Leeds Film Festival - Day 11

Documentary Shorts Competition

Don't Shoot (South Africa) - Riaan Cruywagen is a seasoned newsreader on South African public TV since the late 70's, and has so been around to comment on the many events that have happened in the last 30 years. This documentary gives voice to both him and his critics; those who saw the riots and violence outside their windows, or worse, and had it referred to on the TV as a 'colourful demonstration'. Cruywagen responds repeatedly and vehemontly by pointing out he is a newsreader, not his place to either judge or compile the news; just read it out in an authoritative and convincing manner. This short documentary reveals the man behind the wig (it must be...) and his unprovoked self-justification is unsettling. 7/10

Plane Days (UK) - A group of plane spotters, old and young, male and female, sit in and around their cars outside Heathow airport, collecting airplane tail numbers like an adult version of football stickers. Some have gone to real expense, high-powered binoculars, laptops with specialised radar software and a direct link into the heathrow flight data. The way they track the planes mercilessly across the skies, which are pictured largely as skulking reflections in house windows, they seem to be doing it to satisfy some male hunter instinct, the women surely there because their husbands dragged them into it. It was an affectionate, non-judgemental window on the lives and motivations of these people. 7.5/10

Bidcatcher (Netherlands) - A strange fly-on-the-wall documentary about a netherlands auction house specialising in second hand large earth moving diggers and trucks, the sort whose wheels are larger than a man. Other than being slightly interesting to see huge machinery lining up like cars to the highest bidder, it wasn't very attention-holding. 5/10

The Consolation of Children (UK) - An affectionate tribute to the life of Arthur Worsley, and 'Charlie' his ventriloquists dummy, from his son and mother. Ed sullivans claims that he was the best ever were a little hard to swallow, until you saw him in full 'gottle of geer' flow, which showed off his talents perfectly. Since his death, Charlie has been resurrected from the suitcase and is often seen around the house, Arthur and Charlie were so inseperable that the presence of the dummy allows the family to retain a piece of the man. 7.5/10

52 Procent [52 Percent] (Poland) - The clinical, cattle-like process of finding the most suitable ballerinas from this years crop of young girls is troublesome to watch. And it's not so much a case of 'pushy mum' either - the kids want to get there more than anything in the world, and this is exemplified with Alla, who's legs are a little shorter than the 'ideal' 52% ratio of legs to height. Alla is given a second chance if she can somehow get those extra few millimeters, and puts herself through intense pain and suffering stretching her legs in all sorts of directions. Another well-made silent comment on an interesting section of society. 7/10

Going to Sleep is Something Absolutely Certain in Life (Italy) - A train heads through the night, the camera pointing out of the window, catching the dimly highlighted scenes of devastation outside. Occasionally, a passenger narrates over the imagery, fading in and out of a conversation with someone else. This film is a personal account of the devastation brought on in his home town, which I suspect but am not sure, refers to New Orleans, since there are American symbols in amongst the detritus of collapsed buildings and felled trees. As a personal record of the event, it has special meaning, but an entire film squinting to see what you're looking at began to grate. 4.5/10

Blauw [Blue] (Netherlands) - Three people interact with water in different ways; an aged fisherman on the blustery, rocky shoreline, a professional diver, and a young child messing around in a swimming pool with his dad all get to share their views. The kid was definitely the most smile-inducing to watch. 6/10

The Existence (Poland) (review)

This one is definitely not for the squeamish. Jerzy Nowak, an elderly actor has in the remaining months of his life decided to donate his body to scientific research when he dies, much to the shock of his family and friends. This is more involved than it sounds - the will has to be correctly worded so as to be compliant with the legalities of the situation, and when donated to science, the body in question ceases to be considered a person, and instead is merely an object, a property of whoever gets it to experiment on. At the start of the film, we see the sort of conditions such an ex-person has to look forward to; a submerged tank in a medical university vault holds one such specimen, and it is raised, dumped on a stretcher, hosed down and then carted off to be poked and prodded by some new medical students.

Norwak is seen preparing for the final day; having music composed for his funeral, visiting his lawyer to get everything sorted out, buying a suit and renewing his wedding vows, and visiting the medical university where he may end up spending two years before whatever is left of him is buried. It is a very good view of a man who is putting on a brave face, but occasionally emotion breaks through and his bottom lip begins to quiver, and it's difficult not to become affected by it all. If you can stomach the gruesome imagery (mostly at the start and end) then this is a well-done film. 7.5/10

From Inside (US) (site)

Based on a graphic novel of the same name by John Bergin, From Inside is an animation about a pregnant woman riding a train to an unknown destination, across a post-apocalypse wasteland, plowing through the remains of people and communities after some catastrophe. As the train ploughs on, it stops to pick up water, kill cattle for meat, and whenever it rains, in case of flooding the tracks. One day the train picks up a man with an injured dog, who begins leaving gifts for the woman, and as the birthing date gets ever closer, she suffers resentment from the other passengers for her preferential treatment.

From Inside is animation, but only just. Many scenes are simply a still or partially animated picture, with others being completely rendered in 3D, especially the train (which travels on tracks that have strangely survived when everything else has been obliterated). This restricted form of animation is sort of okay, especially when you realise that most of the animation has been done by Bergin alone, and the sketch style of the woman, often in silhouette against the train windows, fits well as an echo to its graphic novel roots. However, it just didn't hold much attention; it seemed a labour of love by the director, particularly the many 3D scenes that panned around the train as it went along as if to say 'I really spent a long time rendering this damn train and I'm gonna make sure I get my moneys worth..'. It all ended rather strangely as well, which I won't bother explaining, suffice to say it drew 'pfft's from the audience rather than the intended reaction which I think should have been quiet awe at what we had seen. I hear the novel itself is a very good one, but you should read that and ignore the film, for the latter spoils the former. 5/10

Sword of the Stranger (Japan) (wiki)

At last, a bit of anime. Leeds has been usually pretty generous with anime films across the years, but it turned up a bit short this year, with no Sky Crawlers or Ponyo to be seen. Sword of the Stranger had to shoulder my expectations pretty much on its own this year, and it did a solid job of it. Kotaro and his dog Tobimaru are on the run, sheltering in a remote temple where a ronin, Nanashi has decided to have a kip. Nanashi is your typical tight-lipped guy who refuses to fight again due to secret past blah but he can handle a sword like a pro blah, and he finds himself accompanying the kid through trecherous areas to return him to sanctury, for there are people out looking for him.

Various Chinese factions want to get hold of Kotaro, and have to do it within a few days or else they will have to wait a year to perform their mysterious rituals, creating a game of cat and mouse with each side trying to get hold of the kid for themselves, leading to plenty of bloody fights.

There was virtually nothing about Sword of the Stranger that could be considered original. It has typical anime feel and a predictable story ending in a showdown between the two main fighters. Made by Studio Bones, they of Cowboy Bebop and Wolf's Rain, with plenty of artistic ancestry on show from both sources. With such a pedigree, it was never going to be awful. Fluid animation, well coreographed fight scenes, and a good, solid story (although who was on who's side got a bit confusing), and though it did nothing original, what it did do, it did well. 7.5/10

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