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A postcard from Branchage

02 Oct, 2014 Posted in: Festivals

Film4′s Catherine Bray sends a postcard from a weekend at the Branchage Film Festival, which ran 24th to 28th September 2014.

Branchage is a film festival on the picture postcard perfect island of Jersey, a place so pretty it almost feels a bit wrong. The festival’s name is a sort of play on words – Branchage refers to the ancient law of Jersey which states that if a resident’s hedges or trees hang over into the road when an official with a stick goes around checking, they will be fined. So immediately prior to the biannual inspection, Jersey folk cut their vegetation: that’s branchage. Of course no film could exist without cuts or editing, so it’s a film festival named after the act of cutting.

Branchage (the festival, not the law of the bushes) began in 2008, but has been on hiatus in 2012 and 2013, returning in 2014 to dazzle filmmakers and guests alike with its Famous Five style vistas and distinctive red, white and blue bunting. There’s even a pub called The Smugglers. When I post a picture of my view on Twitter, Telegraph critic Robbie Collin quite justifiably replies “that’s not a view, it’s a biscuit tin.” The island has that quality – it’s real, but it’s a reality that seems unrealistic. It’s incredibly genteel, clean and tidy. People genuinely leave their cars unlocked.

"A biscuit tin"

“A biscuit tin”

The programming itself provides a dose of something a bit edgier. We’re pleased to see Film4 represented three times, with Berberian Sound Studio, Under The Skin and Frank all giving audiences a taste of the range of some of out recent releases. From dreamlike Italian foley artistry, to the impeccably realised visuals of Glasgow seen through alien eyes, to the offbeat charms of Michael Fassbender modelling a giant head, about the only thing you could say these films had in common is that they’re all by highly individual directors working at the top of their respective games: Peter Strickland, Jonathan Glazer and Lenny Abrahamson.

Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Elsewhere in the programme, there was a focus on music intersecting with film. The Opening Night Gala saw How We Used To Live play with a live score from indie darlings Saint Etienne. Of particular interest to me was 1922 banned classic Haxan, playing with a new live score. What a pity it clashed with the live wrestling!

Haxan

Haxan

Another thing the festival does well is foregrounding its short films. Rather than keeping the shorts sectioned off in a ghetto frequented mainly by dedicated talent scouts and the short filmmakers themselves, the shorts at Branchage are seen by the most mainstream of audiences, in virtue of being programmed before the features. This ensures they are seen by different audiences – people who wouldn’t necessarily pony up for an event consisting entirely of shorts.

Watching shorts

Watching shorts

Unfortunately I have to leave before Sunday night’s big spectacular: a spectacular 3D mapping lightshow by the iconic Radiophonic Orchestra projected onto a fort in the bay of St Aubin. As I head to the airport, I bump into festival director Chris Bell. How does he feel the return of Branchage went? “We’ve been away for a couple of years so it’s been great to blow off the cobwebs and do it all over again, and it’s been fantastic – Saint Etienne got us off to an incredible and incredibly moving start, and it’s just got better and better. It feels good to be back.”

Visit the Branchage website

 

Catherine Bray’s 11 recommendations for LFF 2014

19 Sep, 2014 Posted in: London Film Festival, Opinion

Alan Partridge’s favourite Beatles album is The Best of The Beatles. By the same token, one of the world’s best festivals is the LFF. It’s not about screening films first, it’s about putting together the juiciest compilation of the year’s best movies.  That said, they’ve still managed to squeeze in 16 world premieres. The Film4.com team are all picking their personal picks from the fest, and these are mine. It was supposed to be 10, but we just couldn’t bear to cut it down (and have still had to miss out a ton of gems), so we ended up turning it up to 11. Here are my 2014 LFF recommendations – enjoy!

possibilities-are-endless

The Possibilities Are Endless, dir. Edward Lovelace and James Hall

I saw this beautiful doc from directors-to-watch Edward Lovelace and James Hall at SXSW and it’s really stayed with me since. Following the process of singer Edwyn Collins piecing his identity back together again after a stroke, it’s such a moving, and brutally beautiful piece of filmmaking, I can’t wait to see it again. (Buy tickets)

’71, dir. Yann Demange

Probably your last chance to catch Jack O’Connell in a film before he becomes a megastar (Vanity Fair agree with us on this), the debut feature from Yann Demange is a Film4-backed firecracker of a thriller about one man trying to survive behind enemy lines. (Buy tickets)

Foxcatcher, dir. Bennett Miller

Alongside Maps to the Stars, this was one of my favourites at Cannes this year – Bennett Miller’s masterful unpicking of masculine bravado has a chilly understated brilliance that ensures the inevitability of its tragic climax connects like a sucker punch to the gut. Not your typical Oscar tearjerker. (Buy tickets)

The Duke Of Burgundy, dir. Peter Strickland

This is a Film4 backed one, but you don’t need to take our word for it that it’s brilliant – following its Toronto premiere, film industry bible Variety picked The Duke of Burgundy as one of the best of the fest, praising “British director Peter Strickland’s straight-faced yet deviously funny homage to ’60s and ’70s Eurotrash erotica [...] for sheer aesthetic overindulgence, nothing else on screens right now can touch it.” (Buy tickets)

The Immortalists, dir. Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado

I often feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day or days in a life, and the idea of extended lifespans is fascinating to me. It’s a big deal for scientists too, so I’m really looking forward to checking out what the boffins have to say about humankind’s quest for immortality in this doc. (Buy tickets)

The Surprise Film, dir. ?

An LFF institution, the surprise film is a blindfold gamble which usually manages to confound the pundits. Personally, I’d love to see Birdman again, which I was blown away by in Venice, or Alex Garland’s extraordinary looking sci-fi Ex Machina. But it’ll probably be something completely off my radar. (Buy tickets)

Whiplash, dir. Damien Chazelle

The main reason to see Whiplash is Miles Teller’s extraordinary performance as Andrew, a driven young drummer pushed to his limits. I saw this at Sundance and was initially lulled into thinking we’re rooting for Andrew. Not really – he’s more a Mark Zuckerberg style protagonist and all the more interesting for it… (Buy tickets)

Rosewater, dir. Jon Stewart

The always annoyingly funny and talented Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) adds another string to his bow here as director of this true story of a journalist detained for 188 days in Iran. I’ve not seen it, but word from Telluride was strong. (Buy tickets)

Altman, dir. Ron Mann

Formally, this doc (which I caught at Venice) about the late, sometimes great Robert Altman isn’t radical, but that’s not the point – this is a headfirst plunge into the career of one of America’s foremost post-war auteurs, laden with detail, charm and emotion. (Buy tickets)

Girlhood, dir. Celine Sciamma

Another favourite from Cannes, Celine Sciamma builds on the momentum she achieved with Water Lillies and Tomboy to deliver her finest work yet – a lively coming of age movie boasting the best use of Rihanna’s Diamonds yet to grace our screens. (Buy tickets)

 

Sheffield Doc Fest 2014

26 Jun, 2014 Posted in: Events, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Catherine Bray on her top picks from the 2014 Sheffield Doc Fest: Best Film, Best Talk, Best Q&A, Best Panel and Best Party.

The Millennium Gallery

The story of Sheffield Doc Fest is one of growth. The festival has expanded exponentially in its 21 year life span, from a gathering for mainly hardcore British documentary enthusiasts to its present status as one of maybe the top three documentary focused film festivals in the world. My favourite thing about Sheffield however, is not its size, but the variety. Like SXSW, it plays host to a bewildering array of panels, talks, masterclasses and mixers, in addition to the expected films. It makes it difficult to compile a Cannes-style top ten – you’d be comparing apples and oranges. With that in mind, I’ve picked a favourite from each category instead…

Best Film: 112 Weddings

112 Weddings

The potentially twee concept of catching up with couples several years after he shot their wedding videos is anything but in the capable hands of Doug Block, who achieves a fine balance between questioning the institution of marriage itself, gently unveiling weaknesses in certain relationships, celebrating the people who make marriage work, and exploring why it so often doesn’t. It’s a clear-eyed film that comes across as neither cynical nor rose-tinted.

Best Talk: Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry's In The Best Possible Taste

Managing the nifty trick of making a huge event for a massive audience feel intimate and engaging, An Evening With Grayson Perry (plus Q&A chaired by Channel 4 Deputy Chief Creative Officer Ralph Lee) was by turns funny, illuminating and touching. If you’ve yet to encounter Grayson Perry’s particularly piquant brand of social insight mixed with a dissection of our tribal signifiers that occasionally borders on pitiless, do check out In The Best Possible Taste on 4oD.

Best Q&A: Steve James

Life Itself

One of the most personal post-screening Q&As unfolded in the humble surroundings of the Library Theatre, after Life Itself, a documentary unfolding the late film critic Roger Ebert’s life in parallel with his final months. The film itself left many in the audience wiping away a tear and as a result, this Q&A had a different tone to most: less industry-focused, more personal and clearly full of people still feeling the gap in film criticism that Ebert’s death has left.

The Crucible

Best Panel: International Distribution Strategies

Bringing together senior figures from every stage in the distribution chain, this panel at The Crucible, chaired by Film4’s own Anna Higgs, provided a comprehensive look at the challenges and opportunities opening up in international distribution as a result of changing digital landscapes. Click here to see our Storify of the panel!

Best Party: Dogwoof’s 10th Birthday

Dogwoof are the distributor for docs in the UK, so it felt only fitting that they celebrated their tenth year with a huge party featuring the Dressed Like A Girl dancers and a stage invasion. Happy birthday Dogwoof!

And finally…

Personal highlight: Beyond Clueless with live score

As well as being at the festival for Film4, I was lucky enough to be attending as a filmmaker, with the first feature I’ve produced, Beyond Clueless, getting its UK premiere in Sheffield’s biggest venue, The Crucible, with a live score from the composers, brilliant pop duo Summer Camp. Obviously I couldn’t rank a film I’d worked on alongside my other picks – there’s a small chance I might be biased – but equally it was such a magical evening, I didn’t want to leave it out entirely! If you’d like to know more about the film, check out beyondclueless.co.uk or listen to the title track below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyena: set visit

19 Jun, 2014 Productions Posted in: Edinburgh, Interview, Talent

Gerard Johnson’s follow up to his cult hit Tony is a dodgy coppers crime thriller set in West London – but it’s a world away from the likes of Guy Ritchie, Catherine Bray reports.

“This little one’s quite friendly, the little one in there.” Gerard Johnson, director of Hyena, is showing me snakes of all sizes contained within tanks in the basement of an extremely grubby former funeral parlour in West London, near Ladbroke Grove. “This one… he’s not so friendly.” He indicates a chunkier python type you wouldn’t want to tangle with. Upstairs, I’ve already taken a gander at a head on a stick, dripping blood. The severed head is of course a fake – that’s the magic of movie-making. But the snakes? The snakes are very real.

Peter Ferdinando stars in Hyena

Peter Ferdinando stars in Hyena

I’m on set for Hyena, Gerard Johnson’s follow up to his cult Dalston serial killer film Tony. This time Gerard’s swapped East London for West, but he’s remained faithful to his lead, Peter Ferdinando, who is almost unrecognisable from one film to the other, having lost about two stone of his usual weight to play Tony, and now deliberately piled two stone and a half stone on to play the lead in Hyena, for a four and a half stone difference. Think Christian Bale in The Machinist versus Christian Bale in American Hustle. As producer Jo Laurie puts it: “Peter approaches his work with as much authenticity as he can possibly put into it.” Gerard is a bit more blunt: “He’s got a big gut this time,” he chuckles, “but yeah, he’s a chameleon.”

In real life, the director and his method acting muse are cousins, and were apparently close growing up, but as Gerard remembers it, Peter knew from an early age that he wanted to be an actor, while his own directorial ambitions developed much later. “But when I did want to do my first short, it was like, well, the natural person to ask is my cousin and we just grew from there.” It’s a successful partnership thus far that looks set to grow with both men’s burgeoning careers.

Peter Ferdinando starred in Tony

Peter Ferdinando starred in Tony

Like Tony, Hyena is concerned with life on the margins outside of polite society. But where Tony was about an unassuming Dennis Nilsen type, Hyena is more concerned with those in positions of underworld power, from corrupt cops to Albanian drug lords. The concept is neatly encapsulated in the title: “Hyena, in Greek, means pig. So, this is a film about pigs, really.” That’s pigs as in police, but also pig as in male chauvinist – and of course hyena has other connotations too… “Yes, there’s also the pack mentality and the nocturnal aspects of the hyena. It’s one of my favorite animals. It’s all about these different packs. So, we’ve got the Albanians, we’ve got the police, we’ve got the Turks. They’re all in their own little packs.”

Despite the dodgy gang culture, Hyena is not a Guy Ritchie geezer caper, nor yet a wham-bam action flick. Through street casting and research Gerard is striving for a greater degree of accuracy: “What I was very afraid of is films like Taken, that have painted a very unrealistic portrait of Albanians. For a start, they don’t cast real Albanians in the parts. They cast Serbs, Croatians, and then just say that they’re from Albania.” Most of Hyena was street cast, with more experienced actors like Stephen Graham (This Is England) and Neil Maskell (Kill List) rounding out the cast.

Hyena, by Gerard Johnson

Hyena, by Gerard Johnson

It’s not just with the cast that the filmmakers are hoping to shake up conventional movie wisdom – as Jo notes, “A big thing for Gerard is to put London up there with Paris and New York – London doesn’t really get that kind of cinematic treatment as much, that loving eye.” In every sense, there’s a bit more craft to Hyena than we’ve come to expect from the genre – you won’t find any Apprentice-style stock footage of the Gherkin here. And ironically, you won’t necessarily find all that much footage of those snakes I liked so much – apparently so much has been shot, the team will need to think carefully about what exactly makes the final cut. Some of the horrors of Hyena, like the underworld violence it depicts, will remain hidden behind closed doors.

Hyena premiered last night as the opening night film at the Edinburgh Film Festival and will open in the UK in October.

 

 

Cannes 2014: top ten

26 May, 2014 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion

Catherine Bray rounds up her best of the fest, with films from all sections of the festival making the cut in an edition of Cannes marked by quality across a diverse range of strands and countries.

Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner

Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner

As ever, the response to Cannes has been a mixed bag, with some critics declaring it a vintage year and others pooh-poohing the selection. As a relative newcomer myself – this was my fourth year at Cannes – perhaps I don’t have the long-view required to really judge the festival as a whole, but for what its worth, I thought it was a brilliant selection, particularly if you didn’t restrict your movements to the main Competition. My (alphabetical) top ten reflects this, with three films plucked from the main Competition, one from Un Certain Regard, four from a very strong Directors’ Fortnight and two from the small but perfectly formed independent strand that is Critics’ Week.

A quick note about Film4 films first: since they’ll be covered in depth elsewhere on the site and it might seem a teensy bit biased to include them objectively in our top ten(!), I’ve excluded Film4′s Cannes slate from this list, but it should go without saying that I adored Mike Leigh’s masterly Mr. Turner (featuring a richly deserved Best Actor turn from Timothy Spall), Daniel Wolfe’s gripping debut Catch Me Daddy (interview here) and Ken Loach’s heartfelt, timely and passionate Jimmy’s Hall (interview here).

But what about the rest? Without further ado, here are my favourites:

Force Majeure
Un Certain Regard, Jury Prize winner
Sweden, dir. Ruben Ostlund
Ruben Ostlund’s painfully acute comedy of human behaviour is merciless in its dissection of the morals, manners and expectations swirling around contemporary notions of masculinity and family – Ostlund is an expert in making you squirm in your seat with embarrassment one moment and laugh out loud the next.
Read the full review

Foxcatcher
Main Competition, Best Director winner
USA, dir. Bennett Miller
A brilliantly performed and elegantly suspenseful tragedy, written and directed with sure-footed grace by Bennett Miller, this is among the very finest pieces of really classic storytelling at Cannes this year and its prize for Best Director marks the first step in an award campaigns that will run all the way through to the Academy Awards.
Read the full review

Girlhood
Directors’ Fortnight
France, dir. Céline Sciamma
With a stunning breakout performance from newcomer Karidja Toure, Tomboy director Céline Sciamma’s gorgeous third feature is a spry and lively coming-of-age drama that oozes with character and style.
Read the full review

It Follows
Critics’ Week
USA, dir. David Robert Mitchell
David Robert Mitchell’s second feature is a spine-tinglingly creepy and fantastically enjoyable indie horror movie that has real compassion for its characters, but otherwise invokes the best of 1980s slasher flick tricks in its use of Steadicam and a synthy score to get all the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.
Read the full review

Leviathan
Main Competition, Screenplay winner
Russia, Andrei Zvyagintsev
Though honoured with a win for screenplay, Leviathan could easily have won the festival’s top prize – it’s a fierce epic that binds together inter-generational melodrama, a Kafkaesque fight against officialdom, black comedy, a menacing thriller and an indictment of the political and clerical classes in contemporary Russia.
Read the full review

Maps To The Stars
Main Competition, Best Actress winner
Canada, dir. David Cronenberg
I’ve already written at length about why I like Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars but to put it succinctly, I just had such a blast watching this film, a wild Swiftean satire on a monstrous, exaggerated imagining of Hollywood, seen through a haze of ego and ambition – just don’t in go expecting anything too subtle.
Read the full review

The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Directors’ Fortnight
Japan, dir. Isao Takahata
The final spellbinding film from the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata, this is a beautifully rounded and even feminist interpretation of a classic fairy story about an old bamboo cutter who findings a supernatural foundling in the forest and raises her as his own. The gorgeous Raymond Briggs style animation gives everything a picture-book feel, but the titular princess’s dilemmas are very much those of many modern young woman.
Read the full review

The Tribe
Critics’ Week, winner
Ukraine, dir. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
The explicitly violent boarding school teen drama The Tribe seemed like an inevitable win in the Critics’ Week strand from about 10 minutes in. It is a unique cinematic experience: no dialogue, no subtitles, no voiceover – all the speech is conducted in sign language, and yet it is totally comprehensible, an exercise in transcending language that absolutely works as a gripping narrative and never strays into gimmick or experiment.
Read the full review

Tu Dors Nicole
Directors’ Fortnight
Canada, dir. Stéphane Lafleur
A gorgeous and very amusing indie comedy shot in black and white, Tu Dors Nicole is the latest in a strand of cinema whose family tree includes Ghost World (2001) and Frances Ha (2013) – low-key female-focussed slacker comedies with an ear for the absurdities of Millennial post-adolescence.
Read our capsule review

Whiplash
Directors’ Fortnight
USA, dir. Damien Chazelle
Miles Teller is an actor who consistently stands out for his charisma and off-kilter charm in a number of films located far outside the festival circuit, genre-wise – films like Footloose, 21 and . With Whiplash, he really gets his teeth into a properly meaty role and is superb as an obsessively ambitious student in the Mark Zuckerberg/The Social Network vein, except that his area of special skills isn’t coding, but drum-playing, making for an unexpectedly compelling – and unexpectedly plotted – outsider-on-the-rise story. It’s fantastically accomplished work from director Damien Chazelle (born 1985).

Click here to read Film4 Channel Editor David Cox’s pick of 12 Cannes 2014 favourites

by Catherine Bray

Catherine is the Editorial Director of Film4 Online. She started out in film journalism in 2004 as staff writer on cult movie magazine Hotdog and is co-producer on teen movie documentary @beyondclueless.

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