Friday, 17 November 2017

31st Leeds International Film Festival, 1st-16th November 2017

As an active filmgoer the period between Halloween and Christmas is by far my busiest time of year. Seeking out contenders for the "year's best" I try to find possible highlights that have been mentioned in lists, journals, reviews, blogs and various websites. The deadline for my annual top 10 is roughly mid-December so it does feel a bit like a race at times. Sometimes I will extend this deadline for exceptional cases but the roundup inevitably loses a layer of interest by the time January comes around. Stuff I may have missed earlier in the year is usually available to rent or showing online by this stage. In addition there's usually a wealth of new releases from arthouse to blockbuster titles that are worth seeking out. Best of all though is the Leeds film festival which begins in early November. For roughly two weeks it gives me the chance to see advanced screenings of obscure and acclaimed new titles from all over the globe.

I first attended the festival in 2005 when I saw an early UK screening of Michael Haneke's Hidden and have got a single pass each year since 2013, which allows me to see as many titles as I can squeeze in to the time available. Occasionally this calls for tough decisions about what to see and what will have to be missed due to schedule clashes. Needless to say, having all this so close to home is a real godsend. Other parts of the UK are less fortunate.

Admittedly the festival preview in October - a 45 minute selection of trailers from highlighted films - didn't exactly fill me with excitement but that probably says more about the quality of trailers in contemporary cinema than anything else. Studying the programme over the coming days got my hopes up. Going through the contents and trying to come up with a workable timetable is all part of the fun. Now the festival is over I'm slightly reluctant to look again at the guide as it will no doubt reveal a plethora of enticing films that I managed to miss.

The Square
Several titles from this year's Cannes film festival were featured. Palme d'Or winner The Square was a prestigious opening film. New works by filmmakers such as Michael Haneke (Happy End), Hong Sang-soo (Claire's Camera), Todd Haynes (Wonderstruck) & Philippe Garrel (Lover for a Day) all appealed to my auteurist sensibilities. On a local level it was good to see Yorkshire represented by Dark River, which also had a Q&A with writer/director Clio Barnard and producer Tracy O'Riordan. The closing film was the much hyped Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which would go on to win the audience award.

 Lu Over the Wall
 Big Fish & Begonia
The animation Sunday (including Lu Over the Wall, Big Fish & Begonia Mutafukaz) was a little underwhelming compared to previous years and the Horror selections that I saw (Thelma, The Mimic, Tokyo Ghoul & Veronica) were further signs of the exhaustion, boredom and repetition that I see in much of today's genre fare. However the Fanathon: Manga Movie Marathon on Sunday 12th was an inspired addition. It consisted of 4 live action Manga adaptations, 3 of which (The Mole Song, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Blade of the Immortal) were directed by the prolific Takashi Miike.

The retrospective selection was extremely impressive this year and it's unfortunate that I had to miss so many interesting films of yesteryear. There was a dazzling selection of 1960s and 1970s European political thrillers, including The Mattei Affair, Investigation of a Citizen Above SuspicionZ, State of Siege, Seven Days in January, The Lost Honour of Katharine Blum, The Man on the Roof, The Flight, The Deputy and The Day of the Jackal. The works of Jan Nemec were featured, including Diamonds of the Night and Mother and Son. Alas I had to skip the silent films with live music accompaniments - Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger and F.W. Murnau's Tabu: A Story of the South Seas. It seems like every year I get a chance to see one of my all time favourites in the Town Hall and I have to pass up the chance. In 2016 it was Michael Mann's Heat, this year it was Perfect Blue. As I've already mentioned the focus for me is on new titles. However I allowed myself one major indulgence this year by seeing Michelangelo Antonioni's 1970 cult classic Zabriskie Point in the Town Hall. For all its flaws it really is a phenomenal experience when viewed on the big screen.
Zabriskie Point
There were a few casualties of timetable clashes and delineating between essential and secondary choices, as well as preferred venues. In terms of what I missed I don't have too many regrets. I would like to have found room for The Endless, primarily due to my inevitable interest in any film described as "Lovecraftian" or "Lovecraft-inspired". I saw Andrey Zvyagintsev's previous feature Leviathan at LiFF in 2014 and wasn't overly impressed so his new film Loveless was omitted from my choices due to fierce competition. Despite being in the lineup I decided to wait until after the festival ended to see The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Florida Project. Both of these will be showing at Hyde Park later in the month and so it seemed less crucial to see them at this point in time.

In total I saw 21 titles at the 2017 Leeds International Film Festival. The same number as 2016, although lower than prior years. I figure if I can see at least 3 or 4 standout titles over the course of the fortnight then it has been worthwhile. This year I'd say there were 6 that were exceptional. In previous years later films have suffered due to a fatigue factor but the second week offered a host of treats, some of which I will discuss in my yearly roundup in December. I was also able to add four more titles to my 52 films by women in 2017 project - The BreadwinnerDark RiverOh Lucy! and You Were Never Really Here.
You Were Never Really Here
My one major qualm was that I didn't feel like I had a great "discovery" this year. The films I enjoyed most were all the ones that I was most excited about from the beginning, mostly by well established filmmakers and that I had known about well in advance from other festivals earlier in the year. In prior years there has always been at least a couple of films that I watched on impulse or to fill a gap that unexpectedly blew me away. For example Persistence of Vision (2012), Garden of Words (2013), Stations of the Cross (2014), The Case of Hana & Alice (2015), Harmonium (2016) and A Silent Voice (2016). Unfortunately 2017's selection wasn't so fortuitous. Even the excellent thriller Good Time had garnered a lot of buzz among members of the Letterboxd community and cannot be classed as a "find" in any real sense.

The festival seems to have grown considerably over the years. Seeing high turnouts for such obscure or specialist titles is really encouraging at a time when the need for more diverse and adventurous product in cinemas feels as urgent as ever. Its importance in my film calendar cannot be overstated. Prior to this year's film festival 2017 was looking to be an almost total washout as a filmgoer. This festival certainly gave me a renewed sense of hope.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Brian Eno & Kevin Shields - Only Once Away My Son

Very excited to hear this new collaboration. Kevin Shields is playing a live show in Iceland in late December and has announced there will be live shows and a new album by My Bloody Valentine in 2018.