equipment donated by their comrades in Britain. The event also has a distintive venue, the converted Gipton Fire Station now an East Leeds Community venue.

The Time That Remains is the most recent feature by Elia Suleiman released in 2009, screening at the Hyde Park Picture House. Suleiman is a pioneer of Palestinian cinema, his first films in the 1990s were produced before the present expanded cycle of films made in the occupied territories emerged. Dramatising his own life and that of his father Fuad Suleiman produces a complex narrative setting out both the Israeli domination of Palestinians and their resistance. The film treats the subject with a degree of irony.

The Idol from the 2016 Festival at a new venue. This title dramatises the story of Muhammad Assaf, the Gazan wedding singer who won the prestigious Television Contest ‘Arab idol’. The film had some fine sequences set in Gaza in his childhood and returns there at the end with actual footage of the celebrations on his success.

Also returning from 2016 is Balls, Barriers & Bulldozers, a documentary following a British tour of the West Bank playing against  Palestinian women football teams. The film is about the sport and about the experience of visiting the Occupied Territories.

‘Existence is Resistance’ is an evening with short films and an exhibition of photographs. The theme is ‘Sumud’, that is ‘steadfast’. The short films are Sumud: Everyday Resistance; Journey of a Sofa; and Shireen of al-Walaja the portrait of a popular resistance leader.

Finally we have ‘Film Maker as Activist – an afternoon of short films and discussion with Jon Pullman’. The Forgotten addresses the condition of the millions of Palestinian refugees who still wait for the liberation of their homeland. The filmmaker will also talk about his planned film, The Lynching, which will deal with the current ‘anti-semiotic’ witch-hunt in the British Labour Party.

The Festival offers a varied selection of films in both theatrical and community settings. Now well established the Festival brings a political edge to film viewing in West Yorkshire.

Festival Webpages: http://www.leedspff.org.uk/

LIFF’s 35mm Films

‘Orphée ‘ – a Festival highlight.

This year’s Festival includes eight screening sourced from 35mm prints, [baring accidents]. I make this one more than in 2016, progress. All the films will be projected at the Hyde Park Picture House as the only other venue in Leeds with 35mm projector, The Cottage Road Cinema, is not participating in the Festival: shame. In another example of progress all the titles are listed in the printed ‘Free Guide’ and are noted on the Festival Webpages.

Stephen has already mentioned the ‘breakfast’ screening of Amelie (France 2001).

The Deputy / El diputado is a Spanish thriller from 1978, filmed in colour and standard widescreen. The plot involves a left-wing politician, the police and security services, black mail and even treason. The treatment makes all of this both complex and fascinating, widening the story with sexual orientation.

The Lives of Others / Das Leben der Anderen (Germany, 2006) was a popular success on its initial release. It studies the situation of an artist under the Stasi in the German Democratic Republic in the 1980s. What makes the story dramatic is a borrowing from Victor Hugo’s great novel ‘Les Misérables’.

Orphée (France 1950) is a film version of the famous myth by poet and artist Jean Cocteau. The film has a dreamlike quality and is full of actions and settings beloved of the Surrealists. The black and white cinematography really does deserve to be seen on film.

The Party and the Guests / O slavnosti a hostech (A Report on the Party and the Guests, Czechoslovakia, 1966) was part of the 1960s ‘new wave’ and was banned for many years. The film only appeared in Britain in 2008. Shot in academy and black and white, the film is an absurdist drama, at times reminiscent of Samuel Beckett.

Seven Days in January / 7 días de enero (Spain, 1979) is a thriller based on actual events. Aftert the welcome death of General Franco and Spain’s transition to a more democratic society elements from the fascist past attempted to undermine the process.

Taste of Cherry / Ta’m e guilass (Iran, 1997) is one of the fine films from this country’s art/independent sector. The director Abbas Kiarostami is noted for his minimalist approach. Here, in another Iranian film set mainly in an automobile, we spend a few hours with a man debating a fundamental question.

Volver (Spain, 2006) is another excellent drama from Pedro Almodóvar. This is a film centred on women and the fine cast, as a collective, were awarded the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festivals. This is mainly a dramatic comedy but with many of the issues that always fill Almodovar’s films and titillate audiences.

Classic Almodóvar at the Festival.

Surprisingly several other films in the retrospective section are on digital even though I am pretty sure that 35mm prints exist. These include Satyajit Ray’s memorable Aparajito (India, 1956) and the more recent and compelling The Headless Woman / La mujer sin Cabeza (Argentina, 2008) directed by Lucretia Martell.

But the most serious lacunae in the programme is the complete absence of Soviet titles. The Centenary of the Great October Revolution [in the new style calendar] falls within the Festival. If this is not recognised as the most significant event of the C20th then surely the cinema it inspired, Soviet Montage, should be. It was the most challenging but also the most influential film movement in C20th World Cinema. It seems that we need a seminar on film history for the Festival office.