Friday, 18 November 2016

30th Leeds International Film Festival, 3rd-17th November 2016

When it comes to planning and prioritising titles at film festivals I seem to be getting better every year. It's hard to comment on the overall quality of the festival when I've seen such a small fraction of what was on offer and only 3 of the 20 audience favourites. However I have fewer regrets than usual about what I missed and didn't have the same level of fatigue by the end of the festival that I had in previous years. At the start of the second week I was fighting off a cough and bad cold which meant I had to drop films such as Jim Jarmusch's documentary on The Stooges( Gimme Danger), controversial French cannibal pic Raw and The Noonday Witch from my schedule.

As it's November I'm determined to focus on newer titles. As the year draws to a close it's a perfect opportunity to find potential highlights of 2016. Sadly this means skipping an exciting opportunity to see classic titles such as Heat, The Matrix, Blue Velvet, Woman in the Dunes and Cleo from 5 to 7 on the big screen. For the first time in years I missed the silent film screening with the live organ accompaniment (Pal Fejos's 1928 feature Lonesome). Most regrettable was not seeing the screening of Abel Gance's legendary Napoleon at the Town Hall. Under any other circumstances this would be a must-see event but in the middle of a punishing festival schedule the prospect of a 5 and a half hour silent epic is just too daunting. Fortunately a simultaneous DVD/Blu-Ray release from the BFI eases my disappointment but I can't help feeling like I passed up the chance of a lifetime to see this monumental film in its ideal environment.

I did make a concession for a 30th anniversary screening of Aliens as it took place on one of the quieter days and the introduction talk about the pulse rifle by the Royal Armouries added a layer of interest.
I wonder if some titles in the classics/retrospectives selection may fare better outside of a festival climate. There are occasional cinephile events throughout the year in Leeds but the determination to cram the festival programme with a year's worth of treasures could be self defeating. Having such an emphasis on a 2 week feast of films in November feels a bit restrictive. The desire to please everyone seems to be working however as the organisers proudly announced that this is now the UK's second biggest film festival outside of (surprise, surprise) London. Alas there as no sign of my most eagerly anticipated film of 2016 - Paul Verhoeven's Elle, which found its way on the London film festival programme in October.

Another gripe was that I wasn't able to work the late additions to the programme - MoonlightMy Life as a Courgette and audience favourite Mindhorn - in to my timetable as they clashed with titles I already had my mind set on and they didn't get repeat showings. For similar reasons I sadly missed out on intriguing sounding documentaries such as S1 and Homo Sapiens.

The opening and closing titles were both smart choices. Jim Jarmusch's likable Paterson got things off to a flying start and critics favourite Toni Erdmann (which went down a storm at Cannes this year) was a highly anticipated finale to the festival. On the auteur front there were new offerings from Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Creepy), Park Chan-wook (The Handmaiden), Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women), Cristi Puiu (Sieranevada), Cristian Mungiu (Graduation), Spike Lee (Chi-Raq), Bertrand Tavernier (A Journey Through French Cinema) and Xavier Dolan (It's Only the End of the World). Titles such as Train to Busan and Under the Shadow reaffirmed my complete lack of interest in modern Horror films. I passed on the chance to see Nate Parker's much debated The Birth of a Nation and Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge as both should be on general release fairly soon. The most enjoyable day for me came early on with the Animation Day at the Town Hall. Last year I unwisely watched all of the day's films whereas this year I managed 3 (KizumonogatariThe Red Turtle & A Silent Voice) out of 5.

I stuck mainly to official selection titles but there were curious assemblies of films under several banners including New Wave Women, Iconic Soundtracks, Norwegian Comedies, Music on Film and Underground Voices. Here's a link to a list of the films I watched at the festival over the past two weeks.

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