Set in the heart of the Black Country, last week saw the fourth year of Birmingham’s Flatpack Festival, not so much a straight up film festival, but rather a collection of screenings, talks, workshops and live events including an Odeon bus tour; all of which belies many of the preconceptions non-residents may have about Birmingham. Flatpack had extended its offerings by an extra day this year which is just as well for such a packed and varied programme. However, instead of taking advantage of this I tried to cram in as much as possible over two bustling days during the closing weekend.
My first taste of Flatpack came with a visit to the charming Electric Cinema (the UK’s oldest cinema – although my local the Duke of York’s may contest that) for Jukka Kärkkäinen’s The Living Room of the Nation. You just know you’re in for something special when a screening kicks off with the introduction:
“We originally discovered this at Sheffield last year, where for the Q&A the filmmakers stood like they were in a lift and played back a dictaphone.”
Unfortunately Kärkkäinen wasn’t in attendance for a repeat performance, but did give us a collection of likeable characters pondering their lives on screen. Utilising the simplest of camera set ups, literally fly on the wall, the film lays bare six Finnish living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms whose occupants share their interactions and thoughts openly and without reservation. At times the documentary is comedic, with drunken pratfalls, a flaming frying pan and a spontaneous ironing song, but at others deeply moving as in the case of Tarko’s worries about life and fatherhood. “Why is life either uphill or downhill?” he muses, a question I know he’s not alone in asking. The Living Room of the Nation was proceeded by the short (a practice I feel more festivals should feel honour bound to employ) Seeds of the Fall. A fun comedy from Patrik Eklund charting an elderly couple’s passionless relationship, which gets the kick start it needs from a more than neighbourly request.
One of the greatest, unadvertised aspects of film festivals is the serendipity which can lead you to a screening. Overheard suggestions, lateness (mainly mine) or a misprint can yank a planned screening from under you and send you off in some other random direction. Friday night it was the projector Gods playing tricks with the 1986, Melbourne post-punk ‘little band’ scene movie Dogs in Space that had me instead experiencing my first sample of Panic Movement cinema. Mouvement Panique was established by Fernando Arrabal, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor in Paris, in 1962 around the elements of terror, humour, and simultaneity; the films apparently being an exercise in creation out of chaos and excess. Well, as my only frame of reference Mexican director Juan López Moctezuma’s Alucarda certainly delivered on the excess; lots and lots of screaming, blood and nakedness. The humour’s there too, although I’m not sure if the scenes we were knee slapping along with were intended as such. As for terror, I can’t say fear was one of the emotions I experienced, but that didn’t matter as seeing Alucarda in a full cinema was just plain fun. If you’re interested in the plot (and trust me it’s full of holes but really, don’t let that bother you), it all kicks off when Alucarda is given away by her mother at birth to a Catholic convent of mummified, shroud wearing nuns for safe keeping from her father, the devil. Needless to say she’s got a bit of dad in her and upon the arrival of new orphan playmate Justine, 15 year old Alucarda takes her cavorting with gypsies and coffin opening, releasing demonic possession on them both, whereupon the blood starts flying, nuns get their levitation on and eye-triggered combustion ensues. It was great! My favourite line has to be when the ‘science over superstition’ Dr. Oszek disgustedly throws down a book titled ‘Satan’ he’s been studying with a dismissive “Utter rubbish!”.
So with a new horror sub-genre to mine I headed for bed ready to hit the ground running for a day of animated shorts. I started off at the Ikon Eastside venue with Darklight Shorts, a showcase of submissions from new talent taken from last year’s Darklight Festival in Dublin. A pretty eclectic mix of styles and approaches, I was happy to see our old friend Max Hattler’s Basement Jaxx Where’s Your Head At? tour visuals in there and discover the hypnotizing, kaleidoscope of synchronised skydiving in Paris Mavroidis’ Divers, next to the motion graphics, tritone, ocular sex exchange Chick from Michal Socha, which makes the best use of the iconic Martini glass & olive combo ever.
From there it was back to The Electric to hand the reins over to puppetry, at Puppetology. Of the day’s shorts, this programme was the most impressive; love, betrayal, repentance and retribution from Ben Lister in Lisa Li-Lund’s Bloodface promo, paper puppets coming of age in Jons Mellgren’s Dark Island, an intimidatingly creative use of hand shadow puppetry performed by Serpico and directed by Kirk Hendry for the Warp Films / BBC co-production Round and another past DN interviewee Stefan Nadelman, creator of the world’s most kinetic stills based short documentary Terminal Bar, frankly flaunting his greatness once again with a promo for Ramona Falls’ I Say Fever.
And finally came the geographically diverse Channel 1 collection of shorts. Favourites being Andersen M Studio bringing books to painstakingly, cutout life for the New Zealand Book Council in Going West, which you may have seen doing the viral rounds last year and Samantha Moore’s documentary An Eyeful of Sound convincing me I’d quite like to be afflicted with synaesthsia.
Tempted as I was to take up the opportunity of a second viewing of Yorgos Lanthimos’ overprotective parenting, Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’ winner Dogtooth, I instead opted to find out just what took place at A Plasticine Party. As the name suggested it was a combination of a party; bands playing live accompaniments to plasticine animated films and Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai DJing – he also presented Burning a documentary co-directed by Nathanaël Le Scouarnec and (yes we promise to stop going on about him, honestly) Vincent Moon, which I arrived too late to catch (typical!) – and a plasticine-off with teams furiously modeling their own multicoloured worlds. I think you’ll agree the gallery of horrors (including my ambitious snake) created by our team was worthy of top bragging rights. After publicly enjoying far too many guilty pleasure tunes, the lights came up and it was time for me to stumble to bed and my Flatpack experience to come to an end.