Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

For me 2013 has become ‘the year of the film festival.’ In February I attended my first big international film festival, the Berlinale, as part of the Berlinale Talent Campus. Bitten by the festival bug I immediately arranged to cover the BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which was happening upon my return. Then I heard that Nisi Masa were running a workshop in Cannes, which required a team of young writers to produce a magazine (Nisimazine) on young filmmakers with new features and shorts showing at the festival. I applied and was selected, and so we began planning under the guidance of the very organised (and busy) Fernando Vasquez.

The team was comprised of critics from around Europe, which was then split into two teams; one to cover the first week of Cannes, the other to cover the second. I was part of the second group, working alongside great young critics from France (Melanie and Elisabeth), Germany (Patrick and Sophie), the Netherlands (Kris) and the UK (Piers). Also writing were Fernando himself and Luisa from Columbia.

I woke up at the reasonable hour of 2.30am (BST) on Monday the 20th of May, after a robust four hours sleep and made my way to Gatwick airport where I bumped into Taylan, a friend from film school. We arrived in Nice just after 9am (CET) and promptly met with Kris. Tired, but enthusiastic, we made our way to Cannes via a train that we caught by a matter of seconds. After meeting with Fernando outside Cannes station we went to collect our festival badges (and were introduced to the festival badge caste system), before heading to the apartment to meet with the team as they arrived and discuss our plans for the week ahead.

Our Heroes Died Tonight (Dir. David Perrault, France)

Our Heroes Died Tonight (Dir. David Perrault, France)

That night I caught my first film of the festival, it was British film The Last Days on Mars, which was showing in the Director’s Fortnight (the Director’s Fortnight is one of three ‘festivals’ that exists within the Cannes Film Festival. The other two are the Critics Week and the Official Selection.) It is a low budget sci-fi feature that managed to make its way to Cannes on the strength of an impressive opening scene and a strong ending, topped off with a number of good performances and some great design. However, I could not help the feeling that I was watching a b-movie and, given that this was one of the few British films appearing this year in Cannes, I felt a sense of bewilderment as to why my native film industry was not more daring when represented somewhere so prestigious.

On Tuesday (21st) I went to see my second film of the festival, the French wrestling drama Our Heroes Died Tonight (Critics Week.) It is a tremendously bold piece of work, which probably shouldn’t work, and yet it does. Combining stylistic traits of the Nouvelle Vague and Béla Tarr, a historical backdrop of the Algerian war and 60’s French wrestling, director David Perrault has successfully made a memorable and entertaining work that will surely develop a significant cult status.

Following Our Heroes… I went to the short film corner to see The Opportunist (Critics Week) by American director David Lassiter. Since I was interviewing David later, it was important to find plenty to discuss in the film and I was very fortunate to discover an accomplished short full of nuance and ideas. In the film a young man blags his way into a party and then proceeds to take advantage of the hedonistic pursuits available to him. It is a deeply unsettling short film, but it never steps into extremes, allowing the tension to bubble beneath the surface.

My Sweet Pepperland (Dir. Hiner Saleem, Iraq/France/Germany)

My Sweet Pepperland (Dir. Hiner Saleem, Iraq/France/Germany)

On Wednesday morning (22nd) I caught Até ver a luz (Director’s Fortnight), which was screening in the critics week. I was there to review the film for Nisimazine and was impressed by the naturalism achieved by director Basil da Cunha. The loose script however, which was slackened considerably by heavy improvisation, was a problem as the narrative failed to grip me. Clashing with the screening of Até ver a luz was Only God Forgives, which my colleagues enthusiastically went to see (before enthusiastically berating the film.) Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for me, I failed to catch the film a further two times; this became a running joke. However, that evening I did experience one of the festival’s pleasant surprises: My Sweet Pepperland (Official Selection) by Iraqi-Kurdish director Hiner Saleem. Like a Leone western, set in Iraq following the demise of Saddam Hussein, My Sweet Pepperland is a bold and stylish satire that will make viewers grimace and guffaw equally.

When Thursday (23th) arrived I way particularly excited, as Jodorowsky’s Dune (Director’s Fortnight) was on the cards for 22:00 that night. Prior to that I had plenty of writing to grapple with and a bunch of short films to watch and review. I lined up shorts from China (Butter Lamp), Israel (Babaga) and Argentina (All The Things) respectively. They were something of a challenge to review, given their varied cultural backgrounds, but this made for a particularly fruitful day. I broke up my intensive writing session with a trip to the Turkish pavilion with my colleagues, where we drank Turkish beer, took amusing group photos and chatted with a man who reassured us that Ryan Gosling is a nice guy.

The Dance of Reality (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile)

The Dance of Reality (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile)

When Jodorowsky’s Dune finally arrived my expectations were high. I had been waiting for this film for two years. The film more than delivered, brilliantly exceeding my expectations. Director Frank Pavich has created a film that is a testament to Jodorowsky’s vast imagination and ambition in trying to film Frank Herber’s epic sci-fi. He also captured Jodorowsky’s unique humour, combined with his frantic passion unlike any previous documentation (including The Jodorowsky Constellation and Jonathan Ross Presents for One Week Only: Alejandro Jodorowsky.) After a brief exchange of Jodo-enthusiasm with Pavich, I left the theatre completely ecstatic; yet this was only half of the Jodorowsky/Cannes experience.

On Friday (24th) I did something strange for a film festival: I did not see any films. That isn’t to say I didn’t try. I attempted to gain entry to the Only God Forgives market screening. Alas, the badge caste system was not in my favour and it was fruitless. Nevertheless, it was a good day, because I had a meeting with Lee Marshall (Screen International, Sight & Sound), in which he advised me on the writing I had done over the past few days. Lee’s experience writing for important trade magazines and critical outlets was invaluable and I greatly appreciated his enthusiasm for the unusual titles that I was covering. Later in the day we also met with Dana Linssen, who put me on to the Nisimazine in the first place. Dana is a real idealist among film critics and a great inspiration for young writers, who face the challenging and sometimes cynical world that is film journalism. It is critics like her who continue to make film criticism a truly worthwhile endeavour.

Saturday (25th) was my last day of film watching, and it was the best one. Kris, Melanie and I queued early for Roman Polanski’s Venus In Fur (Official Selection). When I realised that the film would take place within one confined theatre space I was filled with despair. Yet, Polanski managed to win me over, with a film reminiscent of his classic The Tenant. However, it was Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality (Director’s Fortnight) that completed my week. Returning to the Director’s Fortnight with Patrick, I saw a film that was everything I expected from a Jodorowsky film and more. The film is an emotional, surrealist, occasionally hilarious critique of the way that ideology contorts the human soul. It features an absolutely extraordinary, operatic performance from Brontis Jodorowksy as Alejandro’s Stalinist father. The film moved me unexpectedly, perfectly concluding an exciting, intensive week of hard work, great people and vibrant cinema.

Of course there were films that I really should have seen, but didn’t. Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour, Camera d’Or winner Ilo Ilo and Mark Cousins’ A Story of Children and Film too. But I will see them when the time comes. Regardless, my first experience in Cannes was truly a great one. I hope to return to the festival in years to come to encounter wonderful, familiar faces and more inspiring cinema. It may be a lot to ask, but I sense that Cannes can deliver.

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Accenture Gala film Out In The Dark is a timely drama of race and sexuality set on the turbulent border between Palestine and Israel. Debut feature director Michael Mayer crafts an engaging but not entirely radical critique of the lacking ability to accept in both Israeli and Palestinian culture.

Nimr (Nicolas Jacob) is a young gay Palestinian man, who crosses the border to Tel Aviv to meet friends in Israeli gay bars, which prove more accepting towards Palestinians than wider Israeli society. One night Nimr meets Roy (Michael Aloni), a young and successful Israeli lawyer who works for his father and the two rapidly fall for each other.

Nimr’s homosexuality remains a secret in his native Palestine where he lives with his seemingly moderate Muslim family. Nimr’s family believe that his travels to Tel Aviv are exclusively for the purpose of his education (he is a budding psychologist), but when they discover his additional motive their caring outlook immediately transforms into one of stone cold conservatism. The family eject Nimr out of shame, according to the wishes of his radical brother Nabil (Jameel Khouri.)

Though the film crew was intentionally assembled from both Israelis and Palestinians, Out In The Dark feels limited in its portrayal of its characters on both sides of the border. Jacob and Aloni do excellent work carrying off the central emotional dynamic, yet the peripheral characters border on stereotype. Nimr’s brother Nabil, a radical anti-Israeli, is villainised without a meaningful emotional context for his burgeoning violent behaviour (apart from the apparent lack of a father, which can only serve as a red herring.)

The exploitative Israeli security forces are represented as a similarly brutish force, as are the Israeli gangsters that Roy encounters as regular clients. However, by constructing villainous scapegoats for the ills of the respective societies, Out In The Dark opts to forgo a nuanced or brave perspective. Reading between the lines we know that the problems between Israel and Palestine are not to do with tough guys and gangsters, but a deep-seated racial and religious apartheid instead.

Ultimately though the film’s theme of ‘acceptance’ keeps the drama on track and we realise with regret how Nimr’s fate is destined to conclude. As long as fear presides over acceptance in a society, minorities like Nimr will continue to become lost souls; for that reason Out In the Dark’s final image speaks a timeless (& borderless) truth.

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The BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival kicked off its exciting programme of films and events yesterday with Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary I am Devine as the opening film.

I am Divine tells the story of Harris Glenn Milstead the iconic star of John Waters’ films including Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Hairspray. I am Divine examines Divine’s fruitful and frequently surprising career and features interviews with John Waters himself, as well as Divine’s mother, Village Voice film critic Michael Musto and many of Divine’s associates and co-stars.

Over the course of the festival we at Reflections will also be looking further afield to films from Israel (Out In The Dark), France (Les Invisibles), South Korea (White Night), Jamaica (Taboo Yardies), India (Papilio Buddha) and Iran to examine the breadth and depth of LGBT filmmaking in 2013.

The LLGFF also delves into critical moments of film history, with a focus on the late Italian auteur Pier Paolo Pasolini. The festival includes screenings of his controversial masterpiece Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom as well as the new documentary Pasolini’s Last Words and the panel discussion Queer Pasolini.

The festival is also hosting timely events including We Love David Bowie, which looks at David Bowie’s status as a queer icon, talks on Queer Screen Activism for younger people and Global Queer Space, which looks at the role of LGBT film on an international scale. Check back for more on the festival’s vibrant programme.

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