BIFF 2011 - Day 12

Muppet Treasure Island (US) (wiki)

I had time to fit this children's classic in, so why not. It's the muppets, and they're on a ship bound for treasure. On an Island. Tim Curry is yarr-tastic as Long John Silver, dodgy ships mate hired aboard Kermit's ship, and Kevin Bishop is the kid with the map placed in the middle of it for the littler audience members to identify with.

It's all good harmless fun. a film showing some of the savvy now prevalent in kids films where a little bit of the humour is deliberately intended to go over the heads of the kids and into the face of the adults behind, to stop them getting too bored. Also, and probably a sign of our increasingly coddling times, the amount of references to death, killing and torture are pretty high for a kids film, where as now we would probably refer to torture as 'advanced tickling' and death as 'indefinite sleep'. Maybe last night's Outside the Law is still having some residual effect. 7/10

Seesaw (Jpn) (site)

Shinji and Makoto are going steady, living together in their small Tokyo flat. An army of polaroid friends around them, their life is pretty comfortable. There are cracks; Shinji wants to move things forward with marriage and kids, while Makoto isn't so sure. Their differing attitudes to the future is the root cause of some petty rifts between each other that occasionally flare up and things get momentarily cagey. When Shinji feels the light tug of a paternal instinct and brings back a stray dog for them to have as a pet, Makoto gets seriously moody, and after some talking, he agrees to hand it in to the animal shelter. They part frostily.

Makoto never sees him again. The hospital gives her the news.

Few films have been so effective in dangling an imperfect but blossoming life in front of the audience and then pass both through the wringer so effectively. Makoto's grieving is followed personally, with uncomfortable protracted-ness, almost to a perverse, voyeuristic degree, but that is the strength of this film. It will knock you flat. 8/10

Swing (Twn) - A short but similarly themed animation exploring an old man's ability to let go of life, and whether he wants to just yet. The director's heart is clearly in it. 8/10

Shine Short Film Awards

A heavily whittled-down selection of films, chosen by the Shine Jury.

A Gentle Push (Bel) (Winner) - Waking up in a holiday hotel by the sea, little Robbie spies a whale beached on the shore. Wally, as he becomes known, is the central theme around which several events unfold and intertwine. A football match watched with religious fervour, a school pecking order establishing itself, and a family tragedy. Well shot and nicely mixed together. 7.5/10

A Good Life (UK) - Nick sounds like the perfect potential husband, but when he catches his wife bouncing up and down on another man just as he is setting his big proposal scene up, he goes berserk. A chance encounter with a mysterious and slightly threatening man however gives him something much more serious to think about. I really liked this film, except it seemed to want to over-explain itself here and there. 8/10

The Long Lonely Walk (UK) - Three situations - an elderly and infirm woman going to see her husband, where the dreaded question will likely be asked; a young boy plucks up courage to talk to a girl, and a man prepares to go and defuse a bomb - work themselves out concurrently, each involving a pained (and slightly over-stretched) walk into uncertain territory. 7.5/10

Nowhere Elsewhere (Can) (2nd Place) - A couple with a small child stop off on their way to see the woman's religious mother at a motel, where the boy begins to see visions of the Virgin Mary in the motel chapel. The vague suggestions of revelation and spiritual rebirth would probably mean more to a religious person. 7/10

Paperman (Irl) - In a world made entirely of paper, a figure down on his luck and unable to find the one that completes him, contemplates suicide. A nice enough animation, although the theme of the piece didn't really require it. 7/10

Victims of Gravity (US) - A man lies dying in the road, in the middle of a multi-vehicle incident, with his motorbike trapping him to the floor. The scene is frozen in time, except for him and his girlfriend, who has to choose between dying with him, or living without. A succinct film with clever effects. 7/10

The Messenger (US) (site)

This year's closing film is actually a couple of years old (2009), but due to it's sensitive subject matter it wasn't particularly well received in it's native country and so the organisers decided to give it a bit more exposure.

Distinguished middle east war hero Sgt. Will Montgomery, on the mend from wounds suffered in conflict, is given a more civilian role to play under Capt. Tony Stone, a direct, forceful and above all omniscient 'Casualty Notification Officer' - those men given the hellish task over and over of visiting the houses of the next of kin to inform them of their loved ones' deaths. Stone has his own set of ingrained rules on how to perform this - which boils down to informing them with no emotion or sympathies, no weasel wording, and no consolation. Not wanting to rock the boat, Montgomery complies.

But from the off Stone's method seem wrong, and his bullish bravado when not standing on people's doorsteps hides the insecurities of a desperately lonely soul underneath. These begin to make themselves apparent when out of uniform and with a bottle in his hand. Slowly, despite the differences of opinion and defensive standpoints, they both begin to bond and open up, although Montgomery's attraction to one of the people he has had to notify - a massive no-no - threatens their working trust, and his professional conduct.

Concentrating more on manufacturing a level of emotional healing for the main parts, rather than making comments on the rights and wrongs of the war didn't stop this being a controversial film over in the US, hence it's tepid reception - people just didn't want to watch these things being played to them on a big screen. This collective denial is a shame because the script is pretty well done, although the middle section does sag a little, and there are no sledgehammers involved to get any messages or opinions across. It's main strength lies in the well-constructed verbal exchanges both between the soldiers and the people they have to notify, and later in the film, each other as they start to reveal their past and begin exorcising their demons. 8/10


So that's Bradford 2011 over, with 56 features (100 individual films) under my belt. It was certainly a bigger, better festival than 2010, and I got to shake hands and talk to some interesting and influential people over the past week or so. I now need to find my eyes as they have fallen out and are rolling around here somewhere. And I think I've just trod on one.

BIFF 2011 - Day 11

Los 4 McNifikos (Spa) - An imagination of a world where three men who were part of the B-Boy scene when they were young, and never grew out of it. Comically played and doesn't take itself seriously. 7.5/10

Fanny, Annie and Danny (US) (site)

Fanny, Annie and Danny are three siblings whose lives are - predictably - pretty messed up. Fanny is autistic and has learning difficulties, her rented room and long-term job are both about to be taken away from her. Annie works as a trainee dentist, who feels like she's about to be edged out by another woman who will be coming to work there. She dreams of a perfect wedding that can never come, to her stoner boyfriend who can barely be bothered getting up off the couch all day. Superficially, Danny is the best of the bunch, trying to launch a career as a music agent to a band, who unfortunately want their $20k back they reckon he has swindled off them.

Considering their mother, they have grown up relatively well adjusted. Mother is a gruff-voiced, selfish mother-hen type who must have things exactly her way, and anything that isn't 'nice' by her standards, cannot be nice to anyone else, and must be jettissonned. Her long-suffering husband is about to suffer another wave of clear-outs at her hand, as she tries to get the family together for the perfect Christmas.

The comedy/tragedy knobs are both turned up high, and the result is some very morose, jet-black humour at the expense of the poor souls, all of which end up significantly worse off by the end of it. It's a guilty pleasure to extract enjoyment from this sort of de-constructive film, but it's difficult not to be amused by the increasingly desperate situations, although there are a couple of threads that, by the end, you have to decide for yourself how they turn out. 7.5/10

Twelve Monkeys (US) (trailer)

As part of the Terry Gilliam retrospective, I got to see Twelve Monkeys for the first time in years. Gilliams' wretched period of human existence where they have been consigned to the underground, where technology is steampunk and humanity is barely recognisable, the pre-atrocity world of 1990's America underbelly is barely any more palatable.

John Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent backwards to before the event - a massively devastating release of a virus - to gather intel for why it happened, so those that remain in the future can synthesize a cure. Not much was known. but for a few scrawled messages foretelling the event, and a stencilled logo representing the 'Twelve Monkeys', an unknown group of activists. Taken mistakenly to 1990, six years before rather than on the eve, he is caught and put in the loony bin, where he is observed by the beautiful Dr Ralling, a police psychologist. Predictably, no-one believes him, except maybe Francis (a young Brad Pitt), the son of a major experimental science professor who went a bit nuts and is in the same place.

Re-appropriated eventually to 1996, he sets about finding Dr Ralling again, his only hope of convincing the world that disaster is on the horizon, but there were a lot of embarrassed officers who lost Cole six years earlier who want to put the case to rest.

Showing Gilliams' well-honed ability to create a complicated and vaguely surreal environment, the pieces of which all fit nicely into place only at the list minute, it is still lucid enough to allow the viewer to maintain a hold of the events as the prophecy fulfils itself, always pushed ahead by the actions of those who are trying their best to stop it happening. Willis is an excellent child-like thug trying to do the right thing to earn his freedom, in a world he doesn't understand, and Brad Pitt is particularly good as a loosely-hinged ball of frustrated energy yearning to break free. It was great to see it on the big screen again. 8/10

Self Help (UK) - John Powers' self help books litter the house of a past-his-best, lonely man. It's clear the books and CD's dont help him build up the confidence to ask out the girl at the local hardware store, but maybe self help needs to come from within. 7.5/10

Sailor (Pol) (interview)

Norman is a lecturer on human psychology and development. He creates videos illustrating theories and models, evolutionary algorithms, biological survival simulations, 'lifeshapes'.. and into the commentary seeps his own opinions, ideas, and prejudices. The audience are his students. This is a man who has lost himself in the cold hard science of existence, but has lost his connection with humanity along the way. What we see is the result - a series of opinionated lectures on the various subjects, interspersed with the rocky relationship with his beloved but over-analysed girlfriend Nel. The constantly subdued and brooding music suggesting that their relationship, much like that of the subjects of his experiments, is going to fall foul of entropy and decay.

To say this is a one-off sort of film is an understatement. Most of the film requires the viewer to read the subtitles at the bottom of the screen - often with no foreign voiceover for the subtitles to be translating - giving a morose lecture with minimal visual explanations.

Despite my general dislike of experimental cinema, which this is definitely a part of, the repetition, the weak story wholly dependant on the narrative, the need to find things to like about the man and his patronising relationship, and the emptiness of the cold logic on show; despite all of that, I did want to enjoy it. There is some spark of something beneath the film, some multi-layered thing hiding behind the pretentiousness that might with work and a bigger budget (and maybe a few other people involved to bounce ideas between) this could have been a great work. Most people walked out. I stayed to the end, but I must admit I contemplated escape into the real world once more. 4/10

Outside The Law: Stories from Guantanamo Bay + Q and A (UK) (site)

Throughout the course of history, humanity has caused many atrocities; if we could naively consider the events of WW2 as coming to 'a head', we might reasonably expect that the measures put in place, most notably the Geneva Convention on Human Rights and the Nuremberg Principles, would ensure that such things would never be allowed to happen again.

Well, obviously it has; all over the world and for many different reasons, human beings with power over others have ignored such laws and abused, destroyed, murdered and eradicated many thousands of people over the years.

But that was in war-torn, ravaged, undemocratic countries, right? Not in a land of the free such as America, or a multicultural secular country such as the UK?

Outside the Law attempts (on a shoestring budget) to reveal the extent to the atrocities meted out in our name, by our (US and UK) governments, in the name of security. Taking the Guantanamo prison camp as the central theme - situated off American soil in Cuba so as to allow the US to withdraw all rights from it's detainees but still run the show - it collects together a wealth of data about human rights abuses, redefinition of what constitutes torture, changes to the constitution and any law that gets in the way, and the people on the receiving end of America's bullish, brash invasion and wholesale rounding up of anyone who looked vaguely Arabian. In particular, it concentrates on the stories of four men from the UK who, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, were the victims of the $5000 bounty placed on the head of anyone who could be labelled an Al Qaeda spy. One of them is Moazamm Begg, detained for several years and now a prominent spokesperson and activist for human rights on the cageprisoners site, and Shaker Aamer, a well spoken man whose desire to be a spokesperson for his fellow detainees mean although cleared for release several years ago, is still over there.

What has been exposed here is disgusting, as bad as anything that has happened in the past, only this time it's worse as the acts are dressed up in sterilising wordplay - 'enemy combatant', 'extraordinary rendition', 'proxy interrogation'..

People should see this film to see just what is done in the name of western democracy. And this is to our own people. Andy Worthington is a prominent human rights journalist who guides us throughout the film on just what and why things are the way they are. A hugely important film about just how wrong things have become. 8.5/10

Ashes (UK) - A man courts two women without the other one knowing. One he is talking of settling down and beginning a family with, the other, for a second flash of feeling young again. He has amassed a large pot of cash, and both women expect a rosy future, but when they meet each other by chance, his best laid plans go to waste. 7/10

Essential Killing (Pol/Nor/Irl/Hun) (site)

As an appropriate companion to Outside The Law, this largely dream-like film follows Mohammed, a petty terrorist soldier who got lucky with a rocket, and blew three Americans apart as they headed after him through narrow Afghan terrain. Pursued and captured, he is sent to a Guantanamo-style holding area, for passage to somewhere more permanent. By freak of luck in the bitterly cold and snow-covered highland forests, his transport overturns down a hill and he is thrown from the wreck. Clothed only in a boiler suit, he has a slim chance at freedom, but with a massive and sparsely populated forest to negotiate, that will soon begin to swarm with soldiers and dogs. he has the odds stuck massively against him.

Unusually, the film contains virtually no dialogue, and the sound effects are muted and minimal, the audience forced into appreciating the onset of Mohammeds' deafness at being shot at with a missile and thrown through the air. Thus the encounters with both people and animals are conducted mostly in actions and gestures, and the whole film is more of a symbolic allegory rather than a film with a lucid plot. Mohammeds' increasingly romanticized fantasies of a homeland very much blasted to bits are all that keep him from keeling over, and give him the strength to carry onward and do whatever it takes to survive.

Due to it's dream-like journey through a white-out hell, it won't be for everyone. I found myself wondering in the first half whether the sound had gone wonky on the print, and there will be many that find frustration in the absence of a narrative, but it was nevertheless quite enjoyable, if that's the word. 7/10

BIFF 2011 - Day 10

Goya - or The Hard Way to Enlightenment (Ger) (info)

A rare film from the days of a divided Germany which unfortunately only had French subtitles, so my interpretation of it might be a bit sketchy. Goya the man was a royal painter for the beautiful and opulent palaces and residences around Madrid. Growing increasingly away from the culture and omnipresent beliefs at the time, galvanised by the ever present Spanish Inquisition and the then all-powerful Catholic Church, his paintings begin to show signs of his heresy, and he must go into exile for fear of the judgements of the grand inquisitor.

There's no doubt my enjoyment of the film was dented by my rusty French parsing of the sometimes quite quick-fire dialogue, but the film itself was a product of it's age. Set beautifully in some of the most historical and picturesque areas of Spain, the crew had only rudimentary sound and picture editing skills, meaning a jarring knock from one scene to the next. The 2+ hour film did go quicker than I thought it might though, if that's any indication. 6/10

Dersu Uzala (USSR/Jpn) (wiki)

Akira Kurosawa bounced back after a suicide attempt (due at least in part to a string of badly-received films and a tarnished film reputation) in an unusual way, by working with the Russians, creating his only film produced outside of Japan. Set in the early 1900's, Captain Arseneiv is on a topographic survey of some of the more remote parts of Siberia with a small band of foot soldiers to carry his things and scare off anything that might try and eat him, but it's clear from the off that they aren't very good. In fact, they're little more than a pack of giggling teens who can't take anything seriously. By chance they happen to cross paths with a squat and wrinkled little man. He is Dersu Uzala, a Goldi hunter looking for a bit of extra cash for his services. Seeing a lifeline with his knowledge of the workings of the forest, they join forces. Although the other men are standoffish to begin with, his tracking skills and dead eye with a rifle earn their respect. Surviving largely on Dersu's knowledge, they make it through a number of scrapes before civilisation is encountered again and they can make their way unaided to Vladivostok.

Five years later, Arseniev is in the same area, and hopes to meet up again, but when he does, Dersu is older and more infirm, and it is clear he cannot survive much longer alone. The man of the forest must come to the city, but coping with the change will not be easy.

The print quality was as if they had found a virgin 70mm reel and played it for the first time; the picture was as sharp as you could expect for the time and the unusual format. At well over 2 hours (including an interval in the middle), the film does like to indulge itself with the beautiful wilderness and a selection of now scarce wildlife, but this could be too much for some. I enjoyed the friendship dynamic between the two principal characters, and the inevitable touching conclusion put a lump in the throat, but going to great efforts to see this film should be reserved for Kurosawa addicts only. 7/10

Heim (Austria) - A young teen happens upon a derelict and vandalised house when escaping from some bullies. Somehow drawn to a feeling of security within, he uses it initially as a place to train for the next encounter, and then as a rudimentary squatting as he grows distant from his mother. A surprisingly film that puts in the mind: what was your house, before it was yours? 7.5/10

Meek's Cutoff (US) (site)

Supposedly an amalgam of several tales from the outback, condensed into a single story, the title is a reference to a road through Oregon. Meek is a big, beardy gruff-voiced arrogant pig, who has been hired by a travelling group comprising three families, heading from the east to the west in search of a better place to live. A temporary nomadic existence, the little group has now been travelling for several weeks longer than Meek said it would take.

A new element is added into the stifled mix when a lone Native Indian starts to trail them. When Meek comes back one day with the man trussed up and beaten, it comes down to Solomon as the voice of reason to use his knowledge to find some much needed water. Meek, used to seeing the devil around every corner uses every excuse he can find to put a gun to his head. Since they don't speak a word of common language with each other, suspicions about the man's true motives start to dwell in peoples' minds anyway without much help from Meek, especially when the path becomes increasingly strewn with rock formations and drawings with messages on they don't understand.

The power of faith to bring communities together, and also isolate them from those who are different are explored quietly and without being in your face about it, the mood of the film reminded me a lot of True Grit, with it's barren spaces and saturated colours. This however is a quieter and more considered film, exploring the first experiences of a people with another that they only know about through rumour. 7.5/10

13 Assassins (Jpn/UK) (site)

Takashi Miike goes behind the camera once more with a British-backed film remake about samurai battling it out at the end of the Edo period, the most bloody in the history of ancient, feudal Japan. Honour and tradition ensure that Lord Doi cannot simply block the violent an sadistic Lord Naritsugu from achieving his place on the senior samurai council. Only one thing can stop him, and that's being killed to death.

Naritsugu has proved himself able to stay alive more than once, so in a time when the quality and quantity of decent samurai are thin on the ground, Samurai Shinzaemon is ordered to gather together the best men he can find and take him out. There are a lot of men who back the traditional line unquestioningly in the way though.

Plenty of stylised violence and blood-soaked robes take up most of the second half of the film, the first half almost teasing us for the bloodlust ahead. Miike doesn't disappoint in this regard, and there is a half-decent storyline behind it to warrant the massive battle at the end, which although unrelenting and leaving the audience with barely a second to breathe, it sometimes gets a bit too ambitious for it's own good and overreaches in places. Nevertheless, it's a fine example of the flying limbs genre and if it's your bag, it'll not disappoint. 7.5/10

BIFF 2011 - Day 9

Greenwashers (US) (site)

In today's advertising, we are saturated with adverts with a green face. Toilet rolls made from recycled paper, cars manufactured from hemp, that sort of thing. It would be nice to think that the products that are being sold to us are nice and green and we are benefiting the environment by buying them over the nasty polluting alternatives.

But more often than not, the only difference between two products is the level of green marketing that has been lavished upon their promotion.

Greenwashing is the term used to describe a product that has been labelled as eco-friendly, or green, or environmental, and isn't. The marketers may be vaunting a genuine attempt to do their bit; that loo roll may indeed contain a degree of recycled paper in it, but how much is in there, and what degree of energy was consumed in order to get it there? In a largely unregulated area of marketing, manufacturers can say what they want, pretty much, to sell the green philosophy. The public doesn't need to know the details.

Cleverly, two activists with a particular interest in exposing greenwashing pose as representatives of 'Greenwashers Consulting', a fake company set up to help and advise businesses (for a nominal fee) to help gloss over their less environmental output and accentuate the positives. They take their cause to a couple of US 'green expos', where a suitcase and sharp suit are enough to get some of the reps there to drop their guard a little at the prospect of potential sales gains.

Throw in a couple of talking heads, providing some background and commentary on recent greenwashed international adverts and the companies behind them, and declaring the 'seven sins of greenwashing' for the viewer to look out for, and you get an informative and occasionally funny film, that at a little under an hour, doesn't labour to make it's point. 7.5/10

A Fine Day (Ger) (German site)

Another film in the Thomas Arslan retrospective, A Fine Day continues Arslans' early focus of Turkish-German heritage, clearly something close to Arslans' heart. Young actress Deniz begins her day by leaving her boyfriend sleeping, to go for a bit of a walk. In the subway she makes eye contact with a man, but he is going elsewhere. After a spot of dubbing work, she splits with her immature boyfriend. Her mother disapproves, her sister thinks it is for the best, but always Deniz seems to be running her decisions by the seat of her pants. But on the way back, the man appears again, and a game of chance encounters begins on the subway.

The film is a difficult one to describe without descending into an emotionless list of events (and I certainly hope my other reviews don't do that). It is to Arslans' credit that the story of relationships, and how you tell which person is right for you, is somehow largely communicated between the words and actions, and depending on where a person is emotionally when they watch this film, it could either not affect them in the slightest and be slightly dull, or it might hit them right between the eyes. Personally - I found it to be closer to the latter, an understated thing of beauty. 8/10

Silent Things (UK) - Jake and Amy are an autistic couple, whose day of kite flying at the beach is spoilt by a young backpacker, who fills Jake's imagination with the idea of a ferry ride, an excursion so far out of his comfort zone something inevitably goes wrong. Both heartbreaking and sweet. 8/10

Point Blank (Fra) (review/site)

Lowly male nurse Samuel lives a modest but contented existence. His pregnant wife Nadia is near to the big day, and he gets to dote over her on their doctors advice. A chance encounter with a man trying to kill off Hugo, a badly injured patient sets both of them in the firing line between shadowy assassins and corrupt policemen. After Nadia gets taken hostage, Samuel must get the man on his feet and out of a cop-filled hospital, or she gets it. But things are more messed up than what first appears, and Hugo's part in it all is far from clear. Is he part of the mob that kidnapped his wife, or will he be Samuel's saviour?

If there is one thing the French directors seem to do consistently very well, it's a straightforward cop thriller, a genre in French cinema that is refreshingly absent of the cod philosophy elsewhere. Point Blank isn't going to break any molds but what it does, it does very well; ramping up the tension and suspense to the levels that make you sit up and take notice. 8/10

Foreign Parts (US/Fra) (site)

This fly on the wall documentary settles for a while on the residents of Willets Point, New York. A large and scruffy collection of scrapyards and car body shops feeding off the spoils of each other in a thousand daily deals. Corrugated iron structures slowly decompose around the periphery of a wide open area pocked with potholes from years of inaction by the local council, even the fat-arsed American 4x4's have problems negotiating it. Men in dirty clothes eye up any incoming driver and immediately begin touting for trade, almost like ladies of ill repute gathering on the street corners when the big shiny machines roll by. Forklift trucks pierce car windows as they are held aloft and have the engines shaken out of them, the workers cutting the parts free and dragging them back to their lairs like they were primal hunters bringing back their spoils. Any sign of a major shower, and the whole place becomes a dirty lake, half drowning any cars that might venture in and head into the wrong area.

Petty crime and meagre existences ensure that life here is largely survival with little enjoyment, but the people here do form a community, and one which is all too aware of the council plans for redevelopment of the whole area - and it doesn't include any body shops or junk yards.

Although more pointed in the direction of a communities silent plight, this film reminded me of 43565 from last year's BIFF, it was a similar observation without commentary on the existence of a community which, without the interest and passion of a passing filmmaker, might never have it's unusual beauty told. 7/10

The Golden Boy (UK) - A middle-aged man walks around the streets of London at night, talking to the strangers he meets about the great fire of London, and the monument at Pudding Lane. This unofficial tour guide seems harmless enough, until on a night of particular significance, he meets Mike and asks him to come for a walk. 7/10

As If I Am Not There (Irl/Mac/Swe) (review)

Based on a collation of true stores, and adapted from a novel of the same name. Young adult Samira leaves her comfortable family existence in Sarajevo to work as a temporary teacher in a remote Bosnian village. The next day, soldiers arrive and empty the houses of people. The men are separated and taken into the fields and shot; the women and children are packed aboard buses and shipped off to an abandoned warehouse where they await their fate.

Kept alive as a commodity for exchange of materials, or just as a bargaining chip if it came to it, it's not long before the 'soldiers' - drunken lecherous men not noble enough for such a respectful term - complete their mistreatment of the women, and begin to rape them, old and young. In one of the film's most powerfully horrific scenes, Samira takes her turn to share the horror with the people she hardly knows. Only her efforts to remind herself - and her fellow inmates - that she is a woman and not an animal, keep her mentally strong enough to remain alive, but help is nowhere to be seen and the situation gets bleaker by the day.

As if I am Not There is a stunningly powerful work, chronicling some of the many atrocities committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the mid 90's with the same oomph as what Schindlers List did for the Nazi occupation. It might be going a bit far to equate the film in it's entirety to Spielbergs' epic, but I had the same feelings of a car hitting me in the chest that I felt when I saw it.

I doubt the film will be ever appreciated outside it's home country to the extent it deserves to be, but I urge as many people as possible to see this on the big screen if they can. An important historical document of a film, and astonishing in it's power and maturity for a directorial début. 8.5/10

BIFF 2011 - Day 8

Boris Ryzhy (Ned) (site)

Pesky work made it so I missed the first half of this initial film in a double bill. Ryzhy grew up Yekaterinburg, a rough and ready part of Russia paralysed by violence and crime. When not part of it himself, Ryzhy wrote poetry about the people and places around them, that described the harsh existence of both himself and his subjects. Using the class photo album of 1989 as a framing device, when Ryzhy was a fresh faced and positive boy, we review the progress of some of the people and places as they are now, and get them to reflect on the work of the man who committed suicide in 2001, after having seen so much of his life destroyed by the chaotic changes around him. Throughout, Ryzhy's poems in his own words, are played as a commentary just as relevant to the current Russia as they ever were.

A dark, cold light of day look at a troubled soul, and one that I would like to catch again if I can, and I'll score it then.

The World According to Ion B. (Rom) (site)

A scruffy tramp sits on a dirty mattress in the back yard of a block of flats. A shabby overcoat and a care-worn trilby past its best, he contemplates his situation. Constanta, the kindly old woman who has let him squat here for the past 20 or so years goes about her daily business, while Ion B. Takes a walk.

His life is carried round in a cardboard box. Inside, we see three briefcases, and inside them, as Ion shows us, is his complete artwork from the previous thirty years. Things are about to look up: someone has taken an interest in his work.

Dan Popescu owns a local art gallery, H'Art, and has discovered this man living rough in his neighbourhood. Talk of an outside artist, whose neighbours at best tolerate him and at worst work to have him removed led him to Ion B's squattings. Friendship and trust grew, and Popescu was finally shown the work.

Ion Barladeanu worked as a businessman for many years during the Ceauşescu regime until things went bad. His drawings and collages - mirroring the censored Pop Art culture from the decadent west were little more than a hobby. Starting with vaguely satirical cartoon drawings, he started to incorporate cut-outs and backgrounds from magazines, laid over each other to create new realities and situations, many of which in the time contained the hated Ceauşescu himself in a variety of embarrassing situations, something his communist father would have lynched him for.

This documentary follows Barladeanu from the lowest squalor to realising his modest dreams of a house and a bike, and some respect for the many works that he created. It's a lovely, positive and cheery tale chosen specially to perk the audience up after the atrocity of Ryzhy. 8/10

A Doll's House (UK) (wiki)

This was meant to be an entry into the Claire Bloom retrospective, but a slip-up meant that we got the right story, just the wrong version of the film (bizarrely there were two films based on the novel both made in 1973). Instead of Claire Bloom, we get Jane Fonda in the starring role as Nora, a Norwegian woman who is more like an innocent girl. Married to the strapping but stoic Torvald, newly promoted to the manager of the local bank, she has three kids and is happy and comfortable, except the chain of events that led to that moment were based on a fraud - she forged a document that got her the money to go off to Italy with a very ill Torvald several years before, an excursion that saved his life and got him back on his feet. This was all covered up even to Torvald, who treats Nora almost like a simpleton child that cannot take on all that difficult adult stuff.

It is a situation that threatens to be unravelled, as Neils, the man who was in on the deal and has spent his time as a lowly disgruntled clerk at the bank, is pushed over the edge, getting the boot in favour of Christine, an old flame that rejected him, a close friend of Nora. Neils has nothing to lose, and Nora finds herself on the brink of losing her livelihood, her husband, and her family.

The print was pretty old, and it's quality was as you would expect. A constant red tinge to the film, plenty of scratches, and a few frames missing here and there didn't distract too much from the plot, which once it settled down and got going, was actually a pretty decent example of a quiet cerebral thriller, the balance of power changing constantly as the secrets come out, but with a thread of personal honour and respectability running through it. It would have been nicer as a digital print, but it was still good, scratches and all. 7/10

Bodegon (Still Life) (Spa) - A young studenty man tries to find inspiration as he shuts himself off from the world to paint a still life, an event seemingly pivotal to whether he should think of himself as a struggling artist waiting to be discovered, or a lazy workshy talentless fool trying to avoid working in McDonalds. 7/10

Mount Bayo (Arg) (review)

The family of Juana, an elderly woman, whose mysterious attempted suicide leaves her in a coma, gather around the matriarch of the family, Marta. This includes Marta's husband Eduardo, their outgoing, experimenting son Lu and quiet, reserved daughter Angie, and Mercedes, Martas' sister who comes in from Buenos Aires. It isn't long before word gets around about a rumoured casino flutter that paid off, which pricks up the ears of Mercedes in particular given her current money worries. There are also some Spaniard house buyers sniffing around, trying to buy the house, which looks out on a spectacular vista.

Juana - unbeknownst to the rest of them - hid the winnings in the family grave before she did the deed, leaving Mercedes to perform her fruitless searches balancing on the knife-edge between respecting her still alive mother and sorting out her finances.

A subdued, constrained film, whose themes would be just as contained on a TV screen than in a cinema, I found myself only mildly entertained by the film. There are nice moments, and slice-of-life dramas are usually a good bet for a decent emotional kick, but there was never enough investment in the lives of the characters to care too much about them, whose lives aren't exactly turned upside down by the situation. It was nice, in a quiet distraction sort of way. 7/10

I had a free half hour between films here, so I got a ticket for Helen of Four Gates, a very early film by the local Hepworth film studio, one of the very first making films in Britain in the 1900's which unfortunately went bust as a victim of its own success, and due to the lack of respect for the new-fangled film medium, most of the film reels that were made got melted down for their mineral worth.

I'd have loved to have seen just a half hour of this digitally restored print, but unfortunately my half hour was taken up by some git basically holding the audience hostage while he prattled on about the history behind it(including a sodding trailer for the film, BEFORE THE FILM), and all too soon my time was up so I left for my next film. Why he couldn't have done it afterwards is beyond me.

Reuniting the Rubins (UK) (wiki)

The second new film starring Timothy Spall at this festival (the first being the excellent Wake Wood), here he plays Lenny, a 'lapsed Jew' and widower, who has finished raising his kids on his own and wants to settle down to retirement, starting with a round the world cruise. But his elderly mother (played by a nowadays rarely seen Honor Blackman) has to go and have a heart attack, forcing him to abandon.

The Jewish ritual of Seder is coming up, and mother wants her final days spent in the old family home (which she has just snapped up with a chunk of their inheritance), sat round a table like in the days of her memories. Problem is her four grandchildren are spread about the corners of the globe, and have grown far apart. Danny is an international businessman with no time for anyone, including the communities he is doing over in order to get materials for his new technologies. Andrea is a committed human rights activist in the Congo seeing the sharp end of Danny's decisions, Clarity has turned to Buddhism, and Yona has retreated further into Judaism, becoming an orthodox Rabbi. But mother has spoken, and the family will be reunited come what may.

Films along these lines are becoming numerous, with A Night for Dying Tigers and Wonderful Summer already along the same lines in this festival alone, but this one can count as the more light-hearted British offering to the more serious ones from abroad. Spall and Blackman make good a script from a first time director as you would expect, and the lesser known actors also pull their weight well, and the script, although tight and well written could have done with being a bit less predictable in places. 7.5/10

Q and A

Director Yoav Factor, Timothy Spall and Blake Harrison, who played Danny's resourceful PA (as a last minute replacement for Honor Blackman) chaired a QA session at the end, which predictably Spall owned from start to finish and was a pleasure to watch.

BIFF 2011 - Day 7

Traces of a Diary (Prt/Jpn) (imdb)

Two Portuguese directors travel to Japan to interview and profile several photographers in and around Tokyo, each approaching the subject from a different angle and philosophy. Hiromix, a young woman from Tokyo is attracted to the capture of youth and vibrancy in her work; her pictures always seeking the positive and the joyful. Quiet recluse Kohei Yushiyuki concentrates on the couples who frequent quiet corners of the local parks with their hands down each others pants - and also captures the voyeuristic young men who sometimes like to chance their arm. The nearby Sado island is home to Syoin Kaji, whose quiet temple retreat gives him much opportunity to take panoramic photographs of the nature around him, especially the crashing waves on the shore. The most quirky subject is Nobuyoshi Araki, a cheery, squat soul in braces, peeking over round rimmed glasses with a permanent smile on his face. His nudey pictures of the ladies might not be to everyone's taste, but it's hard not to smile at his infectious, childlike personality.

My only real problem with this film is that it tried to be an art form in itself, and that led to some pretty iffy filming decisions - the most baffling being to film it in grainy, blurry black and white, which didn't do the subject matter justice. The deliberate whiting out, blurring and muddying of the footage of them travelling through Japan was also a bit drawn out and annoying too. Maybe they were just trying to tease us enough to go out and buy the art books, which I might if they turn up cheap somewhere. 7/10

Bad Night for the Blues (UK) - Jean Boht plays a Hyacinth Bucket-style aunt who is taken out to the local bingo club, where after a bit of alcohol, her snooty remarks about the other attendants turn from under her breath to very much over it. Although unpleasant, her vulnerable, miserable side is displayed prominently in this sad, sweet film. 7.5/10

Congo in Four Acts
(Congo/SAf) (review)

The DRC whenever mentioned, always evokes pictures of young soldiers with guns taller than they are, miserable death and poverty, and a country ripped apart by it's own people. Though I was hoping for a more positive outlook on the country from this documentary film, it nevertheless takes us on a rarely seen journey through the country and some of the everyday problems that the people face.

Told in four named sections, we are shown a woman's 'hospital' which is more akin to a prison, as it's bulging wards are full of women who are not allowed to leave until they have paid off their medical bills for whatever ailment they first came in with. More often than not, they have to either sell whatever they have on them to pay for it, or get their husbands to head off and sell what they can, leaving the wives as collateral. In the second one we see the conditions the eight million residents of Kinshasa have to live in - disgusting fetid pools of contaminated water and rubbish piling up the streets, and live cables, exposed by the erosion of hundreds of rain showers, crackle and sizzle at the side of the road as the kids play round them. Occasionally, some brave soul attempts to fix them up with tape, but that's as good as it gets, as no-one feels any sense of accountability and so the status quo continues. In the third the focus is on the religious disease spreading through the country, where the Christian evangelicals have caused suspicion and distrust, where women are beaten and mutilated at the slightest suspicion of being a witch, and as we see, the men (and boys) who do the beatings feel completely justified in their act. Finally, we see a glimmer of hope for the humanity there, when a well-off farmer decides to buy a plot of land so the family that spends their existence breaking up rocks (including the young children) can till the land and work as farmers for a little bit more money.

It's not comfortable viewing, but it's not meant to be. This is an unobtrusive view of the daily lives of wretched souls, especially women, on the receiving end of the effects of poverty, disease, war and religion. It's a testament to the people that they have the strength to keep going through it all. 7.5/10

Killing Kasztner (US) (wiki/site)

Rezso Kasztner was one of the less well-known protagonists of the second world war. A Hungarian Jew, he was one of the few Jewish people credited in the war for having a major hand in saving his fellow men. He managed to negotiate with the Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann to commandeer a train, fill it full of Jewish deportees bound for the death camps, and send them over the border to a neutral country such as Spain.

You would expect that to make him a famous hero, except that many Jewish people see his negotiation as collaboration with the enemy, and his choices of his own family as part of the 1600 on that train was seen as despicable. Jewish identity has forever been that of victims of the war, few of which did anything to get themselves out of situations, and this made Kasztner a radical. In the post war years, a major trial between him and Malchiel Gruenwald, one of the people he saved who bizarrely turned into one of his major critics, resulted in a conviction for Nazi collaboration, which was fortunately overturned. Sadly, a few months later in 1959, Kasztner was murdered outside his house in Tel Aviv.

This ambitious film tells Kasztners story, and attempts to set the record straight on whether his reputation as a hero or a villain is warranted. His only daughter, Zsuzsi inherited his legacy and has made it her life to work to clear his name and set the record straight. The film builds to a particularly powerful climax, as she and her three strong-willed daughters suppress their simmering emotions and meet the killer, fifty years later.

Though long, there is much to cover, and this film performs it well. It's a powerful, complex story that is still not resolved and may not be for some time, that has the power to evoke a great deal of emotion in the viewer. 8.5/10

Blooded (UK) (site)

I only got to see a bit of Blooded, due to the late finish of the previous film and it running over the next. Five friends meet up for a hunting trip in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands. Somehow drugged that night, they wake up stripped bare and dumped on the moors. Barely able to orient themselves, suddenly someone starts taking pot shots at them with a sniper.

Told in a semi-documentary format, with the talking heads of the characters recounting the situation from their own points of view, it quickly developed an edgy suspense and great mystery about why they end up in this situation (the pursuers' intent as revenge for hunting animals doesn't seem to be the full story..), and I wish I'd seen the end. I'll score it if I can see it again sometime.

Cave of Lost Dreams 3D + QA With Werner Herzog (Fra/Can/US/UK/Ger) (site)

As a spiritual sequel to Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog quickly follows up his previous film with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, presented simultaneously at 48 venues around the UK, all of which were hooked up to a live Q and A session at the Ritzy in Brixton, where Herzog chatted and took questions from the audience.

In 1994, three cave explorers in the south of France looking for caves by feeling for gentle breezes coming out of the ground, discovered a narrow shaft between two large rocks, leading into a large but claustrophobic area which was named the Chauvet Cave, after it's discoverer. It turns out that this cave was inhabited by humans, bears, lions and more, but about 25,000 years ago a rockfall blocked the main entrance completely, sealing in the contents. What the scientists found as they entered was a perfectly preserved environment, completely undisturbed aside from the gradual build-up of calcite. It was immediately closed off for research, as it represented perhaps the most important archaeological discovery of the age.

The most impressive aspect was the cave paintings. They looked as if they were painted yesterday, such was the perfect preservation process. Animal bones looked as if they had just been gnawed and discarded, and torch marks on the roof still had ash on the floor beneath them. This film takes us on a very privileged journey through the caves, including a guided tour by some of the scientists tasked with recording, modelling and interpreting the contents.

I did enjoy what I saw, although anyone who has heard Herzog narrate something before will immediately recognise his slightly off-kilter philosophising and occasional segue into the surreal, and because of their limited time in the caves, there was quite a bit of repetition of the same areas over and over again. The 3D wasn't that great either, although due to the massive restrictions placed on them, they could only bring in some pretty basic cameras and a skeleton crew. Despite all that, it is a beautiful sight, and a very rare look into the past so perfectly frozen in time. 7.5/10

Mike the Midwife (UK) - An uncomplicated short film about a simple man, a summary of the youtube film series. Straight talking Mike gets a job as a midwife, and approaches it with the same tact as Tommy Walsh with a Gazebo, with predictably amusing-ish results. 7/10

The Red Machine (US) (site)

Uptight, unflinching navy lieutenant Coburn enlists petty safe cracker Doyle in a job to steal an Enigma-style coding device from the Japanese embassy in 1930's pre-war America. Coburn has been set the job by his superior officers, with which he shares an unexplained altercation some years ago, and so they treat him like crap.

Though the directors should be commended for an authentic-looking period piece on a low budget with a reasonable script and fair acting, it's just not very entertaining. It rehashes every cliche in the book, is a bit dull and limited in it's imagination and scope, and there was not enough here to justify me losing out on an extra hour and a half sleep for the privilege. 6/10

BIFF 2011 - Day 6

Documentary Day!

Dance to the Spirits
(Cameroon/Spa) (review)

Mba Owani Pierre is a doctor in the small Cameroon village of Nsola. Though familiar with modern medicine, he supplements his modern knowledge with that of his ancestors, and their practices with traditional medicine and the rituals that go with it. This documentary spends a little time in his company as he operates as the locum for his village , sharing with us his thoughts and opinions of the wider world, and its good and bad influences on his culture, which he sees as being eroded.

The film is very non-judgemental, just showing the people as they go about their business, sharing their philosophies with the camera if they want to. A nice insight into a completely different life. 7.5/10

Disfarmer: A Portrait of America (Can) (site)

The first of a double bill of films connected by the twin themes of America and Photography. Mike Disfarmer (nee Meyers) was a square peg, the round hole he found himself in was Heber Springs, right in the middle of bible belt south America. He was short tempered, lank and irritable, and he was also an atheist. Rejecting his family name, he set himself up as a photographer, and charged anyone who wanted to a quarter to come in and have a picture portrait done.

Disfarmer died in the 50's, and his work lay forgotten for twenty or so years, when suddenly his simple style of capturing the moment started to appeal to the art world. His subjects rarely smiled, and the children often looked startled or grumpy, depending on what distraction he was waving behind the camera for them at the time, and they had to keep pretty still for a long time, since the shutter speeds were so low. This resulted in an honest, unsweetened, unsullied and raw images of the people and the trends at the time. This ability for the humanity to show through so vividly struck a chord with everyone who looked at them.

An art book came out in the eighties, showing off many of the photographs retrieved at the last minute from his studio before it was demolished, but it wasn't until a couple of years ago, that some people realised that, if you were to head out to the old place and do a sweep of the nearby houses, there would be original Disfarmer portraits stuck gathering dust in photo albums all over the shop. And they would fetch a tidy sum. Cue a massive scavenger hunt.

I'd never heard of Disfarmer, and the thought of looking at old photos of slightly weird looking townsfolk from the deep south of America didn't appeal on the face of it, but there's something about the pictures that demands you look into their eyes. It is a fascinating look through the eyes of a genius, only appreciated after his time. 8/10

An American Journey (Fra) (site)

A better known American photographer, who made a splash during his lifetime was Robert Frank, who took a trip across America during the 50's, and assembled a selection of the photographs he took along the way into a collection, released as a famous book called The Americans, which has just had a reprint. Though it courted controversy from those who didn't feel the pictures were representative enough of the whole country to deserve such a title, it was nevertheless hugely influential; it's snapshots in time capturing both the individual, and the group, affected by the cultural and political shifts taking place in the country at the time.

The director could have made a better job of this; the film was enlightening, but not that entertaining, and it paled structurally in comparison to Disfarmer. The director attempted to become part of the film, by attempting to trace his route and find some of the people and objects that Frank had snapped on the way, but it felt underachieved, as if he gave up a few pictures in after a string of disappointments. The pictures are interesting, but this film could be skipped in favour of the book. 6/10

From Far Away (Ger) (site)

Another film from Thomas Arslan to go in the retrospective; this one was made as a sweetener to let him make his next film. Arslan is originally from Turkey, and this film is a personal documentary by him about his journey through Turkey starting at Istanbul and working east toward the shores of the Caspian Sea. As he travels, the culture slowly morphs from the continental and western influences of the former to the more militarised and conservative, eastern cities, all the way driving through majestic and beautiful scenery, The Fuji-like Mount Ararat in particular is a beautiful sight, as is the human existence he captures on film on his way around, peeking into the lives of some of the people on the way.

Clearly influenced by the Qatsi trilogy, this film is an non-judging look at the people, places and life, given extra significance by the directors' personal connection, and the slowly morphing cultures depicted. 7.5/10

The Secret Friend (Bra/US) - An elderly woman, recently bereaved, receives a heavy breather call on the dot every hour. Unexpectedly, she becomes reliant on it as a connection to the outside world. A sweet little tale. 8/10

Le Quattro Volte (It/Ger/Swz) (review)

I switched to this at the last moment from Honey, which could also have been good, maybe I can see it elsewhere. 'The Four Times' is a unique and almost dialogue-free film tracing a thread of connectivity through events in a small Calabrian village. An elderly goat farmer on the brink of death, and the sheepdog (that's still full of life) he uses to keep his herd in check, perform their daily duties, until one day the inevitable happens. At the same moment, a new goat is born, and we follow it's early life until it becomes detached from the herd and has to fend for itself. Finally, the tree the goat shelters under is cut down for a festival. The beautiful, peaceful surroundings and the unfettered view of life's intricate connections are gently allowed to unfold on screen. It's likely to bore some, but it's a beautiful, cyclic tale of life and death. 7.5/10

We Are What We Drink (UK) - A novice coffee drinker attempts to integrate in with the fast food coffee chain crowd, but finds his options limited to his own personal circumstances. 7/10

Curling (Can) (facebook)

A real-life father-daughter pairing in the two main leads; Jean-Francois, a reclusive man and his overly sheltered daughter Julyvonne live in the beautiful but harsh snow scene that is Quebec. Inward, depressed and perpetually feeling sorry for himself for some misdemeanour's, he gets by with a few dead-end jobs, basically letting people walk all over him.

Though there is a tenderness between them due to their real-life blood relations, it is not enough to make this film much more than a wallowing in someone else's grief. I had a certain amount of empathy for his emotional cul-de-sac, until weird French things started happening, and possible plot threads just fizzled out without really going anywhere. It sort of reaches a conclusion suggestive of Jean-Francois' emotional healing, but there are too many loose ends just not tied up along the way to make it a satisfying watch. 5.5/10

BIFF 2011 - Day 5

Aesthetica Short Film Competition

A huge list of short films show for the Aesthetica competition.

Unearthing the Pen (UK) - A short documentary about a small village in Uganda that banned the written word a few decades ago for fear of it's curse, and the child growing up in the present day as a farmhand, who wants to have a better life than his parents, and sees going to school as a first step. Local prejudice and huge education bills mean it's a steep hill to climb before he can get there. 7/10

The Shadow Effect (US) - An underwhelming young man who eats nothing but chinese meals, works a dead end job, and feels trapped in his day in day out routine, seeks advice from a self help group that tells him to shadow his biggest inspiration and become them to get the success they want. Shame he chooses two-dimensional, self-centred Dallas wannabe Chad Martini from his favourite soap. It can't end well when the character is killed off.. 7.5/10

Exhale (UK) - I saw this last year in Leeds. Joel is a cocky gang member living in London, and has just been told he is HIV positive. Meeting up with his childhood friend and ex member Chris who lives comfortably with his parents, he lashes out and criticises his clothes and style, rather than telling him the news. 7.5/10

The Laundromat (Australia) - A man fails badly at chatting up a woman until his laundry basket reveals a discarded gun. Turns out the woman finds them a bit of a turn on, but maybe it's not such a good idea to let her hold it.. 7.5/10

Un Certain Dimanche (That Sunday) (Fr) - A young teen Jeanne escapes from the family home and takes a ride with a girl she met at a party the previous night. A car, money and a boyfriend, she is all that Jeanne wishes for, but a trip to the seaside leaves her with a memorable experience. 7/10

Missed (UK) - A short and succinct message about making the most of your time with people because they could be gone tomorrow, as Greg learns when he hears that work colleague Emma was killed in an accident. 8/10

Mother (UK) - When her mother dies suddenly at the dinner table, young Marie and her father both approach their coming to terms with the situation in different ways, not all of them healthy. Director Shaun Hughes was present for a quick Q+A after the films. 7.5/10

Foto (UK) - One of those films that subverts one of your central assumptions about how the world works. Lonely and ageing man Adam goes round the adult shops for his daily porn, but one day his bag contains a roll of film. When he processes it, the photos are of him buying his wares, but also there are some other ones with him in there that he really doesn't remember. A trail of film rolls begins, and his nightmare worsens. 8/10

Love Child (Swe) - The sweet little daughter of proud parents is usurped in their affections by a new arrival - a cat. Slowly edged out of their bosom in it's favour, she leaves home and tries to make it alone. This film is credited with a quick fire triple whammy of making the audience's hearts bleed, giving them a belly laugh, and making them go ...WTF?! right at the end. 8/10

Her Mother's Daughters (Irl) - Too many of these sorts of film - ones that ponce about using interpretive dance to tell the story - become annoying and often do a lot without providing any real message, but this one was quite pleasant. A woman remembers the time when her daughters used to fill her big empty house with their running about, misbehaviour and happy laughter, instead of being always absent in their busy adult lives. 7/10

Hazed(Can) - A quick Pixar-style animation, where an animated factory feels guilty about it's poisonous effect on the environment around it. Simply committing 'suicide' doesn't quite solve the problem however. 7.5/10

I Want to Spend the Rest of my Life With You (Spa) - A brief fantasy by a woman at a stop light, and what happens when she spots the man of her dreams. 7/10

Losers: Flush (UK) - An attention-grabbing music video, using victorian pencil art to animate and lip-sync to a rap-off track. This is the only place I can guarantee you will see a Howl-style giant walking Queen Victoria cannon castle. 7/10

Mam (UK) - Five children (who were present for the screening) grow up in a small flat on an estate. Since mum won't get out of bed, it's up to eldest Danny to keep things from descending into chaos. Josie Lawrence and Paul Barber appeared as a bonus. 7/10

These next films make up the last two parts of the Northern Showcase.

Rebels Without a Clue (UK) (site)

Set in the sleepy Last of the Summer Wine villages of the North Yorkshire moors, two disinterested youths are busy taking pot shots with an air rifle at anyone who happens to park close by. Things change when a flash American car rolls up, and two men begin to do a deal. Unable to resist the urge, Mark takes a shot at one of them, startling the pair and setting off a gun battle which ends up with one dead and the other fleeing the scene.

Finding themselves suddenly with a fancy car, drugs and cash, they decide to make a run for it with their girlfriends to get away from their drab lives, but it's not long before the killer is on their trail.

It's quirky and funny, but the film could have done with some tighter editing as it feels a bit stretched out in places and it drags here and there. They use cheap tricks like driving slowly and putting on screech sound effects later to make it look like they're speeding over the moors. There is some dodgy digital editing as well to make them look like the car is moving. Hopefully however this is a preview screening and they might get enough feedback to tighten things up a little as there is a good film lurking under here. 7/10

The Last Days of Edgar Harding (UK) (site)

Jack and his friends make up a local band from Leeds. They're just doing local gigs so far, but thanks to respected music agent Edgar Harding, they are about to enter into the big time. Edgar, a baritone-voiced lethario with an apathetic wife and an eye for the men, takes a shining to Jack, and doesn't take kindly to being turned down. On the evening of their final contract ironing, Edgar makes his move, but things end very badly for all involved, and when the band have to dispose of the body or be implicated in murder, they need to hatch a plan quickly.

I wish I could have liked this more. By the last half hour it was getting semi-interesting, but prior to that the film just didn't take a hold of me. Partly because the songs they sing are bland, and the characters are not remotely likeable - the audience has to be on their side by the point they are in peril - and the poor editing of a not so great script put a barrier between me and the characters thanks to some pretty shoddy 'lowest common denominator' dialogue. (One example is when they work out what to do with the body, the audience is already minutes ahead, but they have to spend that time arguing amongst themselves and feigning ignorance at the obvious course of action.) Throw in a couple of gay-bashing lunkheads who predictably disappear partway through only to re-emerge near the end to play a pivotal part in it's conclusion, and you have a not so great film that could have done with a few more preview audiences. 5.5/10

When Life Gives You Lemons (Can) - Fictional Hollywood legend Calvin Adams lives peacefully in his advancing years in an affluent part of LA. Ever the charitable sort, he gives a generous tip to the lemonade sellers on his street, although the taste could use some more lemons. Bothered that he has had his dollars tricked out of him, he sets up a rival stall to show those pesky kids how it's done. A pleasant enough film with a nice ending. 7/10

Being Sold (UK) (imdb)

One of several last minute schedule changes, this was being shown as a last minute replacement for Matching Jack which mysteriously got dropped from the schedules. For reasons not fully explained, but involving alcohol at some point, John Foster decided to sell himself on ebay or somesuch. Married and with a kid, wife Lara is less than happy, especially when she spots the increasing crowd of reporters, burger vans and general gawpers advancing on her lawn like night of the living dead.

John wasn't completely stupid, he set a reserve price of a cool million pounds, confidently expecting that no-one would get anywhere near such a value, but in the harsh cool morning with a wife in his ear, the last thing he wanted to see was the total at about a quarter of that and climbing. Suddenly, he's the centre of the worlds attention, and also in the middle of a nasty brewing reporter war between a not very well disguised BBC local news, and an evil FOX network simile.

Being Sold is a solid British 'what if' comedy, and if you look closely enough you'll find some pretty obscure stars from past and present, including a haggard looking Gordon Burns as the in studio newsreader, and a heavily disguised but cheeky self-aware appearance from Roy Walker as a professor of 'refuse psychology'. It's guise as a commentary on the ridiculousness of 24 hour rolling news and the embarrassment of any old idiot becoming a celebrity, is watered down a little in favour of the humour, but it was funny and not completely predictable. 7/10