Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stories about women and by female directors at IFI Stranger Than Fiction

IFI Stranger Than Fiction returns to the IFI this week, and I was delighted to learn that more than half the films in this year’s impressive lineup have a female director. This news is particularly encouraging, given recent reports on the woefully low representation of women directors in fiction filmmaking and across the water in TV drama.


Clearly the ladies are not just representing themselves in the world of factual narrative but very much rising to the top of their game. This can only be good news for industry and audience – competition may be a rude motivation, but it’s always effective – and we all benefit when the best person is behind the camera.

Aisling Gheal

So what have this year’s STF audiences to look forward to? Well, quite a lot actually, thanks to some insightful programming, an exciting series of workshops and a wealth of compelling new stories from viewpoints on both sides of the gender divide. Audiences will be treated to Irish premieres of festival darlings The Great Hip Hop Hoax, Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers, Leviathan, and Dragon Girls, as well as home grown greats Here Was Cuba, Close to Evil and Aisling Gheal.

After Tiller

After Tiller also gets its Irish premiere at STF – never more timely – as it powerfully addresses the abortion debate, albeit in America. When will someone be brave enough to back an Irish examination of this subject matter? Kim Longinotto’s Salma presents another strong feminist viewpoint – the story of a Muslim woman who writes her escape out of family servitude.

Jeanie Finlay (The Great Hip Hop Hoax)

Another interesting and practical aspect of the festival is the planned series of workshops, in particular Breaking into Documentary (FREE event) and Building an International Documentary Company. Documentary makers and film lovers alike will have the opportunity to engage with panels of internationally renowned documentary makers, including Sundance winner Havana Marking, Jeanie Finlay, as well as our own hugely talented Emer Reynolds, Andrew Freedman, Cathal Gaffney and Risteard Ó Domhnaill.

Reality Bites Documentary Shorts

Feature documentary is experiencing something of a golden age internationally, and is without doubt an area for continued growth and support here at home. The future is bright for new Irish talent (whose work can be seen in the Eat My Shorts strand), and with a diverse range of stories and voices coming to the fore, audiences have a lot to look forward to. So, whether it’s sean nós, kung fu or the Cuban Missile Crisis you’re after, get down to IFI Stranger Than Fiction and join the conversation.

Rachel Lysaght
Women in Film & Television Ireland

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).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Film scholar Daniel Fitzpatrick has curated the IFI and Experimental Film Club programme for September, and here he discusses its theme: Re-evaluating British documentary cinema 

British cinema has always gotten a bad rap. Ever since Truffaut made the claim that the words ‘Britain’ and ‘cinema’ were incompatible it has struggled to be taken seriously. For Truffaut and many others this was a cinema that was “boring”, lacked “enthusiasm, zeal and impetus”; it was a cinema that reflected “a submissive way of life”. Britain’s cinema has been continuously dismissed for being dull, safe and ‘realistic’, in the pejorative use of the term, but this screening of short films taken from various points within Britain’s history of documentary film production quickly puts paid to those claims. What is revealed instead is an evolving tradition of experimentation and innovation. It is a history full of contradictions and often apposite positions. The Free Cinema movement for example, and its figurehead Lindsay Anderson, rejected outright the influence of John Grierson and the formative British documentary film movement, opting instead for a low budget form with no ties to industry or government and little or no editorialising commitment. Their film O Dreamland (1953) is included here. The film was shot on, what was then, newly affordable 16mm stock and it takes us on an almost hallucinatory trip through the Margate funfair, taking in, among other things, a terrifying cackling clown and a ‘Torture Through The Ages’ exhibit.

The Free Cinema movement took their primary inspiration from Humphrey Jennings, often considered the true poet of British documentary cinema. Jennings films stripped away everything that was deemed unnecessary in the documentary form, replacing the narrative voice with a collage of sounds that far more effectively captured the specifics of a time and place. Included in this programme is his film Spare Time. Originally created for the New York World Fair of 1939, it offers us a picture of Britain at work and at play in the interwar period. This deeply evocative film also reflected Jennings involvement with the Mass Observation movement, removed as it was from the kinds of editorialising and condescension that often dogged documentary cinema and its engagement with the ‘working classes’.

Len Lye Trade Tattoo (1937)

Going back to British documentary’s formative period and John Grierson’s reign as head of both the Empire Marketing Board and later the GPO Film Unit we find here an equally dazzling embrace of formal experimentation and playful innovation. Within his stated objective of making films that would speak directly to the masses, that would educate and inform, Grierson managed to surround himself with a truly eclectic group of creatives, many of whom were drawn from an emergent European avant-garde. These would include Alberto Cavalcanti, Len Lye (two films by Lye are included in this programme), Norman McLaren (his short Love On The Wing is featured here), Basil Wright and Edgar Antsey. These filmmakers often truly functioned as a collective with various influences present across a wide number of films. The films themselves, particularly those included here, were full of ideas, highly adventurous, and certainly never dull.

Hans Richter Every Day (1929)

This programme also includes Hans Richter’s Every Day (1929), a scarcely seen film which features a rare screen appearance by the great Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. The film depicts a day in the life of an increasingly industrialised and mechanised existence. Geoffrey Jones’ film Locomotion (1975), which also effectively combines human and machinic rhythms, is a masterpiece of creative editing, and it closes out this exciting programme.            

The IFI & Experimental Film Club’s N or NW: Experimental Lineages within British Documentary Cinema will take place on September 25th at 18.30.  BOOK NOW.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"You can never forget you're a dedicated film fan first" - Matt Micucci on his experience at the 70th Venice Film Festival

As the IFI reporter from the Venice Film Festival, for the last couple of weeks I have been posting news, reviews, interviews and overall gossip from the Lido – I hope you have been following my updates featured on the IFI Twitter account? It’s has been a lot of work, but enjoyable work, which sadly is coming to an end – for now.

Before it does, I would like to do a couple of things. One of them is to publicly thank the wonderful people at the Irish Film Institute who made this possible for me. I would particularly like to thank Alicia McGivern and Shauna Lyons, as well as Anna Pas in the last stage of my Venice adventure, with whom I had direct contact and whom I hope to remain in contact with in the future. I hope to have repaid their trust with dedicated reports on Twitter and from my website. I also hope to have represented them well in this 28 Times Cinema project, a programme set up by the European Parliament for young cinephiles – one from each European country – to come together and discuss cinema.

Cinema is something I have always connected with and something that has always meant an awful lot to me. This passion and love I feel for it led me to study Film and TV in GMIT, a course which I successfully completed in 2010. While I started the course with an idea of becoming a filmmaker, I realised that perhaps what I really wanted to do was talk about film and open cinematic debates by pursuing a career in film journalism.

While at the 70th Venice International Film Festival, I collaborated with CineEuropa, who set up a blog for us and our reports and reviews, and also linked the IFI to all my shorter reviews for all the screenings I attended. I also kept a daily Venice diary which I compiled for Film Ireland. My three interviews were with the director of the festival Alberto Barbera and the filmmakers Bruce la Bruce and Costanza Quatriglio. So far, I have had a chance to meet many interesting people and to network.

I always carried my audio recorder with me at every screening, just in case the filmmaker attended and spoke about the movie, giving me the chance to include his or her thoughts and stories. To complete my self-training on the ‘report’, I practiced the art of sneaking into press conferences without a press badge, or standing next to the door and overhearing what was said. The main one of these was the one for Philomena, the film by Stephen Frears which at the time of writing looks set to win the competition. At the time, I hadn’t seen the film, so I just posted what was said at the conference directly transcribed. Another priceless experience I received here in Venice was in interviewing, which I think is the ultimate promotion that the press and media in general can offer to a filmmaker and his creation.

Certainly the most important thing I learned about this job is that you can never forget that you are a dedicated film fan first. Film is a wonderful form of art, perhaps the most impressive, but it is so mistreated that sometimes it is hard to watch. If journalists start acting superior to cinema, then we can all kiss its credibility goodbye. On a personal level, I want to be involved, and I will work very hard to build a reputation as a good and hard-working promoter of film.

So, that’s what I have learnt so far in my experience in Venice. At the risk of seeming incredibly pretentious, I would really like to open a debate particularly regarding Irish cinema from what I learnt here in Venice. It is crucial not to underestimate the value of film reporting, film interviewing and film critique. Ireland needs a good film magazine. Ireland needs more critique circles. Ireland needs more talks before special screenings. This type of film promotion is exactly what can moderate film culture, promote film passion and certainly, when done right, generate more money in the industry.

Matt Micucci

For the fourth year in a row, young film-lovers representing each of the European countries have attend the Venice Days. Matt Micucci has been selected by IFI Education as this year's representative from Ireland and he's been tweeting tirelessly from the Lido on behalf of the IFI. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattMicucci89!