Today was a marathon of short films with a bigger one tucked away in the middle. I'll be brief because its late and I'm tired.
Romanian Retro Shorts: Sahia Film Studio Documentaries
I only managed to catch the first three of these. They include choice films from the Sahia film studio going back to the 60's.
4000 Steps to the Sky (1963) - A heavily worn film of the construction of a hydro-electric plant halfway up a mountain. It's a mammoth task just to get the machinery up there, and the 4000 or so wooden steps poking out the side of the mountain to allow the workers to get to the top. 6/10
Stuf (Reed) (1968) - To the tune of Carmina Burana, the inhabitants of a northern village take part in their annual custom of travelling across the ice lakes in sled boats (and whatever else they can lay their hands on) to gather reeds from the other side. 6/10
On Christmas Day we took our Ration of Freedom (1989) - At the end of the Ceausescu regime, the uprising is caught as it happens in the dying embers of the 80's. Free Romanian Television relayed the images to millions of homes, and this film is a combination of those images, overlaid with recordings of hysterical family members trying to get in touch with loved ones who may have fallen. 7/10
Northern Film Showcase
A variety of films from the Northern Film Studios, many of which were collaborations with studios from around the world.
Chasing a Dream - Raj adores Bollywood star 'Kahn', and tries to enter the film studio where he works. Will he evade the poorly scripted security guards and meet him? 5/10
My Love Anna - Jacek, a Polish immigrant barely scraping along as a cleaner at a motorway service station falls in love with Anna. Shame his English is not so good, and an overheard remark he takes as a complement to a woman, isn't. Will Anna see his good intentions, or just stay with the boys who treat her like dirt? 7/10
TwoChildren - A short but effective film of two children growing up miles apart. One is a football-mad kid who receives a shirt for his birthday; the other, over in India, is a slave worker who rattles said shirts off for meagre wage and living conditions. 7.5/10
Think I'm Gonna Crash - Black and white psychedelia abounds - two teens rebel against their humdrum existences by putting on vaguely S&M-like full-face hoodies, donning earphones, and going off into the night to a thumping soundtrack. 6/10
I am a Poet - A trainspotting-style ode to Leeds, the poet's home town, as we pan through slowmo locations. A nice little film. 7.5/10
No More Room in Hell - A mini zombie thriller, set in a future Leeds where the dead are rising from their graves and feasting on the living. A group of strangers take refuge in a flat in the city, but salvation lies on a train at the station. Will they be able to make it without losing their brains? 7/10
Sunday Morning - Brendan loves to look at the ladies, but is disgusted with himself when he does, leading to a cycle of doing the dirty, followed by furious scrubbing his sins away at the sink. Maybe a good old-fashioned prostitute will hold the answer? 7/10
Dancing on the Edge - The Dadao Live Art Festival is China's unofficial event, and several westerners went in 2007 to 6 of the venues around China. Non-conformational Dance is still held with deep suspicion in China for its bourgeois attitudes, and Visual/Live Art - often using the body to make an artistic statement - is frowned on even more, as the westerners soon discover when they stray from the carefully controlled venues and do a bit outside. A bit long, but quite interesting. 7.5/10
Red - A promiscuous young girl plays off her past and present boyfriends against each other until something cracks. 7/10.
Polish Shorts: Łódź Film School 1
These films were dark and depressing examples of output from Łódź.
A Man Thing - Idczak is a young boy at a school with a reputation for competitive inter-school footballing, but he is growing tired of being the team captain, and would like to study instead, much to the dismay and anger of his competitive trainer. Also, Bouquet the dog at the local pound he wants to adopt is about to be put down because he is old and won't eat. As the pressure builds from all sides, Idczak cracks. 7/10
Melodrama - Tadek is very confused. He is 14 and his hormones are firing all over the place. Though he has an interested girl trying to hook his affection elsewhere, he forms an unhealthy interest in his older sister, who is going out with a 'hick' that Tadek finds loathsome. Can he control his feelings and separate his sister without getting soundly beaten? 7/10
Dragon Flies - Tola is besotted with the local spoilt pretty boy Kuba. He treats her like dirt, brings her along to rob and steal (and abandons her when she gets caught) and lies to everyone to get what he wants, using his looks and persuasive nature. Fighting against herself, she stays with him until finally something happens that sets her free. 7/10
The Refuge City - Two skinhead football yobs, who watch a match and then happily join the fist-fighting, learn the limits of each other's guile when one of them pulls out a gun, promising that if they lose the next game and slip down a division, he's going to shoot the players. A tense, efficient thriller which is surprisingly well tied up. 8/10
Porn - Wioletta approaches Mirek for the first time and lifts her skirt, showing all. Mirek doesn't give the response she expected, instead giving her a look of disappointment. She is used to using her physical charms to get attention, but she sees something different and attractive in Mirek. Can they ever be together in such an innocent way now that she has played her hand? 7.5/10
You Are There - Bunking off school, Marlena jogs to where the cool kids get together, an abandoned factory. Her much-missed dad lives in Germany, and her mother has shacked up with an unpleasant sort. Her early attempt at a boyfriend pushes her into unpleasant things and laughs about it with his mates in front of her after, and her only real girl friend wants to take things further. What can she do to get out of her situation and back to her father? 6/10
Disco and Atomic War (Est/Fin) (trailer)
My only full-length film today. A story told in retrospect by four men who were children at the time of the ideology wars of the '60s to '80s between the then Soviet occupied Estonia and the European Finland that was just across the water from them. Living on the northern edge of Estonia meant that its inhabitants could watch Finnish broadcasting, which included Knight Rider, Dallas, and loads of the capitalist programming that the communist government was afraid would corrupt their people. This was the time of the 'soft power' wars - the ability of a country to control its populous not by guns, but by popular culture. Every time the Soviets would attempt to crack down on the Finnish broadcasts - whether that was trying to 'have a word' with their leader, or trying to build a massive net across the bay, the rebellious Estonians would work their way around it.
Told with wit and a comical rounding to the hard edges of the real conflicts that were going on behind the scenes, Disco and Atomic Was was much better than I thought it would have been. 8/10
Signes De Nuit: African Shorts 1
For some reason they avoided playing the final film on this, which leaves me a flick short :(.
Aicha - A man leaves his wife and small child at home to get away from the pressure of being a new dad. He rides the streets in his beemer, and has a good time with some of his lady friends in his regular haunt. Unfortunately, he chose the wrong day to leave his wife, as he finds out to his horror when he returns. 7/10
At the Center of the Earth - Of Wells and Men - A nice little documentary about the well-diggers of Niger, who take up to 3 years to dig the 126m-deep wells, in the hope there will be water below. A well becomes the central resource on which settlements are built. The well of Malamala is shown being constructed by hand by a group of men trained through generations of their craft to know where to dig, perform blessing ceremonies, and dig a perfect cylinder down through earth and solid rocks with only spades and picks. 8/10
First Elections - The Democracy part of the DRC is pretty much in name only, but this doesn't mean they don't have political broadcasting. Electorial candidate Bebe Rico hooks up with a company producing baby talc and assorted toiletries to produce a range of branded products shown off with a set of frankly bizarre adverts featuring Bebe, the dancing baby, dancing on stage to a load of computer generated shampoo bottles. The second half of the film examines the effects of this sort of advertising by observing a group of young children talking politics and ideology mixed with gossip and role play, which contained a slightly disturbing torture element. 7.5/10
Kinshasa 2.0 - The capital of the DRC is still very heavily controlled by its government. Marie-Thérèse Nlandu lives in exile outside the DRC for her own protection, but uses a specially created environment in the internet virtual world Second Life. Named Kinshasa 2.0, it functions as a way of meeting her friends and relatives virtually. They are currently staging an internet campaign to release her. 7.5/10
Tales from the Golden Age (Rom) (site)
A series of five films set in and around Romania with a comic edge. Each was based upon an urban legend.
The Legend of The Official Visit - The president is visiting, and all the villages on the route of the motorcade are told to make things look perfect. No signs of destitution, crime or anything that might be seen as things not quite as the comrade president would imagine it to be. Though the motorcade passes through tomorrow, a general inspection takes place the day before, and the organiser, Georghita, has precious little time left to make finishing touches. The inspector, Sandu, arrives soon after. Known for his precise requirements and temper, he immediately asks for everything to be changed, from the children set up to sing songs to the president (should he stop, which he won't) to that giant spinny fairground ride brought in specially. Sat down with the village elders in the evening, the beer flows after he learns the motorcade is called off, and that ride looks like a lot of fun. What could possibly go wrong? A hilarious tale. 8/10
The Legend of The Party Photographer - Ceausescu features again as the subject of a photographic review board, drafted in to ensure that the next issue of the Scanteia newspaper carries on its front page a favourable image of the dictator. This involves making him a bit taller next to his capitalist pig-dog opposite Giscard d'Estaing, who towers over him. Even that isn't enough, since d'Estaing is wearing a large furry hat, and Ceausescu isn't, making him look sub-servant. Something must be done quickly, so the young photograph-doctor is hurried off to make the changes, but with all rush-jobs, some slip-up will get through.. 7.5/10
The Legend of The Chicken Driver - Sebi takes on the role as a driver of a truck full of live chickens from place to place. He is given two rules. Don't stop, and don't unlock the trailer until you get there. Thing is, he is hungry, romantically starved, and with it being Easter, everyone wants eggs. Calling at his favourite roadside caff, the lady behind the counter spies a money-making scheme and tries to persuade him to take the eggs. After all, the chickens are the cargo, so no-one owns the eggs they lay in transit, right? 7/10
The Legend of The Greedy Policeman - Told as a flashback to the childhoods of two friends in times of rationing. The uncle turns up one day to their apartment block with a pig for the festive period. A live pig, which is none too happy about bouncing about in a hatchback with its legs tied. After a great deal of squealing, they get it into their flat, but how to kill it quietly without getting other people involved? Hitting upon sealing up the kitchen and then gassing it, they carefully remove the fuse from the electrics and switch the gas on. Everything seems fine, but then it's time to get rid of the hair, and a blowtorch seems just the ticket.. 8/10
The Legend of The Air Sellers - Crina answers the door to a strange inspector, who asks for a sample of tapwater for tests, as the other residents have been complaining of discolouration. Turns out, Bughi is a teenage layabout as Crina discovers when she is introduced to him later by a mutual friend. He has found an innovative way of raking in the cash by a mysterious and unconventional scam involving bottled air as she finds out when she starts playing Bonnie to his Clyde.. 7/10
Update: A little digging has revealed that a 6th film was originally included called 'The Legend of the Zealous Activist', which is most likely to make it to DVD only.
Film Count: 58/150