Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 10

Yorkshire Short Film Competition

Extraordinary Moves - A short segment highlighting the work of an arts project based in Yorkshire that uses motion capture techniques to show through wireframe models how both able-bodied and disabled people walk and move. The cause was noble enough but there was little to hold the attention. 6/10

We Are Poets (interview) - Leeds is shown in all it's grotty, run-down, historic and beautiful forms through a poem celebrating the fact that, even though it's got it's faults, it's still part of the person who lives there and should not be derided for it. 7.5/10

Tetleys: Quality Pays - Tetleys as a brewery in Leeds was taken over by Carlsberg in 2008, the new owners promising a secure future. Now it is about to be closed. This short film celebrates it's impact on the area and mourns its imminent and seemingly unnecessary demise, highlighting it's belief in producing good product not making money, something the new owners arguably fails to do. 8/10

Hedwig - Using a random set of words from a random book to make a story is by definition a bit hit and miss. Hence we have a strange little animated film about a Professor Yaffle-style bird caught in a glass, watched by a bird-like creature. Weird. 4/10

Lost at Sea - A fresh breeze of a music video from the local (Belfast?) band 'Cashier No.9' using stop-motion photography to animate a sailing ship and it's crew member splashing through the streets of Leeds. Press the play button and turn the sound up. 8/10

Junk - Tet and his boyfriend Jack live as squatters, after Jacks' massively homophobic father kicks him out. They just need a little bit of money and stability to make the leap to somewhere nicer, but drugs and confused feelings get in their way. A strong, sad tale of broken people. 7.5/10

Click - Shown at Bradford this year, this is the story of five children entering a disused warehouse and finding a windowless room where strangely lights still work. But, as the kids mess around they begin to disappear without reason. A spooky well made film with amateur actors who did a good job. 7.5/10

Bantam - Finally, a tale of a young man who can't seem to get a break whatever he does. Timid and tender, he is bullied at school, ignored at home and the only place he feels secure - a moorside farm where game hens are reared - has just become a place where trust has been betrayed. A quietly sad little film. 7.5/10

Small Town Murder Songs (Can) (site)

In a religious southern American backwater town, a man leaves his community and becomes a born again Christian. Clearly something triggered this desire to undermine the values of his birth community and start again, but when we meet Walter we can have no clue of what led him to this decision.

It seemed to have something to do with Steve, the town's generally inconsequential low-level slacker who has gotten together with Rita, a woman whose past is intertwined with Walter's. When the dead body of a young woman is found at the side of the highway and a Washington detective appears to push the investigation forward, Walter fights with his feelings and emotions and tries not to see it as a way of getting even by implicating the man who has been a constant thorn in his side. His eventual failure has him removed from the investigation, but when things start genuinely pointing towards Steve as the killer when he has been dismissed from investigations, Walters' feelings look to have done twice the harm.

Deep and reverent religious themes play throughout; churches, confessionals, bible quotes writ large on the landscape; showing humanity up for all its sinful terror just bubbling under the surface of everyday life (and arguably, religion's inability to stem the flow). The largely unknown cast play their parts well and the emotional journey is invigorated by beautiful, soulful music; a thumping accompaniment to a powerful story. 8/10

Snowtown (Aus) (site)

Mainstream horror movies don't usually move me much, at least not these days. There's something about the amount of blood splattering or computer generated gore/monsters/etc in them that make them artificial, and thus distant. There is little to turn it from some actors going through a predetermined route in a movie, to you living the terror with them.

Snowtown is not a horror movie, not in the sense conjured up when you mention the term. But it is horrific in it's execution of the life of John Bunting, whose self-righteous brand of mass killing actually happened a decade or so ago in Australia. And it made me hide behind my hands like no horror film ever could.

Told from the perspective of young James Vlassakis, one of four sons and half-brothers to Elizabeth, the unlucky soul who after several failed attempts to find a new man, (including a neighbour who took naked pictures of her sons), found John Bunting and fell in love.

Bunting was initially a solid, family man, but his increasingly extreme methods for forcing the neighbour to move away act as a sign of the madman within. Sitting round the family table with neighbours and friends, he helps whip them into a frenzy of self-righteous bravado and setting the world to rights, it's just that the other guys don't expect to go through with it.

Lacking a father figure, James begins to distance himself from the rest of the family and come under Bunting's wing, who grooms or threatens him into more and more terrible acts and becomes part of his dysfunctional group of warped vigilantes.

This is a shockingly powerful and harrowing film, and it's menace won't leave the mind for a while. Bunting is played masterfully by Daniel Henshall, whose unblinking gaze and Charles Bronson upside-down-face beard, calmly surveys friend and victim alike, we can only guess at the thoughts passing through his mind. I felt deeply disturbed by what I had seen, but such was the point of this film, a masterful portrayal of the depths of human depravity. 8/10

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