✯THE CAMBRIDGE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW✯
Or the highly contested, generally divisive, utterly disorganised thoughts and opinions of Oliver Wallington, regarding Cambridge's 32nd Film Festival. Plus the winners of this year's hallowed O.C.T Awards.
Every year, The Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, Anglia's go-to Cinema for intelligent, unpredictable, Independent-friendly programming opens it's doors to Britain's best kept Cinematic secret. The Cambridge Film Festival.
Along with several outdoor screenings around Cambridge and a partnership with The Cambridge Buddhist Centre, Tony Jones; the festival Director and Founder and his team of willing minions, combine forces every year to create a festival that reflects the unique tastes and interests of one of Britain's most culturally diverse cities.
The Festival that once championed the early short films of the then unknown director Christopher Nolan, that only last year welcomed international stars Paddy Considine and Gary Oldman for intimate audience Q + A sessions, and that continues it's long-running reputation as the only festival to always show the U.K. premiere of Woody Allen's latest work, is now in it's 32nd year, and it's building momentum.
This year, the team revealed a wonderfully curated selection of current and nostalgic features, focussing on Catalan Cinema, New German Cinema and the work of old stalwarts Francesco Rossi and Alfred Hitchcock, along with the usual abundance of thought-provoking Documentaries and a full programme of local and international Shorts and MicroCinema projects (Low-budget, high-quality feature films), not to mention the mysterious and revelatory Tridentfest. Obviously, your humble reviewer couldn't see everything on show, as often features overlapped and so I was forced to make the uncomfortable, but understandable decision to forego the occasional Period-set, Contemporary German future-classic in favour of some little known Dutch documentary about two octogenarian ex-prostitute twin sisters who still like to wear matching outfits, spank old men and occasionally, whilst giggling maniacally and voluptuously, fondle massive dildo's in public.
After-all that's the beauty of a well programmed festival, stark variety and difficult selection decisions.
So here is my experience, complete with a brief summary of the films I caught, a briefer summary of the films I didn't and your very own Official Cromer Terrace Awards, which will be presented to the winners in virtual format and probably ignored. But that doesn't matter.
The festival opened with Woody Allen's follow-up to last year's hugely successful, award-winning Midnight In Paris, the multi-stranded To Rome With Love which follows several unconnected characters through Italy's beloved capital, encountering frustrated Opera-singers, inexplicably famous pencil-pushers, self obsessed and sexually virulent Actresses and disapproving father-in-laws. Typically this is a capable, if unspectacular affair from Allen, with a sprawling narrative structure and some utterly useless characterisation, however, everything is lifted by the sheer hilarity on show. In fact, despite the tried and tested structure of the stories and the vignette style of the storytelling, Allen still grinds out some truly surprising laughs with most of the cast performing capably and with Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni, Ellen Page, the tenor Fabio Armiliato and Allen himself most impressive. Not as tight or as congenial as Midnight In Paris but probably funnier.
|TO ROME WITH LOVE|
Meet The Fokkens was a surprisingly touching affair (in more ways than one), a beautifully shot documentary that charts the lives of Dutch twin sisters who look back on their careers in the Prostitution Industry with more than a little nostalgia, as we follow the retirement of Louise and Martine Fokkens we are immersed in a world of sex and violence, the ramifications of which stay with you long after the laughter has stopped.
Another highly anticipated feature was Walter Salles' On The Road, a beautifully shot, wistful adaptation of Jack Kerouac's landmark novel, which successfully captures the grungy, low-fi atmosphere of the New York Beat culture and features stunning performances from Viggo Mortensen, Garrett Hedlund and our very own Sam Riley. As frustrating as it's gentle pacing might be to some, the pure credibility of the visuals, the atmospheric direction and the rambling, rhythmic quality of the script makes this an unmissable book-to-screen adaptation for any fans of that period.
|ON THE ROAD|
War Witch (Rebelle), Kim Ngyens stunning exploration of child-soldiers in brutal African conflict is a shocking and visually stunning journey into the heart of human darkness, with perfect central performances, utterly flawless direction and a truly artistic visual sensibility, this is one of the most unique and upsetting films I've ever seen and justifiably takes the Audience Award for best feature film (and the Official Cromer Terrace Award for Best Festival Feature, more on that later.) Another surprise delight was Dax Shepard's frivolously tongue-in-cheek comedy caper Hit And Run, a comedian whose exposure in this country is relatively limited, Shepard writes, produces, edits and Co-directs this little cat-and-mouse story of an attractive young couple in witness protection, who inevitably find their past lives catching up with them, ultimately resulting in a violent and hilarious showdown between Shepard's sardonic slacker and Bradley Cooper's riotously exaggerated Rasta-Mobster. Lots of cars, explosions and fist-fights and lots of rather well choreographed laughs as well, look out for it.
Call Me Kuchu is a harrowing documentary that explores the terrifying lives of homosexual Ugandans in a country ruled by fanatical Christianity and a government that decrees homosexuality illegal. Following the lives of several brave men and woman who want to change this, Call Me Kuchu takes you to some very dark and upsetting places without ever loosing sight of what is important, i.e. the freedom of the Ugandan people. Morgan Spurlock, the director of Super Size-Me returns with Comic-Con a delightful documentary observing the trials and tribulations of 5 separate Comic-Con faithfuls, littered with amusing and insightful contributions from industry legends Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon, Spurlock explores the changing nature of the traditionally Comic-driven convention whilst simultaneously humanising every man, woman and child who likes to dress up like their favourite characters from Mass Effect, Star Trek or Batman to heart-warming, often knowingly hilarious results.
|CALL ME KUCHU|
Audiences cued through the building for the always completely sold out Surprise Film - the identity of which is known only to the Festival Director until the lights dim and the credits roll... This year Rian Johnson's highly anticipated time-travelling sci-fi thriller Looper was unveiled to a packed screen1 and greeted with a unanimous hum of excitement and anticipation. A sprawling CGI-heavy action-er with Joseph Gordon-levett as the 'Looper' of the title, who waits for unknown criminal forces from the future to transport unwanted elements, bagged and tagged, for a clinical execution and disposal process. This methodical operation goes awry when he discovers that his future self (Bruce Willis) has been sent back for execution at his own hand, Looper is a relative return to form for Johnson, after the disappointment that was the overly quirky Brothers Bloom, but sadly shows none of the visual ingenuity that was promised by his excellent debut, 2005's noir-ish high-school murder mystery Brick.
Finally, the "True Surprise Movie" as Festival's International Programmer, Verena von Stackelberg
described it, was the equally highly anticipated Leos Carax film Holy Motors. A well-recieved Cannes 12' Palme D'or contender, Carax's disturbing, looping, visceral opera of surreal visuals and inexplicable musical numbers is a messy, violent exploration of spirituality and identity, creating a perpetually dusky futuristic French landscape through which travels Denis Lavant's constantly transforming central character, undergoing a series of mysterious 'appointments' that will see him transform from a withered old street dweller to a terrifying Fagin-esque pimp to a ruthless assassin and plenty of other grotesque incarnations along the way. The audience is left to try and unravel the mostly unexplained happenings, grasping for any clues amongst the characters many varied interactions, wondering if the truth is hidden beneath layers of surreal narratives or if it is simply a journey through some kind of terrifying interpretation of reincarnation. Never-the-less, it's a stunning and unforgettable cinematic journey and a beautiful way to close yet another fantastic Cambridge Film Festival.
Of the films I sadly missed; several are recommended, via trusted co-cinema obsessives, most notably the Winner of the Audience Award for Best Short which was Dylan's Room, along with the Documentary that took the Audience Award for it's category Big Boys Gone Bananas! along with the following films; Untouchable, Lucky Luciano, 5 Broken Cameras, Grandma Lo-Fi, Yossi and Totem.
In conclusion then, we thank the Cambridge Film Festival for their stunning work in programming such a varied and intelligent selection of films, The Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, The Cambridge Buddhist Centre and various outdoor spaces for hosting such a brilliant event and we congratulate everyone from Project Trident who was involved in the planning and execution of our hallowed Overall Best Festival Film Award... TRIDENTFEST. Read on to find out more...
(The Official Cromer Terrace Awards)
As promised from the outset, Cromer Terrace presents it's Official Cromer Terrace Awards or O.C.T. Awards as they are now referred to by the kids on the streets. The Awards are divided into 3 categories: Overall Best Festival Film, Best Festival Feature and Best Festival Documentary. Unfortunately due to insufficient funds, the award's given out are intangible or as the dictionary puts it, "Incapable of being realised or defined" - So you'll just have to take our word for it. The Award winners will be informed of their accolade and permitted to store said intangible award in any modestly priced container.
Winner of OVERALL BEST FESTIVAL FILM
|THE PROJECT TRIDENT TEAM|
The highly anticipated festival of local films from local filmmakers, with noteworthy submissions from legendary local filmmakers Carl Peck, Andrzej Sosnowski, Simon Panrucker, Ryd Cook, Christian Lapidge and Tom Martin (among many others), TridentFest is the film festival baby of the notorious Project Trident team, all championing low-budget, high-quality filmmaking and collated for this hilarious, disturbing tour-de-force of various different cinematic ideas. Complete with audience interaction, prizes, demonstrations and interviews, Tridentfest isn't just a festival of brilliant locally sourced films, but also a unique opportunity to get fully immersed in the world of emerging filmmakers, with short comedic sketches, beautifully shot music videos, hilarious horror-spoofs and mock-umentaries... this truly is a tour-de-force of unique local talent and something that sets The Cambridge Film Festival apart from it's more elitist contemporaries.
2. WAR WITCH
Winner of BEST FESTIVAL FEATURE
As reviewed above, Kim Nguyen's wonderfully visceral, sickeningly violent, utterly breathtaking odyssey into the dark, tragic world of child-soldiers in Africa, follows a 12 year old girl's attempts to master her 'witchcraft', escape a series of cruel, abusive leaders and get to grips with her demons. The fact that Nguyen chooses to literally show her demons as menacing, whispering, white-pupiled, pale-skinned corpses just adds to the utterly absurd nature of such a brutal conflict, without distracting from the very real atrocities on show. Stunning.
3. CALL ME KUCHU
Winner of BEST FESTIVAL DOCUMENTARY
Once again, as reviewed above, Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall have created a truly unforgettable documentary that reveals the secretive, oppressed existence of a select group of homosexuals in Uganda, fighting for their rights as Africans and as human beings. A deeply upsetting film that despite several gut-wrenching twists and some frankly, hilarious contributions from irate local Christians, never forgets the plight of it's central characters and it concludes on a somber yet hopeful note that will motivate anyone to want to discover more.
Oliver Wallington is a London + Cambridge-based Artist, Filmmaker, Writer and Musician, to get his reviews of notable FILM and ART attractions subscribe to Cromer Terrace or follow him on twitter @WallingtonArt. Special Thanks go to Ellie Wallington, George Smith, Sam Vasili, Peter Bryan, Lindsey Kennedy and Lozza Anderson for accompanying me to the Festival and unknowingly informing my opinions.