My FrightFest 2014 highlights: preview

Film4 FrightFest’s Alan Jones on the horror festival’s move to the Vue Cinema and his own personal highlights of this year’s festival, running from 21st – 25th August 2014 in Leicester Square.

The Guest starring Dan Stevens

The Guest starring Dan Stevens

I’m not afraid to admit that Film4 FrightFest’s move to the Vue cinema Leicester Square has given me sleepless nights. I mean, we had everything at the Empire running smoothly… but their redevelopment plans meant we had to uproot ourselves and literally start from scratch. Because that’s what making our new home at the Vue has entailed – from management understanding what the FrightFest community is all about, to ensuring their staff were on board in terms of mind-set and approach. It took the Empire 12 months to fully appreciate our ethos and here we were again facing the same early questions like “What do you mean people queue up for 48 hours before the tickets go on sale?” and “But where do we put all these goodie bags?”

For die-hard FrightFesters though it’s par for the course on the 15-year long haul from the Prince Charles to the two Odeon West Ends and then the Empire. But this 2014 change is markedly different because for the first time the main films will be split over three auditoria, rather than just a massive one, with our much-loved Discovery and retrospective strands expanding into larger spaces. So we knew going into this August Bank Holiday’s event that we would have to ensure the programme choices were about as tip-top as we could get to help soothe any misgivings about losing the FrightFest essence. I think we’ve done that. Our line-up is always highly anticipated and the feedback so far suggests we’ve hit all the want-to-see bases. Hopefully job done and everyone can now relax in their new comfortable surroundings to watch the best examples of what the genre can offer.

The Samurai

The Samurai

Speaking personally, my list of absolute must-sees is topped by Till Kleinert’s superb The Samurai, which I keep describing to people as Dressed To Kill through a Jorg Buttgereit filter because I so want people to respond to its extreme slasher gore and playful homo-erotic subtext. Kleinert is such a horror fan, and it shows, and he’s already said he wants to attend the entire festival. Another stunner is William Eubank’s quite astonishing The Signal, which I found enigmatically mesmerizing and unusually resonant in thematic terms. Closing with an all-stops-out science fiction fantasy is unusual for FrightFest but when people witness the final five minutes, they’ll understand why we chose it.

I must also mention our terrific opener The Guest, which is one of the best horror thrillers of the year and features a break-out performance by Dan Stevens that I can only liken to the one Julia Roberts had in Pretty Woman. No, honestly! And for those who loved Inside, but thought Livid was a disappointment, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Among The Living will restore your faith in French shockers with its daring concept and wonderful studio backlot setting. Must mention Home, Housebound, X Moor and Doc Of The Dead… too many, in fact, to do justice to. Best people just come along and find out for themselves.

Find out more about FrightFest 2014 and buy tickets


The Body Politic: Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014

04 Jul, 2014 Posted in: Edinburgh, Festivals Site Editor Michael Leader reports from the Edinburgh International Film Festival…


Taken out of its previous pride of place in the middle of the city’s turbulent festival months, the Edinburgh International Film Festival now grants the rare pleasure of experiencing one of the UK’s most beautiful cities out of season. Or, in this case, in the full flush of an unseasonal heatwave, which when conjoined with the pre-solstice evenings creates a time-warp of sorts.

Ever experienced that feeling when you escape the outside world and watch a film in the morning, and wander out afterwards into daylight half-dazed and wholly refreshed? Imagine that, only after a late-night screening of The Green Inferno, made even later by an anecdote and film recommendation-filled Q&A with director Eli Roth. As much as I’m looking forward to experiencing Roth’s bad-taste Amazonian cannibal splatstick again with the Film4 FrightFest crowd in August, there’s simply no beating a saunter down Princes St – Edinburgh’s spinal thoroughfare – as the sunset cooks the Castle and the Scott Monument atomic tangerine to set a film into sharper focus.

At their best, film festivals can make it feel like you’ve fallen off the edge of the Earth into a realm where cinema is both language and currency. For a city so engaged in political discourse as the Scottish Referendum looms, can you judge Edinburgh’s film festival for indulging in a bit of wilful escapism? Traces of an interplay between political disillusionment and cinematic release are found in the genre fare of Gerard Johnson’s Film4-backed bent-coppers drama Hyena, which opened the festival in supremely stylish and grimy fashion, and Bong Joon-Ho’s long-delayed dystopian adventure Snowpiercer, but it’s a theme that finds fullest form in Edinburgh’s more modestly budgeted world premieres.

Life May Be

Life May Be

Filmmaker and critic Mark Cousins acts as one of Edinburgh’s guardian angels, and this year he brought with him a new film, Life May Be, an epistolary essay film made in collaboration with London-based Iranian filmmaker Mania Akbari. Told over a succession of video letters between the two directors, often featuring a mix of voice-over, montage and home video footage, the dialogue develops quickly from a conversation between critic and creator (Cousins uses a liner-note piece written for a recent DVD release of Akbari’s work as a starting point) towards a rather intimate discussion about identity and exile.

As with Cousins’ deep-dive ruminations on cinema, The Story Of Film and A Story Of Children And Film, Life May Be is delightfully uncompromising in its intellectual tone, but endearingly so, especially once the two filmmakers gel into a poetic double act, Akbari building a new life in a new city, Cousins uncovering endless connections and resonance while jetting from film festival to film festival across the globe. Reclining on a hotel room sofa, snaffling Sour Cream & Chive Pringles, Cousins riffs on the taboo of nudity, the covering up of ‘the most beautiful thing we have’, while disrobing across jump cuts. ‘My body is my country, and it’s constantly changing,’ Akbari concludes, casting off the dead skin of the past in a protracted bathing sequence. In typically rapturous response, Cousins responds with a montage of transcendent images of waterfalls, soundtracked by holy choirs, emblazoned with the question: ‘Mania – are you bathing for Paradise?’

Hide And Seek

Hide And Seek

Paradise, in a way, is the goal of four young adults in Joanna Coates’ assured debut drama Hide And Seek. Fleeing London for a rural cottage, they form a commune based on free love and free play, with nightly bed-swapping and a rota of parlour games making up their strings-free routine. Like Life May Be, the film sets the taboo of nudity in its sights, indulging in unhurried sex scenes that frame wanton intimacy as social rebellion.

Shot through with sun-kissed cinematography that highlights the country idyll, the film attempts to dig deep into issues related to today’s (white, middle-class) youth. What they’re hiding from is never explicitly stated, although it’s hinted that disappointment, disillusionment and grief are somewhat responsible. What they’re seeking, however, are those deceptively difficult ideals that seem so easily attainable when viewed through youthful eyes. Why play according to the adults’ rules if it makes so many people so unhappy?

Hide And Seek, though, is a children’s game, but while this fringe existence cannot last forever, Coates wisely stops short of the real world encroaching on the commune. She also resists the urge to take a genre route, and rather plays with the audience’s expectation that things will go awry, focusing more on the conflict between intellectual commitment and neurotic impulse, and the glacial shifts of feeling between the four quixotic commune dwellers. What does it say for the festival, or even national cinema, that the film went on to win the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film? Let’s take a stroll down Princes Street and mull it over.

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 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 or listen to the title track below:






Danny Boyle’s Shuffle Festival Jury and Prize announced

26 Jun, 2014 Posted in: Awards, Careers, Festivals, News, Short films, Talent

A short film competition is to be judged by Danny Boyle, Clio Barnard, Sally El Hosaini and Dexter Fletcher, with the top prize being a one-on-one mentoring session with Danny Boyle.

Shuffle Festival

July 30 to August 4 sees London’s most urban woodlands in Tower Hamlets’ Cemetery Park become a festival of film, music and arts, with a short film competition judged by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), BAFTA Award-nominated director Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant), award-winning director Sally El Hosaini (My Brother the Devil) and actor and director Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith, Wild Bill).

Shorts can win prizes in three categories. The winner of the Science and the Imagination category gets a trip to California including a virtual reality session and visit to Google HQ in Silicon Valley, while the winner of The City category gets a one-on-one mentoring session with Danny Boyle, and the winner of the Young Filmmakers under 25 category gets a five-day lighting package for their next film.

Danny Boyle says “Shuffle is the most fun anyone can have in a graveyard in Mile End. The point of the festival is to help build a stronger community and campaign for permanently affordable housing in the area, so please do come on by.” The artistic director of the festival, Kate MacTiernan, adds: “This year, Danny Boyle and Shuffle Festival have created a new film prize, to recognise up-and-coming talent as well as celebrate the art of the short film – where concept, idea, character and visual execution must be realised quickly and concisely. We are thrilled that Danny Boyle will judge the competition and offer his expertise to the winner.”

Last year’s guests at Shuffle included Jarvis Cocker, Nic Roeg, Martin McDonagh, Julien Temple, Brian Cox, Tim Key, Underworld and Mark Kermode, with this year’s films and guests to be announced in due course.

Shuffle takes place from 30th July 2014 – 4th August 2014


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.