Posts Tagged ‘East End Film Festival’

The result of a collaboration between director Kieran Evans and musician Karl Hyde of Underworld, The Outer Edges is a documentary exploring the characters and geography of the boarder between London and Essex. The surprisingly alluring film, plays out to Hyde’s poetic narration, following a route down the river Roding to the docks on the Thames estuary. Although the film is a companion piece to Hyde’s new album Edgeland, it has a life of its own, which will amuse and intrigue those local to the area and those from beyond.

Director Kieran Evans assembles a visual portrait of the seldom seen side of the East End, comprised of part natural, part industrial scenery and many unique characters. The locations are as diverse as the people, which makes for a continually intriguing 74 minutes. The film opens with a fantastic line from allotment enthusiast Pete, “No politics, no religion, no sex, it’s an allotment,” before looking elsewhere to a diverse cast of individuals, including Bangladeshi woman Shamim, tour guide Maurice, a group of young boxers, Dagenham market trader Chris and ex-cruise ship performer Bonnie. Each character embodies an aspect of the locale, as Evans weaves a surprisingly rich tapestry of culture.

By seeking out and sincerely listening to the array of interesting characters Evans imbues the film with warmth, which seems at odds with the more industrialised locations in the film. Set to static shots framed by Evans, Hyde’s subtle, poetic narration creates an intriguing mental journey through the outer edges. It is clear that the filmmakers are comfortable with their loving view of the strange, melancholy land around the river Roding. For this reason it is easy to become drawn into the world and even revel in the absurdly beautiful scars that the brute force of industry has left on the landscape.

More than a companion piece to an album, The Outer Edges is a necessary look at a diverse environment, which some people rely on, while others commute through. It asks London dwellers to pause and consider the actual breadth of their environment, as well as the unique personalities that reside within. As a closing title for the 2013 East End Film Festival, The Outer Edges is a superb piece of programming. By putting the outer edges of London centre stage it does precisely what the East End Film Festival should do: showcase the treasure within this diverse and sometimes chaotic city.

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In spite of Mike Figgis’ vocal struggle to fund the film in the UK, his psycho thriller Suspension of Disbelief plays like a distinctly British answer to David Lynch’s evocative Mulholland Drive. Shot in noirish tones by the digital pioneer director/DOP, this film treads dangerously into ‘meta’ territory, but successfully envelopes the audience with nightmarish lighting, tight editing (also by Figgis) and an alluring cast headed up by German Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others, Black Book).

Koch stars as Martin, a feature film scriptwriter, who also works as a screenwriting lecturer. Martin’s wife went missing fifteen years ago in unexplained circumstances, and yet he has a daughter with her, an actress called Sarah (Rebecca Night.) Sarah gets an acting job on a film written by Martin and things begin to get complicated as she becomes increasingly intimate with its unsympathetic director Greg (Eoin Macken, playing a role presumably based on Figgis.) For Sarah’s 25th birthday Martin throws a party in his flat. At the party they meet a young girl called Angelique (Lotte Verbeek) who, like Martin’s wife, subsequently goes missing. The duel-layered plot thickens when Angelique’s twin Theresa (also Lotte Verbeek) arrives to identify the body and simultaneously begins a suspicious flirtation with Martin.

Figgis juxtaposes the murder inquiry with the production of the crime film written by Martin. The investigation is lead by the amusingly (and knowingly) cliché’ detective Bullock (Kenneth Cranham.) Bullock has a penchant for detective yarns and is an aspiring amature screenwriter himself. When he meets Martin he becomes more inclined to receive advice on his writing, than to solve the Angelique case. By working in his character’s obsessions with storytelling Figgis attempts to explore Carl Jung’s “Participation Mystique” concept. The theory posits that the emotional part of the brain cannot distinguish between truth and fiction; hence Suspension of Disbelief. Here, even the detective cannot help himself.

The plot sounds unbearably convoluted, but Figgis is entirely aware of this. Making sense of the intricacy is his precise focus as a director and he does so with enormous dexterity. Each scene is lit and constructed with such generic understanding that we revel in the gradual unravelling of his tangled tapestry (the majority of the film is shot in moody Lynchian tones, while the film-within-the-film is a stark black & white, resembling Sin City.) Lotte Verbeek’s presence in the film lends a mood of smouldering sexuality, as Koch’s Martin finds himself both a mystified suspect and an obsessive investigator in Angelique’s disappearance. The psychosexual intrigue does well to appease the structural head scratching, appropriately countering Figgis’ intellectual impulses with the deeply physical (though never particularly explicit.)

The downside of the film’s meta exploration is that the emotional weight of the work plays second fiddle to rigorous structuring required to explore Jung’s theories. If Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is a movie for dreamers, Suspension of Disbelief is one for the conscious thinker. Figgis completes his intellectual tapestry with musical references to Kid A era Radiohead and photos of film pioneer Godard. For such murky mystery it is a oddly sobre affair, but the sobriety does lend it a certain British charm. It is ironic then, that Figgis had such trouble with the funders.

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The Heart of Bruno Wizard is a raw feature documentary from first time director Elisabeth Rasmussen. The film dives into a little known pocket of the British punk scene during the late 1970’s to find Bruno Wizard, the uncompromising singer of The Homosexuals. In his present state he faces bleak homelessness and serious health problems. The film bares its low budget flaws for all to see and fails to truly dramatize Bruno’s predicament; yet it also captures his life with real intimacy.

The character of Bruno makes most sense when informed by his own amusing words “I changed the name of my band from The Rejects to The Homosexuals, to keep the major labels away from us.” What Bruno specifically strives for never becomes entirely clear in The Heart of Bruno Wizard, but that is less the fault of the film than simply a part of Bruno himself. Bruno knows what he does not want to associate himself with, more than what he does. The tendency to reject the norm is perhaps the characteristic that lead him into homelessness, but it also makes him an endearing and interesting character with real integrity.

Rasmussen’s film does suffer from teething problems familiar in early, low budget filmmaking attempts. The film is constructed with a wide variety of interviews that are assembled haphazardly in awkwardly framed shots. The interviews are informative though and Rasmussen achieves great access, with contributions from luminaries in the British music scene including singer Marilyn, DJ Don Letts and former Homosexuals member Susan Vida, as well as American animator M. Henry Jones. The group place Bruno in context, which makes his present life of illness and poverty all the more affecting.

The finest moments in the film are the snapshots of Bruno now. After some time spent sleeping on the streets, Bruno checked himself into a homeless shelter and gradually managed to obtain his own flat in London. Having finally moved in Rasmussen captures him furnishing his home at a hilariously gradual pace, initially sleeping in a cupboard instead of a bed. Bruno’s enormous appreciation for his cupboard is both touching and humbling, as Rasumssen helps us realise the privilege of possessing such amenities.

Rasumssen is so dedicated in her desire to portray Bruno that she forgoes any distinct style of her own, which could have strengthened the film. There is passion within her filmmaking though and her ability to connect with characters is an essential filmmaking quality. In an interview she said working with Bruno helped her give up her fears; a theme he staunchly endorses. If making The Heart of Bruno Wizard was a process of discovery for her, then she may well be on the way to finding a voice. Lets see where this young director decides to go next.

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Sometimes treasures lurk in the most unlikeliest of places. If you were to walk past one particular council block in Brighton you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Yet stepping into a flat in this mundane redbrick building leads us towards one Drako Oho Zahar Zahar, the subject of this beguiling documentary. Observed by his filmmaker friend Amies over a few years, this is a fascinating document of a man whose colourful life had trespassed into various artists, dancers and vagrants lives.

Drako was born Tony Banwell but took on the stage name in his twenties. He was recruited as a dancer in London in his youth and embarked on a rather reckless existence amongst the 60’s and 70’s gay crowd. A kind of socialite, he was painted by Dali (which he recounts at every opportunity) and hung out with artists like Warhol. He suffered two near fatal accidents, one a motorcycle accident and the other a car crash, which left him in a long coma. It took him almost a decade to recover, and changed his personality to a substantial degree.

Although this colourful past irreparably defines his character, the documentary focuses on his final years in the cramped Brighton flat. The flat is somewhat of a character in itself, an ode to Drako’s memories and philosophies. It is literally crammed with pictures, postcards, books that Drako has amassed over the years. Pornographic pictures of erect penises vie for space amongst handwritten religious quotes, a veritable jungle of delights. Due to Drako’s accidents, he now suffers severe amnesia and uses notes hanging from the ceilings to remember day to day details, much like in Christopher Nolan’s Memento.

Drako himself is charm personified, an English eccentric with an endearing self deprecation. Covered in tattoos, bald and prone to wearing ‘vibrant’ attire, his occasional forays into the local butchers make for a humorous event. As he struggles to form cohesive thought patterns his anecdotes become recycled, but this is oddly endearing as well. It is clear that Drako is one of a kind, yet director Amies paints a loving portrait of his friend. Although it is strange that such a flamboyant figure has ended up in such a mundane setting, you get the feeling that Brighton itself suits him perfectly; a place that welcomes the slightly unusual figures and cultivates them.

It is an extremely intimate film, based mostly in Drako’s cramped flat. Straight away the audience understands that Amies and Drako have a strong relationship, as Amies asks him chummy questions and queries his general well being. The film is unusual in that Amies has a clear investment in Drako and often acts almost as a carer for him. The line between the subject and the film maker becomes extremely blurred as Drako’s health deteriorates. Is Amies exploiting Drako for his own gain? Perhaps, but Drako, always the exhibitionist, would have wanted it that way. A funny, eccentric, moving documentary.

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This French-Canadian production is one of the first fiction films I’ve seen to report on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Written and directed by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette, it follows the toils of Chloe (Evelyne Brochu), a foreign doctor working in a Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank. Specialising in childbirth, she makes the trip from her comfortable flat in the Israeli territory to the battle scarred Palestinian area each day. One of her closest friends is Ava (Sivan Levy), who does her involuntary military duty checking papers at the border. Meanwhile on the Palestinian side she strikes up a friendship with the pregnant Rand (Sabrina Ouazani) and her brother Faysal (Yousef Sweid).

Barbeau-Lavalette has immediately set up a meaty conflict here; Chloe’s limbo between Ava, apathetic to the suffering across the border, and Rand and Faysal’s burgeoning militancy. A young Palestinian boy is struck down by a callous Israeli military driver, and tensions begin to rise. Chloe offers to hand out the flyers that Faysal has printed in the boys memory, but her medical superiors order her not to get involved. She is, as the post-punk band Magazine once sang, Shot by both sides. As Rand’s due date looms and Faysal begins to indoctrinate her into their way of thinking, Chloe’s thoughts and motivations begin to change.

There is a lot to admire in Inch’Allah. The script is engaging and enjoyably murky to begin with, with Barbeau-Lavalette keen not to take any sides. It is competently directed and you get a real sense of the hostility of the environment. The performances are routinely strong, Brochu conveying the sense of confusion and futility of her existence, while Ouazani provides much needed humour as the feisty Rand. It would be quite easy to see Inch’Allah being nominated for a foreign Oscar.

Therein lies the problem; there is something rather Oscar worthy about the film that leaves a bitter after taste. In attempting to sum up a deeply complex conflict into a neat 2 hour feature the film comes across as a little preachy and safe. The initial conflict is interesting but the script veers towards contrivances at the end in order to make its point. It’s not quite the sugar coated fluff that props up every Best Picture competition, but it doesn’t feel entirely authentic and nuanced either.

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The zombie genre has had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, what with all the TV and film projects emerging from the grave. With Halley, Mexican director Sebastian Hofmann might have just ushered in a new era of zombie films – except this time they’re not quite dead yet. This unusual body horror follows loner Beto, a gym security guard, who realises that his body is steadily decaying before his own eyes. Approaching the grisly subject with an abstract, arty aesthetic, Halley is a must for fans of David Cronenberg.

The script, written by Hofmann and Julio Chavezmontes, is rather lean. Beto, in his 30’s, nerdy and rather creepy, decides to quit his job at the gym, informing his lonely boss Luly that his ‘illness’ is ruining his work. It doesn’t help that the toned, machismo gym members provide a painful contrast with his own dwindling health. Back at home, Beto tends to the boils and wounds peppered all over his body. He is literally seeping. In order to fight it he injects himself with embalming fluid, which he combines with his TV watching. He is dragged to the local church to hear the preachers talk about illness as a sign of sin; Beto is evidently unimpressed.

The only form of redemption in his life comes from Luly, who tries to take him out dancing. Lonely herself, their staccato dialogue and Beto’s frigidity will leave the viewer excruciated. The two performances are both strong, although Beto himself doesn’t have much to do. Alberto Trujillo’s performance as Beto brings to mind Napoleon Dynamite if he was having an existential crisis, a stubbornly introspective turn that hardly endears him to the audience.  Luly Trueba as the jaded boss injects the film with much needed warmth and openness.

Aesthetically the film is interesting; fellow native Carlos Reygadas comes to mind in the sterile, cloudy photography (it comes as no surprise to learn that Reygadas’ producers worked on this as well). Hofmann chooses to cut out the faces of many of his characters, creating an abstract, distanced portrayal. Much of Beto is seen from his disease-ridden back. Cronenberg would be delighted. The sound design also plays a big part, as every chew, tear, peel, spit and vomit is captured with uncomfortable accuracy. Unfortunately the film is let down by a script that doesn’t lead anywhere from the intriguing concept, leaving the audience dulled by the episodic, languid narrative.

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Beginning with a flatly lit, digital image of Fannie (Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg) cynically trying on an expensive (but unflattering) dress in a boutique, Soldier Jane initially generates less than inspiring expectations. It seems mundane, stagey, even cheap, yet superficial impressions can be deceiving. Like Fassbinder’s early low-budget works, it gradually blossoms into a film of wry humour and bourgeoisie subversion, like they just don’t make anymore.

Fannie is an heiress, whose life of wealth and luxury has reached a brick wall. She has run up enormous bills on her property, yet refuses to pay them. Shopping fails to remedy her emptiness and the friendships she possesses are without substance or meaning. In thoroughly un-melodramatic fashion however, Fannie is not wracked with emotion. The emptiness of her existence initiates no crisis, but a cold hard resilience as she disciplines herself solely through martial arts. She is a woman on the edge, but of what?

The film takes its time to reveal Hoesl’s intentions and for the first 45 minutes, it is anyone’s guess. Telling each scene almost entirely in long, self conscious, static shots, the director (who previously worked as Assistant Director on Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy) remains steadfast with his sensationally unenticing stylistic approach. Fannie gradually leaves behind the luxury of her apartment and sets off, cross-country until she teams up with Anna (Christina Reichsthaler): a young woman living and working on a remote farm, surrounded only by men. Before this however, Fannie decided to incinerate all the money she has available to her.

These glorious moments are feminist, anti-capitalist bombshells amid the stagey mise-en-scene, which allow us to make sense of the retro style. Early in the film Fannie watches Godard’s 1962 film Vivre Sa Vie, specifically the sequence where Anna Karina’s Nana watches The Passion of Jean of Arc (1928) by Dryer. It is a film-within-a-film-within-a-film and it is also a statement of intent. Hoesl wishes to return cinema to bygone, revolutionary days where celluloid helped focus our passions. But herein lies the problem. With his bourgeoisies bashing, Godard referencing and feminist stance Hoesl’s is a cinematic revolution of the past.

And yet, this is not to say the director’s themes are not relevant. They are. This is why Soldier Jane does work, not as a revolution, but as a reminder of why cinema should still be used as a medium of dissent. While the films of Godard and Fassbinder made a profound mark on the medium in the 1960’s, the troubles that their films were concerned with still exist. Capital still runs and ruins lives, gender inequality still endures and mainstream Hollywood cinema is perhaps as capitalist, chauvinistic and, dare I say, propagandic as it has ever been. Soldier Jane is a timely provocation, questioning what ideals cinema should continue to tackle in the digital age.

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The 2013 East End Film Festival begins on the 25th of June, running through to the 10th of July. Founded in 2000 the festival works hard to screen films with a consciousness local to this part of London, as well as an increasingly wide remit of films from around the world. We’ll be at the festival to review diverse titles by upcoming filmmakers and veterans alike.

This year’s opening film is Mark Donne’s The UK Gold, which explores how the City of London functions within a secretive network of tax havens and tax avoidance. Set during the London 2012 Olympics Father William Taylor goes on a journey to shed light on this scandalous issue. The film features a score composed by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja.

New works by established British directors also feature in this year’s festival, including Mike Figgis’ experimental thriller Suspension of Disbelief, Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic civil war film A Field In England and Kieran Evans’ poetic documentary The Outer Edges (which features with a live score on the closing night.)

Looking further afield, the festival has sections dedicated to European cinema, World Cinema and specific, issue driven focuses; the Zoom section looks at fiction, documentary and animated films specifically concerning deaf characters. American films also claim a slot in the lineup, notably porn star biopic Lovelace starring Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace.

With the Argentine Cinema Panel there is a national focus on the New Argentine Cinema this year, with director Armando Bo attending as the Director in Residence. There is a special rescreening of his film The Last Elvis, as well as features including The Wild Ones, Leones and Extraordinary Stories.

We hope you’ll join us as we delve into the festival’s rich programme of films, which encapsulate the melting pot of culture that is London’s East End.

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