Feature reviews

END OF 2016


Northern Lights by Nicholas Connor (Link)

There is a particular style to Northern Lights, its a cool film – and I don’t mean that in the celluloid neuvo of the French New Wave sense, but rather that being of it being cold. Yes, this film is very clinical, precise, and cool film. It brushes over you like a cold breeze, a very British one. This is in part because of the crisp photography, leaning more towards the Kubrick look of space, than say the grainy greasy one of Scott’s Alien. Obviously, in saying this, I know that this isn’t a film set in space, and rather one which takes place in interiors on earth… mostly.
Part of its rehearsed feeling, and precision, is due to its very youthful cast, which seemingly seem to be suffering at the hands of anxiety, and realism, as kids this age are rarely actually played by people their own age on screen; instead, casting wise, these roles are reserved for 30-something year-old’s impersonating youngsters – making this experience fairly unique. Kids, by Larry Clarke, feels like an example which ties with this, only that film was a dirty 90’s socio-politics film. And this isn’t.
Its on this front that the film excels, it is the work of a younger generation of filmmakers, one which has yet to really find their voice or spokesperson (I mean, we have yet to have had the next wave of Lena Dunham and Xavier Dolan arrive), and in turn, one can’t help but encourage this effort, as it is one which would have required a lot of patience and persistence.
The film is delivered in completion, its slick and visually classy. It does lag a bit, plot wise, but it makes up for it with sheer cognitive ingenuity around the anxiety images of smoke riddled poses, ones which evoke a Lana Del Rey meets David Lynch dreamscape.


An Old Man by Manoj Murali *not selected for competition 

An Old Man by Manoj Murali is a solid effort. The film itself is fairly well constructed, the family depicted appearing realistic and well captured. However, the image and sound are the issue at hand here – the film appears to be dubbed, making the experience somewhat off putting. There is much to be merited on the film’s overall style, but it falls short beyond its basic technical elements, as the dubbing and over glossed image make it seem foreign and unnatural to the viewer. It is a shame though, as the ending is very moving, and appears to provide the viewer with a meaningful story which should be told.




Writer’s Cramp (2015, Darva Campbell)

Like with the opening of  Douglas McGrath’s Infamous (2006), which captures the club scenes of a bygone celebrity hang out spot, Darva Campbell’s Writer’s Cramp has a lush and bold period piece setting. Yes, the budgets of these two films aren’t at all similar, nor is the subject at hand… but there is a familiar plush flavouring.

In a sense, when analysing film as a medium, there has been a particular loss of plushness in recent years. Rewinding, historically film’s advent of colour and sound produced the glorious musicals, where colour, technicolor in particular, became a palette for the imagination, and so did the stories which came through that era. But what we have now isn’t so much that, a set back by the digital era of ‘sharpness’ and well balanced hues has meant a goodbye to the 1950’s reverb of colour which haunted celluloid right up until the end of the late 2000’s.

Rarely did films delve into that era – the camp and glossy pop flavours. And even recent titles, which captured these tastes, were sporadic to say the least. And yet, here, far out into indie land we have an offering.

It isn’t perfect, and it is perhaps long at times, but Writer’s Cramp is a fine attempt at trying to be ambitious beyond one’s means of production, it has it all – colour, plump, black and white sequences, mysterious characters… almost like the unfolding of a Guy Maddin film, we get to sit back and transcend into a different mode of storytelling missing from our current input of cinema. It probably won’t earn the exposure it deserves, but perhaps it will land Campbell the audience she needs in order to finance another effort through one of those crowdfunding ventures.


Zeitgeist Protest (2016, Christophe Karabache)

There is something quite perverse about Zeitgeist Protest. Bit by bit we explore the mind of a man lost in the past terrors which haunt him. The film feels perhaps a tad exploitative of its topic, or is it perhaps our fascination with the topic which is being exploited? It doesn’t matter.

The issue at hand isn’t a discussion about film ethics really, nor is it a dilemma about the difference of spaces: the film’s space, our space, the space between us and what we are watching. These thoughts are triggered however, and it is all thanks to Christophe Karabache’s film. Here he leans his camera in and out of spaces, moving slowly in, or away. He is a skilled director, one reminiscent to me of Semih Kaplanoğlu, the highly regarded writer/director behind the Yusuf Trilogy.

The film sporadically looks like it might cheer up its topic, but that hope is swiftly turned away by the arrival of even more turbulent times. Sex and violence merge, and a burst of images which appear unfiltered and unadulterated occur. This film isn’t here to flatter upon its topic, but instead set a tone and a mood around the experience which is to be had when living with trauma. It is a skilled film, full of psyche and smartly layered thoughts embedded in a rich variety of locations and a small, but effective, cast.

Had this film been in competition (it was only entered for a review), we would have definitely loved to see where our Jury placed it, and if it would have won any awards. It is at the end of the day a provocative watch.



This Little Piggy (2014, Tristan Barr)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

There’s no denying Tristan Barr’s skill as a filmmaker – his film is slickly shot with a particular glossy image, one which maintains its quality and endurance throughout the picture, there’s the editing – a sombre scene slips into a violent one with ease, and then there is the ‘quartet’ of performances – a pitch perfect ensemble which together push the script into realistic ambience and a particular noteworthy class of style.

‘This Little Piggy’ is a fairly impressive debut as a feature, and there is many scenes of note, personally I found the beach scene and drug purchase scenes the most prominent of all, especially when placed side by side in my mind: they appear well rounded, and well formed, and yet so different in terms of their tone and style. Its as if these moments have been collaged together in order to make a well rounded film.

For some reason the film reminded me of two pictures in particular, the first being quite dark – David Cronenberg’s ‘Spider’, where a character spins out of control in a web of his own making, and the second is the more recent comedy Paco Cabezas’ ‘Mr Right’, which focuses on the funny/not-so-funny killer lovey dovey couple. Perhaps what I’m trying to get at with this side track is the highlight of Barr’s skill, the one part which makes his film more interesting than most indie offerings: his film is a hybrid of various tools, but instead of simply copying, or re-compositing various attributes, he has managed to create a new creature; trotters and all.

What I’d love to see next is actually a less stylised piece, one stripped of the make up, and up close and frank with its characters. I suspect that’s what Barr’s true value lies – his ability to create interesting and believable performances in unlikely, or slightly removed circumstances.


Shades of Darkness (2015, Ian Adema)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

The main issue with ‘Shades of Darkness’ isn’t how its made, but rather its mode of storytelling. For me, the film lacked any sense of realism, and in turn became a very stunted film, relying too much on its evident stylisation to ever become convincing as a ‘real’ film world. This isn’t though a point of complaint, as the performances, and casting in particular, were quite sound. If anything, they were a little original – avoiding the traditional casting choices all indie films falter to – the so-called up-comer ‘model’ type. It is also quite a commendable front of this side of things as being a fairly mixed nationality film.

Furthermore, the music seems to keep the film afloat, offering many themes which remind the audience of the film’s genre base, and offers a kind of rhythm to the chaos.

All the same though, had this film been presented as say a comic book, or even a painted graphic novel, I think it would be stunning. It has the depth of story, style and tempered modes of various genre tones to be a great page turning affair. It just doesn’t fare all too well as a film at this stage.


Exit Thread (2015, Paul Andrew Kimball)

Written by Ben Rider (Festival Director)

‘Exit Thread’ felt to me like a throwback to a different mode of storytelling within the main body of what I’ve grown to expect of low budget independent films. Part John Ford community film, part 1940’s Melodrama – probably most like ‘Letter From an Unknown Woman’ (1948), and lastly, part early moralist thriller about lies, people’s intentions and humanist behavioural traits.

Its flaws lie in the heavy handed script, which often is delivered with a theatrical flair, and appears more staged than stylised. The realism seems to dip in and out of these heavy worded scenes, often appearing natural, other times moving towards the more surreal Guy Maddin type… without the pastiche look of the era it most reminds us of though. But in here lies the end of the complaints from my side of things.

The film is shot with a careful hand, kudos should be given to Paul Andrew Kimball for his well thought out framing devices, and furthermore, the often bold choices to dim light scenes, and allow for for spaces to be filled with a Joel Schumacheresque black, should be commended on. Also, Hilary Connell shines, offering a variety of tones in her performance which appear both genuine and hurt-filled. There is no doubt in my mind that she ‘felt’ those tone changes when she took on the shoes of her character.

Like the tension between Camela Soprano and her priest whom she loves dearly, this film touches on the unfilled fantasy fuelled affairs characters living in dramas are so prone to spin. It isn’t necessarily the most original take on this narrative, but it is a fantastic 21st indie rendering of it; flaws and all.


Teenagers (2009, Paul de Métairy) *not selected for competition 

The main problem with ‘Teenagers’ is the main premise being somewhat hard to recognise.
The film, written and directed by Paul Verhoeven (not to be mistaken with ‘the’ Paul Verhoeven of ‘Basic Instinct’ and ‘Zwartboek’ fame), focuses on a political fight between youths and terrorists, but it is really hard to tell – the whole thing is rather muddled in its delivery. The film’s main subject is disguised by many layered faux-documentary stylised moments, confusing the viewer into believing that the picture is a Derek Jarman type.
It is however, a reminder of the lost performers often ignored by filmmakers: children. The film is somewhat reminiscent of the turn of the century photography fad which focused on the day-to-day lives of rural children versus those city folk: it would capture the harsher physicality of rural life, their chores and work, their daydreams, their games, and so on. It perhaps captures the so-called ‘teenagers’ with the best regard here, their characters are complex, or at least appear to be, and are given plenty of screen time to experiment with a variety of tones and acting styles. On that front, the film excels… perhaps more so than it should.
This element though is the only one which really makes this film interesting, once one is able to get over the elaborate experimental style, the heavy music, and unclear filming methods – the film manages to simply lull its viewer into feeling they are being made to watch a very long ‘youth’ production, the type which fill sports halls every festive season in schools.
It is neither note worthy or memorable in terms of its cinematic efforts, and rather hard to sit through for its entire length. Perhaps halved, the film would have been an easier picture to sit through.

Please note: Paul Verhoeven is the former name for filmmaker Paul de Métairy. See IMDb for details http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1344670/.