Kitchen Stories (Nor/Swe) (wiki)
Based loosely on actual events, Kitchen Stories is about the attempts by a highly-respected interior designer to collect information about the habits of single men in their kitchens, so that new technology and better layout can improve the lives of the inhabitants.
Volunteer observers are paired up with subjects and sent all over Norway to gather data. Folke is one such observer and is shipped off to the snowy countryside with a caravan and a tennis umpires chair, with which to observe his subject. Isak is not for being observed, however and even once he has accepted him over the threshold, works hard to ensure that no useful data is recorded on his habits. Slowly, however the dirty tricks are exhausted and a peace offering marks the beginning of a friendship between the two, something that goes against the natural distrust between Norwegians and Swedes, and expressly forbidden by the organisers for fear of corrupting the results. When Isak's friend finds himself ignored in favour of the new impostor, jealousy threatens to mess everything up.
Kitchen Stories is just about the most gently humorous film I have seen at a festival, the pace never gathering more than the bare minimum momentum, it reserves plenty of time for the icy stand-off to melt and a genuine warmth to replace it. You don't get massive belly-laughs here, just a steady trickle of chuckles and a nice cosy feeling inside. 7.5/10
Plastic Planet (Aus/Ger) (wiki)
This may or may not be the first film by director Werner Boote, but it's clear he needs to get someone to do the narration for him, as his attempt sounded robotic and unnatural, like a first year film student. I think this is because English is not his first language and he has narrated it in German first so maybe I'm being a bit harsh here. He is clearly trying to follow in the footsteps of the big guns of the investigative documentary field such as Michael Moore, and while there are indications of good investigative film-making here, it all feels a bit wooden and forced, especially when he starts to give over the top reactions to some of the things his interviewees say.
That's a shame, because there is a number of aspects to the plastic industry that Boote uncovers, such as the massive turnover of the major players, their reluctance to share the process of making the plastics, and just how they test that the plastics will not contaminate food when used to make containers. Perhaps the most unsettling piece shows what 15 minutes of trawling a stretch of ocean picks up in a fine filter - a thin film of plastic; decomposing pieces that are small enough for fish to eat and therefore enter the food chain, and given the number of chemicals present and the range of plastic recipes out there, it's a mess that the industry is trying to avoid cleaning up.
If you can put up with the dry facts and corny one-liners that Boote squeezes in between the less interesting facts about plastics, you'll find a low-budget documentary with plenty of important issues raised. Just don't expect to be enthralled. 6/10
Short and Sweet at Leeds
Short and Sweet are a small clique of people in London who meet every monday night and share the latest short films picked from around the world, and have been doing for the last 5 years. For the first (and hopefully not last) time they have been invited to be part of the Leeds Film Festival.
They had 8 short films playing this time around, and people were invited to the Nation of Shopkeepers to watch them for free.
Fast Film (Aus) - Director Virgil Widrich makes original use of a hundred or so classic movies. Rip them apart and create a whole new film, with the good guys versus the bad in an epic train ride towards oblivion. Another of those films where you can spend ages picking apart all the references. 7.5/10
Let Go (UK) - A video to accompany the song by The Japanese Popstars, Let Go is a psychadelic mind trip very similar indeed to yesterdays' Love and Theft. 7.5/10
Nuit Blanche (Fra) - A very simple but effective film. A man and a woman lock eyes and fall instantly in love, and nothing is going to stop them from getting together. The slow motion effects of their short but action-packed journey is as beautiful as the haunting piano/violin accompaniment. 8/10
A Family Portrait (UK) - A 2+2 family wait patiently for the photographer to take their pictures, although mum and dad clearly have some frustrations simmering just below the surface. Perhaps a pillow fight might help, thinks the photographer? Animated using a rotoscoping technique, the faces of the characters are stretched and skewed to accentuate their inner feelings and the masks they use to hide them. 7.5/10
Neurosonics Audiomedical Labs Inc (UK) - A unique take on Beat Boxing, where dismembered heads make music on scratch turntables. Just long enough for the funniness of it all to last. 7.5/10
Cherry on the Cake (UK) - Daughter Cherry goes missing on her birthday, putting her family in hysterics. They don't realise it was their own actions that made her shrink until she has almost disappeared. A lively, energetic animation. 7/10
Coachella (UK) - The annual music festival is captured in speeded up footage, using a special filming technique called Tilt-Shift that makes the subject matter appear as if it is a miniature model of the real thing. A fascinating little film. 7.5/10
My Mom Smokes Weed (US) - A darkly funny film about a young man and his mother who visit a drug den so she can buy some weed to smoke. Nervous politeness kicks in as mother and son end up between drug dealers on a wipe-clean couch. 7.5/10