Festivals

Catherine Bray’s picks for the London Film Festival 2016

Sacha Lane stars in Andrea Arnold's American Honey

Sacha Lane stars in Andrea Arnold’s American Honey

This year, narrowing down my list of picks from the London Film Festival’s stellar line up has proven even more difficult than usual – there’s such a wealth of potential riches in the 2016 line-up. My colleague Michael has also contributed his picks, so for more top choices, click here – as usual, we’ve had to fight it out over some titles. Here are the 19 I managed to bag – in alphabetical order…

All This Panic, dir. Jenny Gage

I’m a sucker for an intimate coming-of-age movie, and All This Panic, which arrives in London with great buzz out of Tribeca, is exactly that in observational documentary form, filmed over three years in Brooklyn and focusing on two sisters, Ginger and Dusty, as they navigate the perils of high school politics and teen angst.

American Honey, dir. Andrea Arnold

When Andrea Arnold’s freewheeling road movie (which embeds us within a motley crew of young drifters as they travel the US scratching a living) premiered at Cannes, I was expecting many things, but not a show-stopping scene in a supermarket set to Rihanna’s We Found Love. For that – and other reasons – I can’t wait to revisit.

Divines, dir. Houda Benyamina

Divines snuck up on me. To begin with, it felt like a fairly unremarkable girls-in-the-hood yarn, but as the characters bedded in, I found myself swept up in the energy and emotion of the piece. I’m keen to see if a second viewing can replicate that rush.

Elle, dir. Paul Verhoeven

Of all the films on my list, this is the one. This is the one that I have an urgent need to re-watch which amounts to an almost physical itch. Tough, dangerous, funny, graceful, horrifying, mischievous, mortifying, it flies along on one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from Isabelle Huppert – or indeed anyone else. (Bonus content: there’s also a Paul Verhoeven ScreenTalk scheduled – expect provocations.)

La La Land, dir. Damien Chazelle

The raves greeting the world premiere of La La Land at the Venice Film Festival suggest that Damien Chazelle has not only equalled his breakout hit Whiplash, but may actually have surpassed it. Throw an appealing cast into the mix in the form of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and this could be one of the LFF’s most satisfying offerings.

Lady Macbeth, dir. William Oldroyd

Word has it that Lady Macbeth is the film that will elevate the likeable Florence Pugh to the status of bona fide star, in what is reportedly a thrillingly effective period drama driven by passion and infidelity.

LFF Connects: Television – Black Mirror
Black Mirror is one of the most exciting small screen shows of the past five years, so I’m raring to see creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, plus Joe Wright (who directs the first episode of the new series), discuss the dystopian series live.

Manchester by the Sea, dir. Kenneth Lonergan

Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler, Manchester By The Sea is only Kenneth Lonergan’s third film as a director. Following on from the lush epic that was Margaret, if it’s even half as good as that film, it will be well worth your time.

Mindhorn, dir. Sean Foley

Julian Barratt is MI5 Special Operative Bruce Mindhorn, who has a super-advanced optical lie detector in place of his left eye, enabling him to literally “see the truth.” Sold.

Nocturnal Animals, dir. Tom Ford

Whether you loved or loathed director Tom Ford’s glossy high-end commercial aesthetic in A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals will be worth a watch. An adaptation of Tony & Susan, a strange and compelling art house page-turner of a novel, the book’s meta-textual thriller structure should provide Ford’s visual flourishes with a more robust underlying skeleton.

Planetarium, dir. Rebecca Zlotowski

Rebecca Zlotowski’s Grand Central was a memorable Un Certain Regard entry for me in 2013, with scorching hot chemistry between leads Tahar Rahim and Léa Seydoux. Her follow-up, Planetarium, was anticipated as a likely Cannes entry this year and didn’t make an appearance, so I’m now extra curious to see what a combination of Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp and supernatural shenanigans in pre-war France can offer up.

Prevenge, dir. Alice Lowe

Dating back to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Alice Lowe has always been a talent to watch, but the electrifying response from those who’ve already seen her directorial debut about a pregnant serial killer in which she also stars suggests she’s about to take it to a whole new level…

Raw, dir. Julia Durcournau

This is one I’ve already seen, but am chomping at the bit to see again. Grisly cannibal horror meets campus hijinks in a Suspiria-esque hermetically-sealed universe, where logic bends and warps as a freshman student finds herself acquiring a taste for human flesh. A must-see.

Safari, dir. Ulrich Seidl

After training an unflinching lens on the frequently bizarre goings on in Austrian basements in off-beat doc In The Basement, Ulrich Seidl brings his darkly humorous formality and impeccable composition to the world of big game trophy hunting, in what is likely to be one of the most upsetting watches of the festival.

The 13th, dir. Ava DuVernay

Tracing the history of racial prejudice in the US justice system, Ava DuVernay’s The 13th couldn’t be tackling a more timely subject. The title refers to the 13th amendment, which supposedly outlaws slavery, but contains the notable get out clause: “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

The Autopsy of Jane Doe, dir. André Øvredal

A corpse is perfectly preserved on the outside – but inside, is dissected and burned in a possibly ritualistic mutilation. It’s a grisly, gripping set-up that evokes small screen procedurals like Hannibal, a show I’ve still yet to find an effective replacement for in my TV viewing. Perhaps this will do the trick.

The Ghoul, dir. Gareth Tunley

A splendidly twisty low-budget head-scratcher from actor-turned-writer-director Gareth Tunley, The Ghoul is an auspicious debut that announces a new voice in British filmmaking. Get in on the ground floor and catch his debut now.

Toni Erdmann, dir. Maren Ade

This three hour German comedy came completely out of the left field for me when I saw it in May. There’s very little about it on paper that hints at quite how glorious, moving and funny it is – it’s a real one-off, with everything from broad comic set-pieces to heart-wrenching father-daughter bonding. Essential.

Una, dir. Benedict Andrews

After her performance in Carol last year, I will watch literally anything with Rooney Mara in, but it doesn’t hurt that the Film4-backed Una also stars the ever-brilliant Ben Mendelsohn and is based on the acclaimed play Blackbird.

 

Animal magic: a shorts round-up from the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival

24 Jun, 2016 Posted in: Festivals, Opinion

Catherine Bray rounds up some of the most interesting shorts from the 70th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Before Love

Before Love

If the shorts I saw at Edinburgh this year had any sort of unifying theme, it might have been the projection of humanity into non-human spaces.

An experimental German short, Anome, from Lena Nissen, opens with a shot of a cat, staring impassively, the way cats do. It is used in a similar way to the cat in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, a feature film which opens with a gorgeous, well-fed pet cat staring emotionlessly as its owner (Isabelle Huppert) is raped on the floor of the apartment she and the cat both inhabit. In Anome, voiceover accompanying the image of the unblinking cat, asks:  “What do you think? Are you the evil? Or am I?”

Humans can’t keep themselves from constantly projecting human concepts onto cats, other animals and even inanimate objects – it’s one of those few traits that characterizes us as human. In Anushka Naanayakkar’s moodily affecting animated EIFF short, A Love Story, we find ourselves adrift in a world of textured wool, but the emotional tapestry into which we’re drawn is as resonant as the same narrative would be when played out by human actors. It’s a simple tale: two somewhat abstract woollen faces interact, become close and are threatened by an outside force, perhaps a parasite or simply evil itself. It’s a narrative we infer (or project) from non-human clues: the rich color palette, the eerie music, the reactions of the two faces.

Batrachian’s Ballad, from Leonor Teles, flips this dynamic on its head: instead of alien imagery made human through its presentation, the imagery is largely human and non-narrative – saturated archive footage of faces, gatherings, dancing and so on.

In counterpoint, a narrator relays an animal fable of a frog, shunned by its contemporaries before blowing poison all over them in an act of self-destruction. Among other things, it’s a reminder of the way that sometimes humans can only bear to understand their own behaviour through parables extracted from the animal kingdom.

It reminded me of the cockerel and finch sequences in six hour Miguel Gomes’ masterpiece Arabian Nights (though if you’re in a hurry, Teles’ short might serve you better at under twenty minutes).

Speaking of masterpieces, for me the crown jewel in the shorts programme was Russian animation entry Before Love, which illuminated and interrogated the human behaviours of infidelity, love, jealousy and murder in a murky, animalistic fashion in which an urban landscape (fleshed out vividly with on-point sound design) pulses like a jungle full of suppressed impulses.

A mordant feeling that civilization hangs by a thread pervaded the piece, fulfilling its promise in stormy, beautifully-lit violence as the piece neared its climax. Props to director Igor Kovalyov.

The EIFF runs 15th – 26th June 2016

 

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Five questions for Jim Gillespie

22 Jun, 2016 Posted in: Directors, Edinburgh, Festivals, Interview

We grabbed five minutes with Jim Gillespie after his Edinburgh International Film Festival directing masterclass to put five burning questions to the man behind I Know What You Did Last Summer, whose Channel 4/BFI short Joyride helped launch his career.

Joyride

Joyride

1. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the film industry since you made your Channel 4/BFI short, Joyride?

The rise of the “tent pole” movie to the exclusion of all those (often great) mid budget thrillers and dramas that used to make for a variety of choice for the audience.

2. What would you change about the film industry if you could?

The lack of risk taking and the current bias towards only financing projects based on existing IP. Original stories need to encouraged, irrespective of genre.

3. Which of your own films would you place in a time capsule for future generations and why?

Unquestionably I Know What You Did Last Summer. It hit one of those zeitgeist moments where the intended audience “got it” irrespective of any critical reaction. The title became part of the cultural ether of the time (still is), and being spoofed by The Simpsons (I Know What You Iddly-Diddly Did) was the ultimate compliment. That said, I hope my next film, Deep State (no, can’t tell you what it’s about yet) will replace it in the capsule.

4. Which other director’s body of work would you preserve for posterity and why?

The almost impossible question to answer! So many great filmmakers to preserve: Hitchcock, Wyler, Lean, Sturges, Hawks, and that’s just one small slice of one generation. But I think I’ll plump for Kurosawa. A master (in every sense) of humor, action and (most importantly) humanity. Ikiru is just a timeless classic – one of many in his body of work.

5. What’s the biggest creative risk you’ve ever taken?

Moving to Los Angeles with little more than my 10min short Joyride tucked into my bag, searching for an opportunity to tell stories on film. Changed my life.

Jim’s latest film Take Down is in cinemas 22nd August

 

East End Film Festival 2016: six of the best

17 Jun, 2016 Posted in: Festivals, Guest blog

This year’s East End Film Festival returns to London from 23 June – 3 July and as ever represents a celebration of the communal power of cinema, from British indies to the most powerful, mould-breaking new films from around the world. Plus parties and live cross arts events! Here head of programming Andrew Simpson lays out ‘Six of the Best’ from this year’s fest. Check out the full programme at www.eastendfilmfestival.com


Steve Coogan in Shepherds & Butchers

The UEL Centrepiece Gala for 2016, Oliver Schmidt’s Shepherds & Butchers is a classical courtroom potboiler with powerful turns from Steve Coogan (in one of his increasingly impressive serious roles) and Andrea Riseborough. A gripping Sidney Lumet style thriller with a powerful message, it’s screening on Wednesday 29 June at Hackney Picturehouse.

 

We Are The Flesh   

A grisly, wild kaleidoscope of a debut championed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Carlos Reygadas and Alfonso Cuaron, We Are The Flesh is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Set in a post-apocalyptic Mexico, a mysterious hermit is building a strange womb-like structure in the basement of an abandoned office building. When a young brother and sister arrive seeking shelter, he offers them protection in exchange for…well, that part’s a surprise – involving rebirth, cannibalism, and heavy amounts of getting down. Prepare to be wowed on Friday 1 July at Hackney Picturehouse.

 

Jim: The James Foley Story

Even within a festival that embraces the most timely, potent new documentaries, this may be the most prescient and relevant of the bunch. When war correspondent James Foley was brutally murdered live on the internet by the forces of ISIS, the shock and horror was palpable. Brian Oakes’ insightful, often devastating film explores Foley’s life, what drove him to enter the dangerous world of conflict journalism, and the permanent marks that his life and death left on those around him. Screening on Wednesday 29 June at RichMix.

 

Operation Avalanche 

A couple of years ago, everybody was rightly enraptured by Matt Johnson’s debut feature The Dirties. A hilarious, meta and highly disturbing mockumentary about teenage outcasts and high school massacres, Johnson has somehow managed to go one better with Operation Avalanche, the story of a CIA film crew going undercover at NASA during the space race. Toying with the notion that the moon landing was a ginormous hoax, it’s a rip-roaring ride through the world of conspiracy theories, Cold War paranoia and the clash of fact and fiction. Screening on Saturday 2 July at Hackney Picturehouse.

 

The Lure

The mermaid horror musical of this (or any other) year, The Lure is an absolutely barnstorming debut from Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska. Presented as a fairytale set to a phenomenal soundtrack, it sees two amphibious women emerge from the sea, and take up residence in a nightclub. Quickly installed as the city’s newest cabaret stars, their timeless bond will be challenged when one of them falls for a handsome musician. An enormous hit at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, see it Sunday 26 June at Hackney Picturehouse.

 

Cassette

The DIY music firestarter that launched the careers of a host of rock, punk and hip hop stars gets loving, celebratory treatment. Featuring the likes of Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), along with a host of aficionados and musicians still committed to the format, this is a film for anyone who loves music, and feels the lure of the analogue. Presented at the festival by director Zack Taylor, and the inventor of the compact cassette, Lou Ottens. Screening at the Genesis Cinema on Monday 27 June.

 

 

 

 

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Film4-backed film deals at Cannes 2016

23 May, 2016 Productions Posted in: Cannes, Uncategorized

In addition to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey taking home the Jury Prize, Film4 are thrilled to report that a number of deals were announced for Film4-backed films in Cannes…

 

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

A24 bought US rights, and Haut et Court snapped up French rights, to the next film from Yorgos Lanthimos. It was also announced that the film will reunite Colin Farrell with the director of The Lobster, which won the 2015 Cannes Jury Prize. Farrell will play Steven, a charismatic surgeon whose ideal life starts to fall apart, after a teenage boy who is trying to integrate him into his broken family starts to behave increasingly sinisterly. Inspired by a Euripides tragedy, the film was developed by Film4 in collaboration with Element Pictures, and is co-financed by Film4 and New Sparta under a partnership brokered by HanWay Films. The film is expected to begin shooting in August.

LEAN ON PETE

A24 picked up North American rights to British director Andrew Haigh’s (45 Years) next film ahead of its shoot in the US this summer. Other deals secured by Le Bureau Sales and Celluloid Dreams on the film included the UK (Curzon Artificial Eye), France (Ad Vitam), Benelux (Lumière), Greece (Seven Films), Switzerland (Filmcoopi), Italy (Teodora), South Korea (Beetwin) and China (DD Dream). Film4 supported the development of the film with The Bureau, and are backing the film alongside The Bureau and the BFI. Haigh will direct his own adaptation of Willy Vlautin’s acclaimed novel about 15-year-old teenager Charley, as he embarks on a perilous journey in search of his long lost aunt and a possible home, his only companion the stolen racehorse Lean on Pete.

AMERICAN HONEY

Focus Features acquired the majority of key international territories – including Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, UK, Italy and Scandinavia – to Andrea Arnold’s widely praised Competition entry. Sales agent Protagonist Pictures had already pre-sold to France (Diaphana) and A24 (US) ahead of the festival. The film is a Parts & Labor / Pulse Films Production in association with ManDown, which Film4 co-developed and co-financed alongside Maven Pictures and the BFI.