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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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.

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.

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.

The Little Stranger

The Neglected grandeur of Hundreds Hall is the setting for Lenny Abrahamson’s latest offering The Little Stranger, Lucinda Coxin’s screenplay having been adapted from the surprisingly recent novel of the same name from 2009.

Domhnall Gleeson plays Faraday, a country doctor who is called out to the once grand Hundreds Hall to tend to the house’s sick maid. Upon visiting the house, which he had previously visited as a boy, Faraday finds things aren’t how they used to be; or perhaps not how they should be. 

The daughter of the estate Caroline Ayres, (played by the brilliant Ruth Wilson) together with the house’s young maid are trying to hold things together, and barely managing. Meanwhile Caroline’s brother, bearing both the physical and emotional scars left from fighting in the great war is finding it difficult to live a normal life again, stuck in an increasingly decaying body and a mind as unstable as the four walls around him. Meanwhile, the matriarch of the family, (played by Charlotte Rampling) is haunted by the loss of a child many years before.

It is Faraday’s shared memory’s with the family which draw him even closer to the crumbling dwelling and the people contained within. However the closer he gets the more dangerous events become to all involved.

It is refreshing, in the midst of shock horror cinema events to have the pleasure of observing a well ployed, atmospheric and tense ghost story which uses the power of suggestion to grab the audience’s attention rather than sensational cheap scares. The Little Stranger is a must see.

Ireland’s newest film festival holds second edition this weekend.

Ballyliffin might normally be better known for golf as a pastime however this weekend sees the second installment of its film festival.

The Disappear Here Ballyliffin Film Festival takes place on the Donegal coast between 28-30th September. Among the highlights at the festival, which is being held at a number of venues throughout Ballyliffin are screenings of films such as Black 47 and Michael Inside as well as a series of both Irish and International shorts. Also to whet your appetite are a series of animations and documentaries (both homegrown and global) as well as the unique category of music video.

With a wide variety of genre and venues throughout Ballyliffin ready to welcome people there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy.

So this weekend get yourself to Ballyliffin for the Disappear Here Ballyliffin Film Festival. Full details are available at http://www.disappearfilmfest.com or contact local outlets for further details.

Black Klansman serves as a wake-up call to modern America and the world at large

Opening with an unusually low key appearance from Alec Baldwin as Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard, a white supremacist taking to the airwaves to warn of the dangers of an integrated society in the United States, or anywhere else for that matter.

This sets the tone for what is a hard-hitting film with splashes of dark humour and homages to the blaxploitation genre by a groundbreaking director who gave audiences the likes of Do The Right Thing, Mo Better Blues, and Malcolm X, films which defined a generation and arguably confidence to the community he grew up in.

This latest offering, complete with over the top Afro’s and lots of flairs and bling, tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, a rooky cop with the Colorado Police Department.

Bored with his job in the records department, Stallworth is eventually given the chance to make a name for himself as a detective.

He is sent undercover to a black panther movement meeting where he meets and falls for an activist by the name of Patrice Dumace.

By chance he comes across s contact number for the local Ku Klux Klan, chancing his arm and totally winging it he phones them up making inquiries on joining up. Slowly but surely Stallworth wins their confidence – the only problem being that he has agreed to meet them – he being a black man.

In steps Flip Zimmerman who takes on the role as the public face of Stallworth.

What ensues is a tale of farce (in the true sense of the world) where on the one hand Stallworth is playing the part of a black power activist while at the same time infiltrating, (along with Zimmerman), the higher reaching of the KKK. What Lee as a director manages to do in this case is juxtapositioning the actions of extremists on both sides.

The film paces along until the resolution of the story. Then, just as you think that everything has been nice and neatly resolved the film concludes with a dose of reality, making the audience perhaps realise that we are all responsible for the causes and the solutions of the to problem being perpetuated by society today, not just in the United States but the world.

Film makers of the future bring screen to life

From serious documentary to comedy reflecting student life to vampires in the middle of rural Ireland, it was all to be seen at the second annual showcase of the BSc in Media Arts of the University of Ulster’s Magee campus. Speaking ahead of the showcase course director Tom Maguire spoke of the immense level of talent generated by students on the course. He also spoke of the newly opened creative industries institute which will pull together resources across academic and industry-based companies to create better opportunities for new graduates within the creative industries.

In all there were eight short films on show covering a number of a wide range of themes and issues. Although not all of the film’s on show are dedicated to hard hitting issues, what is noticeable is that the students; although not all local, have made their work from within the local community and in many cases about the local community. It would be unfair for Culture Journal to single out any one of these in particular for praise or criticism. Suficit to say that the quality was indeed reflective of professor Maguire’s high praise, the films on display showed a level of quality, imagination and creativity that bodes well for the future of local talent in the northwest.

Potato what?!

Take a fascination for rare books, some bootleg gin and a pie made from the curious ingredient of potato peel and you have The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Once you get past the rather long winded title, based on a novel by Mary Ann Shaffer (and Annie Burrows) you have a fairly descent film where Lilly James stars as writer and journalist Juliette Ashton who, in the midst of a tour for her latest book, becomes intrigued by a letter she receives from a resident of the island of Guernsey who writes to her enquiring about a book for his local book club, hence the name.

Curious about the existence of the club, possibly because they are one of the few to be interested in her work, Juliette sets off for the island, which is still recovering from the effects of Nazi occupation. Soon after her arrival she discovers a mystery surrounding the disappearance of local single mother.

Apart from being a fantastic advertisement for the local tourism industry; which beforehand the impending fear was that this was the only purpose of the film. The story is up to a point what the British film industry does best, namely quaint eccentricity.

Lilly James is believable as a writer intrigued by an idea that won’t leave her, curious about events as they uncover themselves and tormented by the need to write but being conflicted by not getting the reaction from the locals she thought she would get.

Supported by a well performing cast including Katherine Parkinson, Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtney who fulfill their roles well.

Where the film falls down is by concentrating a bit too much on the romantic aspects rather than the intriguing mystery which is the main catalyst for events.

In short The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie is an enjoyable enough film but suffers from being about fifteen minutes too long.

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