Leeds Film Festival 2015 - Day 1

Aferim! (Ro,Bu,Czr,Fr) (wiki)

Unfortunately, the usual happened on my first day and thanks to a long queue and a jobsworthing box office attendant, I missed both the first and last fifteen minutes of this film.  However what I did manage to see was pretty good, and if I can, I will try and sneak in and catch the ending of one of the other showings. 

Costadin, a Romanian constable, and his plucky but inexperienced son and deputy Ionita travel across the variable Romanian landscape on horseback, encountering a variety of people both friendly and hostile as they search for their prey; a runaway 'crow' - a derogatory term for a Gypsy slave from his boyar owner.  Against the odds they find and capture him, and Costadin finds his loyalty to the force tested both by the emerging backstory for the slaves' departure, and the conscience of his son, who increasingly thinks they should set him free.
As this film takes place mostly on horseback (often obscured by trees and reeds) the film has to survive on the beautiful black and white cinematography, it's characters and their personalities as the story unfolds which fortunately it does.  If it wasn't for the emerging father-son kinship and the variety of interesting secondary characters this may have been a very dull and plodding film, but I did find myself interested in their story, although that may have changed if this was not my first film and I wasn't so fresh faced.  7/10 (but incomplete viewing)

Alice Cares (Ned) ()

Alice is a little doll, no bigger than a 1-year old.  Her limbs are plastic and lifeless but her face is covered with realistic skin with a generous mop of hair.  She has comical boots that make her look like there are rockets hidden inside.  Alice isn't complete, but she can see and hear, and she can talk.  Better than that, she can hold a conversation with a human.

It is well known we are having a crisis with our elderly.  The national average age is shifting upwards and the baby boomers of the '60s are now entering their eighth decade.  In the Netherlands, as with everywhere else, many of them live alone; either unable or lacking the confidence to go outside and rarely seeing another human being.

Though technology hasn't reached the point of full-on androids running about the house, Alice, a prototype robot that has been created to provide companionship for lonely elderly people, has through a number of increasingly more advanced versions, achieved a level of sophistication that it can help to fill in these holes in peoples' lives.

In a trial followed in the film, Alice is loaned out to three women in their 80's all living alone, who have agreed (sometimes reluctantly) to take part.  Initially standoffish and dismissive of the little lump of plastic, they slowly open up.  While the film could have prompted a general feeling of depression in the audience that society has to look at options such as this, it instead is a playful, sometimes funny and often joyous look at the forefront of AI technology.  It concentrates on the humanity both of the subjects and that emerging out of the millions of lines of Alice's code rather than the technicalities, but this is a good thing.  Though I am skeptic of how advanced Alice actually is (some of the conversations were pretty advanced) the film is still a fascinating look at the future of AI that had the audience  constantly smiling. 8/10

Do Nothing All Day (Ger) (site)

Summerhill School has been covered before in a number of films and documentaries; it is an example of a 'Democratic School', where the pupils have an active say in everything from the curriculum to class rules to punishments.  They can even elect to walk out of class if they want to.  Unsurprisingly this has attracted a lot of attention and despite the hundred year history and a healthy place in the grading league tables, this has not all been positive.  'Do nothing all day' is a reference to the most prevalent of these criticisms - on hearing about how these schools work and remembering their perhaps less than rosy time at their school, most people would elect to just mess around all day.

Of course, if this actually happened then the 200 or so democratic schools around the world would have long since closed down as a failed idea, but they haven't.  The philosophy is about participation and respect; a supposedly democratic country should apply democratic principles throughout and yet most schools are anything but.  You go and have facts inserted into you, you learn the basics in the schools' time and not yours, and you are segregated into groups of the same age and ability.  We just accept these as our school years to be endured and we hopefully come out of it with a decent enough piece of paper to give to a bloke to give us a job on the first rung.

The experiences of the director and her child of imminent schooling age struck an obvious chord with me and it was enlightening to see that the kids coming out the other side looked balanced, well educated and not the expected hippy layabouts a first consideration might make me suspect.  It is not a schooling for everybody - kids are different and many respond well to our current education approach, and would find such boundary-free situations intimidating; but after seeing this film I believe for many of our future adults, democratic schooling represents a far better foundation than a system invented during the industrial revolution.  7.5/10


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