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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”