26 March, 2010

'Paradise' comes to Bradford

Tom Vincent, Film Programmer, talks about his favourite film of the 16th Bradford International Film Festival, showing today in Cubby Broccoli cinema at 4.45pm.

I saw Michael Almereyda's experimental documentary Paradise towards the end of my visit to the Viennale Film Festival in November last year. I went along to the screening knowing very little about the film, except that it was constructed from several years of Almereyda's own camcorder home movies collected now and then, and without design, on his various travels in America and other countries. Around 40 minutes in, and during a process of looking for connections and patterns in the material, and examining my own patterns of thought, I realised that Paradise was by some way the most affecting film not only of that festival, but of all the films I saw in 2009. Its effect was certainly mysterious, and I'm not certain I can describe yet quite why it worked so well for me. I do know that I'm very pleased and excited that the film is playing in Bradford for its UK premiere, and that I'll get a chance to have a second bite of the cherry...

25 March, 2010

Debunking the 'Alien' Myth!

You may be aware that John Hurt, recipient of the 16th Bradford International Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award, was the victim of the infamous chestburster scene in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).

What you may not know is that after the release of the film, a rumour emerged that the cast had no idea what would happen in the scene; only that Hurt’s character (Kane) would die.

During the John Hurt Screentalk last Saturday, the man himself revealed that the myth is only partly true! The cast were aware of the chestburster puppet, but not the fake blood and viscera which would accompany it – one stream of blood unwittingly flew straight toward cast member Veronica Cartwright, whose hysterical reaction was captured on camera.

Alien won the 1979 Academy Award for visual effects, and earned itself a place in Empire magazine’s countdown of the greatest 18-rated moments of all time.

Re-live the moment in glorious 70mm when Alien is screened on Saturday at 2pm as part of the Widescreen Weekend.

Hear more from John Hurt on the National Media Museum Podcasts page.

24 March, 2010

Still to come at Bradford International Film Festival

We hope you’re enjoying the festival so far, and that you’ve not missed any of the highlights of the 16th Bradford International Film Festival.

If you’re trying to decide which screenings to attend over the next few days, here is a quick run down of some of the special events still to come which are sure to captivate and delight their audience.

On Saturday at 8.30pm, we welcome BIFF patron and writer/director Alex Cox to the National Media Museum for a Q&A session after the UK premiere of Repo Chick – another anarchic adventure from the iconoclast who brought us Repo Man – in which society heiress Pixie De LaChasse (Jaclyn Jonet) is disinherited by her family and stripped of her $77 million fortune. Ordered to get a job, Pixie becomes a repo chick for repossession agent Arizona Gray, before joining a band of environmental terrorists with one aim in mind: to criminalise golf!

Also on Saturday at 1.15pm, we will be screening Blue Sky (1991), the final film from Shipley-born director and local hero Tony Richardson. It stars Tommy Lee Jones, Powers Boothe and Jessica Lange (who won an Oscar for her flamboyant performance in this role). Jones is Hank Marshall, a radiation expert whose work problems become embroiled with those created by his sexy wife, Carly (Lange). The screening includes an extended introduction and talk by local film expert Keith Withall.

Greenberg is the new film from director Noah Baumbach who brought us The Squid and the Whale (2005), and is the writing talent behind some of Wes Anderson’s finest films. Ben Stiller plays New Yorker Roger Greenberg, who moves to Los Angeles to figure out his life and housesit for his brother, Philip. An eccentric connection with the family’s PA, Florence, keeps him from doing nothing, and soon they begin to see their zoned lives in a more connected way. Baumbach’s latest comedy drama will be showing at 6pm on Sunday.

Finally, one of the special events we are proud to present at this year’s festival is a unique screening of The Phantom of the Opera (1925). The film will be accompanied on the Wurlitzer cinema organ by international concert organist Donald MacKenzie, who specialises in the accompaniment of silent films and has over 20 feature films at his fingertips including Carmen and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He has appeared on BBC Radio 2, 3 and 4, the World Service, and played for Her Majesty the Queen at several Royal Film Performances. Don’t miss this timeless classic and live performance on Sunday at 7pm.

Charting the Uncharted States

Neil Young is a film programmer and is instrumental in putting together the Uncharted States strand of the Film Festival each year. He talks about his selection of movies for the 2010 festival.

This is the fourth year that I've put together a selection of the best independent American productions under the Uncharted States of America banner. And that means genuinely independent (off-radar, underground, low-budget stuff, not studio-funded "indie" movies.

Once again I'm dazzled by the sheer variety and quality of stuff that's being made over there, very far from Hollywood (in terms of distance and also originality).

Several of this year's selections have never been shown before outside the USA, including Peter Thompson's unclassifiable essay-movie about Dutch art and history, Lowlands (Wed 24 in Pictureville, Thu 25 in Cubby Broccoli) and Kris Swanberg's very warmly-reviewed Costa Rica-set drama It Was Great, But I Was Ready To Come Home (Sat 27 in Otley).

Both of these films are part of a trend whereby American film-makers venture beyond their shores in search of inspiration - another is Jennifer Oreck's dazzling documentary on Japan's fascination with all things entomological, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (Sun 28 in Cineworld), which must be a strong contender for BIFF 2010's most irresistable title.

As in previous years, however, most of the Uncharted selections display a strong engagement with contemporary American economics, politics and geography - perhaps most notably exemplified by Lucy Raven's China Town (showing in a double-bill with Lowlands), a visually remarkable movie made up of dozens of still images that show how copper is mined, processed and eventually exported.

But whereas Uncharted States is essentially a guide to the most exciting newer film-makers in the world's richest and most powerful nation, we also like to have the occasional look back at previous groundbreakers. In collaboration with Watchmaker Films - who also brought us Eagle Pennell's The Whole Shootin' Match a couple of years back - we are really over the moon to present the long-unavailable debut from the great Tobe Hooper.

Hooper is best known for his seminal horror films including Poltergeist, Salem's Lot and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, so I think audiences will get a major surprise if they check out Eggshells (Fri 26 in Cubby), a "time and spaced film fantasy" from the 1969 that's a pure artefact of the hippie era.

Unmissable documentary Red Poet this coming Sunday

Yesterday I attended the World Premiere of Red Poet, a documentary exploring the life and career of Jack Hirschman, a ‘Communist Poet in America’. More than this he is a man who displays passion, a love of poetry, art and language, and an unfaltering desire to right the wrongs of corporate America and speak out against political injustice.

We were joined by producer Fran Furey (father of the director Matthew Furey) who introduced the film and stayed afterwards for a Q&A. He pleased the local contingent by mentioning that Aggie Falk, Swedish poet and wife of Jack Hirschman, lived in Hebden Bridge before moving to San Francisco, which drew a few cheers from the audience and is a fortuitous association considering Hebden Bridge Picture House is one of the satellite venues for Bradford International Film Festival this year.

I must admit that I’d not heard of Jack Hirschman before watching this documentary, and I regret not having had the opportunity to delight in his stream of consciousness until now. Indeed, I went home last night and ordered some of his works - I only wish that Jack himself would be there to deliver the words, an experience which compels a fellow poet and friend to remark that he is not performing, but proclaiming the poem.

We heard about a story that the 19-year-old Hirschman sent to Ernest Hemingway, one of his early idols. Hemingway replied, "I can't help you, kid. You write better than I did when I was 19. But the hell of it is, you write like me. That is no sin. But you won't get anywhere with it." Hirschman sold the letter to the local paper and bought a station wagon with the proceeds. When Hemingway killed himself shortly after in 1961, the "Letter to a Young Writer" was published by the New York Times.

All of Hirschman’s friends and peers interviewed in the film speak warmly of his passion, enthusiasm and talent. One recounts how Hirschman wants to immediately read his poetry upon completion, which not only reveals that he is in love with it, but its as if he is a child wanting to show something beautiful that he’s made.

There was a period during the 1970s when Hirschman wrote a poem every day in the Russian language – no mean feat, but a mere drop in the ocean when you consider that he has translated books from over nine languages!

This expertise has earned Hirschman a following in pockets all over Europe, despite remaining somewhat underground in his native USA. A possible explanation for this is his overt communist political ideology, of which he states: “I wasn’t born a Communist; I was made one by the things I saw, the things that I studied, the things that I naturally felt.”

Hirschman’s political involvement is well documented in the film, from his role in the anti-homelessness movement of the 1980s, to his being fired from a lectureship at UCLA for alleged “activities against the state” when he spoke out against the war in Vietnam. It seems to me that Furey wants his audience to focus not on the Communist label which Hirschman proudly wears despite it keeping him from mainstream success, but on the successes of his social conscience and incredible talent, which must not go unnoticed.

After the film, we were due to have the Q&A session with Fran although this turned into an informal chat in the bar area – which was perhaps more in keeping with the spirit of the film. And if you missed the inspirational Red Poet, don’t worry; it's showing again on Sunday 28 March at 3pm with another Q&A taking place after the screening. We hope to see you there.

As a postscript, Film Programmer Tom Vincent told me that Jack Hirschman was initially very keen to attend the Film Festival for the premiere of the documentary. However he was called away at the last minute after receiving an invitation to visit Iraq by the Minister of Culture. A rather unorthodox gig for a man with Hirschman’s history, but nevertheless a fitting gesture for a translator and poet so fascinated by myriad cultures around the world, both past and present.


23 March, 2010

Next Stop: Hollywood North

Ben Haller, freelance writer for US and Canadian television, is a member of the selection committee for BIFF, and responsible for Hollywood North - a new strand for Bradford International Film Festival after the success of its Canadian entries last year. I asked Ben what he has enjoyed so far, and what he is looking forward to in the coming week.

As I was slowly enchanted by the wondrous cinematography of Benoit Pilon's The Necessities of Life, I was drawn back to the words of Steinbeck, “As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”

Most films endeavour to achieve such moments, many fall far short. The triumph of Pilon's heart-warming Quebecois film (about an Inuk forced to recuperate from tuberculosis in the big city) is not that it achieves such a moment but that it spawns many.

And the two cinemagoers who stayed to talk to me about the film for an hour after its conclusion on a rainy Bradford Sunday night hailed it as "the best so far at this year's festival."

I am a firm believer in the notion that films find the viewer on occasion - I have certainly found a few hidden gems in film festivals - so I am thrilled that the two festival attendees found that something special at Bradford this year. That is what a film festival should be about in my view.

And there is still of course plenty more to come! Tonight we are delighted to welcome Imelda Staunton to discuss her exceptional career so far; on Thursday we screen the highly-talked-about premiere of Chris Morris' Four Lions, and on Friday Bradford will be invaded by Cinerama and widescreen enthusiasts of the world for this year's Widescreen Weekend.

I shall certainly be in attendance for cult films Die Hard and Alien in 70mm, as well as the not-to-be-missed rare chance to see The Alamo in 35mm thanks to Cinema Retro magazine!

But before I indulge in the wonders of cinema's past, may I point you to another of my selected titles for Hollywood North - Rafael Oullet's New Denmark screening at the Otley Courthouse Arts Centre on Thursday at 9pm.

The extension of BIFF’s arm across Yorkshire sees a strictly unconventional Quebecois film that awed audiences at Toronto and Vary Karlov last year finds it's way into a fantastic venue in Otley, for what I am sure will be a night of new discoveries and stimulating conversation. I hope to see you all there…

22 March, 2010

John Hurt awarded Lifetime Achievement at BIFF 2010

Ben Eagle, Festival Producer, had the honour of presenting John Hurt with his Lifetime Achievement award at BIFF on Saturday night.

"John Hurt joined us on Saturday for a wonderful event led by Tony Earnshaw, the Festival’s Artistic Director. After an introductory speech from Tony, followed by a clip from David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, John Hurt was greeted by rapturous applause from the sell-out crowd."

"Whilst covering a vast amount of Hurt’s repertoire, the 90 minute interview was sufficiently in-depth but left the audience hungry for more as Hurt’s filmography (supplied to the audience as they entered) is in excess of 150 films, all of which couldn’t be mentioned for obvious reasons!"

"Strictly speaking, this wasn’t the first time John had graced Pictureville’s stage. He appeared in Paper Zoo’s theatre production of George Orwell’s 1984 in June 2009 – playing the on-screen Big Brother, which I was heavily involved with. We had spent an afternoon filming with John in London last year and have since stayed in contact. Due to our working together, Tony felt it appropriate that I present John with the BIFF 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award, which I was delighted to do. John received a standing ovation on receiving the award and gave a very gracious but unassuming acceptance speech."

"He was greeted by a large amount of fans outside who he happily spent time meeting and signing autographs for. It was a thoroughly entertaining, enlightening and exciting event which received some wonderful feedback and really was a highlight of the Festival. "

We hope you enjoyed John Hurt's Screentalk if you were in attendance on the night. If you missed it, or want to re-live the evening, you can now listen to a podcast of the interview here.

20 March, 2010

Don't You Forget About BIFF’s teen movies

One of the most popular strands at this year's Film Festival is "Don't You Forget About Me", a retrospective of six perfect teen movies from the 1950s to the 1990s.

It features six much-loved films across three generations - Rebel Without A Cause, Dirty Dancing and The Breakfast Club among others - it sparks memories of teen awkwardness and alienation, rebellion against authority and insights into the seemingly cool American teen landscape.

Tom Vincent, one of the Museum's film programmers, explains his choice of movies for the strand; "these films aren't in the critical canon, but they continue to engage broad audiences and I think they’re well worth exploring".

He constructed a wishlist of films and by a process of elimination whittled the list down to six great examples of the genre. "I think we’ve got a good range of movies. I would have liked more from the 1950s, such as The Blackboard Jungle and Marlon Brando's The Wild One, but I think we're showing a great range of films that strike a chord."

One such film is Pump Up The Volume from 1990, one of the later films in the strand, featuring a young Christian Slater as an anonymous college kid by day, renegade DJ inflaming the town's authorities by night.

"It's one of the most sincere films in the genre," Tom explains, "It holds up well because unlike many teen films from that era, the characters and in particular the soundtrack don't patronise the intended audience". Compare Simple Minds’ “Don't You Forget About Me” from The Breakfast Club to Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows", a song that recurs throughout Pump Up The Volume, and it’s clear that the Slater film was made to stand the test of time rather than to focus on a more momentary trend.

The strand is bookended by two contextual movies, the quintessential outsider movie Rebel Without a Cause from 1955, and Welcome To The Dollhouse 40 years later.

With Rebel Without a Cause Tom explains "it chimed perfectly with what was to become the baby boomer generation, and that gulf of understanding between kids and their parents’ generation. Teenagers wanted to see someone ‘cool’ railing against 'The Man'." Rebel Without a Cause supplied this to the newly-independent teen demographic.

In contrast, Welcome to the Dollhouse by Todd Solondz is a conscious attempt, in Tom's words, "to kill the genre by pushing the alienated ‘ugly duckling’ scenario as far as it’ll go. By exaggerating the setup, Solondz makes the audience look again at how the genre works. The fact that the film is genuinely funny as well as painful shows that he got it just right".

Teen movies are now in a healthy position but are a different beast to the earlier cycles. "The female characters are much stronger - look at the Twilight series of movies for example, or the film that came out at the same year as Welcome to the Dollhouse, Clueless, which spawned a several imitators of its own. Girl characters are more assertive now, the ‘jock’ types are marginalised and the ‘outsider’ male lead has morphed into more of an inclusive 'metrosexual’."

18 March, 2010

City of Film Welcomes 'City of God' Director, Fernando Meirelles

Patience is a virtue when working on a film festival of the size, scope and complexity of BIFF. Having an international dimension also presents its own unique challenges.

So attracting a genuine star in the shape of Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (his screentalk is followed by a screening of his cult hit City of God) to the city is something of a coup.

The festival team has been working with Mr. Meirelles since last autumn, attempting to steer a route through his ridiculously heavy schedule to arrange flights and a mutually convenient date for his exclusive on-stage Screentalk interview.

To achieve what promises to be one of the highlights of the 16th Bradford International Film Festival we worked closely with the Embassy of Brazil to fly Meirelles from Sao Paulo to Yorkshire. He appears in Bradford in conjunction with the University of Leeds and will be interviewed by LĂșcia Nagib of the Centre for World Cinemas.

Fernando’s described as “one of the ten greatest filmmakers working in the world today” and he’ll discuss his career in a interview tomorrow evening, presented by BIFF in partnership with the University of Leeds and the Embassy of Brazil. We’re delighted to welcome him to BIFF for what is his first UK retrospective.

08 March, 2010

Simon Roberts - Bradford Photo

Simon Roberts was commissioned by the Museum to produce a photograph of an outdoor leisure activity or event that took place within the Bradford district. In the true spirit of We English Simon invited members of the public to send in their suggestions through the commission website http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/exhibition/simonroberts so that he could make a selection to photograph.

Hear what Simon had to say about the process and how public participation plays a vital role in this work.

Come and see which activity was selected for the Bradford commission when the exhibition opens to the public on the 12 March.

02 March, 2010

Frederick Evans Loan

Last month saw the dispatch of a loan from the Museum's collection to The Getty Museum in LA. The loan, composed of various photography works by Frederick Evans, was accompanied to LA by the Museum's curator of photography, Phillippa Wright. I joined Phillipa and mounting expert Tony Rey as they mounted and framed the photographs ready for and transport.

Tony's job is to measure, cut and fit mounts - surroundings for photograpghs. In the case of the Evans collection, this is of particular note; Evans himself was a pioneer in not only photography itself, but of the mounting and exhibition of photographs. Tony has been mounting since 1980 and started doing work for the Museum in 1991. In contrast to the decorative, multilayer mounting often used by Evans, Tony's mounting today is fairly minimal, securing the works for their long haul to The Getty.

The Evans images are currently on display at The Getty Museum, running from the 2nd February to the 6th June. More information is available on The Getty website. Once the works return from The Getty, they'll rejoin our extended collection of photographs by Frederick Evans for our upcoming exhibition.