Monday, 28 June 2010

EIFF 2010, Or Why It's Sometimes Good To Play Safe

After a year of anticipation, it was finally upon us... the end-of-year celebration, the respite after the slog of endless weeks of running, planning, fretting and filming... yes, last weekend, DFTV1 arrived en masse in the capital for the Edinburgh Film Festival. Given the festival's track record for launching new films (including, as the posters proudly boasted, Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, Let the Right One In and Wild at Heart) I was excited as to what potential future gems we would uncover. Unfortunately, I think we picked the wrong weekend to go- the last of the festival, when the Big Films had been premiered. Soooooo, gone were my plans to see Cherry Tree Lane, The Illusionist, The Dunwich Horror, Get Low, HIGH School, Cigarette Girl, TOY STORY 3... Still, not one to turn down a free cinema ticket, I figured it'd also be a perfect reason to go and see films I wouldn't necessarily have chosen to see before.

First up was actually something I thought I'd have really liked to see, even if my original choices were still showing... the Mexican 'Mariachi noir', El Pantera Negra. What is a Mariachi noir, I hear you ask...? Well friend, you're asking the wrong person, because I don't have a clue either.

Starting out oh-so-promisingly, the story centres around Nico, a dishevelled private investigator with more than a passing fondness for the drink. A mysterious phone call from 'God' sets him on a mission to find the fabled 'Black Panther', in return for 50,000 pesos a month- forever. A tip off leads him to the Pantera Negra nightclub, wherein he meets a sultry femme fatale (who is apparently Death), who wants Nico to bring her deceased Mexican singing legend Pedro Infante. (Clearly they're not as fussed about their idols in this film/Mexico, Pedro Infante looks like a caricature from the front of a tequila bottle).
On top of all this there are murdered jockeys, love interest hit-girls (WHY do all female assassins wear skin-tight PVC? Aside from appealing to a certain audience, logistically they must be a bit of a nightmare), shaky looking UFOs, lesbian martians who bear more than a passing resemblance to Frank N. Furter, underground clubs in cemeteries... it's more than a wee bit confusing, and a big bit completely batshit crazy. The film comes across as if reconstructed from Ed Wood's old prop store, with an added slammer of surrealism. I'd like to see it again... mostly because I (shame!) nodded off for 20 minutes in the middle.

Next up that day was a documentary, which is something I'd admittedly only watch if it was on TV. Which, being a More 4 production, this film would've been. Still, Road to Las Vegas sounded like some kind of fun road-trip effort. I was wrong. The family- mother Vanessa, father Maurice and their five youngest (!) children- upped sticks after Vanessa had a message from God, in a dream, telling her she must move the family from their home in Anchorage, Alaska to Las Vegas. Considering Vegas was, at the time, America's fastest growing city, this seemed like a pretty sensible idea.
There wasn't much of a road trip, as the family arrived in Las Vegas in the first ten minutes, with less than $300 to their name. The director followed the family for the next four years, through sleeping in their car, struggling to find work, battling drug addictions and grieving lost family members.
Not exactly cheerful stuff, but director Jason Massot clearly develops a bond with the family, and always portrays them without bias; while there would have been plenty of scope to criticise the family, he instead takes a step back and instead presents them as no different from any of the 7 million Americans who migrate across the country every year, trying to find a better life and the American dream. Possibly not something I'd have chosen to see in the cinema, but an honest and eye-opening film nonetheless.

On Friday we saw another documentary, although this one was as far removed from the trauma of the first one as could be. Superhero Me, by Steve Sale, asked the question previously brought to our attention by Matthew Vaughn's recent Kick-Ass... what happens when real life people try and become superheroes?

Using whatever technology he could lay his hands on, including mobile phone cameras, this debut feature had 'amateur' written all over it, but this really added to the final effect. It had a real home-made feel, and thanks to cameos from Steve's parents, friends and long-suffering fiancee (who becomes his wife during the course of the film), it's a very personal little film too. And, crucially, it's funny- from Steve riding around his hometown on a chopper, trying to learn kung-fu or writing his own theme song, he makes great use of a subject seemingly made for a documentary like this. Steve also meets real-life superheroes, even jetting off to Florida the day after his wedding to meet Master Legend- a good samaritan with over 20 years experience under his (utility) belt. This film is definitely a rough diamond, if a somewhat uneventful one... even if Steve never quite masters superhero skills of climbing walls...or even getting a six-pack!

We followed this up with International Shorts, a series of short films from around the world, funnily enough. The result was a mixed bag, for me. The first film, a Hungarian film called Birthday Party, was a beautifully shot, dialogue-free film. It made clever use of extreme close-ups, only panning out to reveal the final shot, which made the impact of the scene alot greater.
The second film was an eyewitness account of a Swedish bank-robbery, filmed from outside the didn't really seem like there was much going on, and not seeing the action inside left it a little flat- there wasn't any real sense of excitement, although it was pretty funny watching the bumbling robbers hauled off of a moped by bank security!
After this was an American short, which I didn't like at all- alot of close ups of a boring middle-aged guy, trying to come to terms with his boring middle-aged life. I didn't see any real drive in this film, there was no inciting incident as such, and the final scene- the man managing to thread a needle- seemed a clumsy and cack-handed attempt at whatever 'redemption' he was looking for. Mostly I was just irritated, and the strange use of focus made me feel a wee bit nauseous.
The final film was a strange, but quite funny, little number, about a jobbing actor sent to the Phillipines to coach call centre workers. His guided tour by one of the workers doesn't end up so well though, with his being mistaken for Brendan Fraser in The Mummy 2 causing quite an uproar. Some funny moments, and a curiously downbeat ending, made this an intriguing film, and it seemed the most 'film-like' of all the ones we saw- in that it had a definite structure.

Overall then, quite a variety- although definitely not as many films as I would like to have seen. I'd have liked to have seen more than just documentaries and short films, and I can't say I was especially blown away by what I saw. Lesson learned for next year, though... don't book tickets for the last weekend of the festival, and maybe get up a wee bit earlier to see the films I really want to!
I had also hoped the festival would change my attitudes to Edinburgh in general... I've never been there for more than a day, and I've never really been a huge fan of it. I dunno if it's unfamiliar territory or whatever, but I wasn't particularly bowled over- there's just something about me and that place that doesn't quite gel. Perhaps I'm too 'weegie'- so I guess I'd better get practising my non-regional dialect for next year!

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