Friday, 30 March 2012

Vilnius - Final Post

Yesterday was the closing ceremony of the festival and we awarded our CICAE prize to BEST INTENTIONS, a Romanian feature which stood far above the rest of the competition films. It was shot in a subjective POV style (imagine Peep Show but less irritating) with quite astonishing consistency and powerful camerawork. All round top notch performances and a simple yet completely universal story.

The main jury prize went to the Polish drama COURAGE, about two rival brothers running a business until a tragic event makes one of them question everything. A fairly conventional picture, it was solid and never boring, but I thought it unremarkable.

The main jury also gave BEST INTENTIONS a special mention for Direction and a shared acting prize for the lead actresses of AVE, KLIP and LOVERBOY.

KLIPS was the film with the most buzz behind it because of its explicit sexual scenes featuring teenagers - the problem is I found the sex boring even if the rest of the film was fairly interesting, if a little cliched.

I won't review every single film here, but special mention should go to THE ISLAND a really bizzare film which is really two features packed into one. It's poorly made at every level and I found it crossed the line between bad, good and back to bad again a few times.

Another interesting one was THE IDIOT, an Estonian adaptation of Dostoevasky's classic novel that was like being inside someone's nightmare for 145 minutes. A brave effort that fails on every count.

So, that might be my last festival this year as the work in Brighton heats up and we open our new venue (see previous post). I'll be recording a podcast with Rob talking about some of these films on Saturday. Until then, as they say in Lithuania, sudie!

A new venue

I return to the UK tonight after a week at the Vilnius Film Festival KINO PAVASIRIS - and as sad as I am to leave, I am super excited because of the news about our expansion being announced today back home.

For months now we have been in talks with the KOMEDIA, a great music, theatre and comedy venue in the heart of the North Laine in Brighton, about expanding the Duke of York's into their building. After finalising the details we were able to announce today that we're building a new three screen cinema inside the Komedia building. I'll be managing both sites and overseeing the opening, which is targeted for December this year.

We've been looking to expand for many years, with many unfruitful attempts at moving into the fire station next door - but this new development not only means more screens, it also begins a collaboration with a legendary Brighton venue and gives us presence in the heart of the city, in its coolest area.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Vilnius Day 3 & 4

The good weather has given way to snow and cold but the hospitality and relentless schedule of films has kept us warm. At this rate, I'll end up seeing more films than in Berlin!

Three more competition films. I probably should refrain from talking to much about them as we have to judge them in a few days, but we saw: THE MAIDEN DANCED TO DEATH, a Bulgarian film about two brothers trying to put on a dance production in Budapest; VISIBLE WORLD, an austere Slovakian feature with a lead actor that looks a lot like Billy Bob Thornton. And finally, COURAGE, a Polish drama also about two brothers in conflict. We have four more features to watch to complete the competition programme (I saw some of these already in Sarajevo - A TRIP, AVE & LOVERBOY)

THE FIRST MAN was a sincere yet flawed adaptation of Albert Camus' novel which fails to engage the audience despite the incendiary material it's dealing with (the Algerian-French war of the 1950s-60s, so beautifully rendered in Pontecorvo's BATTLE OF ALGIERS). The performance by Jacques Gamblin is fantastic, particularly since he is given very little to work with, and the flashbacks are cliched and slow the contemporary story down.

Yet another Herzog film, one that previews tonight in the UK, INTO THE ABYSS is the German director's exploration of a triple homicide in Texas and the aftermath for both victims and perpetrators. The film is so bleak and grim on every level that I felt as though someone had placed a huge slab of stone on my chest and it took all night to remove it. But I am uncertain how much that has to do with Herzog's film and how much to do with the subject itself. The story is populated with poor, uneducated people whose lives are a spiral of substance abuse, violence and prison time. Herzog's style of seeking out eccentric characters and looking for comic oddballs doesn't really work in this instance and it often feels like he has contempt for his protagonists. That contempt often crosses the line into ridicule and what should have been an austere and respectful piece becomes comedy for snobbish intellectuals as we laugh at the illiterate roofer or the delusional death row wife.

Four more features to go for the competition and I'm sure I'll watch some other films.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Vilnius, Day 1 & 2

I arrived late on Friday night to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius for the KINO PAVASIRIS film festival, where I am serving on the CICAE (International Federation of Arthouse Cinemas) Jury. We've go tot judge 11 competition films, but I am also using this as an opportunity to catch up on some other festival films.

Yesterday I watched EVEN THE RAIN, the Paul Laverty-scripted, Iciar Bollain (the Spanish actress turned director who made TAKE MY EYES) film starring Gael Garcia Bernal as an obsessive director making a film about Christopher Columbus in Bolivia at the height of the 'water wars' of 2000. His producer (Luis Tosar) is a cynical and tough businessman whose perspective on the world is transformed by events. I have great sympathy for Laverty, who wrote the Nicaragua-based CARLA'S SONG for Ken Loach and has written all of Loach's films since - and full disclaimer, Laverty is also a patron of the SAVE CINE ESTELI campaign I lead - and his concerns in this film are genuine and heartfelt. The film is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted (particularly Karra Elejade as a drunken actor playing Columbus), but the final act is highly implausible and lets the rest of the film down.

A new Werner Herzog film is, for many people, an event. So it's strange that HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA is not getting more attention. It has all the hallmarks of classic Herzog: animals behaving in incomprehensible ways, man battling nature, the cruelty of the elements, a heavily opinionated voice over, and eccentric characters. Perhaps because its a co-directorial effort with Russian filmmaker Dimitri Vasyukov, or because its been touring festival for a couple of years now and in the meantime we've had two other Herzog projects through the pipeline. Either way, it's a fascinating, beautifully made tale of life in one of the planet's most extreme environments. Unfortunately the DVD presentation was of a poor quality, but the sheer power of the images overcame this technical problem. HAPPY PEOPLE is essential viewing for Herzog fanatics who crave his brand of narrated man versus nature films.

Finally, the opening film of the competition programme (and the first we've all watched as a Jury) was MONTEVIDEO, GOD BLESS YOU, a Serbian film which has broken box office records in its native country - and you can see why. A nationalistic hymn to Serbian character and football skills, this is a cliche-ridden, high in fructose confection of a movie - and the audience loved every minute of it. The story of how the first Serbian football team came together in the 1930s, I can't see how this film can travel beyond the Balkans, with its constant references to Balkan history and cultural jokes about the former Yugoslavian republics. It also has one of the most grating violin scores ever placed on film. Apparently there is a sequel in production right now.

Today we have two more competition films to watch plus a short made by my friend Ieva - so I'll be back tomorrow to report on those.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


On Tuesday, Rob Beames and I recorded a podcast talking about all the Avengers movies: IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, IRON MAN 2, THOR & CAPTAIN AMERICA, as well as discussing our hopes and fears for the upcoming (and now awkwardly titled) MARVEL'S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, coming out April 27.

You can listen to it on iTunes or stream it off the Picturehouse website.

Unfortunately the all night Avengers marathon we had planned has been cancelled due to Paramount putting all the movies (except HULK, which is Universal) on moratorium. This is a common - and frankly ridiculous - practice amongst distributors, in the belief that this builds momentum or anticipation for the upcoming film. In fact what it does is annoy people at a time when attention is focused on these characters and films.

That set aside, we recorded the podcast not just to promote the now cancelled all-nighter, but because in cinematic history there hasn't been anything like this - and although the commercial and corporate decision making behind it is shameless, I do derive some genuine geek thrills from the idea of mixing all these superheroes into one movie, and I really hope it's successful.

The movies leading up to AVENGERS are wildly uneven, and I think that there are really only two good ones: THOR & CAPTAIN AMERICA. IRON MAN has some good moments but its sequel is a mess, and HULK is a massive misfire. THOR in particular is a pretty good film in any genre, and reminded me of Richard Donner's SUPERMAN, which takes a trashy comic book and tries to elevate it to the level of drama. Branagh tackled the story as seriously and as stylishly as his Shakespeare adaptations and delivers thrills with believable characters.

CAPTAIN AMERICA, now one of Rob's favorite films, is an honest, simple movie that does the job, but I don't share his wild enthusiasm, given the structural problems.

I was very pleased to hear Joss Whedon was chosen to helm the AVENGERS movie. I'm a big fan of his BUFFY and FIREFLY series and his only feature SERENITY. I think he's a talented writer, and always delivers strong female characters. His deft skill with an ensemble and intimate knowledge of the comic book world - and as the creator of his own 'universe' - he seems like a perfect choice for this job. This shows a creative nerve from Marvel which is absent from a lot of studios, who could've easily given this to someone as crass as McG or Michael Bay.

You can read Rob's much more comprehensive piece about the AVENGERS here.

I'm sure we'll talk about AVENGERS when we see it, so stay tuned!