It Must Be Heaven, (France/ Qatar/ Germany / Canada/ Turkey / Palestine, 2019)

Monday November 18th at 8.3. p.m. and Wednesday November 20th at 6.30 p.m.

This year’s Festival of Palestinian films launches, as usual, with this title screening during the Leeds International Film Festival, Already screened at the London Film Festival which provided this description:

“The beard is now inflected with grey and the eyelids hang a little lower, but for Elia Suleiman, the deft comic touch and wistful regret for a home just out of reach remain strong in It Must Be Heaven. The Palestinian film-maker fourth feature film – and his first in a decade – revisits similar themes to his earlier work, once again employing himself as the near-mute central character. This time, however, Suleiman transposes much of the action to Paris and New York. The upheaval across the Arab world since 2011 has seen the Palestinian struggle for statehood lose some of the existential urgency it once had to outsiders. Suleiman’s film is a delicious reminder of both the vitality of the cause, and the vibrancy of his artistry.”

His earlier features have been screened at the Hyde Park over the years. His last, the very fine The Time That Remains (2009), was part of an ealier Festival of Palestinian films. This most recent title runs 97 minutes, in colour and in English / French / Arabic / Spanish / Hebrew [English sub-titles, it has an unusually wide ration, 2.66:1.

LIFF 2019 Preview: Retrospective

Verna Fields

The Festival Retrospective this year offers a distinctive programme:                              ‘Mother Cutter Women Who Shaped Film’.

The women shaping film in this case are the editors, an important aspect of film-making which women have often dominated and which for much of the industry history has been one of the few areas where women had similar opportunities to men; another interestingly is scriptwriting.

The retrospective title is that of the nickname of Verna Fields, a long-standing editor in Hollywood. Her work included such disparate titles as Medium Cool {1969) and Jaws (1975). The former, a classic of the counter-culture, is the title screening in the Retrospective.The programme screenings are split between The Victoria at the Town Hall and the Hyde Park Picture House. Note, some titles are screening twice, some only once; so check the Brochure and calendar.

With the exception of the most recent ‘Mad Max’ release all of the titles were produced using photo-chemical film with the appropriate techniques. This means that the editing not only involves viewing, selecting, and arranging the complex tapestry of film shots and sequences in relation to sound tracks; it was physical manipulation,  cutting and splicing reel film, nearly always 35mm. So it is a little disappointing that only four of the titles in the programme are being presented in this format. All screen at the Hyde Park Picture House.

‘Beau travail’

Beau travail (1999.) [Wednesday 13th and Friday 15th November].

This is an adaptation of Herman Melville’s story ‘Billy Budd,Sailor’ by the director Claire Denis with Jean-Pol Fargeau. There have been other film versions of the Melville story but this is the most ambitious, with the narrative moved from a ship-o’-war to a Foreign Legion outpost in North Africa. Two important collaborators on the film were cinematographer Agnès Godard and film editor Nelly Quettier. Both have worked on other important films. Agnès Godard was cinematographer on a fine Italian film Golden Door / Nuovomondo (2006). Nelly Quettier worked on the equally fine and more recent Italian film Happy as Lazzaro / Lazzaro felice (2018).

‘Dancer in the dark’

Dancer in the Dark (Denmark and thirteen other territories, 2000)                                    [Monday 18th and Tuesday 19th November].

This is a post-Dogmé film from Lars von Trier. As you might expect it moves to a harrowing climax. Before that a young immigrant single mother [played by singer Björk) is living in rural USA in 1964. Her world of escape presents musical sequences set in her factory workplace. The film was edited by Molly Malene Stensgaard who had to manipulate DVcam video before its transfer to 35mm film. She has worked on a number of Lars von Trier titles, including the outstanding Melancholia (2011). This film won the prestigious Cannes Palme d’Or.

‘Movern Callar’

Movern Callar (Britain, Canada 2002).                                                                                                        [Tuesday 19th and Wednesday 20th November].

This was the second feature directed by Lynne Ramsay. This, and the earlier Ratcatcher (199),.seem to me better than her later films with US participation. Samantha Morton in the title role plays a grieving young woman who goes on a journey and an odyssey to Spain. The film was edited by Lucia Zucchetti. She also edited Ratcatcher, and, a little later, the highly successful The Queen (2006).

‘The Tempest’

The Tempest (Britain 1979). [Monday 11th and Wednesday 13th November].

The talented and subversive Derek Jarman adapts William Shakespeare: later he added Christopher Marlowe Edward II (1992). ‘Such stuff as dreams are made of …’ in a completely distinctive treatment. The editor Lesley walker, in only her second feature, provided an editing style that matched the unconventional style of Jarman. Her later work includes popular hits like Mama Mia (2013) but also other unconventional titles like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). The film originated on 16mm.

Esfir Shubb

The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty / Padenie dinastii Romanovykh (USSR 1927),        [Monday 11th November].

This title, originally on 35mm, is screening from a 16mm print; the format used in film societies and by Kino in 1930s, when Soviet films were almost impossible to see in Britain. Directed and edited by Esfir Shubb, this is a pioneer compilation documentary. Shubb worked through thousands of metres of stock footage, short films and newsreels to produce 1500 metres that traced the the developments in Russia from 1913 to the revolutionary year of 1917 and the final dissolution of the Russian ruling class. Shubb could be called the ‘mother cutter’ of Soviet cinema. Many of the famous talents learned from her tutelage, including the young Sergei Eisenstein. The film has no sound track but uses title cards and will have live musical accompaniment by Jonathan Best at the piano.

These five films are the only photo-chemical prints in the Festival. The number seems to go down year by year; so apart from the quality of the films these screenings are also an opportunity to enjoy a’ vanishing prairie’ of reel film.

************************************************************************

Note: a bonus.

Green for Danger  (Black and White, 1946) by Lauder and Gilliat is also a 35mm print, the second screening is on Thursday a,m. This is a murder mystery with a fine performance from Alastair Sim. Edited by Thelma Myers [later Connell]. She learned her craft on films like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and worked on many more titles including the fine black and white drama The Hill (1965).

I can also happily report that the 35mm prints of The Tempest and Green for Danger  were both good and that for Beau Travail was excellent.

 

#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.

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.

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].

Monsters and Men, USA 2018 – Leeds Film Festival Screening

Vue Monday November 5th at 2 p.m. and Wednesday November 7th and 3.45 p.m.

I was very impressed with this new title. Set in New York it presents the responses of three different characters to a shooting of an African-American male by the New York City Police. Thus it addresses one of the most contentious issues in the USA today.

The shooting occurs at the start of the film and then we follow the three very different protagonists – John David Washington as Dennis Williams, Anthony Ramos as Manny Ortega and Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Zyrick – as they grapple with the event and the fallout both in the Department and in the local community. The setting is the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn. The plot follows each man in sequence, though they also appear in each other’s story, providing an underlying and binding narrative.

But we watch more than just these three men. An aspect of the film that I especially liked is the way that it represents the family and community lives of the protagonists. We see parents, partners, offsprings, friends, colleagues and the activists in the community. Whilst the action is the streets is often dramatic the domestic scenes have a different tone but are equally fascinating.

This is a fine socially conscious drama but also a drama that holds the interest all the way through. It is in colour and full widescreen, running 95 minutes. The cast, both leading and supporting players, are excellent. The cinematography by Patrick Scola and the editing by Justin Chan and Scott Cummings is very well done. The film relies very much on location shooting. There is an excellent and not over-intrusive music score by Kris Bowers.

The Festival catalogue lists the film as an 18 Certificate. There is not yet an entry on the BBFC web-pages; whilst there is violence and strong language at times I find this an overly unnecessary classification. The title is screening in 11 at Vue, a large auditorium with a large screen. The level of illumination during a feature is suitably low, not always the case at Vue. However, they do not mask ratios that differ from the 16:9 screen. And there is a central aisle, a design weakness as you get latecomers blocking views as they enter. In the case of this title we had a group wander in, climb up to the back, sit down, start talking, switch on a mobile phone and then get up and leave. Clearly the wrong feature for them: a recurring problem in multiplexes.