Derby Film Festival 2017
By Guy Russell
A little under two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the 4th annual Derby Film Festival. Hosted by QUAD the festival kicked off on the 28th April followed by ten days’ worth of screenings, talks, short films and competitions.
Each year the festival has a different theme and the films listed in the programme reflect that theme in some way. Last year’s festival had the theme of “Journey”, this year’s however was “Habitat” and as the festival organisers describe it, “the environment that films take place in can vary hugely and create a massive impact on the narrative and the characters”.
On the opening night of the festival the audience was treated to a preview of the upcoming comedy Mindhorn starring Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh fame. Directed by Sean Foley and written by Barratt and Boosh collaborator Simon Farnaby this plays a lot differently than what we’re used to seeing Barratt do.
Instead of eccentric and odd humour however we’re treated to the sad, self-deprecating comedy which Will Ferrell and Steve Coogan have excelled at for years. Barratt plays it just as brilliantly as Richard Thorncroft, a former 80s television detective who longs for a comeback on the screen but instead finds himself being asked to assist the police in apprehending a real life murderer.
Mindhorn will draw obvious comparisons to Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa that was released in 2013 as Partridge found himself thrust into real action as a hostage negotiator. Coogan actually stars in Mindhorn also as Thorncroft’s former co-star Pete Eastman who is now a star in his own right. Accomplished actors Kenneth Branagh and Andrea Riseborough also feature.
It was a pleasure to know the film was shot on location in the Isle of Man, the sleepy location played a part in the film and looked glorious on the screen. I really enjoyed Mindhorn and I am fairly confident the rest of the audience did too as the screening was filled with laughter. This British comedy delivers plenty of laughs wgich is sadly something that isn’t too common in British cinemas right now. It was also refreshing that the film is completely original and not only commissioned because of its ties to an already established television show (Alan Partridge, The Inbetweeners). I hope to see more Mindhorn films from Barratt in the future.
You can still catch Mindhorn showing at the QUAD in May.
David Lynch: The Art Life (2017)
This documentary about David Lynch’s life and work as a filmmaker was an advance preview as part of the Fantastiq element of the festival.
Directed by Jon Nguyen and Rick Barnes this intimate look inside Lynch’s youth, his persona and his “art life” couldn’t come at a more relevant time. Twin Peaks, arguably Lynch’s most recognisable title in his resume is weeks away from being revived, so an expose into the mind of one of the most enigmatic directors around today is satisfying to watch. Narrated by Lynch through a vintage microphone speaker he guides the audience through his awkward life affirming adolescence right through into his adulthood giving the viewer an idea about how his mind works and why he is such a vivid and eccentric director.
Last year’s Derby Film Festival screened Wild at Heart (1990) and whilst I wasn’t the biggest fan of the film I understood why Lynch has a massive legion of fans. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this documentary as much as I did but with a sleek running time of only 90 minutes I found myself wanting to hear Lynch talk more about any subject! Nguyen and Barnes do a great job in keeping the films pace light and swift, never letting the film sag or outstay its welcome.
Whilst I’m a firm believer of “less is more” when it comes to knowing a film or filmmakers secrets I am guilty of seeing filmmakers quizzed on their films or their career, making sense of the subtleties they have placed in their films. This documentary is a must see for any David Lynch fan or film fan.
Whilst this was an advance preview as part of the Derby Film Festival, viewers can catch this documentary when it hits cinemas in July 2017.
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Directed by legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder, this long unappreciated noir film was a new watch for me and was screened during the festival and fitting perfectly with the theme of habitat.
Ace in the Hole stars Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum, a cynical, libellous, cruel adulterer who has been caught on previous occasions creating fake news to further his career as a reporter. We find out early on that Tatum has been fired from every newspaper from New York to Chicago and has now found his way in Albuquerque, New Mexico offering his services to small town paper The Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin.
Tatum is a classic noir protagonist, a flawed, greedy individual who only looks out for himself, a familiar trait in a lot of people in the modern world today. Frustrated at the lack of “big news” in his small town, Tatum is sent to a nearby rattlesnake hunt to report on when he stumbles upon local man Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) who has been tragically caved in whilst scavenging in an old Indian cave. Tatum virtually rubs his hands as he sees the tragedy as a way to write “big news” again, instead of getting Minosa out as quickly as possible Tatum slyly delays the rescue effort so his story can grow.
What follows is a massive media circus surrounding the cave, tourists from different states camp out, hot dog vendors at every turn, carnival rides and even a band performing and selling a song they have written for Leo. Tatum, along with Leo’s estranged wife make a huge windfall whilst Minosa is trapped.
Wilder through the characters and brilliant cinematography by Charles Lang, scathingly attacks the American people’s obsession over tragedy, no surprise then when Ace in the Hole flopped at the box office only finding its appreciation in the last two decades. Wilder famously spoke of the poor box office performance saying “Americans expected a cocktail and felt I was giving them a shot of vinegar instead”.
Ace in the Hole fits ideally within the theme of habitat as the location creates a massive impact on its central characters. Without the Indian cave trapping Leo there would be no circus, no story. As I mentioned earlier this was a first watch for myself, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, I can see this becoming a favourite on my shelf for years to come.
To find that it didn’t find an audience when first released is disappointing, the film was definitely before its time and I would gladly recommend this film to anyone!
The Truman Show (1998)
Moving on from Ace in the Holes attack of the public’s desire for tragedy is The Truman Show, a film attacking the publics obsession for drama. Directed by Peter Weir, The Truman Show stars Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank who since birth has been the subject of a reality television show about his life. Adopted by Christof (Ed Harris) who serves as the show’s creator and executive producer Truman is unaware that his whole life has been scripted, materialized just for ratings.
Unlike Ace in the Hole, The Truman Show was a huge commercial and critical success even though both films criticise human natures worst aspects. Originally The Truman Show was written as a thriller set in New York City however when Weir approached the project the film was developed as a comedy, attaching the world’s biggest comedy star Jim Carrey as the lead. I believe this is one the reasons the audience accepted a filmmaker’s critique of them as Weir masks his attack with comedy.
Truman’s entire life has taken place inside a giant production dome in Hollywood, designed to create the image of the beautiful, fictional Seahaven Island. When films stay in our mind long after the film has finished sometimes it’s not the plot or the characters that makes our minds revisit the movie but because visually we can’t get the films “look” out of our head.
The matching cottages, porches and white picket fences seem too perfect to be real, some of the shots by cinematographer Peter Biziou almost resemble some fantasy films like Brazil (1985). Similar to Mindhorn, The Truman Show was shot on location in the aptly named Seaside, Florida, a fact not many people can believe, many believing the look was achieved on a soundstage in Hollywood.
I’m sure most people had already seen The Truman Show when it was screened on the penultimate day of the festival, however like myself I’m sure they enjoyed seeing it on the big screen with an audience laughing with them. If you’ve not already seen Truman, then I would highly recommend this film!
A big thank you to Kathy Frain at Derby QUAD