As a Lutonian and a devoted film fanatic, I rarely get excited about the choice of films I get to view in my hometown. However, once a year I get 11 days to get truly excited about, the Filmstock festival. For those of you that don’t know what Filmstock is…shame on you!
But Fear not, here’s a brief history. Neil Fox and Justin Doherty, another couple of Lutonians with a great passion for the movies, conceived Filmstock in 1999. However, instead of moaning and whinging about the lack of decent films to watch in Luton, Neil and Justin actually did something about it and the first Filmstock began in the summer of 2000. Over the 8 years Filmstock has been running, there have been visits from legends such as Barry Norman and Ray Harryhausen, preview screenings from Christopher Nolan and Jason Reitman, as well as lots of special screenings (Jaws in the Pool, Romeo + Juliet in a candlelight church). This year’s Filmstock has moved back from the summer months and into the first couple of weeks of November, I mean who remembers Guy Fawkes anyway. As usual, the Fox and Doherty collaboration has outdone itself with what’s on offer to the film loving public:
- 94 shorts from nearly 20 different countries
- Polskistock – Filmstock embraces Luton’s ever expanding Polish community with a collection of films fresh from Poland
- Filmschlock – Filmstockers unite and discuss the worst films to ever grace the big screen
- Le Voyage dans la Lune – A night where live music meets film
- An Endurance session of extreme cinema
- A collection of Experimental films
- Documentaries both Short and Feature length
Over the 11 days I took in as much Filmstock as possible, instead of giving you a round up and review of the events, here’ s my festival diary:
As a bit of research (yeah I’m getting all professional and serious about my postings now!) I went down to one of Neil & Justin’s Filmelab events, to hear them talk about setting up and running Filmstock (and also got the added bonus off watching Julien Temple‘s excellent The Future is Unwritten – hopefully you’ve already read that post though). Neil’s the one to take the stage tonight and it’s obvious within 5 minutes how much he truly loves films, The Clash and films about The Clash. I think the most important thing Neil gets across tonight is that although they put a lot effort into conducting Filmstock, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to put on similar events ourselves. Instead of asking others to screen particular films, why not put on a screening yourself? He’s got a good point!
Filmstock 8 has now begun! The bar is buzzing, a lot of mingling is going down and everyone is talking about films. Awesome!I leave my mark on the Filmstock wall, which I’m pretty proud of.
I pick up my pass, say hello to Neil and Justin and sample a couple of beers from the full stocked bar. I turned down my ticket to the opening film tonight, as I’ve already seen Robert Rodriguez‘s ready made cult classic Planet Terror, I enjoyed it and it seems to go down very well with the Filmstock audience. Since Filmstock has not only a selection of world films, but a fine selection of world beers, I feel it also my duty to sample these along with the films, well it’d be rude not to!
Beerwatch – Punk IPA (had to be done for the name and label) & Lone Star
I start my 2nd day at Filmstock with short films and live music, in my eyes an almost perfect combination. La Voyage Dans la Lune is a night of engaging visuals and intriguing music featuring the likes of “Don’t Move, Play Dead!”, Creeping Jaw Society and DJ Engram. In particular, the music of “Don’t Move, Play Dead!” [MarBelle: band member Ginger John has long been a friend of Directors Notes and in fact provides the theme music for the show. He’s still bloody great though!] really hits the right notes tonight, they play haunting melodies over a twisting, looping short film. The tunes keep coming through the night, as do an array of visuals, the people seem happy.
Anyone who knows me will know my love for short movies and every year the short film programme at Filmstock is something I really look forward to. The first session of shorts gets us off to a good start, the quality of the films is high, but to me one movie really stands out head and shoulders above the rest:
La Desgracia Ilega En Sabres Papel Madera – A quirky little short from Argentina, that for many reasons reminds me of Amelie, in both style and story. Director Andy Feldman delivers the story of Hernan, a boy with an irrepressible need to pull a silly face every time a camera is near, with great panache and bags of laughs. Even from the moment I saw the title sequence, I knew I was going to really enjoy this film and I did.
There were some other good films in the session and in particular Hello my Name is struck a few good notes with me, shot in crisp black and white and with a funny little story, it’s worth a watch.
Beerwatch – Sierra Nevada Wheat Beer & Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – Decided to work up from the bottom of the list. Lets see how long that lasts though!
Unfortunately, this is the one day of Filmstock I don’t make! As it’s one of the 2 main short film days, I’m pretty gutted. Had a couple of friends go to the sessions, so I talk with them later in the day. They say the day was a real success, saw lots of films and the beer was flowing. In particular everyone seems to be raving about short film Hooded, hopefully it’ll win an audience award and I’ll get to see it again Sunday.
Ok, so yesterday I obviously didn’t see any films, none at all! Today I make up for that with a couple of short film sessions, again the quality is really good. Not everyone hits the mark, but the when they do, they really hit hard.
English Language (with English Subtitles) definitely gets the El Vez award for film of the day. Tim Plester writes, directs and stars in this tenderly offbeat comedy about love and communication or lack thereof. As an actor Plester is hugely watchable as Mulligan (a typically English man), with a lack of dialogue from his character throughout the film, he still manages to convey a full range of emotions and makes Mulligan a truly believable character. As a Director, he flicks between styles and mediums with ease, effortlessly switching from sharp black and white images used dominantly throughout the film, to rich, warm tones of super 8 home movies. It’s as a writer though where Plester really makes his mark and the real star of this movie is his ingenious use of subtitles.
A crazy tale of boring jobs, deadly insects and masturbation at work makes Sucker – Keir Black an entertaining watch. The story is definitely the biggest attraction of this twisted short, as we come to find out how a jaded car park attendant wakes up with a strangers finger in his mouth.
Beerwatch – Blackened Voodoo (what a name!)
There’s only one thing that can spoil a film festival right on my doorstep…WORK! So over the next five days I’m not only going to attempt to squeeze in films after I’ve finished my day job at 5pm, but also a bit of film watching in my lunch break. Taking advantage of my first lunch break of the week, I head down to Filmstock to watch the first half of Statysci/Extras – Michal Kwiecinski. As the film is repeated Thursday lunch time, if I stretch my lunch a little I should be able to see it in two instalments, not ideal viewing, but better than missing it. The first half of the film is very intriguing, as we get to see how a Chinese film crew, shooting a movie in Poland deals with a totally different culture and misjudged impressions of a nation. Definitely looking forward to the next half.
The evening brings us a Filmelab (Film Education for Luton and Bedfordshire) event called Past-Caring, a time travel trilogy made by young people as part of the First Light Movies scheme. Unfortunately, I don’t make it down for the event, which is a shame as I thought it was a good idea and would have liked to support the event.
Beerwatch – None (didn’t know if a beer on my lunch break was a good idea, looking back now I think it would have been!)
From the moment I started writing this diary, I decided I was going to be honest and to be honest; I’m not a massive fan of experimental cinema. I like my boundaries and preconceptions to be pushed and challenged, however I also need something to keep my interest from waiving. A lot of the films in the Filmstock experimental session tonight were very well made, but not many managed to hold my attention for their full duration. I know the point of these films is to experiment with the form of film and as art their aim is to provoke a reaction from their audience (whether that reaction is positive or negative), however I felt too many of the films were too random and wandering for my tastes. Canidae – Chapter 1 – Robin Van Rijn [MarBelle: Robin joined us for an interview in EP 026] however, was one film I did enjoy on a visual level, the mix of images combined effectively and along with a hypnotic soundtrack, it managed to entrance me for its 25 minute duration. On the other hand, the last film in the session seemed almost as if it was made to test my patience, over at least a dozen points I thought the film was going to end, however, the false endings kept coming and my interest in the film was totally gone. I rarely walk out of a film before it ends, however with the start of the Endurance session looming I left the last film playing with the lonely street sweeping poet mumbling on about a paedophile puppet.
I knew the Endurance session was going to make for an interesting night and I always believed over the years I had exposed myself to some of the extremer moments of cinema…I was wrong! I arrived at the screening to find it already three quarters full, however I managed to find myself a nice coffin sized space to lay on the floor…did I forget to mention this session involved laying on our backs watching the films projected on the ceiling? After getting myself reasonably comfortable, I tried to get my brain adjusted to my new viewing angle and settled in for some family fun.
Film 1: We Fuck Alone – Gasper Noe – The pounding heartbeat and strobe effects of Noe’s film is so disorientating, it’s almost like someone has slipped something into my drink. It’s a full on assault of the senses and the barrage of masturbatory images makes this a pretty extreme start to the endurance session.
In between the first and second film Justin warns people about texting whilst the films are on. I wonder to myself exactly what these people are texting during the film:
CANT TALK! LAYING ON MY BACK WATCHING A GUY WNK ON THE CEILING! LOL!
Film 2: Cantata in C Major – Ronnie Cramer – It’s nice to see a submitted film in the Endurance session and Cramer’s idea is a good one. Using scenes of screaming from classic movies, he builds a ‘scream opera’ which builds to a crescendo over 11 minutes. Too be honest I was a little disappointed with the film though, I felt the editing could have been snappier and the screaming could have been at more consistent level, instead of the peaks and troughs it hits through the movie. It definitely could have been a more extreme experience, but top marks for the experimentation Mr Cramer.
Film 3: The Right Side of My Brain (Richard Kern) – A black and white piece of experimental/extreme cinema from the eighties, Kern’s film wanders through its female leads internal monologue as we experience her love/hate relationship with sex. Personally, I connected with this film least out of all those on show tonight, I found the structure too lose for my liking and the imagery wasn’t anything I found inspiring either. It did feature Henry Rollins though, which is always a good thing (He’s a liar, yeah he’s a liar!)
Film 4: Haze – Shinya Tsukamoto – We follow the story of a man who wakes confined to a tiny concrete room, he has a life threatening stomach injury and no idea where he is or how to get out. A film of intense horror and paralysing claustrophobia, this is certainly a film that can push its audience to its limits. This is definitely the right film to watch lying in a dark cold room on your back! One particular scene involving a rusted pipe had me shuddering on the floor. A lot of the audience left after Haze, I wasn’t sure if this was a reaction to the film, or just because they were so disorientated from the experience, they just forgot there was still one film left.
Film 5: Aftermath – Nacho Cerda – In regards to subject matter, this is definitely the most extreme film of the bunch. Dealing with the life of a morgue employee and his particular work related perversions, if you’re looking at extreme cinema and how the viewer will react, then a film with necrophilia and dogs eating human organs is a good choice. However, if you look past the subject of this film, it is a well made piece. With a slow pace that’s quite unusual in extreme cinema, it exhibits the work of a filmmaker confident with his subject matter.
Beerwatch – Charles Wells Banana Bread Beer (Banana bread and Beer – two of my favourite things!)
For the start of the evening I decided to actually miss the screening of Mojave Phone Booth and head to my local Cineworld. Paris Je T’aime was playing as a one of the Art Wednesday screenings and I’d been wanting to see it for a long time. When I got down there I found out the screening was cancelled, that’ll teach me for abandoning my local film festival. Lesson learnt!
The night of Day 7 featured a double bill of documentaries focusing on some of the unseen lifestyles of modern day China. Beijing Bubbles focused on the struggles of wannabe punk rock musicians, as they try to live out the ultimate dream of becoming the next rock n roll superstars. Although funny in places, I found it hard to really like the film as I didn’t particularly care for the subjects. Their desire to become the next Jim Morrison or Sid Vicious made me sympathetic to them, as I felt it was a dream they would never fulfil. At the same time, I also felt a little angry with them and wanted to give them a shake and shout “go out and find your own identity!” I suppose everyone needs to have dreams though and I think I probably shared a lot of theirs when I was younger, that last comment was probably the old man in me coming out. The film was fairly well made though, had a certain punk ethic to its creation and the cameras were always in the right place at the right time to pick up all the best action. I found the second part of the double bill Women at the Wheel a lot more likeable, not that I didn’t like the first part, I just related and connected to this film more. Throughout this documentary we follow the lives of female taxis drivers in Xian, a medium sized town in China. Unlike in Beijing Bubbles where some of the attempting rock stars chose to live a life of poverty to chase their dream, in Fang Yu’s film these women cab drivers work long hours and at times put their lives at risk, just to make enough money to survive. I found throughout the film, I really cared about the subjects of this documentary; their jobs were not glamorous, at times it was dangerous, yet they all seemed to have come to terms with their situations as they knew it was necessary to support their families. The positive spin they seemed to find in their life and their glass half full approach was something I really found inspiring and this is definitely a film to make you glad for what you have. The film making again was nothing spectacular, however, the filmmakers got us very close to our subjects and it almost felt at times we were living their lives with them. The thing I enjoyed most about the films tonight and the thing I often enjoy about documentaries is that a lot of the time we get a glimpse of a life/world we may never get to see if it wasn’t for these films.
Beerwatch – Sun Lik, Sleeman Honey Brown Lager & Three Hearts Stockholm fine Festival (I was thirsty tonight!)
My plan was to watch the second half of Statysci/Extras on my lunch break today. Unfortunately, this never happened! My lunch break slowly dissolved away sorting problems at my computer, as it often does. I guess I may never find out how this little Polish gem of a film finishes. If anyone out there knows, get in touch.
“These are the journals of Kenneth Maya: artist and psychotropic man.”
Absentia is another cinematic treasure the boys at Filmstock have managed to uncover. This science fiction puppetry epic is definitely one of a kind, produced on a budget of £5,000 over a two year period, it really is a marvel to behold. The story follows reclusive artist Kenneth Maya on an inward journey as we are taken to the depths of the human soul and beyond. I was totally stunned by this film, the array of materials used to create the film and the level of detail was amazing and in particular the use of videoed human mouths overlaid on the puppets, worked to great effect. However, this film wasn’t just an aesthetic pleasure for me, the story and dialogue was like a cross between a Chris Morris sketch, an episode of The Mighty Boosh, a David Lynch script, a Pink Floyd album and the film Innerspace on Acid. At times hilarious, often disorientating, always original, it was great to watch a film where the story challenged its viewers so much. If you get a chance to see this film, take it, you may never see anything like it again!
Filmschlock is an event that’s been running at the festival for the last 2 years and is back once again this year due to public demand. The bar area is full of people waiting with great anticipation for a night that celebrates all that is rotten in cinema, as Justin says “if you’re here for anything except Schlock, you’re in the wrong place, this isn’t the award winning films.” The night plays out with great humour and the audience really joins in with the spirit of Filmschlock, people are shouting at the screen, busting ribs with laughter and are generally amazed by the level of cinema on show. Tonight we get to witness R.Kelly in a closet, Hulk Hogan in speedos, Predator Island and The Horrible Doctor Bones, it’s so bad it’s almost good, but not quite. It’s good to see a Film Festival that’s not afraid to have a bit of fun and really a night like this should be inspiring to all the filmmakers out there. If films like this are getting made, there is hope for us all.
Beerwatch – Brok, Zbur (A good Polish double)
After a week of watching and writing about films, my eyes and head have started to get tired, so tonight, I choose to watch only one film and save myself for the long weekend ahead. Body/Antibody – Kerry Dye & Jordan Hoffman is the film I chose, an independent feature from USA that focuses on Kip Polyard and his battle to overcome his OCD. The script is razor sharp with lots of twists and turns, however, like with many independent features, the acting lets it down in places. On his own the lead Robert Gomes is very watchable, his obsessive compulsiveness is very believable and his awkwardness and discomfort around other people, is so real it’s almost hard to watch at times. It is when Kip starts a relationship with his new neighbour Celine (Leslie Kendall) that I started to have problems with the film. The initial scenes the two characters share are almost like they could be cut together from two separate movies, the actors appear to be delivering lines to an empty space instead of each other. To me the relationship between the two is totally unbelievable for the majority of the movie, it is only in a kinky sex scene involving some pincers Kip has fashioned for himself that chemistry between the two finally clicks. Along with this, I also had problems with the character of Andy, played by Frank Deal this character was supposed to be the villain of the piece, yet I didn’t find him at all threatening and again couldn’t believe in his character. Apart from the problems I had with some of these characters, the film was still an enjoyable piece and shows what you can achieve with a well written script.
So that’s me done for the day, a quiet one film night, but I’ve got the feeling I’ll be seeing a lot more over the final weekend.
Beerwatch – Tatra (Sticking with the Polish brews…they’re GOOD!))
As well as short fiction films, Filmstock also celebrates short documentaries and the early part of day 10 has nine of them on show. The screenings are well attended again and like the other short sessions, the quality is very high, even though not every film hits the mark. For me the stands out films were:
Absolute Zero – Alan Woodruff – An account of the grim and ironic death by freezing of a man trapped inside a refrigerated meat wagon on a train. A documentary with a bit of a narrative twist towards the end makes this an engaging watch.
Evilution – Libbey White – A hypnotizing mix of animation, archival footage and footage of a man who believes the theory of Evolution is totally flawed make this documentary a little one sided, but ultimately very entertaining. It is certainly blessed with its own unique sense of style.
What a Freegan Waste – Craig Rook – An intimate look at the Freegan culture in both the UK and the USA, this documentary provides an informative and compelling insight into a lifestyle many will have never heard of, let alone understand. The ‘characters’ in this documentary are instantly likeable and entertaining, the style flips from almost point of view camera work to animation smoothly and most importantly the films provides us with a message without seeming overtly one sided. [MarBelle: El Vez interviewed Craig on EP 064]
The evening of this penultimate day brings Last stop for Paul, a funny yet touching road movie which follows an unusual trio of backpackers around the world. The most likeable thing about this film, was that instead of pretending they were at certain global locations, like many low budget films might do, all the places shown on the film were the real locations. There was none of this shooting in the desert outside Las Vegas and pretending it was the Sahara, watching this film was almost like visiting the places yourself. Obviously this not only added to the believability of the film, but also provided some great scenery for the camera to focus on. However, not satisfied with making sure all his locations are real, writer, director and star Neil Mandt also ropes in lots of locals to play characters in the film. In Vietnam we get bunny girls in a bar, Thailand we get a machete wielding boat driver and in Jamaica we get a man who explains the phrase “Batty Face”. Although some of the acting in the film is a little ropey in places (and I’m not talking about the locals), as a movie it has a lot of charm and is hard not to like. Really this was a good choice for a Saturday night film, lots of laughs, great scenery and nothing too deep for the brain to process.
Beerwatch – Taybeh, Quilmes & Alhambra
Last day of Filmstock 2007, here’s hoping they saved the best for last. Filmstock day 11 kicks off far too early for a Sunday, but I drag my arse out of bed and my still half asleep self down to the hat factory for the 11.30 screening of Que Le Viva La Lucha, a documentary focusing on the world of Mexican wrestling. The film is a nice light start entertaining to watch and it’s interesting to see how seriously Mexican’s take their wrestling.
The part of the day I was eagerly awaiting though, was the screening of the Audience Award Winning Shorts, basically the best of the best of the short films screened this year. Every year Filmstock gets it’s audience involved with the short sessions by getting them to vote for their favourite film of every session and as I’d missed a few short sessions this year, I was very excited to see what made it through.
Session 1 Winner: La Desgracia Ilega En Sobres Papel Madera – Andy Feldman – The measure of a good film is often in the second viewing and I enjoyed Andy Feldman’s film equally as much second time round. It’s still funny, still well acted, still well made and the plot still seems strikingly original.
Session 2 Winner: Thirty Five Candles – Stephen Briggs – This slice of black humour sees Shane, a 35 yr old Australian hulk of a man who stills lives at home with his mum, receive a birthday present he’ll never forget. It’s definitely a funny little film, the character of Shane is one designed to be laughed at and laugh we do. I like to see a bit more originality in short films, the character of Shane seems like we have something we’ve seen before, but the film is well made and well acted so I can’t really knock it.
Session 3 Winner: The Vaudevillian – Bryan Nest – A bizarre film looking at how a ventriloquist struggles to copes when he loses his job at a circus, how he adjusts to the outside world and how his unusual relationship with his dummy becomes strained. A tale of morality, Nest’s film is expertly made, the costumes and props are well designed and give a real feeling of the time period the film is set. Again for me, the unusual plot of the films is what makes it so watchable, another original idea, well scripted and well acted. Seems to be a bit of a winning formula!
Session 4 Winner: String – Naomi Wright – An almost silent short, which takes us on the quest of one man, on a journey to find the end of a piece of a string. Such a simple idea, carried out with great drive and a nice twist at the end. I must admit though this film did annoy me! Only the other day I was talking to a fellow filmmaker about an idea for a short I had, an idea where a men is on a relentless journey to find the end of a piece of string. I knew it was such a simply idea someone must have done, but the most annoy thing was Wright’s film was much better than I could have ever imagined mine to be.
Session 5 Winner: The Phonekeeper – Stine Michelsen – definitely has an original plot! Focusing around Valdemar who lives and works in an answering machine, Michelsen’s film wins points for individuality. A quirky idea which translates well to the short film format, this is an enjoyable, yet undemanding film to watch.
Session 6 Winner: New To Laundry – Isa Totah – Almost like an extended scene from a comedians sketch show, Totah’s film was highly amusing and very easy to watch . Focusing on laundry, men’s feeble pick up attempts and male camaraderie this film had something that everyone in the audience could relate to, no matter what gender, race or religion.
Session 7 Winner: Hooded – Adam Randall – A dark comedy from the UK, this was one of a couple of films screened at Filmstock this year, that dealt with the subject of the ‘hooded’ youths that now line the streets of the UK. Randall’s film is well executed and his comic timing is spot on, however with a nod to the western in this tale, it does have a bit of a moral tale, which in my opinion only adds to it’s appeal.
Session 8 Winner: Seeking Wellness Part Two: Daddy’s Time – Daniel Schneidkraut – If there was one short film on display at this years Filmstock, that I’d recommend to up and coming low budget filmmakers to watch, this would be it. The film consists of two shots and a slideshow of old family photographs for it’s whole 24 minute duration, yet it managed to keep me totally engrossed throughout. The acting is superb and even in the voiceover the lead actor manages to portray a wide range of emotions, whilst the children acting in the piece tell us so much without ever uttering a word. Schneidkraut’s film is scarily believable and his basic approach to film making just adds to that believability, it’s a almost like we have a disturbing view into the life of this very dysfunctional family. Whilst speaking to Justin about this film, he brought up a good point, if this is Seeking Wellness Part Two, is there a Seeking Wellness Part One?
Session 9 Winner: Anonymous – Cristian Pozo – A wickedly stylish piece, Pozo’s film just oozed class from both it’s narrative and aesthetic pores. The film reminded me of Barton Fink one minute and Fight Club the next, the editing was relentlessly mesmorising and overall the film was absolutely beautiful to behold.
Session 10 Winner: English Language (with English Subtitles) – Tim Plester – As with La Desgracia Ilega En Sobres Papel Madera, I was really looking forward to my second viewing of this film and just like the aforementioned film it was just as enjoyable second time round. The word quirky must have been invented solely for this film, Plester really exploits the medium of film for all the right laughs and his use of subtitles should win awards for ingenuity.
Session 11 Winner: Soft – Simon Ellis – This bitterly realistic film is another film, like Hooded, that deals with the ‘threat’ of the Hooded youth on the streets of the UK. However, unlike Hooded, this film takes a more un-nerving look at the subject of gang mentality and in particular looks at how it feels when a man is unable to protect his family.
This year Filmstock closes with Wes Anderson’s eagerly anticipated The Darjeeling Limited. It’s a good choice for the festivals final film as Anderson’s sense of flair, originality and creativity perfectly compliments the ethos behind Filmstock. I wouldn’t say it’s the director’s best work (then again it’s up against some stiff competition), but its still an inspiring piece of filmmaking, which stands head and shoulders above many films that try to replicate Anderson’s quirkiness and individuality.
After Wes Anderson’s film draws to a close, we head off back to Neil’s and Justin’s office space in Luton, for an apres festival party, one last moment of film talk, mingling and world beers before we’re done
A tired & emotional looking Neil & Justin at the Filmstock closing party – Thanks to Adam Procter for the photo
Beerwatch – Tuborg, Hite (Not really a great deal of choice left on the last night, but Hite the South Korean beer is especially good! Wish I would have discovered it earlier!)
Ok so that’s it for Filmstock for 2007, my eyes feel strained, my beer belly expanded and my brain is swimming with inspiration, looking forward to next year already.