Leeds International Film Festival Round up
The Leeds International Film Festival brought two weeks of film highs (a few lows) as well as inducing every emotion going into it’s audiences, from terror to joy, tears to laughter. As the festival comes to a close, we review a handful of the films we experienced across this hugely successful celebration of the silver screen.
Jennie Pritchard: Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead is a long old slog. With the first screening beginning at 11am and back-to-back horror films until 9pm, it was always going to be a sure bet that you’d leave with frayed nerves and a very numb bum. The day began with Irish monster-horror flick The Hallow, directed by Corin Hardy. Satisfyingly gory and jumpy, you spend most of the time wishing you didn’t have to hide behind your hands and miss the stunning cinematography and awesome animatronic creatures. Not ground-breaking, but a masterclass in taking the monster movie genre and doing wonderful and interesting things with it.
Next up was Juan Fernando Andrés and Esteban Roe’s Musarañas or Shrew’s Nest, a Spanish film released last year, but included in this year’s festival because it was just so damn good. Tightly shot and tense, with marvellous performances, the film skilfully builds to a horrifying bloodbath. Yet the film does not take itself too seriously: severed heads and brutal dismemberment are treated with a knowing irony. Sometimes things are so grim they’re funny, a fact of which this film is painfully aware.
The Dark Owl Short Film Selection presented a mixed bag of fantasy and horror shorts from around the world. The polished and tremendously gory Arcana from Spain, and the intensely violent and clever French short The Art of Gesture had the audience squirming in their seats. In an entirely different vein, Finland’s Reunion was a touching and beautiful tale of the afterlife which utilised the country’s aesthetics to create a vision of eerie nordic noir. Voted audience favourite, the brief but fantastically observed A Boy’s Life from the USA was a snapshot of a bleak existence, with an inspired twist.
Finally, the day finished with The Witch. From director Robert Eggers, the film is not actually released until April 2016, and has been repeatedly named the scariest film of the year. The only explanation for this caveat is that the film is an experiment in what happens when you get a room full of people, tell them they’re about to watch the scariest film they’ve ever seen, then watch them spend the entire movie expecting to be terrified. It is not terrifying. It is, however, a spectacular, creepy, incredibly original film with excellent performances and disturbing imagery. It’s very, very good. It’s much more enjoyable, however, if you’re not convinced that you’ll die of fright all of the way through.
Jed Skinner: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Visions of Paradise
This documentary could have been a really interesting and detailed look at the pioneering Jamaican producer’s history, recording techniques and influence on popular music.
Opening with a series of talking-heads testimonials from the likes of Ashley Beedle, Dennis Bovell, The Orb and others, I got the sense that this would be a documentary that looked into Perry’s studio, peeked into his mind and got some insights into how he pioneered dub music, and inadvertently made some of the world’s earliest electronic music.
Sadly, however, this film instead peeked into his mind and proceeded to indulge Perry’s eccentric ramblings for the best part of two hours.
The documentary finds Perry living in Switzerland in 1999, and, using a combination of archive footage and interviews (with an entirely all-male cast, I should add), attempts to explain how he got here from Jamaica.
The reason isn’t entirely clear. We learn he recorded Bob Marley once in the 70s. We learn that the two fell out, and Perry burned his own studio down shortly after, for reasons unknown. And then we’re in Switzerland, in 1999.
Then we watch Perry shuffle around his house, adorned with graffiti and ganja, as he explains about Haile Selassie and Rastafarian culture. This is interspersed with footage of him performing. This could be interesting, but the whole time he fails to make much sense. I’m frustrated. I want to know about the tracks, the contribution he’s made to music as an art form. But I don’t get anything like that.
There’s some nice animations featuring a recurring motif of Perry fighting a devil figure. That’s apt, because he talks about the devil a lot. At one point Perry records with The Orb in their minimalist Berlin studio. Looking at him rapping into the mic with a multi-coloured wig and trousers on is pretty funny in the sense that he looks like a fish out of water. Maybe The Orb have something to say about the recording process or his influence on their own electronic music? No, they just think he’s great. Of course.
The documentary very quickly loses its way and its focus. There are long shots of Perry practically rambling into the camera, unquestioned. It’s not until we’re halfway through that we find out about his early life – we briefly meet his ill 95 year-old mother, who’s given short shrift by Perry (“we’ll get you a nice coffin”, he says). Some attempt at a joke? It’s not clear.
I end up starting to dislike the guy. Not a good thing. At one point he goes into a cave in Jamaica and talks about the colours on the walls. It sounds nice, but I find it irritating. He puts seaweed in his hair. He prats about in front of the camera. There’s a moment where he collaborates with an artist in his house, back in Switzerland. The film could have stayed on this for a bit, but after five minutes it’s gone. The artist talks about how weird and amazing Perry is. I mutter about how I partly agree.Director Volker Schaner briefly interviews the man who possibly knows him best besides his mother – his biographer, David Katz. He’s written a book on him, after all. But he doesn’t use him for more than a couple of minutes.
I came away from the film frustrated. At 100 minutes, it took far too long to not talk about very much. You can’t really do much about Perry’s eccentricities, but I feel that there could at least have been more of an effort made to tell a proper story about this bizarre and influential figure, so important in the history of modern music production.
Sean McMahon: European Film Festival Focus: Sleepwalkers Presents Baltic Pearls
Sidled off in the corner of Leeds Town Hall, the Albert Room has always been my favourite venue of the festival. With all the grandeur of the municipal building, it is still cosy enough to suspend your reality and relax for an hour or two. I was there for Short Film City’s ‘Sleepwalkers: Baltic Pearls’ showcase, which I’d picked out as a must-see from the extensive program. The five films on show on a blustery Tuesday were selected highlights from Estonia’s Sleepwalkers Short Film Festival, part of Tallin’s Annual Black Nights Festival. As a relative dunce when it comes to Baltic cinema, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to see some for the best shorts coming from the region
The night opened with Distance, an intense and moving story that explored the fraught relationship between a father and son. Simple fishermen, they’re forced to confront their issues as a fishing trip turns in to a terrifying ordeal. Set amongst the impenetrable mist of the Baltic Sea, weather played an important role in this and several of the other films films. From the deep and exhausting snow that blockades Olga’s festivities in her eponymous tale, to the revealing rain of My Condolence’s, this extreme and unpredictable weather is a mirror to the regions own climate, but perhaps also to it’s own turbulent history.
The most interesting of the quintet was the surreal and endearing The Last Romeo. The backwards, dilapidated town where this love story unfolds lent itself well to the characters who included a, a drunken talking dog, a farcical caricature of small town electro-pop star and the bumbling ‘Romeo’, Lembo. Interspersed with musical interludes and a vodka-drinking angel, it was a fantastical surprise and the best illustration of the diverse cinema on offer from the misty depths of the Baltic.
We’re a little sad that our film fix has now been significantly reduced but look forwarded to seeing what next year’s festival brings. What were your most memorable moments from this years festival?