Foyle Film Festival starts with a bang

There was a packed house as the Foyle Film Festival’s 31st year commenced with a gala screening of Collette on Friday night at the Brunswick Moviebowl in Derry.

The film, starring Kiera Knightly, Dominic West and Eleanor Tomlinson (she of BBC’s Poldark fame) star in this biopic of French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette; known to most simply as Collette. Most people will not be familiar with the subject of this film, however anyone who is familiar with the film Gigi starring Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan might be interested to know that Collette wrote the novel upon which the film is based.

The film is certainly sublime when it comes to costume, set design and cinematography However, what it gains in those things it sacrifices in plot. The film completely ignores two of her marriages, the birth of a daughter and the most prolific writing period of her life; thus ignoring the strong female role that could have been portrayed for that of someone who was manipulated by her first husband and hopped into bed with almost any woman that was around. 

While it is obvious that the film has tried to portray Collette as a rebellious trend setter who broke the mould that society of the day set her; it cannot be helped but to think that the achievements of the real Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette have been sacrificed by this film in the name of sensationalism. It is obvious that the film wanted to get across the fact that Collette was manipulated by her first husband, artist and writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, (also known simply as Willie) (played abily by Dominic West) and the fact that he controlled much of her earlier career; the film could have been braver and more adventurous in doing so. Collette is a reasonably watchable film, however it can’t help but be thought that it could have been a whole lot better. Instead this film tends to do more for the male gaze than the feminist cause.

The Foyle Film Festival continues until Sunday 25th November.

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African Queen Kidjo Delights audience in Belfast

Before this particular reviewer commences this particular review a certain amount of bias must be confessed. In the mid-nineties; while a lot of my peers were listening to hardcore rave or grunge music, artists such as Angelique Kidjo could be found in my fledgling CD collection. Indeed given how long the Beninese songstress has been on the music scene it is hard to believe that this was her first visit not just to Belfast; as was the case on this occasion, but the first time that she has played in Ireland at all – quite a coup for the international arts festival in Belfast.

She’s a UNICEF good will ambassador, she’s an advocacy ambassador and multi-award winning recording artist and last Monday night took to the stage. The critically acclaimed singer was in town to show case some of her best known songs as well as those from her latest offering, a reimagining of Talking Heads 1980 album Remain in Light, which became known for such hits as Once in a Lifetime, and The Great Curve, and which it is said was inspired by many of the rythem found in African music. So it is only natural that one of Africa’s top recording artists brings those beats back home.

 The night began with an upbeat rythem. Born Under Punches was her opening song, the lines punch out like a great political statement, “Take a look at these hands, take a look at these hands” Kidjo has a power and range to her voice that makes her audience immediately sit up, pay attention and crave more still. “All I want is to breathe” she sings melodically. The whole time Talking Heads original disappears into the mists of time and what emerges is something fresh and different that makes the song sound as if it was meant to be sung by Angelique Kidjo. Next up on the process of transformation is Cross-eyed and Painless originally a funk disco vibes song, somewhere in the back of the mind the listener can still hear the original with the new version laid over it and appreciate how it has been made completely new.

As well as her music, Angelique Kidjo is also known for her advocacy work and her work to help young girls around the world, who would otherwise be married off at a young age, achieve their goals of a productive education. In tribute to this she slows down the tone and sings a heartstring pulling lament Cauri. Moving swiftly back into Talking Heads material came Listening Wind, a song Kidjo uses to illustrate the greed and corruption that is riddling both the African continent and the world.

The Great Curve is transformed into a afro jazz number with a fast paced drum beat, and pulsating trumpet sounds, high tempo afro beats and electric guitar blend. The world moves on a woman’s hips indeed, this is another song that seems made for Angelique Kidjo

Next song on the reportoire is one neither of hers nor Talking Heads but “If you don’t know this you have not been living on planet earth”” she declared to an enthusiastic audience before the familiar beat of Pata Pata starts up (CJ: put it this way, you do know it, you just don’t know that you know it, if you search for it on Google you’ll soon be thinking “ah that one!”)

The Overload, updated by Angelique Kidjo into a song with attitude. African drum beats slow paced, electro pop turned afro rock with a smooth brass line.

Next up was the ultimate in audience participation. Angelique at this stage had well and truly seeped into the spirits of her audience and she new it. Now it was time for them to join in, not one person was uninfected with the rythem and the beat that she was spreading. Within minutes not a member of that audience wasn’t singing “Mama se Mamá se Mama Afirika” The world is Africa and Africa is the world; and the world is above all else human.
After the excitement and euphoria had lowered just a touch the magic was continued in the form of the iconic Once in a Lifetime (not on the Into Light album but a welcome addition nonetheless). The song is familiar enough to be recognised but Kidjo gives it her own twist.

The tempo was kept high and the audience participation also kept to the maximum with Tumba, a high octane catchy tune that sticks in the memory. Then comes a song that began it all, that first brought the hostess for the evening to this particular reviewer’s attention – Malaika , a melodic and tender love song in Swahili from the archives of African folk music.

Angelique Kidjo rounded off the night with her funked up version of Burning Down the House, a song not on the current album, also famously covered by Tom Jones and the Cardigans.

On the whole, while some might have expected a more extensive back catalogue to be covered by Kidjo she was there to highlight her most recent recording and did so with flash and with flair. This particular reviewer isn’t in the habit of liking an album of cover versions, often thinking it lazy and a sign that an artist’s career is slowing down, however and I hate again to show bias (“oh go on”, I hear you all cry, “you know you want to”, oh ok then) this was an inspired transformation of songs and the most energetic and enjoyable show this particular reviewer has been to. The high enjoyed by this particular event is still being felt, well done Angelique!

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.

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.

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.

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.

A Cambodian Spring delivers thought for the people of Cambodia

It is written into local family folklore that my great grandmother had her house bulldozed in the 1960s in the name of progress. This is an event which happened long before my birth but which could not have been illustrated more vividly than when the wrecking ball set’s about its destruction of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood in local director Chris Kelly’s award-winning A Cambodian Spring, shown in his native Derry on Thursday last to mark world press freedom day.

At the centre of this David v’s Goliath tale are Tou Srev Pov, a mother of three children and housing activist who has worked hard to give her family a life. Her best friend Tep Vanny who, because of her better command of English soon becomes the group’s self-appointed leader.

Shot over six years it is the politicization of a community who are simply trying to live their lives in peace.

Throw into this mix Venerable Lion Sovath who stands by the community that he lives among, even though it gets him into trouble with the “Monk Police”; in Cambodia, it seems that everything is scrutinized.

As events escalate Srey Pov finds herself being arrested for her activities with the housing rights group. Sent to jail and awaiting trial one of the most poignant scene’s occur when her eldest daughter, left at home to care for her younger siblings, is reduced to tears. Although ultimately acquitted the events take their toll on Srey Pov and she is forced to leave the movement for the sake of her family, leaving Tell Vanny; dubbed “a professional protester” by the Cambodian government, in charge of the group.

Throughout A Cambodian Spring, Kelly vividly displays the Cambodia the authorities want to hide, giving the people the voice that they have been denied by others.

The neighborhood of Boen Kak isn’t a shiny neighbourhood with polished doorsteps and nice neat gardens, but to these people, it’s still home. Kelly’s talent lies in being able to bring the muck and the dirt and the air of Boen Kak out of the screen and fill your senses. This is an unmissable film which touches the soul.

A Cambodian Spring is currently on a tour of the UK and Ireland, it is being screened in the Brunswick cinebowl until 10th May.

NB: Since this screening of A Cambodian Spring, it has been nominated for a BAFTA

A Memorable Night for a Mesmerising film about a unique River

Does a ladybird know what a border is? Does a leaf? If a river could speak what would it tell us? These are just some of the questions posed in the latest offering by Italian director and producer Alessandro Negrini about the river which flows through the city he has made his home; namely the River Foyle in Derry.

Tides: A history of dreams lost and Found (some broken) is an imaginative, thought provoking film which gives a voice to the river itself, allowing it to tell the audience it’s own unique story, it’s own unique sense of place and history. Using a series of old photographs and footage from the city’s past Tides is a worthy autobiography of a city which has at times been overlooked in favour of it’s larger neighbours.

Some would be forgiven for dismissing Alessandro Negrini’s piece of work as merely a very clever montage; however it’s the depth of character which the director gives to the River Foyle which makes Tides truely memorable, bringing together, nostalgia, history, politics and the true character of the people who encounter the river on a daily basis. It truely is a fitting tribute to a river and a people the director has become one of.