Friday, September 20, 2013

When a Film Surprises You...

With the 10th IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival opening next week, the festival programmer, Ross Whitaker, writes about some valuable lessons that he's learnt when picking films for this year's selection.

This is my second year with IFI Stranger Than Fiction and I’m still pretty new to this film programming game and learning all the time. I’m sure there are plenty of things that I’m about to learn at this year’s Stranger Than Fiction - I’m just not sure yet what those lessons are going to be!

One thing that really stood out last year from the feedback of audiences is that quality counts over everything else. Thankfully the reaction last year was generally very positive but I remember one punter coming up to me at the end of the festival to say that she thought one film just didn’t quite hit the mark. She had loved the rest of the festival but just wanted to let me know that there was one dud in there. It was a friendly reminder that nothing gets past audiences.

The Great Hip Hop Hoax

A couple of other points were made to me. One lady told me that the programme was a little male - perhaps I was generally feeding my own male taste a little too much - and another told me that I should be keeping an eye out for more documentaries that intersected with animation in their storytelling. I’ve tried to keep both of those things in mind when it came to this year’s programme!

One thing I’ve already learned this year is to leave my preconceptions at the door when it comes to watching a film. In putting together this year’s list, there have been films that I expected to love that didn’t hit the mark in the end and there have been films that weren’t at the top of my DVD pile that really impressed me.

Aisling Gheal 

I hope the filmmaker, Dónal Ó Céilleachair, won’t mind me saying that his film Aisling Gheal didn’t grab me at first. As an urban-dwelling Dubliner, films like The Great Hip Hop Hoax and Smash & Grab really jumped out at me for selection but I figured that a film about child Sean-nós singers in rural Cork was not one that I thought I would necessarily like. That was before I watched it.

When I did watch Ó Céilleachair’s film it was a big lesson for me. This deftly made observational film is utterly beguiling from beginning to end. From the encouraging teachers to the charming kids to the stunning backdrops that give an amazing sense of place, the film is a wonderful piece of work from a clearly very talented filmmaker. Having shown the film to colleagues in the IFI, I’m happy to say that I am not alone in thinking this.

The film arrived on my desk with no fanfare but we are delighted to be celebrating its first screening outside of the county of Cork and to welcome the director Dónal Ó Céilleachair along to introduce the film. It also represents the closing of a circle as Ó Céilleachair first pitched the film a few years ago at IFI Stranger Than Fiction.

Dragon Girls

A nice companion piece to Aisling Gheal is another film that shows children working hard towards a goal. Dragon Girls is set in the altogether tougher environment of China as young girls try to make it at a Kung Fu school. Filmmaker Inigo Westmeier has made a film of great beauty and we are delighted to welcome him to the festival.

Cinematographer Westmeier has applied significant visual capabilities to his directorial debut combining incredibly composed set-pieces with tender portraits of young kids. It’s a really impressive piece of work and Westmeier won the award for Best International Documentary at the prestigious Hot Docs International Documentary Festival in Toronto.

These two films really won me over and I’m sure they will audiences too.

Ross Whitaker
Festival Programmer

 IFI Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival runs between September 26th and 29th, 2013. Visit our website for more details or download our Festival Brochure (PDF).

No comments:

Post a Comment