Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 13

Eco Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson (Can) (facebook)

Rarely has my little festival notes book had so many scribbles in it for one film. Paul Watson was one of the original members of the Greenpeace movement in the 1970's, when a group of similarly-minded anti-nuclear environmental activists decided to broaden their scope to include the mistreatment and slaughter of animals, particularly whales and seals. But whereas the Greenpeace philosophy had its roots in the Quaker movement and the concept of civil, non-violent protest, Paul Watson had more radical ideas. An acrimonious split from the group in 1977, after an operation to hinder the seal clubbers off Newfoundland, saw Paul set up his own group advocating more direct action, and as in the case of the ramming of the Sierra, an illegal whale hunting ship, outright violence to get the intended result.

Since then, Paul and his crew aboard the Sea Shepherd have met with increasing hostility from those he has tried to oppose. Russian, Norwegian and Japanese ships have all been his targets and have responded in kind, and the film contains some pretty scary footage of gunshots and huge ships ramming and scraping into each other. Mixed in with the history and archive footage of the Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society movements (which have not always seen eye to eye) is film from a recent pacific mission of the coast of Australia, where Japanese "Research" vessels were whaling under a thin guise. Unfortunately their ship is too slow, and could be easily outrun, which is where the celebrity fund-raisers come in.

A fascinating and enlightening film (whether you agree with the work or not) that gave a candid view through friends and colleagues past and present, of a flawed but determined man and his life mission to do what was right, regardless of whether it was lawful. 8/10

Involuntary (Swe) (site/wiki)

A collection of stories, sliced up and presented in chunks, all based around the subject of people in involuntary situations as a result of the pressure of others upon them. A fireworks accident at a party leaves a father with an eye injury, but his wife is helpless when it comes to getting him to hospital. A young teacher struggles with the ways of her peers when she sees one slapping an unruly child. Two promiscuous (to say the least) teenage girls find themselves on both the giving and receiving end of some unwanted photo taking. A woman takes a ride on a coach with some unruly teens, and finds herself stranded when the driver refuses to budge until someone owns up to a petty piece of vandalism. Finally, a group of male schoolfriends, now grown up, push things too far with one of their number.

Films of this type can be hit and miss; the broken up nature and the sparse narrative can mean that the viewer is lost in a fug of unrelated stories, trying to pattern match and find links between the scenes that aren't there. Involuntary is one of the better examples of this type of film. For the first ten minutes I groaned inside at the seemingly random scenes playing out (especially as the director steadfastly refused to move or pan the camera), but after they begin to cycle and the story of each progresses, the intention of the film becomes clearer, and thus the enjoyment also. By the end I had lost all my irked feelings and was quite enjoying what I had seen. 7/10

My Magic (Sng) (site)

My Magic brought a smile to my face even before it had started. The print that we were given to watch included the brief presentation reel for 'Action For Earth' - the theme of the Tokyo Film Festival. It felt weird to see it again.

My Magic is a sad but ultimately life-affirming tale of a lonely man. A single parent and a massive drunk. He has a heart of gold somewhere in his huge frame, but his son can't see it as the most he usually sees of his dad is a darkened figure in the night gloom, face down in his own vomit.

But Francis has one talent - he is (or was) a magician, one that specialised in feats of pain - such as sticking needles through body parts, eating glass and swallowing fire. When he learns that young Raju wants to make a better go of his life and study for university, he realises his bar job is not enough, and accepts his manager's offer to use his tricks to entertain a local gang boss. But the boss is a sadistic man, and to get the money he so desperately wants to win back his son's respect, he must take whatever beatings the boss pleases.

Taking a little while to get going, My Magic evolves from quiet and gentle beginnings, through some pretty squeamish bits, into a dramatic and emotional finale, and is not the sort of film you would expect from a place like Singapore. Francis is played by real-life magician Bosco Francis, and the things you see in the film are not special effects. When a needle appears to pass through his arm, it really does. This, coupled with the realistically sweaty and grimy surroundings gave it a feeling of realism absent from many modern films, and set the scene nicely for a powerful ending. 7.5/10

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