Mark Kermode at QFT and review of the Breadwinner

The Godfather of all film critics, Mark Kermode was in Belfast at the weekend as part of QFT’s 50th birthday celebrations.

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In conversation with Brian Henry Martin, Kermode talked about everything from his beginning in criticism and the fact that he believes that there are too many middle-class, middle-aged men in film criticism and that there needs to be more diversity. Mr. Kermode also talked about his most and least favourite film and also films that everyone else loved almost universally but he himself wasn’t so keen on. This is where the audience were brought in as several members of the audience gave their input as they gave their opinion as to what should have the dubious honour of being on this list. Mark Kermode also revealed an exclusive; new episodes were being made of the critically acclaimed Secrets of Cinema which will feature… Yes you’ve guessed it, or is it too soon to mention the “C” word?

Another anecdote in Kermode’s conversation was that he remembered criticisms of himself and his work more than he remembered the praise. In fact he acknowledged that Secrets of Cinema wasn’t universally loved, one critic from one of the UK’s leading daily newspapers bemoaned the fact that “Mark Kermode watches too many films”!

Part of the reason Mark Kermode was there was to preview his choice for the 2018 Belfast Film Festival Pick, The Breadwinner, a 2017, Irish, Canadian, Luxembourgish co-production. The Breadwinner is a beautifully animated story set in Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban. It focuses on Parvana, a young girl who spends her time with her father, who we learn from quite early on has given her daughter a sense of determination and independence; a dangerous thing for a young female in Taliban ruled Afghanistan to have. When her father, who has previously been left as an amputee following the Afghan-Soviet war, is arrested by the Taliban, Parvana; living in a country where females cannot go out in public without being chaparoned must resort to desperate measures to provide for her family. She must also however also endeavour to save her father.

Along the way she encounters many people, both friend and foe and survives through sheer determination and the memory of some of the folklore that her father has passed down to her. There is a contrast set in the film in that it is an animated film, but has very graphic adult themes such as beatings. The character of Parvana is only eleven but finds she has to grow up quickly in order to survive; indeed the audience, although tempted to think of it as a pleasant cartoon about the life of a young girl are occasionally nudged in the elbow and reminded that before their eyes is a serious drama.

Although The Breadwinner does have some heart pounding moments and does deal with some violent themes, (it is set in a turbulent land during turbulent times after all) gratuity is never resorted to. The Breadwinner is a story of triumph over adversity and determination over despair that is bound to be enjoyed by the whole family.

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Traditional music’s up and coming stars return home

World class traditional music came to Derry on Tuesday as two former students made a return visit to their old Alma mater at the university of Ulster’s Great Hall at the Mater campus.

The Great Hall was packed out to hear Jack Warnock and Eimhear Mulholland, two of Ireland’s freshest young talents, who only graduated last year and are already making a name for themselves. Jack Warnock is a recent nominee at the BBC Radio two folk awards.

It was obvious from the offset that these two musicians were used to each other’s company on stage and worked well together as they produced a series of high tempo jigs and reels more akin to a late night session than the exuberant hall of a university.

First up they played a few classics including Timmy Clifford’s, The Rambler and Malcolm’s New Fiddle, all on fiddle and guitar. They swiftly moved through to Óró Mo Bháidin before getting the crowd going by slipping in a few slip jigs on piano and whistle.

Both natives of county Derry, Maghera and Magherafelt respectively, the rich heritage of their hinterland and their pride in it was obvious as they went from jigs to The Braes of Moneymore before extending their depth of musical knowledge, (and the horizons of the audience before them) with a Breton Set entitled Boules et Guirlande.

The last section of the show featured a song with a Swedish flavour entitled Åstols Rokeri followed by a set on the whistle featuring traditional tunes such as The Curlew, The Fox on the Town and Castlerock Road.

The afternoon was rounded off on a high with a rip-roaring set that brought the house down in the form of a number of reels, John Pellerine’s, The Full set, Laurel’s and Hull’s Reel.

On the whole this was a fantastic afternoon and was a pleasure to witness two talents on home soil who are heading places, watch this space!

Music@one; organised by the arts and humanities department and broadcaster and musician Linley Hamilton, is quickly gaining a reputation for showcasing, not just the best to come out of the university of Ulster’s Magee campus, but also the best musical talent to come from both these shores and further afield.

Little Voices of Fukushima

Little Voices of Fukushima is a documentary which follows the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people in one of the most vulnerable places. It was shown as part of a special event held at Holywell Trust by the Northwest Japanese Cultural Group.

Fukushima isn’t geologically vulnerable because of where it is on the earth; give or take the odd natural disaster. Fukushima’s vulnerability is almost entirely man-made.

The Nuclear power plant at Fukushima exploded on the 11th March 2011, in part due to a Tsunami following an earthquake. It is an event that the world has largely forgotten about and many international news agencies have “moved on” from in terms of big news stories.

The screening of a documentary about this particular event is probably well timed considering that it was only last month that the death was announced of a worker from the plant, two years after he was diagnosed with cancer thought to be contracted as a direct result of the disaster.

Behind the forgotten headlines are children who, seven years later are still suffering from the effects. Little Voices of Fukushima highlights how the very milk that children are drinking is contaminated, well beyond anything that could be considered safe, (if indeed anything can be).

The documentary contrasts this with a similar disaster which happened on 26th April 1986 when the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in what was then the Soviet Union and is now part of independent Ukraine. Children there are still being sent, with the good will of strangers, for respite care from the effects of that particular disaster. 

What Little Voices of Fukushima highlights well are how the most vulnerable people in society are being exploited and mislead by the powerful. An understated documentary with a powerful message.

Buaine na Gaoithe at Magee

It was perhaps meteorologicaly appropriate that there was a fresh autumnal breeze blowing and a multicoloured palate of leaves were rustling outside. The performance that was about to be witnessed by a generous gathering in the Great Hall of the University of Ulster’s Magee College campus is entitled Buaine na Gaoithe, which roughly translates as the swiftness of the wind. The piece has recently been described by it’s composer on the BBC’s John Total Show “A journey that allows you to get out of time”.

The performance was part of the Music@one at the Ulster University’s Magee College campus. Soprano Liz Pearse, Flutist Chelsea Czuchra and Harpist Lindsay Huffington, better known to some as The Damselfly Trio came together to perform the musical collaboration between composer Ryan Molloy and poet Martin Dyar. Given the weather on the day this piece was performed it was apt that wind and string instruments were brought together along with a voice that varied between a soft gentle breeze and a strong powerful storm.

Buaine na Gaoithe is broken into five movements, each one of these movements representative of each of the five poems written by Martin Dyer. The first one A Waiting Tree was comprised of the full trio, the second movement .\n. It wouldn\’t be recommendedIn Gortnagran was a simple vocal recital of the poem in question. The third movement A Merlin in the Sheefreys is a spoken word piece accompanied by the harp and the final movement Her Crossing comprises of the full ensemble.

It could be said that thqqqere’s something rather Avant Garde and new age about this piece as a whole. It perhaps wouldn’t be recommended to someone who is new to classical music. But as you are sitting there on an otherwise riotously blustery day, you can’t help but find yourself in a moment of peaceful serenity.

The performance is also part of an Irish tour which takes in Belfast, Portaferry, Athy, Dublin, Maynooth, Derry, Limerick and Castle are.

Black 47 is a harrowing tale with a tongue in cheek twist

Little over a year ago viewers of ITV’s hit series Victoria starring Jenna Coleman, were left aghast and dismayed by the harrowing depiction of the Great Famine; an event which is ingrained into the national pshyce of the average Irish person. People had written to a well known television weekly wondering why they had not been taught anything of this in their schools. They were surprised at their own lack of knowledge about such a harrowing experience in both their own history and that of their nearest neighbour which, at the period of history in question, was part of the British Empire. 

This thought came to mind as the opening credits rolled and the bitter sweet opening scenes of Black 47 appeared on the screen. An autumnal palette of pale blues and greens and muddy earthy brown’s appeared thanks to the cinematography of Declan Quinn. Bitter because of the abject poverty on display; sweet because of the stunning landscaped on view

As the plot unfurls you see skeletons in human form in nearly every shot, so authentic looking its unimaginable that you are merely watching someone playing a part.

 The main plot of the film revolves around Feeney, a renegade ranger who has been ironically fighting for the British in India. Upon his return home he witnesses first hand the effects of the Penal Laws and the Potato Famine; which at this time are at their worst. The land that he returns to is one of decay, despair and desperation. Indeed one of the final times he sees his family is when his brother is shot for stealing and the rest of his family are left homeless when their house is “cleared” (that’s burned down to you and I), with tragic consequences.

It is these events which prove to be the final straw for Feeney as he sets about avenging his family and gaining revenge on those he feels responsible. This leads him to an ultimate confrontation with an old comrade Hannah, who served with Feeney in India and is now sent to track him down along with Captain Pope (played by Freddie Fox of the Fox acting dynesty) and a local villager called Conneely, (played by Stephen Rea). The character of Hannah is a typical adversarial type who has a begrudging admiration for Feeney. He is a soldier himself and so naturally knows the mentality of the man he is pursuing. It ultimately however leads him to wonder what cause he is fighting for. Coneely, (played by Stephen Rea in his usual dour understated manner is in many ways the character through which the narrative flows. He is there as us, as the casual onlooker through which the viewer in the cinema can feel they are playing a part. At one point he says, “I better stay and see how this tale ends”, telling the audience that he is the narrator. Meanwhile Jim Broadbent, in what is a rather small part for him, plays the affable landlord. Possessing land in a place foreign to him, has callous disregard for the people under his care. To him they are part of the problem rather than people under his care.

For some who have been to see this film they are unsure as to whether they should treat it as an off the boil period drama, criticising the more swashbuckling or gun hoe elements; for others the opposite is true.

Sufficit to say as a first major telling on the big screen of the great famine it was never going to satisfy everyone. 

What perhaps most well practiced viewers should see is a well plotted and well shot drama which doesn’t loose the ability to plant it’s tongue firmly in it’s cheek. It is also important to note the role that the Irish language plays in this film. Having more dialogue in Ireland’s native tongue than can be remembered for a long time.

In this year when perhaps Britain is in danger of repeating the offence, it would do people on “the other island” some good to witness the consequences of the last time their poor decisions and bad judgement had tragic consequences – before they go making any more.

Italian cultural night

With the sound of music and language ringing in the ears and the distinct aroma of pizza filling the nostrils, Derry’s first Italian cultural festival took place earlier in the week.

Organised by students of the Northwest Academy English language school in conjunction with the Nerve Centre, the festival had a unique set of events for visitors to take part in. 

You could try your hand at the language with a series of “speed lessons” on everything from eating out, the numbers in Italian, or even the colours. There was mandolin playing as well as an operatic recital.

To top it all off there was a screening of the whimsical short Centro Barca Okkupato about a local community centre in danger of closure and the lengths to which the users of the centre will go to keep the centre open. Thé iceing on the Italian cake was a screening of the classic Cinema Paradiso, the story of Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita and the influence that the local cinema and it’s projectionist Alfredo have on his life as Toto grows from an enthusiastic young boy, to a love sick teenager through to someone who himself has influence on cinema.

Given the amount of Italians who have made Derry their home down the years it is surprising that an Italian cultural night has not been organised before. The Northwest Academy of English, the Nerve Centre and everyone else involved are to be congratulated on a well thought-out program, let’s hope it is the first of many.