Filmworker tells the story of Stanley Kubrick’s right hand man.

The world of film, just like every other, is filled with unsung heroes; those people who are there to help the main actor or, as in this case, the director. Leon Vitali, the subject of documentary, Filmworker, shown as part of the Foyle Film Festival, is one of those people. After staring alongside Ryan O’Neill in Barry Lyndon, Vitali gave up a career in front of the camera for one in front of it.

Throughout the film Vitali remains forever humble; leaving it up to other contributors to expound his virtues. The lines on Vitali’s face, each one indicating the passage of time; but also so much more than that. They show experience, a life lived. 

Vitali is portrayed throughout the documentary as someone who has a thirst and ambition for what he does, however unlike the situation in most cases it is for the sake of the work alone, the finished piece rather than for satisfying his own ego or career ambitions. This is emphasised by his children who lament the fact that they didn’t see so much of him as they would have liked; although it has to be said that this is stated rather matter of fact rather than with any sense of bitterness. 

Filmmaker also keenly illustrates the sort of criticism that Vitali took upon his own shoulders regarding Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick’s 1999 career finale, which the director died not long after making. Much of the criticism for the movie falling upon him rather than postumously on Vitali.

Filmworker is about someone who could have easily had stardom at the other side of the camera but who doesn’t seem to regret it for one single moment. He doesn’t regret it because he got to work with one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century and as a result has become a part of cinematic history.

This is one for Stanley Kubrick fans and general film fans alike. Although it would be suggested that if you are in any way a casual and unenthused cinema goer you leave this one alone.

For the rest are you who didn’t get to see Filmworker as part of the Foyle Film Festival you can now get it in the usual formats from the usual sources.

Advertisements

The Eyes of Orson Welles

Orson Welles is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time; his 1941 debut Citizen Kane is thought of by many as the greatest film ever made. In this documentary, director and writer Mark Cousins explores the many passions of Orson Welles, including many unseen before sketches, drawings and paintings. Along the way Cousins guides the audience through Welles’ many interests from his childhood in Wisconsin to youthful foreign trips, 1930s activism and his interest in African American theatre.

For anyone whose life has straddled the two most recent centuries it is hard to believe that Welles, such an innovator in cinematic arts and sciences, has not been around to witness such advancements in the world such as the internet, or, perhaps more thankfully for him has not given witness to the rise of a real life Charles Foster Kane.

The entire feel of The Eyes of Orson Welles reads as it sounds, as if the great maestro himself is looking on; looking on as Mark Cousins and we the viewer intrude upon a life that was. Throughout the film you have a sense that Orson Welles’ ghost (an alternative title perhaps) is following Cousins, but unable to control what Cousins is doing, unable to have a say. Or maybe it’s even the other way around.

As we travel with Cousins we travel with Welles’, through a lifetime of drawings and sketches and photographs, all of which would go on to inspire the many works of Orson Welles.

In between visits to old neighbourhoods, interviews with Welles’ daughter you see clips from Welles’ extensive body of acting as well as directorial work; only through this could many people, unless they be the most enthusiastic of film fan, just how extensive and important to cinema Orson Welles really was.

Although this film might be considered self indulgence to some it is without doubt an important testament to one of the most important figures in twentieth century cinema. A must watch for any film fan!

The Happy Prince

While The Happy Prince, disappointingly in many ways, is not a retelling of Oscar Wilde’s classic and well known children’s story, it is an imaginative and creative account of the last days of it’s celebrated writer. Shown at the weekend as part of the 31st Foyle Film Festival; with one of the film’s stars, Edwin Thomas, who plays Wilde’s long time friend Robbie Ross, in attendance.The Happy Prince is set just after Wilde’s release from prison and follows his life in continental Europe right up to his death which took place in Paris in 1900. It portrays Wilde as a debortous drunk who is thrown out of pubs for creating trouble. He’s on his last penny and has only a few genuine friends left. Rupert Everett, in his directorial debut, is unreasonable as an older Wilde. He is some who seems determined however to reconcile himself with his long suffering wife Constance, the narrative however does leave it open to interpretation if he was actually serious about this or not. It cannot be guaranteed that this is an authentic portrayal of course very few can tell, however as interpretation goes it seems to be the one of the better ones. These are the days long after Wilde’s hayday, although there are brief flashbacks to happier times. Colin Firth, in a relatively low key role plays Regie Turner; one of the few friends Wilde had left in is latter years. Colin Morgan, who shot to stardom as the young Merlin in the hit BBC series Merlin is unrecognisable as Bosie, and also suitably spoiled and uptight, playing the part to a tee. While relative newcomer Edwin Thomas gives an assured performance as Oscar’s longtime friend Robbie Ross. On the whole while not being wildly brilliant The Happy Prince is a good, entertaining story which entertains and interprets real life events in a way that upholds the humanity of real life characters.

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.

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.

img_20181020_1830217521787906008878412.jpg

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.