Archive for October, 2015

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1110825965612132/

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

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