2011 has been a funny old year. At the beginning I had just finished my documentary film Sound It Out and was getting ready to release it on DVD in the Stockton record shop I made the film in. In February I got the news we had got into SXSW for our world premiere and then everything changed.
Jeff Malmberg the director of Marwencol (my top film of 2010) introduced Sound It Out at the sold out world premiere in Austin. It’s shown at over 50 festivals to date, in over 20 countries, had a theatrical release in the UK and is about to release in a further two countries. This isn’t a self-congratulation fest, just a reminder, for me at the end of 2011 of what a jam-packed and unexpected, crazy year it’s been. It’s not bad for my micro-budget, ramshackle DIY film made originally as a side project. It’s confirmed my belief that it’s really worth pursuing projects you believe in and putting something out there. Not everyone will like it, but those that do are more than worth it. I’m so thank full for the support I’ve had, not least from DN and the 437 people that crowd funded the making and distribution of the film.
As a consequence of all this I’ve never been to more film festivals or cinemas but ironically never watched fewer films. The films I’ve wanted to see have invariably been on at the same time as my screenings – the ‘films that got away’ which I’m desperate to see included; Bombay Beach, The Interrupters, Beats Rhymes and Life, Hell and Back Again, Page One: Inside the New York Times, Give Up Tomorrow, We Need to Talk About Kevin
So here is my top ten of the films that stayed with me in 2011, made an impact and looking back into the depths of a dense year still shine brightly. I have *slightly* broken the DN rules [MarBelle: Tut!] by including two art films that were only available to view in galleries but they are long form and both are brilliant, in fact so good I made one my film of the year.
Read the DN review of Troll Hunter.
9. You’ve Been Trumped – Anthony Baxter
In 2010 I took part in The Edinburgh Pitch – pitching my film Orionto a panel of international commissioners. One of my fellow pitchers was Anthony Baxter with his feature documentary You’ve been Trumped.
The film tells the story of how American Millionaire Donald Trump ran rough shod over local resident’s wishes, in order to build a luxury golf course in a remote area of Scotland. The course is sited in a spot of exceptional natural beauty in Baxter’s hometown of Montrose. Trump is shown to bully local residents and quite literally bulldozes his way into their lives. Baxter documents it all including the protests, his own arrest and alleged corruption at Government level. It’s a classic David and Goliath tale that has been taking the festival circuit by storm picking up armfuls of awards and the unflattering portrayal has been credited with dislodging Trump’s presidential campaign. The film has certainly had international impact.
Back to Edinburgh 2010. Every commissioner on the panel turned this project down saying that the story had already been told (there had been a BBC special about the golf course development) therefore it wouldn’t be commissioned. Baxter continued on without funding and then crowd-funded his premiere at Hotdocs 2011. It’s confirmation for me of the film truism ‘nobody knows anything’. It was clear that there was a film there and a ready audience. Baxter has proved that and then some.
8. The Posters Came from the Walls – Nicolas Abrahams & Jeremy Deller
Another film about the relationship between a band and their fans, this time Depeche Mode fans “I am no-one without listening to music”, “We are Depeche-ist. Like Communist, like Fascist”.
Revel in ‘The day of Dave’, marching band versions of DM songs and how behind the Berlin wall it felt like DM emerged – “like the posters had come from the walls”. Ongoing wrangles with the record company mean that this won’t be on general release any time soon but look out for it – I saw it at a special screening in Brighton, part of Music Doc 11.
7. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – Jon M. Chu
I’m not a fan of Beiber’s music but this justifiably has a place in my top 10 as the film is just so good. JB’s rag to riches ascent at the speed of lightening is a cracking tale. The combination of ambitious management, undeniable talent and a boy on the brink of adulthood trying to figure out who he is a heady mix. The concert footage is thrilling but what makes the film are the fans. Girl, after girl, after girl not much younger than JB heartbreakingly disclose why he is the one for them.
As a side note, I’ve seen some intense snobbery come out when it comes to this film. It was programmed at SheffDocFest this year by Hussain Churrimbhoy. There was much disdain expressed by some of the ‘social change’ programmers and foundations. I don’t understand why the story of this YouTube star who has become the biggest cultural phenomenon of his generation isn’t worthy of exploration – Because a subject is popular doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthy of serious examination while it’s happening, rather than with the respectability of time and nostalgia.
6. The Arbor – Clio Barnard
Another film that successfully straddles both documentary and fiction. Actors lip sync to documentary memories to tell the story of Andrea Dunbar, the playwright behind The Arbor and Rita Sue and Bob Too. It’s a disarming watch and plays like a punch to the guts. It jumped out of the cramped airplane screen I watched it on and had me sobbing into my pillow.
Read the DN review of The Arbor.
5. Weekend – Andrew Haigh
The most romantic film I saw this year shot in my adopted hometown of Nottingham. Nottingham has never looked so real/lovely and there is a great line about the “ugly gallery” for NG dwellers. I met the team behind the film at SXSW and waited with anticipation to see the film, hoping it would live up to the great reviews (“Is this the best gay film ever?”) and my hopes after following the release. It did. Innovatively shot using documentary techniques, long takes and no coverage to cut to. The film is romantic, heartfelt and bittersweet.
4. The Clock – Christian Marclay
If you haven’t, go and see this if you can. Shown in Nottingham as part of The British Art Show The Clock is a 24-hour artwork that collates what must be every clock ever shown onscreen in a film, ever. They are then inter-cut and interwoven at exactly the time that is showing onscreen. So if it’s 1.04 pm the clock on screen will say the same and the scene will invariably be someone having lunch. More than simply a gimmick, Marclay creates unexpected narratives that are addictive and stay with you long after the “wow” factor. I visited twice for an hour each time, I wished I been able to see it all. Just brilliant.
3. The Skin I Live In – Pedro Almodovar
Bonkers brilliance from Mr Almodovar. I can’t say much about this with out revealing huge spoilers but it had passion, great characters and a story that veered on the right side of hysterical. Huge, great close ups of faces, massive nudes – it looks amazing. A friend came out of the screening stating “it was the worst thing he’d ever seen” but I loved it. Almodovar is a continually bold filmmaker and I’d always take something bold over something tasteful or indifferent.
2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Uncle Boonmee is on death’s door and he invites ghosts from his past to join the dinner table and walk with the living. A contemporary, Thai ghost story that beautifully and poetically explores mortality, folklore, memory and the tiger in the undergrowth.
Read the DN review of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
1. 5,000 Feet is the Best – Omer Fast
I visited Dublin for the first time this year showing SIO at The After Dark Festival. Wandering around the city on a rain sodden day I visited Dublin Contemporary staged in a rabbit warren of tiny, spartan rooms in a disused hospital. One room was a former lecture theatre showing a 60-minute film on a loop. I sat down without knowing what I was going to watch but stayed for the full hour absorbed by the film onscreen.
The film fuses fact, fiction, fantasy, close up aerial photography and documentary testimony to tell the impact and PTSD of one man, a remote drone operator based in the US with his target trained on Afghanistan; executing remotely, the near misses and the civilian deaths. An actor, in reconstructed interview scenes recalls repeatedly the symptoms of PTSD he denies having and documentary voiceover from the actual drone operator is juxtaposed with aerial images of the places he fired upon, the families he left and the bright lights of Las Vegas.
When I left I discovered I had been watching 5,000 Feet is the Best by Berlin based Israeli artist Omer Fast. This is a pattern I have repeated in galleries over the years. Watched a great film to discover it’s a work by Fast – The Casting and Nostalgia amongst others. His work is consistently haunting, thought provoking and reaches parts that many films made for cinema fail to. My fudged description doesn’t come close to doing it justice but do seek Omer Fast out.