Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 15

Sound of Noise (Swe) (wiki)

Unfortunately due to some less than stellar scheduling, this film moved forward by a quarter hour, and the next one back by just as much in the time between me working out what I was going to watch, and the tickets being issued. I don't get why they stagger the films like this anyway.

Anyway, I won't score it but I will briefly touch on my impressions of the first hour. It looked intriguing, to be blunt. The trailer which ran on the opening day made the film look completely art-house; which was an inaccurate view, and a cohesive (if unusual) narrative was quickly built up. Magnus and Sanna are musicians, frustrated at the cheesy calming musak pumped through speakers everywhere around their city and are fighting back. Magnus has penned his opus, 'Music for one city and six drummers', and they intend to go through with it, conducting a surreal and not remotely legal music event using whatever they find in the city as percussion.

So yes, a musical terrorist movie. It felt subversive, sharp and a bit edgy, and what with the Occupy Wall Street goings on going on it seems to be the movie for the moment (and come to think of it, a theme among the films this year). If possible, I'll catch the rest of it sometime.

Satellite Bolinha (Bra) - A very rough around the edges little film from Brazil before Scrapper came on, highlighting the almost impossible of ordinary people putting together ham radio-style kits with odds and ends that hijack the bandwidth of those satellites orbiting the earth, that the engineers didn't bother to install with any security features, thus creating a sort of global CB radio network. These became known as the 'little ball' satellites, or Bolinhas. Obviously the authorities aren't usually happy, so the next logical step is to get a home-made satellite into space, and a surprising number actually manage it. A scrappy documentary on a potentially fascinating subject. 7/10

Scrapper (USA) (site)

Out in the south Californian scrub land is a range called the 'chocolate mountains', these unfortunate hills and valleys are the targets for the US army and navy who fly over in just about every flying fortress you can think of, and lob bombs onto abandoned tanks and jeeps day and night. This is the lair of the Scrappers, a bunch of scavengers with a death wish.

They fight amongst themselves for territory, they run the risk of bumping into drug pushers who use the range as a drug running route, they happily skip around on old bombs partially hidden by the dirt from the latest barrage, and they risk being in the wrong place at the wrong time if a passing helicopter gunship pilot fancies a bit of target practice.

But the rewards are high. Dud bombs can be dismantled for aluminium, shell casings for brass. In the period the film-maker was privileged enough to spend with some of the (competing) scrappers - the Bush era from about 2002 to 2007 - the price of these metals rocketed as they were made scarcer by their moulding into yet more bombs and shell casings to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. A scrapper on a good day can take home a truckfull of parts, process them back at their homes and take them to the scrap yard who will pay a good price and melt them down, no questions asked. These good ol' American weapons often become parts in Chinese electronics, which in turn are sold back to the west.

It was fascinating to see the more human sides of these people, and go with them foraging and see what risks they take every day - though you were acutely aware that these are the same people who would without thought firebomb and maybe kill any trespasser trying to forage on their patch. Suitably, it featured excerpts from Bush's war-related speeches on the subject now and again in the background, contrasting what he said about freedom and prosperity for all with what was happening on screen. For those who don't speak redneck, thankfully most of it was subtitled (it really all needed to be). It's only real failing was that it felt a little dry and roughly put together (which befitted the theme I suppose) but the conclusion and wrapup of these people and their ongoing lives was tatty and the credits rolled without warning. 7/10

The Substance: Albert Hoffmanns LSD (Swi/Ger) (site)

An analysis of the drug that was found by chance in 1948 while researching the circulation of blood around the body. LSD can come from a number of forms, such as he Mexican magic mushrooms, or an extract of the ergot mould which grows on rye, and being the experimental type, Hoffmann tried it himself. His hellish, nightmare experience with only a diluted dose convinced him the substance was going to be powerful in the psychological field and required further research.

In the fifties, it became a popular experimental tool on human behaviour and research into the brain, but as time passed it was also being noticed by the artists and creative crowds, who saw the mind-expanding nature of the drug as a way of magnifying their consciousness and therefore their abilities. For a while in the sixties casual street use - especially in the suburbs of San Francisco where it was first discovered - was tolerated by the law, but as the conservative groups expressed concern and outrage about it's effects, and the results of the 'bad trip' came to the fore, it was made illegal in the late sixties, retreating back to the exclusive hands of a few privileged research institutes.

The Substance, considering it's subject matter felt a bit starchy, even when we reach the psychedelic, trippy hippy era there feels to be a restraint to it, as though they were cautioned to ensure that the film didn't basically become an advert from the drug. This stopped my enjoyment a little, but it remains an informative, funny and surprising study of the drug and some of the major players involved in it's dissemination to the public sphere. 7/10

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