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Belfast Film Festival...

March 29, 2007

Unpaid Intern Erin's Guide to the Belfast Film Festival - The End

Rachel and Erin Parish in Maili

When I was a little girl, my mother would quiz my sisters and I on the countries of the world, using homemade flash cards with hand-drawn maps filled with information she copied out of the encyclopedia.  My wanderlust was sparked at a very young age and has been nurtured throughout my life.  Watching many of the films from around the world during the festival once again set off my nomadic buttons, none more so than Nomadak TX.  More a patchwork quilt of sound and image than a movie, Nomadak TX combined many of the elements that have most intrigued me throughout my life and created out of them a visual and auditory feast. While my days of adventurous travel through dusty towns by camel or muddy villages crammed in the back of a dilapidated pick-up truck feel like almost a life-time ago, watching the two main characters of Nomadak TX travel to far away corners of the world afforded me the opportunity to vicariously re-live my past experiences.

When the film ended, people seemed to leave the theatre feeling energised and happy.  Perhaps due to the dark subject matter of many of my chosen films, I can’t say that occurred at the end of many of the other films that I saw. It’s hard not to feel good after hearing a Mongolian man explain his priorities.  “The most important things to a nomad” he said, “are their family, their friends, and their horses.  If they have these three things, they will have a good life.”  When later asked what he wanted most in life, he responded, “Food for my horse.  I’m not happy when my horse has no food.”  Later on, a Sudanese refugee who had found a home in the forbidding Moroccan desert was asked what his greatest wish was.  He responded, “to be happy.”  Gesturing at the desolate, windless wasteland behind him, he elaborated, “I only want to find a wife, to live in peace, to settle down here and live right here for the rest of my life.”

While so many films at the festival centred around darkness and death, Nomadak TX chronicled and acclaimed the simplicity and beauty of life. For all these reasons and many more that I haven’t thought of yet, Nomadak TX wins the coveted Erin Parish’s choice for Best of Show in the 7th Belfast Film Festival Award.

(Photo above:  Rachel and Erin Parish, Mali)


Unpaid Intern Erin's Guide to the Belfast Film Festival - Part 9

Still from the film Enemies of Happiness

Nearly bankrupt and fighting back a nervous breakdown, documentary filmmaker Peter Whitehead wandered the streets of Edinburgh on a summer evening in 1969 shortly before the premiere of his latest film, The Fall.  A flock of birds surprised him and caused him to pause in a square.  There, he saw an elderly man pull food out of his pocket and start feeding the birds, calling them individually by name.  Whitehead, who over the previous four years had chronicled an era of excess, energy, anarchy, and angst with unparalleled access and acumen, left filmmaking and bought his first falcon. 

While Whitehead did not entirely abandon filmmaking in the 1970s, making a Led Zepplin concert-pic in 1970, Daddy in 1972, and Fire in the Water in 1977, the passion of his past three and a half decades has largely been devoted to majestic birds-of-prey.  The film that served as the catalyst for his dramatic life overhall, The Fall, chronicled the descent of the student protest movement from a legitimate political force to what Whitehead described as “calculated political anarchy.”  The film that resulted was a genre-bending experiment mixing a fictional political assassination with real-life footage of the protest movement.

Nearly forty years after beginning filming of The Fall, Whitehead told Sight and Sound, “I’ve never been on holiday, never wasted a single day.  I would consider it a waste if I’m not pursuing my myth in some form or another.”  Don't miss the myth of Peter Whitehead this Saturday at Studio Cinema, where The Fall begins at 7:00 PM.

Also on Saturday…

Two documentaries on the difficulties and disenfranchisement that occurs when people exert their right to vote are playing together at QFT on Saturday.  No Umbrella: Election Day in the City follows the experiences of voters in one of Ohio’s poorest voting precincts during the 2004 presidential elections.  Enemies of Happiness tells the story of a 27-year-old woman running in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections in September 2005.  Celebrate Northern Ireland's upcoming power sharing scenario with a Saturday afternoon of election woes starting at 2:00 PM at QFT.

As if our lives weren't scary enough, on Saturday afternoon, you can witness a dystopian future in which only Jett Loe and Martin Sheen’s brother can save the day.  The Patrol is just one of many short jewels on display at the Jameson Short Film Competition, starting at high noon at the Black Box.

(Image above:  still from the film Enemies of Happiness)


March 28, 2007

Unpaid Intern Erin's Guide to the Belfast Film Festival - Part 8

Cinema Sports taking place at the Queens Street Studios, Belfast, Northern Ireland

While women have made great strides in reaching parity in both levels of participation and payment in many fields, cinema would not be included on the list.  Seven percent of films are directed by women, a statistic only slightly less shameful than the number of female candidates fielded in the last Northern Irish assembly election.  Friday’s film fest line-up, however, highlights female-made short fiction and non-fiction films.  Coming off the back of their week long-film festival in London at the Barbican, Birds Eye View, an organisation supporting women in film, brings six short films made by female directors to the Belfast Film Festival.  These films screen Friday night with the short documentary, Like a Ship in the Night, about three Irish women taking the boat to England for an abortion.

Although abortion is legal in Great Britain, it remains illegal in both the North and the South of Ireland.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Northern Ireland also has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe.  Like a Ship in the Night explores the story of three women from very different backgrounds sharing in a journey that 8,000 women a year make.  Director Melissa Thompson will introduce her film and lead a discussion following the screening.  Enjoy an evening of female-driven programming at the Studio Cinema beginning at 8:30 PM on Friday night.

Also on Friday…

Before James Cameron became the intrepid explorer, expert archaeologist, and self-proclaimed finder of Jesus’ tomb, he used to make some pretty flipping frightening films.   Aliens is appropriately playing at the drive-in at the Titanic Quarter Paint Hall at 9:00 PM.

In what is apparently a regular club night fixture, RINKA offers a mix of screenings of independent films and live music.  Jim Jarmusch’s ode to Coffee and Cigarettes begins the night, followed by electronica/avant-rock instrumentation from the Bangor-based group When Pilots Eject, finished off by what is described as “deviant acid turntablism” provided by DJs Sinister Industry with visuals from Chewie Films. RINKA kicks off at 8:00 PM at the Black Box.

Note:  Hi folks,  Jett here; the photo above was taken at the Queens Street Studios this Saturday past during the Cinemasports event - unfortunately I didn't have the time to participate, (the challenge: make a short film in one day - show it the same evening), maybe next year!  If you're interested in making media in Northern Ireland definitely check out the QSS - they've got all sorts of stuff that would come in handy!

Note 2:  Jett here again; I see I've illustrated Erin's post about the shameful lack of films directed by women with a photo of a bunch of guys who are off to make a film.  Hmm.


March 27, 2007

Unpaid Intern Erin's Guide to the Belfast Film Festival - Part 7

Tough Guy at the John Hewitt Pub, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Last year around this time, I went to New York with my boyfriend.  We had breakfast with friends of his, one of whom is a poet. One of her poems, “The Spirit of 34th Street”, had been included in an anthology of poetry about New York City.  She read it out to us over coffee and pastries:

“Doors opened with a silent scream.
like photographs of anguish;
the subway paused, shed cargo
and raged on.
She lurched aboard,
sagged into a vacant seat,
frail weight of her gray years
hunched with cold.
Numb fingers plucked at rags,
drawn close against raw misery.
Knuckles, cracked and swollen white,
clutched into a plea for warmth.
He, dark and lithe,
swung down the aisle,
taut jeans dancing
With Latin grace
he, sidling past
her patient form,
in one smooth gesture
disappeared through subway doors,
leaving in her lap,
like folded dove wings,
his black leather gloves.”

After finishing the poem, she remarked, “life in New York City is filled with misery and majesty.”  Filmmaker Jem Cohen uses this polarity of the urban landscape as his muse in the two films, Lost Book Found and This is a History of New York City.  Both are mosaics of city life cobbled together from years of Super-8 and 16mm filming of the streets of the city.   Lun Sante says of Lost Book Found, “Its beauty is quite ineffable.  It’s the sort of visual experience that transforms everything seen by the viewer for several hours afterwards.”  Such high praise might just warrant the price of admission.  Check out the films of Jem Cohen at the Studio Cinema (above Belfast Exposed) on Thursday at 7:00 PM.

Also on Thursday…

Polarity takes centre stage once again in John and Jane, a documentary about the experience of working in Indian call centres.  Employees leave their Indian identities outside the walls of the office, where inside, the dominance of American culture reigns supreme.  John and Jane is playing along with The Intimacy of Strangers at QFT at 6:45.

A day without a mention of totalitarianism during the Belfast Film Festival would be like a day without an alcopop during a vacation to Ibiza.  Get  your cinematic fix of state control with the Academy Award winning film, The Lives of Others, about the experience of state surveillance under Communist-run East Germany.

(Photo taken by Jett of a Tough Guy at the Belfast Film Festival Quiz, the John Hewitt Pub)


What to do in Belfast Tonight; the 6th Annual World Pong Championships

Daniel Jewesbury, Esq., as seen at the Belfast Film Festival Quiz, the John Hewitt Pub, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Dear Listeners
:  If you find yourself in Belfast tonight than you have ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE not to go to the 6th Annual World Pong Championships at the John Hewitt tonight at 8pm.  I went last year and had a ball:

Drama - Thy Name is Pong

They take their Pong seriously here in Belfast; historically it was one of the few activities that Protestant, Catholic and Muslim could do together in Northern Ireland and many people will tell you it helped them through the tough times. 

Why not commemorate the event by cheering on the participants - the John Hewitt is a fine pub and worth going to even if no Video Game related activities are occurring.  I was there last night myself as it was the famous Belfast Film Festival Quiz.  Our team came in second Dear Listeners, and I have a decorative 'Jameson Key Ring' to prove it.

(Photo above:  Daniel Jewesbury, Esq., one of the organisers of the Pong Evening, as seen last night officiating in the Film Quiz - that's Dr. Gareth Higgins taking up most of the right frame).


Unpaid Intern Erin's Guide to the Belfast Film Festival - Part 6

Woman sitting alone at the Queens Film Theatre, Belfast, Northern Ireland
In the small town of Rheims, France, three skinheads were looking for an Arab to bash.  Instead, on a September night in 2002, Francois Chenu had the misfortune to cross their paths.  Because Chenu refused to deny the fact that he was gay, the three men beat him, threw him in a pond, and left him for dead.  The story of his family, their grieving process, and their quest for justice is the subject of Olivier Meyrou’s documentary, Beyond Hatred

QueerSpace, a Belfast-based organization serving and advocating for the needs of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community of Belfast and Northern Ireland, has worked in conjunction with the festival to present the film. While the festival has included a wide array of programming around same sex themes, Beyond Hatred stands out for its poignancy and topicality for a society recently bestowed with the dubious moniker of “the most bigoted place in Western world.”  Beyond Hatred is playing at Studio Cinema on Wednesday at 8:30 PM followed by a discussion with our very own Dr. Gareth Higgins.

Also on Wednesday…

The Black Box might do weird better (or at least classier) than anywhere else in Belfast.  While I’m not exactly sure what a double bill of a Turkish remake of the Wizard of Oz and a 1960s Japanese children’s television show re-scored with live electronica would look/sound/feel like, I’m sure it wouldn’t fail to be an interesting and maybe even unique experience.  Check out Turkish Wizard of Oz/Gimme Gimme Octopus at the Black Box at 8 PM.

If you’ve always felt there weren’t enough documentaries on the protracted conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, watch A Story of People in War and Peace fill that niche at QFT at 9:10 PM.

(Photo taken by Jett of woman sitting alone at the Queens Film Theatre)


March 25, 2007

Unpaid Intern Erin's Guide to the Belfast Film Festival - Part 4

Still from Nomadak TX

In the poem “Nothing to be Said,” British poet Philip Larkin writes, “For nations vague as weed, for nomads among stones, small-statured cross-faced tribes and cobble-close families, in mill-towns on dark mornings, life is slow dying.”  For many traditionally nomadic cultures, however, the opposite would be true.   Millennia marked by movement are quickly being replaced with a forced and often uneasy stationary lifestyle.  Spanish filmmaker Raul de la Fuente travels to some of the last bastions of transience in the documentary, Nomadak TX.  He confronts the extinction of a lifestyle armed only with a camera and a little-played Basque instrument, the txalaparta.

This ancient instrument, made of wooden boards and resembling a xylophone, requires two players.  From the deserts of Morocco to the lushness of India to the frozen tundra of Lapland to the grassy steppes of Mongolia, the filmmaker offers the txalaparta as a conduit for communication that transcends culture, geography, and language.

In our modern day versions of nomadism, in which we solitarily criss-cross the globe untethered by territory and emboldened by technology, the concept of shared creation from materials as simple as wood, sticks, and even ice is a welcome reminder that if we hold a way of life to be dear, then we can slow down the dying process and perhaps even offer it a proper resurrection.  Nomadak TX is playing along with On the Road at QFT at 9:00 PM.

Also on Monday…

My Country, My Country is the story of a Sunni Muslim doctor and political candidate in Iraq.  The director and cinematographer, Laura Poitras, met the protagonist, Dr. Riyadh, while he was conducting an inspection of Abu Ghraib.  Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary and described by The Village Voice as “indispensable, heartbreaking, and ferociously wise,” don’t miss My Country, My Country at QFT at 7:00 PM.

If you’d only watch Seven Samurai at the cinema because Kurosawa is too sacred to be shown on the small screen or if you salivate at the thought of a new addition to the Criterion Collection, why waste your time watching movies on Monday when you could show off your knowledge of cinematic minutiae at The John Hewitt?  Scurry on over to the BFF Film Quiz at 8:00 PM to strut your cinematic stuff.

(Image above from Nomadak TX)


March 24, 2007

Unpaid Intern Erin's Guide to the Belfast Film Festival - Part 3

Queens Film Theatre, Belfast, Northern Ireland

In my family, we collected stray people like some people might collect decorative porcelain figurines.  Even today, when I come home, I still never know who I might run into in the bathroom when I’m brushing my teeth. Normally, I liked the revolving-door nature of our home but at times, especially around the holidays, the mass of strangers in the house could prove to be a bit much.  One Christmas, I snuck away from the pack and sought refuge in my room.  Providence allowed a four-hour long epic film to be starting just at that moment.  Nobody else wanted to watch a historical epic set around the Russian revolution.  By the time the movie had finished, everyone had left the house.  I’ve been a fan of Dr. Zhivago and its female lead, Julie Christie, ever since.

This Sunday, Christie will be in Belfast to introduce her latest film, Away From Her.   This is the directorial debut of Sarah Polley, who worked with Christie on the under-rated film, The Secret Life of Words, which also happened to be filmed in Northern Ireland.  Sarah Polley is a gorgeous and under-stated actress who doesn’t shy away from films with difficult and dark subject matters.  Away From Her, which centers around a couple dealing with Alzheimer’s, is no exception. If she brings the same level of sensitivity to her directing as she does to her acting, the result will most likely be both nuanced and heartbreaking.  There’s a definite dearth of female directors, especially young ones.  Sarah Polley is a welcome addition to a very small club. Go and check out what Sarah Polley and Julie Christie have created at Storm Cinema at 8:00 PM.

Also on Sunday…

There are three choices of music documentaries highlighting three very different genres—punk, rock, and pre-fab.  The John Hewitt is showing a documentary called Love Story about the band Love, who Labour backbencher Peter Bradley described as “the world’s greatest rock band”, in the afternoon at 3:00 PM.  Loud Quiet Loud, a documentary on The Pixies, is on at 7:00 PM.  And if you’d prefer to watch the comings and goings of Beatles rip-off band, The Monkees, you can see the eponymously titled documentary at the Black Box at 7:30 PM.

(Photo taken by Jett: Woman behind a counter, Film Festival Venue Queens Film Theatre)


March 23, 2007

Unpaid Intern Erin's Guide to the Belfast Film Festival - Part 2

Photo taken by David Robertshaw, Guatemala

Shortly after returning home from the Peace Corps, I found myself in Haiti with an evangelical Christian men’s prayer group as the official videographer for their short-term mission project of digging a well in a schoolyard.  Since I am neither an evangelical Christian nor a man and had never used a video camera until that time, I still am rather unsure how I ever ended up there.

Cast in one of my favourite roles—Erin Parish, girl reporter—I tried to do justice to the khaki, pocket-filled photographer’s vest I was sporting.  I badly filmed what I saw, had a knife brandished at me, was involved in a rescue operation of a girl whose mother had covered her burn wounds with goat dung, and was involved in a semi-high speed pursuit that found us weaving through UN tanks.  In the week I was there, I saw a bonfire of garbage rage out of control and block a main thoroughfare, a freshly shot body lying in the road, and a child drinking water from a stream which had rotting pig corpses floating in it.  And I stayed in the good parts of town.

Port-au-Prince is a teeming, largely lawless metropolis; the most anarchic neighbourhood in a city filled with bandits is the sprawling slum of Cite Soleil.  This forms the backdrop of Danish filmmaker, Asger Leth’s, documentary The Ghosts of Cite Soleil.  Filmed in 2004, shortly after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country, Leth documents the lives of two Haitian gang leaders, 2pac and Bily.  Todd McCarthy of Variety says of the film, “If only due to the access achieved, there has never been anything quite like Asger Leth’s film; it’s amazing it even exists and that the director is still alive.”

The UN gave Cite Soleil the dubious accolade of being “the most dangerous place on earth.”  Whether or not it has subsequently relinquished this coveted title to the Baghdad slum Sadr City, Cite Soleil remains one of the closest realisations of the often hyperbolic description “hell on earth” that exists.  You can get a little taste of what life in this bleak environment is like at Queens Film Theatre on Saturday night at 7:45 PM.

Also playing on Saturday…

In what might very well prove to be this year’s 3 Needles, Guatemalan prostitutes trade in their stilettos for cleats as they take on female police officers in a game of soccer.   Take one part Bad News Bears, one part El Norte, throw in Remember the Titans, garnish with Pretty Woman, shake it in Spanish and you’ve got The Railroad All-Stars.  Playing at QFT at 3:00 PM.

Moving on to the southern hemisphere, Ten Canoes is the first film to be made entirely in an Australian Aboriginal language.  Set a thousand years ago, interweaving stories of the cinematic present with narratives of the characters’ ancestors, it looks like it could be just luscious,.  If Haitian slum-life is a little too much for a Saturday night, go see Ten Canoes at 7:00 PM at QFT.

(Photo above taken by David Robertshaw, Guatemala)


March 22, 2007

Unpaid Intern Erin's Guide to the Belfast Film Festival - Part 1

Queens Film Theatre during the Belfast Film Festival 2007

The 7th Belfast Film Festival kicked-off Thursday evening with what I’m sure proved to be a light-hearted, flute-filled romp with Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of The Magic Flute.  Since I’m not a big fan of mirth, I’m starting my festival experience tomorrow with the Spanish film noir Night of the Sunflowers and Peter Whitehead’s documentary of the titanic 1965 clash of Anglophone beat poets, Wholly Communion, washed down by another Whitehead contribution, Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, which is billed as “a time-capsule from the London Psychedelic Underground,” All of these films are playing at the Queens Film Theatre, starting at 7:30 PM.  Check the website for exact times.  Those looking for their Friday fix of socially constructed fear can partake in the docudrama, The Road to Guantanamo at the Black Box, followed by a question and answer session with Northern Ireland’s favourite accused terrorist triad, The Tipton Three.

The film festival is a veritable cinematic cornucopia of seldom touched topics, offering a selection of films and documentaries highlighting diverse issues such as Alzheimer’s, Azerbaijan, authoritarianism, addiction, androgyny, abortion, aboriginal life, and Austrian artists.   And that’s just the beginning of the alphabet.   The film festival offers a mix of the acclaimed and the obscure.  There’s something for everyone - our very own Jett Loe even makes a cameo appearance in the festival itinerary in the short film The Patrol on Saturday, March 31st as part of the Jameson Short Film Competition.  I'll be writing about my choices of films for the festival, but if little-known Basque musical instruments and short documentaries aren't your cup of tea, check out the festival website for the many other options to meet all your viewing needs.

(Photo taken by Jett: Film Festival Revellers outside the Queens Film Theatre)



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