Monday, 23 November 2015

29th Leeds International Film Festival (5-19 November 2015)

Leeds Film Festival 2015

The 29th Leeds International Film Festival (5-19 November 2015) ended last week and although draining at times there was much to be thankful for. I’ll talk about individual titles in more detail in my yearly roundup but there was certainly no shortage of highlights. In terms of variety it caters very well to cinephiles and more casual filmgoers. It’s hard to do justice to the programme of films on offer without going in to great detail but I’ll try to give a summary of what intrigued me.
 
The official selection included new works from filmmakers such as Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Assassin), Todd Haynes (Carol), Peter Greenaway (Eisenstein in Guanajuato), Hirokazu Koreeda (Our Little Sister), Paolo Sorrentino (Youth), Terence Davies (Sunset Song) and Jafar Panahi (Taxi Tehran). There were early UK Screenings of much hyped new titles like festival opener Brooklyn, Tangerine, Grandma, Son of Saul, Black Mass, Victoria, Room and The Club. As usual, Anime Sunday provided a showcase for contemporary Japanese animated fare, including the new Ghost in the Shell movie. Particularly impressive was the showings of such “lost” classics as Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1960 Siberian adventure film Letter Never Sent and 1919’s Nerves, considered by some to be the first German expressionist film, a restored version of Philip Ridley’s extraordinary 1990 oddity The Reflecting Skin and the 1981 Hungarian animated feature Feherlofia (aka Son of the White Mare).

Carrying on the tradition of screening silent films, both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nanook of the North were shown to glorious effect in the town hall with a live organ accompaniment. The retrospective screenings also included a chance to see The Iron Giant, Blade Runner: The Final Cut, Rosemary’s Baby, La Silence de la Mer, The Big Blue and Leon on the big screen. To the programmer’s credit Apocalypse Now was shown twice and I was pleased to discover that on both occasions it was the original cut and not the cynical and redundant 2001 redux version, which barely warrants a footnote to Coppola’s original film. On the documentary front there were two very worthwhile pieces of film history in the form of Kent Jones’s Hitchcock/Truffaut and From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses. Directors in attendance included Pupi Avati (doing a Q & A to accompany The House with the Laughing Windows, which showed alongside his zombie flick Zeder) and Jerome Bonnell (All About Them).

It all sounds too good to be true and needless to say I couldn’t schedule in all these films over the two weeks of the festival as there were many clashes on the programme. I wish I could have got to the Brief Encounter event and regret missing such titles as The Measure of a Man (a showcase for the great French actor Vincent Lindon), Andrei Konchalovsky’s The Postman’s White Nights, Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog and Bone Tomahawk (a Kurt Russell Western that sounds much more intriguing than Tarantino’s forthcoming Hateful Eight). As I was back at work in the second week most of my screenings were crammed in to the first week. Enthusiasm can only go so far and there were a couple of times where I was watching my fourth film of the day at 10.30pm and fatigue took over. The Piotr Szulkin double bill of obscure, hard hitting science fiction (Golem and The War of the Worlds: Next Century) was an extremely challenging afternoon at a point when I probably needed a bit of escapism. 

Having purchased a festival pass I had almost unlimited access to the films on offer. I could have been more adventurous with my choices but with over 300 screenings across 15 days you have to be selective and prioritise to some degree. With the documentaries I played it fairly safe by sticking to subjects I’m well versed in (Hitchcock and Weimar cinema) as opposed to something outside my comfort zone. As usual I’ve ignored Horror titles completely, as the genre holds little appeal or interest for me these days. Much of what was showing looked to be dull, derivative and uninspired and I wasn’t willing to seek out obscure gems when time was so limited.

Sadly the damp squib of the festival was the filmed John  Carpenter Q & A that preceded the showing of The Thing. It was a pre-recorded rather than live interview which was hit by technical difficulties, while Carpenter himself seemed to have a notable lack of enthusiasm about the whole thing. His sardonic, don’t-give-a-sh*t attitude got a bit wearying at times but it was nice to hear him reminisce about the late, great Roddy Piper and I was thrilled to hear he will have another album out (plus live shows!) next year. While I hold out little hope for a new film, his recent music ventures have certainly been a cause for excitement. I also enjoyed the Carpenter poster exhibition at the North Bar, which was well worth seeing. The selection of Carpenter titles showing (The Fog, Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China and They Live) was hard to argue with and if anyone needed to be reminded of Carpenter’s well earned legendary status there were 5 titles that fit the bill perfectly.

In all the years that I’ve been going to the festival I thought that this was the best lineup yet. Even though I’d done my research there were a few misjudgements and grievous errors in my choices, but that’s all part of the fun I suppose. There’s always an element of guesswork involved with these things but it was well worth the effort and I certainly found a lot of use for the festival pass that I bought. I'm already looking forward to next year's festival.

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