#LIFF2019 Preview: Cinema Versa


Bill Walton selects some films from the Cinema Versa strand of the festival programme:

Last Festival I only managed to see two documentaries (in the Cinema Versa section): Something Left Behind (2018) about the legendary Leeds band The Wedding Present; and What is Democracy? (2018) which highlighted how the very understanding of democracy varies from place to place around the world and over time.

They inspired me to make sure that I see more Cinema Versa films this time. So far on my list are:

So don’t forget to have a good look through the blue section of the programme. You will discover some cinematic gems.


Bill Walton

LIFF2019 Preview #2

Next in our series of posts on Leeds International Film Festival, Hannah tells us about her festival plans…

Last week, on a bit of a nostalgia trip, I watched the French film A Town Called Panic (2009) This showed on bonfire night at the Picture House during LIFF24 in 2010 and was my first taste of the film festival. Since then, my festival has steadily grown from the occasional odd film when I happened to be in Leeds to being an essential fortnight of my autumn calendar, around which all other things must be carefully arranged.

This year I’m going full tilt into LIFF (can we call it LIFF33?). After 2018, I said I’d take it easy and have time to reflect between screenings, maybe pop home occasionally, check in with my family or go for some leisurely lunches. You know, the things it’s nice to do when you’ve taken a week off work. Unfortunately somewhere in the planning, that idea has been bulldozered. The changes in ticketing for the festival, a jam-packed programme to choose from and a kind of film festival FOMO have conspired to keep me as square-eyed as ever.

At the time of writing, I’m lining up 45 screenings across the 16 days of festival; from Hollywood yet-to-be-blockbusters like Jojo Rabbit and Little Monsters, French animation (I Lost My Body), and East Asian action (The Gangster The Cop The Devil, The Wild Goose Lake) to documentaries like The Hidden City, shorts (ALL the animation) and a smattering of classics (All About Eve, Bonnie and Clyde). It’s going to be an effort, but when the line-up is this varied and exciting, I want to make the most I can of the opportunity.

The Picture House has been the scene of some of my favourite LIFF memories and this year has some exciting offerings:

  • The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty – A 1926 silent found-footage film marking the 10th anniversary of the 1917 revolution with live piano accompaniment.
  • The Hidden City – a documentary by Víctor Moreno on subterranean worlds; the pipes, tunnels and transport beneath our cities.
  • Night of the Dead and the inaugural Sci-fi Day – the marathon events at HP are staples of the film festival programme and this year the line-up includes a sci-fi run back to back with NOTD. If you’re really going for it you could attempt both, and I’m sure some will!

Outside the Picture House, I’m really looking forward to:

  • The Gangster The Cop The Devil – Thanks to LIFF, I’ve discovered a love of Korean action. A gangster and a police officer hunt a serial killer – the trailer is promising and I have high hopes.
  • Come to Daddy – Elijah Wood in a grizzly family drama. It might tip into type-casting, but Wood does wide-eyed terror well and I expect it to be put to good use here.
  • Days of the Bagnold Summer – the directorial debut from Simon Bird (Will from The Inbetweeners) is an adaptation from the graphic novel of the same name by Joff Winterhart. A story of a teenage boy and his mum navigating a long summer holiday together. The cast includes British favourites Alice Lowe, Monica Dolan and Tamsin Greig, with Earl Cave (Nick’s son) in the central role.
  • Family Romance LLC – A Werner Herzog documentary exploring a business in Japan that rents out actors to substitute in others’ lives, like a nonfiction rendering of Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2011 film Alps. That film was strange enough and I’m interested to see how the real version might work. From the trailer and bits I’ve read online, it’s going to be an odd one.

With a programme that offers such a variety and by giving myself the freedom to take some risks, the LIFF experience to date has dramatically expanded my cinematic horizons. Before discovering them in the cinema, I probably would have skirted all sorts of excellent foreign-language films because they felt like too much of a challenge and I definitely wouldn’t have gone out to see many documentaries on the big screen. These days the reluctance has vanished and recent years have been a feast of the weird and wonderful.

Taking an afternoon off work to go to the cinema feels like a decadent treat, something you can file under ‘self care’ and spoil yourself rotten at a matinee. Take a whole day off to go to the pictures and it might start to feel strange – more than one film at this time of year and you’ll barely see daylight. Take a few more and step out of your day-to-day life, disconnect from rolling news and immerse yourself in the moving image. There in the dark, you might learn something new, experience something you wouldn’t have otherwise, and lose yourself in other people’s imaginations. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

LIFF 2019 starts on Wednesday. I’ll see you in the cinema!

#LIFF2019 Preview #1

In the run up to the Leeds International Film Festival we’ll be taking a look at some of the films making up this years programme. First up is Stephen…

I wasn’t sure what to expect in this years selection of films but after last year’s late addition of Roma I was hopeful we’d get a chance to see The Irishman on a big screen. Disappointingly it wasn’t in the launch programme but that big gap on Thursday 7th was soon to be filled with Scorsese’s latest. This feels like the real opening film of the festival for me and I just hope the Town Hall seats aren’t too uncomfortable for the three and half hour running time. Netflix seem to making more effort to get this in cinemas and it should also be playing at the Picture House after the festival.

I love the variety of films shown at the festival and often find myself drawn towards the weirder sounding films. There don’t seem to be that many oddities in this year’s programme but perhaps that because the strangeness has gone into the mainstream with Jojo Rabbit. I’ve loved all of Taika Waititi’s films so far (Boy, What We Do In The Shadows, The Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok – I still haven’t seen Eagle vs Shark) and I’m sure this won’t disappoint although the trailer left me a little cold.

In between those opening and closing films I’m currently planning on seeing around 50 films (and therefore really grateful that the Gold Explorer pass was introduced). Over the years I’ve come to trust the programming team and think there’s usually a good reason to see any of the films in the programme. I’ve tried to take a more practical approach to my schedule this year, trying to avoid dashes across town or upturning my entire plan to fit in films I assume I’ll be able to see elsewhere e.g The Cave, The Two Popes, Ordinary Love and Matthias & Maxime (by the way isn’t it strange that there are two films called The Cave as well as Marriage Story and A Marriage Story in the programme). If you are still making your plans and want to see a better view of when films are showing you may find this Clashfinder useful.

Most of the films I’m looking forward to are from directors I already know and have been praised at other film festivals. All of the following have headline slots and are likely to be popular:

  • Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach’s latest.
  • The Nightingale – Jennifer Kent’s follow up the The Babadook (2014).
  • The Lighthouse – I wasn’t a fan of The VVitch (2015) but keen to see what Robert Eggers has done with this.
  • Portrait of A Lady On Fire Girlhood (2014) and Tomboy (2011) are fantastic and Céline Sciamma’s latest film very different from those, she was also screenplay consultant on one of my favourite ‘forgotten’ LIFF films Bird People (2014).

Some of the lesser known films I’m looking forward to include:

  • Patrick – Really not sure what to expect from this but it was one film in the trailer reel that really stood out as a typical WTF LIFF film.
  • The Incredible Shrinking WKND – another strange sounding one dealing with time-loops. It’s part of the Sci-Fi day at Hyde Park and I’ve taken the easy option of settling in the the entire day.
  • La Belle Époque – the idea of being able to recreate any moment from the past sounds like an intriguing one.
  • Little Monsters – more well known but looks like a lot of fun.

I’m disappointed I haven’t been able to fit in more of the classic films, the Mother Cutter strand is a great idea and a wonderful selection of films. I do have some free time so I may be able to fit some of these films in as well. I’m also glad that the short films are getting more screenings, I’ve not been able to get to many of these in the last few years but this year it seemed easier to fit them around other films.

As always we’d love to hear from you, please leave comments below or head over to our Twitter and Facebook pages to tell us what you’re looking forward to at the Festival.

The Last Tree, Britain 2019

Screening on the coming Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday

This is the second feature both written and directed by Shola Amoo. It is fine production, beautifully put together. The cast are good with a fine leading performance by Sam Adewunmi as Femi. The film follows his development as a young boy with a foster-parent, through life with his actual mother up until his late teens. The setting move from rural Lincolnshire to urban inner-city London. Visually and aurally the film is a pleasure. There is fine cinematography by Stil Williams, fine editing by Mdhamiri Á Nkemi and excellent sound design by a team of engineers.

The narrative and representations are less sure. Both the supporting characters and the settings tend towards stereotypes. This is partly because they are undeveloped; for example, we never really get a proper back-story either for the foster-parent or for Femi’s actual mother. Underneath some distinctive settings and plotting there is a fairly conventional narrative.  The music is judicious but I think that it [deliberately] emphasises the conventional aspects of the story.

The script uses a number of extended ellipsis and I think this introduces an element of fragmentation into Femi’s story. This seems to me an example where the director would have benefited from a fellow scriptwriter.

Even so it is an absorbing title and is great to both watch and listen to. And the subject is both interesting with a contemporary relevance. Definitely worth going to see at the cinema as it is in both colour and full widescreen.

Pain and Glory (Spain, 2019)

Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo and Asier Etxeandia as Alberto

Pedro Almodóvar is a man of many stories. I find his vivid blend of heroism, tragedy and flashes of utter absurdity a heady combination. His films have spanned grand themes and domestic oddities, drugged gazpacho and heroin dealing, tiger owning nuns, but this time the spotlight shines back at the director himself. Or rather, it shines at the idea of ‘the Director’; Antonio Banderas stars as Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker whose ill health, the significant anniversary of one of his early movies and an encounter with a former friend cause him to review his life and works. Mallo’s life unfolds for the audience, encompassing a childhood with his mother (played by Penelope Cruz), his early career and first loves, through a series of flashbacks and reflections.

It seems almost unavoidable to consider this film as something of a self portrait; Banderas’ appearance is grizzled with a dandelion clock of hair similar to Almodóvar’s own, he reportedly wore the director’s clothes during filming – parts of which even took place in his own Madrid apartment. We have more than a few hints then that Mallo might be a version of the director himself. Almodóvar has shrugged off comparisons at interview, saying he wouldn’t write or direct an autobiographical work, but it feels unlikely that the similarities are entirely coincidental.

There’s a lot to look forward to here. At Cannes this year, Banderas won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Mallo and Alberto Iglesias (another frequent Almodóvar collaborator, having worked on Volver (2006) and Julieta (2016) amongst others) won the award for Best Soundtrack. Cruz and Banderas are giants of Spanish cinema who’ve made the leap into Hollywood and both keep one foot squarely in Europe. While the pair feature in different timelines in this film, it’ll be a treat to see them on screen together – something that hasn’t happened since their brief cameos in 2013’s Los Amantes Pasajeros (I’m So Excited!). I hope that the actors’ transatlantic popularity can help to bring a wider audience than existing fans to the intense visual feast of an Almodóvar picture. If you’ve not seen any of his work to date, hunt out Volver (2006) featuring Penelope Cruz returning from the dead, try Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (1989), a dark domestic comedy with Carmen Maura and The Skin I Live In (2011) where Banderas is a sinister Dr Frankenstein-esque character haunted by his past.

On top of the Cannes gongs, there are rumours of other nominations for Pain and Glory, with reviewers describing Banderas’ performance as ‘career defining’ and the role he was ‘born to play’. I’m convinced and can’t wait to see it.

Pain and Glory will be showing at the Picture House from Friday.


Hannah Bingle

Too Late To Die Young/Tarde Para Morir Joven (Chile*, 2018)

Tuesday Wonder 30th July 6:30pm.Children on bikes

The second feature film from Chilean director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, it was released with great acclaim at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival in August 2018 where Sotomayor Castillo was recognised as the  first female winner of the festival’s Best Direction Award.

It’s December 1989, the Pinochet government has recently fallen and Chile is holding its breath through a tinder-box summer. Sofía (Demian Hernández) is a teenager working out her place in her close-knit and newly-established agricultural community that is finding its feet on the cusp of the new year. The heat of the summer and the boil of teenage frustration is tangible as Sofía, her siblings and the adults who surround them attempt to settle into their new lives and prepare for the village’s new year celebrations. We see the families building their homes, raising their animals and testing the political dynamics of their new settlement while their children explore the forest (which holds a spectacular tree house), and their relationships with each other. Village life is largely unhurried and inward-looking and it becomes clear that the adults have as little clue as the teenagers when it comes to making new lives in the countryside. The events following the party force the community to confront their place in nature and face the reality of summer in the wilderness.

In casting, Sotomayor Castillo included a handful of professional actors but sourced the larger part of the cast – including Sofía and all of the children’s roles – from the community where the film was shot. Portions of the dialogue are improvised, giving an authentic tone to the domestic scenes.

Like the Italian summer in Call Me By Your Name (2017), Too Late to Die Young has a definite date but there’s a hazy, languid quality to the piece that means it could be placed in any year of a decade. The director herself has pointed out in interviews that the soundtrack features music audible to the characters that wasn’t released until years after the film is set. The themes of finding one’s place in the world, the unsettling changes of teenager-hood and the contrast of local politics with national turmoil have played out over and again in film, but Too Late To Die Young explores these organically and sensitively, keeping a distance between the viewer and the characters that means we don’t learn their every thought.

This film has to be seen at the cinema for the enormity of the landscape alone. You might think you’ve had enough of the hot weather after the last week, but there’s a certain magic to flooding your senses with a summer viewed from the cool, dark safety of the picture house that you won’t want to miss.

Too Late to Die Young screens at the Picture House at 6:30 on Tuesday, 30th of July.
*Chile/Brazil/Argentina/Netherlands, 2018, 110mins, Cert.15


Hannah Bingle

Performance (UK 1970)

Saturday July 27th 5.30 p.m.

This is both a cult movie and a seminal British film. Chas, (James Fox) is an East End gang member who collects protection money. When his methods result in a killing he goes on the run and hides out in Notting Hill Gate basement, where, upstairs there is a ménage à trois. Chas becomes involved in the hedonistic activities at the house and, in particular with an ex-rock musician Turner (Mick Jagger).

The film became infamous for its melee of explicit violence, sex and drug-taking. The 1970s also became infamous for the clash between adventurous film-making and conservative values, embodied in another British film The Devils (1971) and the campaign against it by an organisation called ‘The Festival of Light’.

This film was produced by Warner Brothers, who also were involved in the equally controversial A Clockwork Orange (1971). The studio executives did not know how to manage the film and enforced cuts in the finished property. The British Board of Film Censorship [as it then was] made more cuts. On release it received an ‘X certificate’ whilst in the USA it received an ‘R’ rating. It received similar certificates in other territories and often additional cuts. The USA release suffered the further indignity of having some cockney dialogue being dubbed [re-voiced]; a fate also experienced by the radically different Kes (1969).

Two people received director credits. Donald Cammell, a bona fide maverick, who wrote the screenplay and was also associate producer. He was born in Edinburgh in the ‘Outlook Tower’ later home for a ‘Camera Obscura’; how apt. Cammell started out as a painter, took up script-writing and then Performance. This is his most famous and successful film; later works have a similar combination of the exotic and the erotic, but not the acclaim.

His fellow director was Nicolas Roeg. He was born in London; and also appropriately nearly opposite the old Marylebone Film Studio, used at one point by Hammer Films. He started out as a cinematographer and indeed shot this film. He went onto direct several successful and highly praised films, including Don’t Look Now (1973), screened in a digital version here last week. He had an unconventional style of film photography. One critic, Steve Rose, remarked that his films

“shatter reality into a thousand pieces” .

His film work, as in this title, is always memorable.

The film runs 105 minutes in colour and black and white, and in the European widescreen ratio. This screening presents the restoration by the BFI from 2004 in 35mm.

The background to the film and its handling by the industry and censors will be illuminated in the Q&A that follows with Sanford Lieberson, the producer on the film. His other work includes a number of documentaries including the very fine ‘Brother Can You Spare a Dime (1975). He will be accompanied by Jay Glennie who has produced a book; ‘Performance: 50th Anniversary Book’.

Sunset / Napszállta (Hungary. France, 2018)

Sunday July 14th at 2.30 p.m.

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.

Sans Soleil/Sunless, France 1983

Friday July 5th at 6.15 p.m.

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.

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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.

A Season in France/Une Saison en France (France, 2017)

Friday 28th June at 6.15 p.m. and Wednesday 3rd July at 6.15 p.m.

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: