If there’s something that football fans of clubs outside the world’s elite (so about 90%) know about modern football, it’s that success is fleeting. Elite teams, your Bayerns, Barcas, Reals etc. have always existed, but up until the 90’s the playing field was seemingly more level, with a greater number of teams finding successful periods. Then television companies like Sky and recently NBC poured money into the richest teams, through re-branded tournaments such as the British Premier League and European Champions League, and those on the outside have been frozen out, barring some huge outside financial investment.

I Believe in Miracles is therefore, a refreshing reminder of a time gone by where football was a more “honest”, community driven and less money-driven game. In 1975, the somewhat disgraced Brian Clough found himself unemployed after being fired by then footballing giants Leeds United after only 44 days. His disastrous spell and reputation (having walked out of Derby County and Brighton & Hove Albion previously) meant the only team who would take him were a struggling Nottingham Forest side, whom despite previous successes were languishing in the old second division.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. Forest rose through the division within the months of Clough’s appointment to gain promotion to the top-level First Division and from their watched their success grow as they went on to win the division title, two league cups and most incredibly, two European cups back-to-back all while retaining the core spine of the team inherited by Clough five years prior.

It is a remarkable story of how a team could once be built for success due to football prowess rather than monetary value. I Believe in Miracles excellently re-tells this story, managing to get interviews with essentially the entire squad, featuring big names such as Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, Archie Gemmill and Martin O’Neil each managing to bring an entertaining and erudite re-calling of the team spirit that bonded them together.

Perhaps most incredibly however is that the most charismatic person to feature in the documentary is, still, Brian Clough himself. Even for generations after his prime, all football fans have at least heard of Clough, who died in 2004, his legacy remaining due to his son Nigel’s current managerial work, and in popular culture due to the recent Martin Sheen starring biopic The Dammed United. Such is the presence of the enigmatic Clough, the interviews shown here from the late 70’s show what a character he was, deflecting unwanted attention from his players through his humour and perceived arrogance, while his squad cannot speak highly enough of his, and his assistant Peter Taylor’s, man-management and tactical skills. This is an excellent companion piece to The Dammed United, which the Clough family were reportedly unhappy with, faithfully telling the story from where that film leaves off.

While this film perhaps won’t transcend it’s initial sporting audience in the same way, Senna did, it is regardless an entertaining and faithful re-telling of this remarkable sporting achievement, felt by the entire city of Nottingham. Director Jonny Owen also knows exactly when to let his interviewees or indeed, the football, do the talking, while expertly editing pieces together accompanied by the era-defining late 70’s sound of Disco, Funk and Soul music. A must watch for football fans everywhere.

To audiences outside of North America and Russia, the “Miracle on Ice” won’t mean much save for those few who watched Disney’s adaptation of the Miracle ten years ago. Yet to those countries, this hockey game, which took place during the Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics, has such stratospheric importance that Sports Illustrated named it “The Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century”.

While this is arguably an exaggeration, the “Miracle” did capture the imagination of a whole generation of cold war indoctrinated Americans, at a time when tensions between the two nations were at an all time high. Played during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Americans would soon rule to boycott the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics, after decades of tensions came very close to boiling point.

This is the picture Gabe Polsky (an American born of Soviet immigrants) paints early on in his debut feature Red Army to contextualise a familiar world crisis, which can be still universally recognised even 35 years on. What is unique about his film however is that, after all this time, not much is actually known about the formidable “Red Army” hockey team who dominated the sport throughout the 60s and 70s and were the heavy favourites going into the USA match; a team made of college students and amateurs.

Thus Red Army explores the massive socio-political implications of the Soviet’s ice hockey team, who were a tremendous source of pride to the state and seen as intrinsically important to the strength of the USSR both socially and internationally, and its effect on the players and staff involved.

The film focuses on the team’s most decorated and celebrated player Slava Fetishov: regarded as one of the best defensive players in the history of the sport, he grew up in the Soviet academy during their dominance, played in the infamous “Miracle” game, captained during the Soviet’s two 80’s golds and finally defied the oppressive Soviet state to become a successful NHL player in the 90s. While his list of honours may provide something of a spoiler for unaware viewers, Fetishov is a remarkable talent who builds a tantamount rapport with Polsky on screen, creating great moments of escalation and desperation, while reminiscing about his and his comrades’ careers.

Through archival footage and interviews with the players, Polsky shows us the brutal training regimes that ensured the Soviet system was the best. It is hard not to sympathise with these supposed “bad guys”, as they were frequently estranged from their loved ones for almost 12 months a year, and had to fight so hard to be the best as the sport they loved. Yet, to see the bonds formed from this band of brothers is truly inspiring; we see that even in the highest pressure scenarios in sport or politics, friendship can carry people through.

Unfortunately however, there is something that feels frustratingly out of reach in Polsky’s film. While he creates excellent, well contextualised timelines, with some earnestly emotional responses from his subjects (especially Fetishov), Polsky is penchant to glossing over some details a little too easily. Admittedly Polsky packs a lot of weight into the film’s relatively slender 85 minute runtime, but it is does mean that the film’s emotional impact dissipates in personal moments, as too much attention is focused on the might of the team and state.

While emotionally involving documentary filmmaking is always a very difficult task, one feels Polsky is just a little bit restrained at times in respect of his subjects, which makes this otherwise charming story suffer. [Spoiler warning:] The final reveal of Fetishov’s current role in Putin’s government being left unquestioned or largely unparalleled to the past is a particularly interesting oversight, but perhaps like certain details left out from the Soviet era, it is a bit too close to the top to be expressed for now.

Despite this, Red Army is a fascinating look at a team generally regarded as faceless enemies and succeeds in humanising them both as great athletes and normal humans. While the “Miracle” may be met with hostility (ESPN’s recent documentary Of Men and Miracles is a good example of this), there is no denying this intriguing insight from behind the Iron Curtain.

Continuing with the essay film form for which he has become so revered (see The Story of Film), Mark Cousins’ Atomic – a BBC Storyville film initially made to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima – is an artful, poetic and haunting, archive film based exploration of the ramifications of nuclear energy, both positive and negative.

The film’s subtitle Living in Dread and Promise accurately describes both the emotional and historical avenues that the film travels and it makes a paradoxical and compelling 69 minutes. The film takes on the subject of atomic energy from several angles, beginning with how to prepare for a nuclear attack and moving on to nuclear explosions, medical advancement, power plant meltdowns and space travel. It is cut together in a post-modern montage, which includes repetitions of material, poetic juxtapositions and horrifyingly beautiful visuals.

The film’s poetic essay style is excellently underpinned with an original score by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai, who provide a keyboard and bass laden soundscape filled with sparse drums that crescendos and diminuendos in hypnotic fashion. The music carries the viewer through this unusually avant-garde BBC production, which sits more comfortably alongside the likes of Adam Curtis’ extraordinary iPlayer epic Bitter Lake.

Missing from the film is Mark Cousins’ now iconic voice over narration, which was so compelling in The First Movie (2009) and The Story of Film (2011), yet Atomic is not a personal project in the way that these former films were. That said, Cousins’ voice as a filmmaker comes across, with his keen eye for finding ‘luminance’ in every frame (as he said of making The Story of Film).

In his Telegraph review of the film, Rupert Hawksley declared that the film “an art installation masquerading as television” due to comprehensive, but non-informational construction, which is a valid point. However, what Cousins has achieved here is a film that is both alluring and memorable on a visceral level; it conjures a complex range of emotions. Nuclear power is an issue about which we must both think and feel strongly and Atomic certainly helps us do the latter.

Sony Pictures have released the final trailer for upcoming Bond film Spectre, directed by Sam Mendes, starring Daniel Craig, Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux. What do you make of it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

The Voice of A Woman Film Festival is coming to London this weekend to celebrate the creative leadership and risk-taking and originality of women filmmakers. Running from Friday 2nd October to Sunday 4th October at various venues across London, the VOW Film Festival will present rare stories of women globally by women globally – and its impressive programme is not to be missed.

The festival will begin at the ICA with a morning of screenings and talks held in collaboration with the National Film and Television School and led by their Head of Directing Lynda Myles, followed by a master-class at the Apple Store Covent Garden by award-winning digital developer Rebecca Winch (The Project Factory). The prestigious Hospital Club in the heart of Covent Garden will be the main hub of the festival, where dramatic and documentary films and shorts will be screened throughout Saturday and Sunday, with almost each one followed by VOW Talks Sessions with filmmakers, writers, executives, digital artists and more.

Cecile Emeke’s ‘Strolling’

From Deeyah Khan’s depiction of honour violence in Banaz: A Love Story to the Chinese state orphanages in Kate Blewett’s The Dying Rooms (1995) to the raw and honest conversations within Cecile Emeke’s Strolling (2014/2015), the VOW Film Festival features many works that confront the dark truth behind female contemporary existence across the world – told by women creatives who are themselves startlingly underrepresented in their industries.

By amplifying voices too often overlooked, the VOW Film Festival provides a platform for building awareness, discourse and cultural shift. In keeping with this, the festival shines a spotlight on observational filmmaker Kim Longinotto, well-known for the real-life brutality captured within her female-centred works.

Kim Longevitto's 'Eat the Kimono'

Kim Longevitto’s ‘Eat the Kimono’

To mark the festival’s opening night, Dreamcatcher (2015), which follows former sex-worker Brenda Myers-Powell as she helps other women in inner-city Chicago, will screen at the Curzon Cinema Soho and be followed with a discussion between Longinotto and novelist and feature writer at The Guardian, Kira Cochrane and Baroness Lola Young, a member of the House of Lords Committee of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The spotlight on Kim Longinotto’s works will refresh on Sunday where some of her other films, including The Good Wife of Tokyo (1993), Eat the Kimono (1989), Pride of Place (1976) and Pink Saris (2010) will be screened, alongside works by others.

Other filmmakers include Lauren Greenfield, Carol Morely, Debbie Tucker Green, Franny Armstrong, Esther Anderson, Joy Elias amongst others.

Don’t forget to book tickets, even for the free events:

See www.thevoiceofawoman.com for more details and a full listing of events.

The forty plus films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder are among the most honest, ruthless and personal of any director. With near sadomasochistic force, Fassbinder dealt relentlessly with social problems and taboos that he encountered throughout his short 37 years, up until his untimely death in 1982.

In Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands Christian Braad Thomsen – a friend of Fassbinder – attempts to tell us more about the troubled German auteur, but this is a difficult task. In his films Fassbinder told us much about himself, and simultaneously he was a master critic: he was able to use drama to dissect, critique and examine his own nature and the wider social conditioning of German society. What might another filmmaker be able to tell us about Fassbinder that the man himself couldn’t?

The results of Thomsen’s film are mixed, but not without value. For those uninitiated in Fassbinder’s work, the film provides a solid introduction to the way in which RWF’s films dealt with human relationships as a web of oppression. Fassbinder saw love as a near fascistic form of dependency, whereby one weaker individual would be at the mercy of their stronger partner. Almost all of his films attest to this in some form, from the gay class drama Fox and his Friends to the disturbing Weimar era epic Berlin Alexanderplatz.

In newly uncovered interviews – shot by Thomsen at the Cannes Film Festival during the latter stages of Fassbinder’s life – the exhausted, workaholic director talks bluntly, but eloquently about his concerns and we gain a sense of the sadness that informed much of Fassbinder’s existence. This was a man who suffered for his art and – even at Cannes – there is very little glamour on show.

It is Thomsen’s own relationship with Fassbinder that is the most interesting aspect of To Love Without Demands, along with the recent insights of actress Irm Hermann and actor/production manager Harry Baer. The admiration of these individuals for RWF naturally shines through and although they have now aged into more mature perspectives (being almost double the age of Fassbinder when he died) it is clear that their former director continues to impress them with his talents and unique perspective on the world.

The documentary does feel, in some ways, rather old fashioned for a film released in 2015. Formally speaking, it is very much a film of the 1960’s, and its cultural benchmarks – such as Sigmund Freud – feel key to that time too. However, while the film may appear less accessible to the younger generation, the visceral energy of Fassbinder does remain and it is still as vital to cinema as ever.

We’re very pleased to launch the official trailer for the short film Blue Borsalino, directed by Mark Lobatto and executive produced by Christopher Smith (Creep, Black Death). The film stars Emmy winning David Warner (Titanic, The Omen), Olivier nominee Margot Leicester as well as Bart Edwards, Laura Dale & Amanda Drew.

Blue Borsalino is a neo-noir drama that tells the story of a retired private investigator, whose first and only client wakes from a coma, revealing a secret that has cast a shadow over his life. Check it out below:

The trailer showcases the strong visual sense of director Mark Lobatto, reminiscent of the paintings of Edward Hopper, as well as the rich cinematographic talents of DOP Eben Bolter and production designer Daniel Vincent. The film was also edited by Dave Silver and the musical score was composed by David M. Saunders.


Lobatto says of the film: “Blue Borsalino would not have been possible without the support of over 300 individual backers from around the world, who believed in the project enough to make it a reality through crowd-funding. We were grateful to be a Kickstarter ‘Staff Pick’ within a couple of hours of our campaign launch, followed by being featured as the ‘Project of the Day’ just days into the campaign. We look forward to representing the film at film festivals as we hope to find it as wide an audience as possible!”

In the great Westerns of Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More) and Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) a man always comes to town. The man in question – like Eastwood’s Man With No Name in Leone’s films – is an imperfect protagonist (or anti-hero) who brings retribution to an also corrupt society. The brilliance of the documentary Welcome To Leith is that is also revolves around a man who comes to town, yet he is no hero, but a frightening real-life antagonist.

Leith, North Dakota was founded in 1910 and is one of America’s smallest cities, with a population of 16 as of the 2010 census. After the railroad was abandoned in Leith in 1984 it became deeply isolated, yet there is a close-knit community within the city. In 2012 Craig Cobb, the notorious white supremacist, rather anonymously moved into the town and quickly and easily began buying up land from the locals. Things became scary when he started moving neo-nazis into the town, stocking up on weapons and patrolling the streets.

Welcome To Leith picks up this story, initially from the point of view of the long-term locals, who become aware of Cobb’s plans to grow the town into a majority white supremacist enclave and endeavor to kick him out by any legal means necessary. While the film does deal with the legal aspects of this standoff, the real thrill of watching the film comes from the way in which the tension between Cobb and the town boils over into physical action. Much like a Spaghetti Western, the opposing forces frequently come into direct conflict, which makes the ideological struggle very real.

The film also offers Cobb and his supporters screen time, which sheds light on their perspective and builds tension, but it never plays in their favour (as the British TV documentary The Battle for Barking also didn’t for the BNP.) To hear Cobb’s views from the horse’s mouth leaves no doubt that this recalcitrant man offers a senseless vision of division, chaos and hopelessness. Only those whose political leaning comes from a place of irrational prejudice, entitlement and anger could be convinced.

Directors Nichols and Walker do well to create a real sense of isolation in Leith; beautiful cinematography of the sweeping landscapes outside of the town shows just how cut-off this community is. There is a vital sense in the film that Leith is really the frontier between a compassionate and accepting American way of life and a despair ridden white nationalism. Ultimately the film’s open ending leaves a sense of frustration in the viewer – perhaps there’s room for a sequel – but also a crucial sense of vigilance towards this ongoing struggle.

Wild Tales aside, it’s been a terribly long time since a Spanish-language thriller has revelled in worldwide regard. Six years have passed since Argentinean film The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos) by director Juan José Campanella scored a wide audience along with critical acclaim (including an Oscar nomination), and Marshland (La Isla Mínima) has qualities akin to its success.

It is the universal aspect of the crime yarn that compels us; a story that could happen anywhere – when framed around a specific culture – can take on a new meaning. The Spanish backdrop, and 80s setting, give Marshland a paradoxically fresh feel, along with that gritty tone that mystery/thriller audiences crave.

The plot is something you have may have seen before, yet hearing that different language, and seeing an unfamiliar environment – different to that of say London or New York – gives it a special essence. Of course, this perspective can primarly be experienced by those less aware of European cinema, but however familiar you are or aren’t, Marshland should not be missed.

It is 1980, in the South of Spain, and deep within the harshest environment, two bodies have been found – those of two missing girls. A pair of homicide detectives are sent to solve the case, ahead of the harvesting season, and before more trouble erupts in the town.

Every review or word you hear about Marshland will speak highly of its cinematography. The spectacular imagery of the titular landscape opens the film – and continues as transitional edits throughout. Cinematographer Alex Catalán’s eye for darkness and splendour helps the film address its symbolism – it is, after all, about the murders of innocent, beautiful girls. For audiences comfortable with the more prime time crime dramas, this may be too morbid in tone. However, the film’s biggest draw is its murkiness.

Director Alberto Rodriguez does a sterling job at generating tension through his lengthy fixation on gloom. Visually the film combines a murky yellow, foggy grey and a steel blue palette, something like Darius Khondji’s Seven photography. In many respects, Marshland will live longer in memory thanks to Catalán’s sense of what makes a crime film look great.

Additional praise must go towards Javier Gutiérrez and Raúl Arévalo for their performances. Relatively secretive and silent, the two actors lend more expression to denoting emotion. It aligns with the film’s sensibilities – that of soft disquiet. They develop well, giving the audience opportunities to understand their motivation and skills. By the end you are rooting for them 100%, giving the film’s volatile finale added dread.

An excellent addition to the wide catalogue of crime films, Marshland compels all the way through. Its short box-office life in the UK can be ignored in light of its deserved success on home entertainment and 10 Goya awards in Spain. To settle down in the dark with Rodriguez’s drama is a rewarding, and cinematic, experience. He uses the medium well, scoring and editing the film masterfully to keep your eyes locked on the screen.

The biographical film is dangerous territory. There are myriad reasons for this: the hackneyed form of the biopic, the biographical inconsistencies, the expectations that come with portraying a revered figure. Dealing with a master filmmaker is perhaps the most treacherous of territories; if your filmmaking doesn’t live up to theirs, what have you said that they couldn’t more eloquently?

When it comes to Abel Ferrara, director of Pasolini, it is well established that he has balls of steel. Whether it’s his self-starring soft-core debut 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, the rampant punk horror The Driller Killer, or his hysterical drug cop drama Bad Lieutenant, his resume is replete with the bold, brash and explicit. But how does this confidence lend itself to the subject here, one of Ferrara’s heroes: Italian neo-realist, Catholic, Marxist, poet, writer, director Pier Paolo Pasolini? The results are fresh, authorial and not at all definitive.

Pasolini begins with Pier Paolo (Willem Dafoe) in post-production on a deeply disturbing scene from his final film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, in which young people are raped and exploited by a fascistic political elite after the fall of Mussolini in 1943. It is a show of confidence to begin the film by referencing this famous scene; a scene representative of Pasolini’s disturbing power as a filmmaker. Fortunately Dafoe immediately cuts a striking, if Americanised, version of Pasolini and generating sufficient intrigue in the character.

There is a tone of rumination that is maintained throughout the film, which plays out Pasolini’s final day before his untimely murder. Juxtaposed with the day’s activities are scenes from an unmade Pasolini film, in which the lesbian and gay communities meet on one night a year in Rome to propagate the human race. The cutting back and forth never glimpses us quite enough of one or the other – given the film’s lean 84 minutes – but with a character as complex as Pasolini one senses that Ferrara intends to create a snapshot rather than a complete portrait.

The film does not attempt to provide us with a comprehensive understanding of Pasolini, nor does it attempt to wrap his death up in an overly ambitious poetic, or political logic. What the film does do is glimpse aspects of a renegade thinker and polymath artist, as seen through the eyes of the generation he influenced most profoundly. It is a reimagining and an attempt at humanising the figure. We see him in his role as an intellectual, as a gay man and as a family figure; he was profoundly attached to his beloved mother.

It is in playing to his own strengths that Ferrara makes a success of Pasolini. He is clearly at home working with Dafoe, whose own work as Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ was an even more preposterous, yet fascinating interpretation of a figure of moral significance. Ferrara’s own thematic interests are present in Pasolini: ethics, faith, politics and the alienation of modern life. This is the work of a committed fan and student of Pasolini and not one who claims to possess all the answers.


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