For the last two weeks, the 20th Bradford International Film Festival has been in full swing, during which time I ate a lot of fish and chips, Brian Cox picked up a lifetime achievement award, and one Bradfordian attempted to recreate King Kong.
It occurred to me before my final screening, Rushmore, how important comfort is to the cinema experience. How all distraction and discomfort inhibits immersion in the film’s narrative. I wonder how often black-tie impedes a member of Hollywood royalty fully enjoying a feature’s premier: picture Tarantino losing concentration during the ear-scene - his collar too tight; Scar Jo missing that ending - a pin sticking into her back; Heston fidgeting during the chariot race - he needs to readjust his underwear. Just think what could only be solved were tracksuits socially acceptable. Maybe the Oscars, Cannes etc. should take the BIFF’s lead, focus less on the ceremony and more on the films.
In that spirit, here are our top 5 BIFF 2014 highlights:
Coal Miners Day
Our perception of coal mining is shaped by the 80s - deindustrialisation, strikes, Thatcher. This documentary, directed by French filmmaker Gael Mocaer, allowed a more human-centric insight into the life of coal miners in the Ukraine. The life of a coal mine is hard and scenes at the coal face feel as if they could have been drawn from Wigan Pier - a minute’s silence during the film’s opening reminding us of the mine’s dangers, though the film was brightened by the humour of its subjects - the miners bicker amongst one-another and joke with Gael throughout.
With Sally Potter collecting the BIFF Fellowship award, during the first weekend a selection of her early short films were shown. In her early work I expected to find hints of the filmmaker who later won critical acclaim with Rage and The Last Tango Dance. Instead I found Thriller. Thriller is Sally’s 1979 deconstruction of the opera La Boheme, rewritten from the perspective of seamstress Mimi, exploring why Mimi must die at the opera’s conclusion. The film is considered a seminal work of feminist film criticism, and watching the piece made me question why film isn’t used more often as a critical medium. The criticism was never dry, appropriating the music from Psycho to both dramatic and comedic effect, and eventually reaching the conclusion that Mimi is murdered, with this ending allowing Mimi to remain her creator’s ideal woman.
Bradford Halifax London
At a festival that showcases work from around the globe, it was nice to see something from a little closer to home. The short film, directed by Francis Lee of Straw House Films, follows 9 minutes of a family’s (father, pregnant mother, daughter) train journey from Bradford to Halifax. Whilst the mother and father bicker, the daughter stares out the window. They continue to argue and the mood grows increasingly irate. All until the tension is broken by fart. Family life’s not always easy, but these peculiar moments of intimacy can remind us of the love only families can share.
A Shadow Within
Famous for directing The Castles of Sand, the BIFF saw retrospective screenings of Yoshitarō Nomura’s crime films. These films are rarely seen outside of Japan and it was interesting to watch films that allowed a cultural insight into Japan’s return to prominence in the late 60’s/70’s. A Shadow Within is a psychological-thriller in the mold of Hitchcock which explores the male anxieties that come with industrialisation, as male-imparted traditional values fade and women gain increased independence. It also contains the greatest visual depiction of the horror of walking in on a parent having sex that I have ever seen.
Wes Anderson’s Rushmore was screened as part of the festival’s celebration of Brian Cox’s career. Though in truth, the film owes more to its direction and Jason Schwartzman's performance than it does to Brian (who has a relatively minor role). Released before it felt as if Wes was self-consciously imitating his own style, and before he was every art student’s go-to filmmaker, Rushmore is the work of a director at the top of his game. Most importantly, it is very very funny.