Volunteering at Edinburgh International Film Festival is the only way I could afford to be here and it was still a big investment for a potential networking opportunity. I still haven’t found a producer for my short film (…anyone?!) but I met some brilliant people and saw some truly incredible films. Here’s my run-down of the 71st Ed Film Fest – bearing in mind I don’t read reviews (or even blurbs) – these are recommended purely on what spoke to me.
Disclaimer: I was always taught if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, so of the few real disappointments, including two walk-outs, I’ll keep schtum.
God’s Own Country – Francis Lee (2017)
The opening night gala screening, winner of the festival’s own Michael Powell award for best film, God’s Own Country is a smasher, one of the best British films I’ve ever seen. It’s so refreshing to see an authentically rural story, brutal and beautiful in it’s themes and cinematography, by features newcomer Joshua James Richards. Truly moving and properly sexy, don’t miss this film on the big screen from September 1st in the UK.
Sameblood / Sami Blood – Amanda Kernell (2016)
The only Swedish film on the programme I was keen to catch this and I saw it on day two, setting the bar incredibly high for the rest of the festival. I adore this film; every frame, every performance – especially the lead, and the serious questions about the Sami and indigenous people generally.
The Last Word – Mark Wellington (2017)
I’m not recommending this exactly, but for some reason I really warmed to the characters and I was properly rooting for them by the end of the movie. I don’t know what kind of UK release this will get, but as it relates to a few other films I saw, I’m including it in a trilogy of ‘end of life’ movies – more on this later.
Just Charlie – Rebekah Fortune (2017)
Like the eponymous Charlie, the filmmakers behind this lovely story are a team you really want to get behind. Hard-working and down to earth, this is the third time they’ve told a trans story over the last twenty years, from the stage to the screen. The central performance is fantastic and the effects of a trans-identifying teen are shown as they ripple out across the family and friends and community at large. I really hope this film makes it to a theatre near you.
Last Men in Aleppo – Feras Fayyad, Steen Johannessen (2017)
Track this film down and watch it. It’s documentary at its finest, not unfiltered, but with access on the ground in the Syrian conflict. Just watch it.
Sweet Virginia – Jamie M. Dagg (2017)
Another cracker of a film, featuring Charlie from Girls and the excellent Jon Bernthal. While the film features violence, the violence is peripheral. Everyone in this film is an anti-hero, rich, flawed characters and just lavish and beautiful cinematography from Jessica Lee Gagné. I’m immediately going to watch everything she’s done.
Emo: the Musical – Neil Triffett (2016)
I enjoyed the concept of this film more than the execution, but the songs are just brilliant. I’m guessing it’s aimed at teens, but as Emo happened about ten years old, I’m not sure teens would be into it. Come to think of it, there were so many girls with pillows and duvets queuing outside Usher Hall for Paramore, perhaps I’m just not down with the emo kids. And I’m okay with that.
Maya Dardel – Zachary Cotler, Magdalena Zyzak (2017)
The second in what I’m calling the ‘end of life’ trilogy, I did enjoy this film, if not love it. It’s funny, a bit too ‘clever’ (as most films about poets tend to be). But it was another opportunity to revel in older women on film.
Underverden / Darkland – Fenar Ahmand (2017)
Darkland is an authentic and impressive Ninja revenge movie. It’s gorgeous, down and dirty, frustrating and satisfying in equal measure – as revenge movies tend to be, as we come to sympathise with the protagonist and the impossible decisions he makes. Unsurprisingly the cast are real fighters, real nurses, real people, not actors playing a role and learning how to inhabit an alien world. Look out for more from this writer/director team, who claimed they learned how to write this film by reading Save the Cat.
Sage Femme / The Midwife – Martin Provost (2017)
The third and final film in my ‘end of life’ trilogy was a joyful surprise to me. Having seen a French farce the previous week and expecting something slightly frivolous with Catherine Deneuve in the cast, I was delighted by this very genuine and touching film about real women. Deneuve plays a gambler and a fraud and Catherine Frot is the titular midwife, an ordinary woman living a small, plain life (one of my favourite literary themes). Themes of motherhood and duty are sublimated to a relatable story with each character beautifully drawn with light and shade. It’s very French.
Killing Ground – Damien Power (2016)
I’m not sure what to say about this Australian thriller. It fulfils the promise of the genre, eerie and suspenseful to the last (after the final frame, when the credits roll, the audience let out the biggest collective sigh I’d ever heard). It’s completely captivating and believable, raising real-life questions about the movie tropes over decades of horror/slasher movies – asking ‘what would you do?’ It tugs at our primal fears but the characters are deeply, scarily believable. See for yourself.
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea – Dash Shaw (2016)
This is a stunning film, which is well-cast, of course, however that’s totally secondary to the innovative and beautiful animation. I could’ve watched for four hours, seven maybe, never tiring of the way each new thing was represented; water, fire, dead bodies, so many styles and bold creative choices.
Double Date – Benjamin Barfoot (2017)
I loved this film, a proper horror romp. It has to be said I could watch Michael Socha for any amount of time. Everything he said was funny in this film, he properly lit it up. It also features what I assume to be some very realistic representations of drug-taking. If this is the kind of thing you like, you’ll like this.
Sueño En Otra Idioma / I Dream in Another Language – Ernesto Contreras (2017)
I tried to see this film a number of times and finally caught it and I’m so glad I did. The premise is delightful; the last two indigenous speakers of a Mexican tribal language refuse to speak to each other. It was beautifully shot, spoke to the heart of so many themes I care about, and the photography is delightful. I don’t know how this film will be released, but hunt it down, while it’s still on the big screen.
Romans – Ludwig & Paul Shammasian (2017)
This is one of those films which delivered on about 80% of its promise, so the slight slips in performance, accent or story were frustrating. It’s a theme we know (see the film Sleepers for a very similar story) but again I valued the authenticity, Britishness and relatability of the characters, who come across as real human people – all except for the priest. It’s very gratifying to see a non-Disney Orlando Bloom all-grown up too. The dependence on smash-cuts only lasted for the first third of the film or so.
Защитники / Guardians – Sarek Andreasyan
This was so much fun. It’s bombastic and I can’t describe in words how big and high and loud they go with a musical crescendo or a special effect. The plot (and the subtitles) got sillier and sillier as time went on, but the late night audience were all on board and we laughed at, but not with, this production.
Strange Weather – Katherine Dieckmann (2016)
I’ve saved Strange Weather till last, because it snuck in on the final day to become my film of the festival. I loved everything about this film, from the performance and photography of an unsentimental but bereaved Holly Hunter, to Sharon Van Etten’s original score. Set in Mississippi and road-tripping down to New Orleans (as I did last year) this heat-wave and high drama combine perfectly in a stunningly emotional film, without being morbid or maudlin, despite the subject matter. One woman’s personal journey is smashed up against a subtextual backdrop of the US political crisis and, as the title suggests, the environmental and ecological crisis. This film is kind of everything, to me, and I will be stalking Katherine Dieckmann across the globe to talk to her more about it. Inspiring and uplifting, I can’t recommend this film highly enough for women, filmmakers, people and everyone.
If you like, you can check out my Letterboxd account – I don’t know how, but if you’re on it, let’s be friends!
And one more thing…
I don’t know if it’s a result of my work, looking for themes and recurring motifs in script competitions I’ve read for and so on, or if it’s because I kept thinking of a friend of mine, recently bereaved – perhaps I’m more sensitive to death at the moment – maybe it’s my age. However I was stunned and frankly a little disappointed to find so many films hanging their story on the back of a death or a bereavement. I know, I know, sex and death, it’s what life is about. But the sad fact is in many of these cases a death was used as a shortcut to emotion, while the films themselves didn’t always elicit any emotion in their execution. I worry about a glib and flippant attitude to death, where filmmakers don’t seem to want to put in the effort to make the audience work for their tearful, happy endings. I thought I’d plot the themes/uses of death, be it integral or frivolous or both.
|Dead/dying parents||God’s Own Country
Let Me Go
My Pure Land
|Death of a sibling||Sami Blood
Bad Kids of Crestview
|Death of a child||Strange Weather
|An old person dies||I Dream in Another Language|
|Suicide/euthanasia||EMO: the Musical
|Suicide in the first five minutes||EMO: the Musical|
|A dying woman wants to take control of her legacy||Maya Dardel
|Murder romp||Double Date
Bad Kids of Crestview Academy
|Everyone in a school dies graphically||My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea|