Guy Maddin

Format: Cinema

Release date: 4 July 2008

Venues: BFI Southbank, Renoir, The Gate (London) and key cities; Scotland July 18

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Guy Maddin

Screenplay: Guy Maddin and George Toles

Cast: Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage, Amy Stewart, Louis Negin

Canada 2006

90 mins

Guy Maddin season at the BFI Southbank

July 4-23


In the week before the British theatrical release of his new documentary My Winnipeg and the BFI retrospective of his films, Guy Maddin came to London to introduce some preview screenings of his work. Alex Fitch caught up with the director and they chatted about My Winnipeg, Guy’s interests and influences as a filmmaker and his career on screen so far.

Alex Fitch: My Winnipeg seems to be a mixture of the various styles you’ve developed in other movies. Parts of it – for example the ballet section – remind the viewer of Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary and other parts are autobiographical. Do you see it as a sort of culmination of your career so far?

Guy Maddin: Yeah, I just decided to kind of throw the kitchen sink at the viewers! I was commissioned to make this film and I’ve never made a long documentary before. I’d made a short one with Isabella Rossellini which I’d always called a docu-fantasia, because Isabella was talking about her father on his centennial, but I don’t think she was really worried about getting the facts right. What really mattered was that this was a documentary about her feelings about her father, so she conducted all the research she needed in her heart. So when I was commissioned to make a film about Winnipeg I realised I could do the same thing! But I was still worried about ‘the documentary’ and all the ridiculous disciplines it tends to require, all the apparent objectivity and higher shooting ratios and longer editing periods and discovering your true subject in the editing… All these are clichés about the process of making a documentary, and I was pretty terrified! So I thought, I’m just going to load up the arsenal with as many tricks as I have… But something prevented me from allowing them to be tricks; since I was talking about my Winnipeg, they had to ring true in my heart. So I ended up making – I think very intuitively – a movie about Winnipeg that really kept grabbing at the oddest, almost forgotten corners of my memory and finding things that mattered to me. Finally, I found myself not making a movie about Winnipeg after all but about home – everyone’s home – about home towns, family, nostalgia, memory or something! I think that’s why the movie’s been travelling way better than I ever thought it would. People in Sydney or London or Berlin are seeing the same things in it that Winnipeggers see in it. It’s strange…

AF:Someone famous once said it’s not so much that ‘History is written by the winners’ but rather ‘History is written by the writers’ and so you can take any kind of fact and weave it into your own personal narrative.

GM: That was a bit of a challenge. There are so many disparate and seemingly unrelated items of interest to me that I had to find a way of weaving them together. The editing process did take a long time, but sometimes I would just fluke upon a connection between two things during my improvised narrations. I would go to the recording studio for five or ten minutes each day and just talk for a while. Sometimes in the spirit of just keeping the talk going I would have to repeat things before thinking of the next thing to say and so things started taking on poetic symptoms. Every now and then when I was trying to force out an idea, I’d come up (to the studio) – and in desperation, to keep the ball rolling – I would make a throw that accidentally perfectly connected two scenes. Ultimately, after months of doing these improvised narrations, almost every scene in the movie spoons against the previous and the next or rhymes somehow with a scene elsewhere in the movie and they all kind of fit together. I’d like to feel that if there were such a thing as poetry or psychology accountants, they’d come in and do an audit and everything would add up horizontally, vertically, diagonally and we’d be congratulated for keeping such good books!

AF: A lot of themes in the movie seem to be about movement and rhythms. The confluence of the rivers, the way they flow into the town and the immigrants, the way they flow into the town and the way the railroad flows into the town… Nature and man’s imposition on nature is something that might dictate a more poetic narrative rather than straight storytelling.

GM: Yeah, and Winnipeg especially, being at the geographical centre of North America and the site of so many strange intersections including all sorts of mystical beliefs whether European or Aboriginal… I’m not much of a mystic when I’m not holding a camera but you’re always looking for something to haunt your screen when you’re a filmmaker and I found it in abundance in Winnipeg. The stories really had me half-believing in all the great mystics and the legends. I mention them because they actually create a really strong and eerie milieu for the stuff that happens within my family. I could never successfully disentangle a study of my home town from a study of my own home and family. I was pleased that the staining mystical powers bled right into my family and that all the occult ectoplasms prescribed to the city by Aboriginals and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also seemed to be in operation whenever my siblings and my mum sat down to eat dinner!

AF: How autobiographical are the recreations?

GM: They’re spot on!

AF: You show a younger version of yourself making films of your mother and family. So that actually happened?

GM: Yeah.

AF: So you might have, for example, those actual home movies as an extra on the DVD if you felt like exposing yourself that much to the world!

GM: I have hours of 8mm footage – it’s not even Super 8 yet – from when I was very young. I shot some of it; my older brother, Ross – who’s still alive – shot a bunch as well. He’s twelve years older than I am. My dead brother was an audiophile and created tonnes of sound sculptures which we were able to incorporate into the movie, so he has a posthumous credit of sound design or some sort of sound department credit anyway. I didn’t want to give him too good a credit – you don’t want to cheat the living out of their proper credits! The recreated family and conversations were spot on, as well as I could remember anyway – memory’s pretty unreliable.

AF: The new scenes, were they shot on film or digital? The reason I ask is because you mentioned alchemical processes earlier and film itself is obviously a very alchemical process – you open a shutter, expose some plastic to light and bathe it in chemicals in order to reveal the hidden image…

GM: …and you’d think I’d know that more than anyone! But I really thought that making a documentary was an opportunity for me to break free of my enslavement to film emulsion and work in HD. So I did buy an HD camera and I shot most of the movie with it and then I realised that these stories would sit a lot better in emulsions rather than pixels. They’re just made for emulsions… So I projected the finished edited film onto my fridge and shot it with a film camera and there the stories sit properly!

AF: The history of filmmaking is something that’s very important in your work. There’re all sorts of references to silent movie techniques… Were European silents something you were fond of when you were growing up?

GM: Not when I was growing up, but when I was a 20-something hipster I loved the look of those things. When I was daydreaming of becoming a filmmaker and for the life of me couldn’t light the basic three-light set-up. I had three shadows every time I’d light them, so I started unplugging them until I got down to one shadow. And it was an expressionist shadow and I realised the shadows were not only very evocative and loaded with atmosphere and dread but also the most inexpensive form of set decoration. Absence of light seemed to suggest far more than building a set could ever do! It was kind of a chicken / egg thing… I think my penchant for expressionist stuff came about from sheer inability to do classic filmmaking, and then of course that forced me to watch more silent film and I found more affinities with it. The approach of silent film is a little closer to fairy tale than naturalism. I like treating everything as more or less fairy tale anyway. That’s my way of finding myself inside of a book, I always pretend it is a fairy tale at first – whether it is or not – and then make adjustments later.

AF: In your first three films, you seemed to be touring Europe both in terms of style and narrative – Tales from the Gimli Hospital is about an Icelandic community, Careful is about a Swiss town, Archangel is about a group of Russians. Also, Archangel and Careful have very strong expressionist and constructivist influences, which culminate in my favourite of your shorts, The Heart of the World, which feels like a lost Russian silent movie!

GM: Yeah and that’s the only movie I’ve made that turned out exactly the way I planned it! It’s pretty lucky – that won’t happen again! I feel it’s because film, more than any other art form – it can be argued that Renaissance painting was like this too – is an industry as well as an art form. In its industrial haste, so many beautiful unexploited potentials were just left behind and it seems like such a shame not to go back and exploit them a bit more, even as ineptly as I do!

AF: I wouldn’t say that at all! Certainly the fact that your films use the language of the silents gives them a great visual aesthetic that stands out amongst all the CGI and the slickness that are crowding the movie theatres. It seems a shame that so few directors have a visual style any more, as if they have to fit in with everything else that’s out there.

GM: I’m so lucky… Like I said, whatever visual style I have – and I do have one – came about just from dumb tenacity to shoot in spite of the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing and I’ll credit myself with recognising that that was producing something – something worth clinging onto with a lot of desperation! It’s evolving slowly but I’m not in any hurry; there’re still a million and one great stories to be told by this enchanting method, so why toss it out, the way the industry did the first time around?

AF: In the films you made from the late 90s onwards like The Saddest Music in the World and Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and now the hidden history of Winnipeg you seem to be inventing a Canadian mythology.

GM: Yeah, definitely.

AF: Modern Canadian cinema seems to be somewhat ‘new’; it seems to be inventing its own history as if the hundred years that preceded it haven’t been documented enough so they need to cram it all in.

GM:They haven’t! I guess because we’re smack dab up against the greatest self-mythologising culture ever, America – we’re loathe to self-mythologise. When Canadians are asked to define their identity, they say, ‘Well, we’re not American!’ And pressed to define what that means, they say, ‘Well, we don’t exaggerate, we don’t boast…’. But there’s no more sure-fire way to consign a historical figure or event to complete amnesiac oblivion than to present them in life-sized terms. So it’s nice to see other filmmakers’ work, but it was something I was prepared to do if no one else was going to do it – start self-mythologising… That doesn’t mean lying! If you asked the average American which one of the following really existed, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, Daniel Boone, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Joe Montana, they couldn’t tell you half the time! So apocryphal people are just as important as ones that really lived. They get boiled down to an essence that gets tasted in one’s lifetime and goes into the recipe of a national identity. I just want to do my bit for Canadians so they don’t have to say, ‘Well, we’re not American’.

AF:Also, because you’re nestling against a ‘sleeping elephant’, as someone once called America, Canadian cinema seems to be able to explore themes that American cinema seems to be terrified of, such as sexuality, for example. Your films, the films of Robert LePage, the films of David Cronenberg, seem to explore male sexuality in a way that American cinema won’t touch with a barge pole!

GM:Us Canadian mice can go right up the rear end of that elephant without them even noticing! It’s an advantage.

AF:In My Winnipeg for example, the scenes in the changing rooms… Is it something you feel just isn’t explored in cinema?

GM:Children are sexual beings, just think of your own childhood. In my case, I was far more sexual as a child than I am now; far more preoccupied from a very early age… I haven’t conducted an elaborate survey, but I just like movies that acknowledge that. There’s a great Canadian film called Léolo that gets right into that. I’m just trying to be honest. Nothing bothers me more than a movie about the innocence of children! What are they innocent of? They might be innocent of murder, but that’s about it! Children haven’t learned to repress yet or anything like that. They’re just teeming with wonderful luridity, from very early on! I was six, maybe, when for some reason I locked the bathroom door and urinated into a badminton birdie! It was very important that I do this! I’m not going to say how many times I did this, but…

AF:You marked that territory well!

GM:…it seemed to make sense to me somehow. While it was a rough draft or an incorrect model of the world, there was something telling me to do that…

AF:Another theme in your work is matriarchal figures. Obviously there’s Ann Savage playing a semi-fictionalised version of your mother in My Winnipeg, in Twilight of the Ice Nymphs there’s Shelley Duvall, in The Saddest Music there’s Isabella Rossellini… These strong female presences, is that something you’re trying to work out – some sort of childhood trauma – or just something you feel isn’t explored enough in cinema?

GM:Yeah, especially in indie film, which is still very male-dominated. I’m not going to start making feminist statements on behalf of women filmmakers, but it just feels good to see everybody represented fairly in movies. Bergman’s trick was to write autobiography and then ascribe his own autobiographical traits to one or two female characters; but I’ve been lucky enough, I’ve had one or two very strong female characters in my life and they seem to be bottomless sources of narrative material! My first few movies were very male-centred with very simple objects of desire wearing the skirts but in these recent pictures I’ve decided to zero in on what women really meant to me. They feel more fleshed out, it’s very satisfying.

AF:I suppose that in films like Cowards Bend the Knee and Sissy Boy Slap Party it’s the absence of a female presence that causes the guys to go crazy?

GM:Well, yeah! If you’re just lounging around the dock with your shirt off and a gob hat aslant over a sun-sleepy face, you’ll get yourself into some trouble! I found myself reading Euripides of all things… I never wanted to read Greek tragedy, I thought that would be like unrolling parchments and be a very arid activity, but gobbling up Euripides is like flipping through the pages of Mexican romance comics – really fun, fast-paced, crazy, violent stuff! Everything Quentin Tarantino should be is in Euripides! Not only that, it’s written 2,500 years ago but it’s about the relationship you just got out of – it’s incredible! There’re some great women characters in there and I’m in there! The male characters always seem to be me! In Medea, I’m Jason. I’ve gone out with Medea, I’ve gone out with Electra… It’s amazing how easily you can find yourself in these things.

AF:It’s interesting you should mention Medea, as Lars von Trier made a film version of the story for TV and I was wondering if you were a particular fan of his work, because the central leit-motif in My Winnipeg, having the train with back-projected images behind it, reminded me very much of Europa.

GM:Yeah, I had that in mind and then I realised that when I was trying to hypnotize people at the beginning of my movie some people might be reminded of Max von Sydow’s very hypnotic narration in Europa, but I’d already decided to do it anyway. It ended up being different. Von Trier really took the rear-screen projection a lot further, by incorporating characters in real world and ‘flat world’ and having them trade places and things like that. I do like rear-screen projection. It’s a simple way of opening up space – of acquiring cheap cinematic space.

Interview by Alex Fitch

For more on this see Guy Maddin and the mythologising of Winnipeg and the interview with Cecilia Araneda, director of the Winnipeg Film Group.


My Winnipeg

Format: Cinema

Release date: 4 July 2008

Venues: BFI Southbank, Renoir, The Gate (London) and key cities; Scotland July 18

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Guy Maddin

Screenplay: Guy Maddin and George Toles

Cast: Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage, Amy Stewart, Louis Negin

Canada 2006

90 mins

Guy Maddin season at the BFI Southbank

July 4-23


Close to the geographical centre of the North American continent is the seventh largest Canadian city – although the locals consider it relatively small – Winnipeg, in the province of Manitoba. Native Americans first arrived in the area 6000 years ago, Europeans in 1738 and it was incorporated as a city in 1873.

Although Guy Maddin’s new film My Winnipeg may provide their first introduction to the place to most British viewers (beyond Homer Simpson using it as his base in the episode where he becomes a prescription drug mule and A.A. Milne’s confusion over the origin of Winnie-the-Pooh), film has been used as a promotional tool for the location for almost as long as cinema has been in existence. In 1888, James Freer, a reporter from Bristol, emigrated to the city and became Canada’s first filmmaker plus a keen proponent of his new home to boot, shipping the pro-emigration film Ten years in Manitoba back to his country of birth in 1898. 120 years later, Manitoba’s most illustrious filmmaker (if that isn’t damning him with faint praise) is still using the techniques of silent cinema and has made, if not a love letter to his home, at least a salacious biography that might equally be called Fifty-two years in Manitoba and everything that intrigues me about the half-century before…

Guy Maddin has always been a curious filmmaker, in all the connotations of the word, creating films that take an oblique look at their subject matter and often seem impenetrable to the casual observer. What makes Maddin’s directorial style most recognisable is his appropriation of the language of silent movies; even though many of his films contain some synch sound and dialogue, the use of inter-titles, lower frame rates (than the modern minimum of 24 fps), monochrome / tinted cinematography and degraded film stock make them look more cognate to the cinema of a hundred years ago than to modern filmmaking. In a climate of slick CGI, $100-million-budgets and a fixation on verisimilitude, Maddin’s faux retro style makes his films stand out as some of the most intriguing, exciting and unique in today’s cinema.

Two recent films brought his work to the attention of British audiences, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary and The Saddest Music in the World, both of which had an angle that made them more approachable to audiences unaccustomed to seeing silent-style movies. Dracula is a filmed version of the Royal Winnipeg ballet; it premiered first on the BBC before transferring to cinemas (perhaps to gauge the audience) and arrived on the big screen not long after a similar production at Sadler’s Wells. The Saddest Music in the World is a musical (which the British seem to love) and has a bankable star in the form of Isabella Rossellini. In contrast, Cowards Bend the Knee and Brand upon the Brain! which Maddin made either side of The Saddest Music, only received festival screenings in this country; perhaps the subject matter – the sexuality of ice hockey players and incest in a remote lighthouse respectively – was considered too outré, especially when combined with his idiosyncratic style.

The director’s latest film arrives towards the end of a decade marked by a fascination with documentaries, whether it’s big-screen hits such as Touching the Void and Bowling for Columbine or the more recent TV success of Who do you think you are? My Winnipeg combines these two styles, as a very cinematic documentary (which is ironic as it was bankrolled by the Canadian Documentary Channel) and one that touches on issues of a person’s origin, albeit from a geographical and cultural point of view rather than a genetic perspective.

My Winnipeg is a tour de force and possibly the director’s finest film so far, combining found footage, absurd re-enactments, tragedy, comedy and the (un)usual florid sexuality of Maddin’s characters. Interestingly for a director whose work is so unique, the main storytelling device is similar to Lars von Trier’s Europa – a character has a dreamlike experience on a train surrounded by rear projection. As there are similar themes in both films – geography, upbringing, racial heritage and unreliable narrators – it may go some way towards explaining why Maddin chose to use the same technique. Both von Trier and Maddin are directors who mythologise locations, both real and fictional, revealing hidden stories and meta-narratives behind them. Von Trier and Maddin’s choice of locations has been driven by necessity and they have usually remained within spitting distance of Denmark or Winnipeg respectively, resorting to obvious stage sets to represent far-flung locations (as in von Trier’s Dogville and Manderlay or Maddin’s Careful and Archangel). Maddin’s first film Tales of the Gimli Hospital saw the director travelling an hour north of Winnipeg to take advantage of that town’s desire to have a cinematic identity and promote its status as the largest Icelandic community outside of Europe – the film premiered at the first Gimli film festival. But at that point, the director’s style was not yet fully formed, and it is only after the European detours of Careful and Archangel that Maddin started to construct Winnipeggian fairy tales using the style of European silents while creating a local folklore based on myth, absurdity and twisted sexuality.

Following in Freer’s footsteps, immigration and emigration are common themes in Maddin’s work. Gimli Hospital adds a surrealist Icelandic history of bizarre rituals to the tale of third-generation Manitobans. Archangel is about a Russian settlement in the Arctic that is still fighting The Great War after it has ended (as no one bothered to tell the inhabitants). Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary brings the novel’s subtext of feral foreigners from the East to the fore, not least with the casting of Zhang Wei-Qiang in the lead and sensational inter-titles that add a note of xenophobia to Van Helsing’s mission to kill the vampire. Being at the crossroads of rivers and railroads, and labelled ‘The Gateway to the West’, Winnipeg is inevitably a city of travellers in a country of immigrants.

My Winnipeg tells two narratives: the story of the city itself through archive footage and re-enactments of local incidents / folklore, and Maddin’s own story as a local and a filmmaker who feels harried by geography, family and wanderlust. My Winnipeg also seems to be a summary of Maddin’s entire work – one section is a silent ballet recalling Dracula, another tells a lurid tale of young sexuality in a public swimming pool that is remindful of Cowards Bend the Knee and yet another enacts a German invasion of Winnipeg, which echoes Archangel and so on. As befits his style, the director has chosen incidents from the city’s past that benefit from Byzantine retelling – the horrific tale of a herd of race horses trapped in a frozen river, a local bridge that was destined for Egypt and dreams of foreign climes, the buffalo stampede that destroyed Happyland, an amusement park reclaimed by the homeless and re-erected on the city’s rooftops. Elsewhere, Maddin casts a film noir actress – Ann Savage – as his own mother and links the role with the history of both his own cinema and the medium in general by telling the story of her involvement in home movies shot in their front room. This is a tale of both parental influence and urban parenting as the director sees the city itself as nurturing him, naming the Winnipeg (Ice Hockey) Arena as his male parent and the frozen horses in the river as midwives in the baby boom of a previous generation. This is the story of how a city and its culture and geography shape a person and their private history. Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg may be a unique take on a city that is as individual as the man behind the movie camera, but this is a personal tale that will delight and intrigue audiences and I hope will prove as good an advert for the city as James Freer’s nineteenth-century tract was for Manitoba. I also hope My Winnipeg helps publicise Maddin’s astonishing work as a whole.

Alex Fitch

The Guy Maddin season at the BFI Southbank runs from July 4-23. More information on the programme on the BFI website.

Related articles: interview with Guy Maddin; interview with Cecilia Araneda, executive director of the Winnipeg Film Group.

Inspired by the release of My Winnipeg, Soda Pictures in conjunction with Four Docs, 3
Minute Wonder & The Branchage Film Festival will be launching a filmmaking competition ‘Your Winnipeg’. Filmmakers are invited to submit a 3-minute documentary about their hometown being as experimental and creatively adventurous as you dare! Guy Maddin will join a jury of industry professionals to select the winning entry, which will be screened on Channel 4 and feature on the UK DVD release of My Winnipeg. The winner will be rewarded with £1500 and a holiday to Maddin’s Winnipeg. Three runner-up films will also be screened on Channel 4 and the winners will each receive £1500. For full details and to enter please follow the link below to the competition website.


Cecilia Araneda

Guy Maddin learned his craft as part of a local filmmaking initiative, the Winnipeg Film Group, which exists both as an art-house cinema and as a resource for local filmmakers. Alex Fitch talked to Cecilia Araneda, executive director of the WFG, about the work of the organisation and Guy Maddin’s involvement with it.

Cecilia Araneda: There are proportionally a lot of independent filmmakers working in Winnipeg, and I do mean independent in the sense of artist-driven work. Winnipeg is a bit of a rarity in Canada in terms of its filmmaking context. Indeed, in English-language Canada, we believe that Winnipeg has the most distinct filmmaking community. Because Winnipeg does not have a film school, and for some other reasons likely related to the size of our city (big, but not too big) and its isolation from any other major metropolitan centre in Canada, the Winnipeg Film Group developed as different from other independent film co-ops in Canada and became a full centre supporting the entire cycle of film.

Alex Fitch: Why do you think Winnipeggian film has a distinct voice within Canadian cinema?

CA: Without access to a film school, filmmakers in Winnipeg just did what they thought was best and perhaps didn’t realise – or maybe they did and didn’t care – that they were breaking all standard conventions. Locally, film critics were brutal when they reviewed the works of our members produced in the 80s (we opened our Cinematheque in 1982, and of course prominently featured our members’ films) and the early 90s, because they weren’t following the standard conventions that are normally taught to filmmakers in film school. Before the ‘film industry’ reached Winnipeg, with corps of experienced film crafts people and technicians training students in making films ‘the right way’, the Film Group evolved an aesthetic approach that essentially affirmed that there is no one right way to make a film, and certainly no wrong way. The skill of filmmaking in Winnipeg was something that was handed down personally from filmmaker to filmmaker (John Paizs to Guy Maddin, Guy Maddin to Deco Dawson, for example). It often stuns people across the country to see just how influential and significant Winnipeg filmmakers remain, and how proportionally deep the talent pool is in relation to artistic cinema over the years, in spite of how small Winnipeg is and in spite of the absence of the many financial resources that are available in other centres.

AF:Is Guy’s output indicative of a local style?

CA: He is certainly among one of the most recognised independent filmmakers from Winnipeg, and his output could be said to be parallel in a way to that of Norma Bailey (Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1980). But Norma works in a completely different aesthetic school, focusing on narrative and documentary, and her movies are a staple of television programming. Guy and Norma are the only filmmakers that I can think of that have consistently worked for decades here in Manitoba at a high level. In the early days, if you wanted to make a film and if you wanted it screened at our film theatre (likely the only screening local filmmakers would have had here in the city), you would have hung out here at the Winnipeg Film Group. In an interview I did with Guy Maddin last year, he noted that he learned filmmaking by hanging out at the Film Group – as non-specific as that might sound (Guy studied Economics in University). Guy’s insistence on doing things his way – even a documentary commissioned by the Documentary Channel (My Winnipeg) – often in spite of compelling financial reasons, is, of course, what clearly stands out in my mind about him as a filmmaker. That, plus you always feel you know him a little more as a person with every film you watch, which is not necessarily true of other filmmakers in his category.

Interview by Alex Fitch

Related articles: Guy Maddin and the mythologising of Winnipeg, interview with Guy Maddin.

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008: Under the Radar

Blood Car

Edinburgh International Film Festival

18-29 June 2008

EIFF website

2008 was a year of innovations for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Not only did it move from its usual August date to an earlier June slot, but it also unveiled a brand new section entitled ‘Under the Radar’, described by the festival organisers as ‘celebrating the true spirit of “cult” film’. Oddly, ‘cult’ seems to have become the buzz word of the moment in the film world and everyone wants a piece of it. Equally bizarrely, cult seems to have become a genre in itself. But if it means getting more oddball, unconventional and challenging films on the screen, all this excitable bandying about of the word might be worthwhile.

One of the most pleasurable entries in the Under the Radar selection was Blood Car, a black comedy satirising America’s insatiable need for oil and its readiness to do whatever it takes to carry on running its gas-guzzlers. With fuel prices having shot through the roof, a mild-mannered green-minded vegan primary school teacher (complete with elbow patches on his cord jacket) accidentally invents an engine that runs on human blood. Although initially appalled by his discovery, he abandons his principles to keep his car running so he can obtain sexual favours from naughty carnivorous sexpot Denise, all the time while being watched by the FBI.

Bigga Than Ben: A Russians’ Guide to Ripping Off London was another satire, this time of the various absurdities and Catch-22 situations that await immigrants trying to get a job, open a bank account and find a place to live in the British capital. Gleefully rude and offensive to all, it follows the tribulations of two naive, albeit unscrupulous, Russian thugs, Cobakka and Spiker, recently arrived in the UK. Key to the success of the film is Cobakka’s strongly-accented, authentic-sounding narration, which fully immerses the audience in their skewed worldview and makes us see London from a new perspective.

Strange Girls was quite a nice little oddity that centred on two disturbing-looking red-haired twins, Giorgia and Virginia, who refuse to communicate with the outside world and have spent most of their lives in a psychiatric hospital. In private, however, they reveal literary ambitions, wit and a natural penchant for cruelty and murder. When Virginia falls for Oyo, a boy from the neighbourhood they have just moved into after their – clearly misguided – release from hospital, the sisters’ dysfunctional relationship is stretched to breaking point and the hate and jealousy underlying their exclusive relationship is revealed. Although none of this is exactly original, the film was enjoyably bizarre and created a convincingly strange world.

We weren’t able to see the sixth film in the section, Crack Willow, but the remaining two were serious let-downs. With its Beauty and the Beast storyline and laboured literary tone, not to mention the seriously limited plot, Spike was nothing more than a high school kid’s clichéd Goth fantasy. The Third Pint, from Argentina, revolved around a man who becomes invisible after drinking three pints. This was the pretext for a lengthy, self-indulgent disquisition on anything and everything as the narrator travels around the world. Moving at a lethargic pace, the film had very little to say and its trite ‘insights’ into modern life certainly don’t justify its existence.

All in all, while some of the Under the Radar films were enjoyable, none of them were as audacious, original or subversive as could have been hoped for and the whole exercise felt quite safe and tame. We also checked out the Night Moves section of the festival for more late-night type thrills (the distinction between Night Moves and Under the Radar is not entirely clear to us). But that section contained some even poorer works, which seemed to have been included solely on the basis of their ability to deliver some very cheap shocks, whether it was the nasty, pointless torture of Mum and Dad, set among a sort of psychotic Royle Family, or the autopsy horror of the predictable, generic Cadaver from South Korea. The Spanish thriller Shiver was another major disappointment; marred by an incoherent, muddled script that felt like a first draft, that film had no place at an international festival. It wasn’t all bad though and the section was rescued by two remarkable films. Time Crimes was a labyrinthine Spanish thriller revolving around brilliantly confusing temporal paradoxes while Just Another Love Story was a sleek, modern noir thriller from Denmark that combined an intense, brutal character study with a brilliantly vicious diagnosis of the country’s moral state.

While it is great to see more unconventional, low-budget types of filmmaking given some space at a major festival, it is a real shame that some of the works seemed to have been selected simply because they superficially ticked the boxes of what has become associated with midnight movies/cult films – rude humour, grossly funny gore, bizarre-looking actors, pointy-headed aliens, body horror and/or monsters. The real night-time thrills were to be found elsewhere this year, with the speculative futuristic thriller Sleep Dealer from Mexico and a superb, moving take on the vampire from Sweden in Let the Right One In. Both films used fantastical elements intelligently to explore, respectively, Mexico’s exploitation by US corporations, and tender and dangerous love between two outsider children. For lovers of the dark stuff (and for the general critics too), Let the Right One In was the true star of the festival.

Virginie Sélavy

For more Edinburgh Festival coverage see: EIFF 08: Best of the Fest, Standard Operating Procedureand Interview with Olly Blackburn, Jay Taylor and Rob Boulter (Donkey Punch).

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008

Let the Right One In

Still from Let the Right One In

Edinburgh International Film Festival

18-29 June 2008

EIFF website

Separated from the major annual Edinburgh Festival pandemonium for the first time ever, this year’s 62nd film festival wished to establish a fresher, stronger, edgier identity, exploring the nooks and crannies of new movie-making and bringing unusual treasures to its enthusiastic local and international audience. Unfortunately though, this was not a year of major cinematic breakthroughs and in spite of the promising programme notes, too many of the films turned out to be mediocre.

Without doubt, the pick of the festival was Swedish director Tomas Alfredsson’s excellent Let the Right One In (L Ã¥t den rätte komma in), an intelligent, well-paced vampire movie, which deservedly won the top award for best narrative feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Impressively handling familiar material and giving it a fresh spin, it has the gruesome feel and bizarre beauty of an eccentric horror fantasy, but also delivers plenty of emotionally charged drama and wry humour. Andersson slowly charts the blossoming friendship between troubled 12-year-old Oskar and vampire girl Eli through a series of poignant and near-surreal attempts at bonding that are in turn gentle and disturbing. Superb cinematography and mesmerising performances by the two adolescent lead actors (K Ã¥re Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson) make it a film to treasure.

Another Nordic find was Ole Bornedal’s Just Another Love Story, a grippingly complex and stylish contemporary noir thriller from Denmark, in which a police photographer finds himself emotionally entangled with a comatose young woman injured in a car accident that also involved himself and his family. Developing into an obscene, twisted romance, the story remains powerful and well-calibrated throughout, turning into a shocking, nerve-racking riddle played out with a brutal relish for the grotesque in the final part.

One of the festival’s most enjoyable films was the truly unsettling sci-fi narrative Sleep Dealer by young Mexican director Alex Rivera. Following in the giant steps of The Matrix or Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, this striking and hugely inventive debut feature playfully addresses the idea of humans retreating from objective reality by means of computer software that connects to their conscious minds through metallic ports inserted into their bodies. In Rivera’s futuristic fantasy, however, people use the new technology not so much to experience virtual thrills as to earn their living by controlling robots performing manual work in the US. The riveting story is served well by consistently excellent performances and is visually remarkably polished. Rivera makes a virtue of his low budget by transforming financial restraint into an aesthetic choice and this assured debut feature reveals that he is a talent to watch.

This year’s programme was dominated by realism, psychology and low-budget intelligence, which was particularly noticeable in the selection of British films. However, the excitement about new British cinema was dampened down by the bleakness and austerity that characterised most of the films. Duane Hopkins’s eagerly awaited debut feature Better Things was a lyrical yet painfully grim tale of drug abuse, sexual confusion and the cruel realities of growing up in the Cotswolds. Other critics were seduced by Helen, Christine Molloy’s slow-burning drama in which a missing girl’s persona starts to influence the girl who agrees to take part in a police investigation to help find her. Despite an astonishing performance by young Annie Townsend in the lead, the film is maybe too deliberately cryptic for its own good and not quite the revelation so many were hoping for. After all this misery, Shane Meadows’s Somers Town proved to be the most enjoyable and compelling British feature, managing to be gently melancholic, toughly funny and irresistibly charming in equal parts.

In terms of quality and innovation, the foreign-language films clearly dominated the programme and The Wave proved that German cinema is still going strong. Dennis Gansel’s smart, slick and powerful film is an adaptation of the real-life teaching experiment that originally took place in a Californian High School in 1967. What begins as a clever educational game that aims at probing the social order and reveal the roots of fascism escalates into tragedy, culminating in painful disillusionment and frightening violence in the grim last act.

The festival proved most convincing in its section of distinctive and often small-scale documentaries, the more personal films often proving to be the most accomplished and satisfying ones. The best British documentary, though not officially included in the section, was James Marsh’s Man on Wire, which recounts Philippe Petit’s staggering attempt to walk a tightrope between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974. There were also fascinating portraits of unique, eccentric men, such as Matt Wolf’s affectionate tribute Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, and Erik Nelson’s Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which offers a glimpse into the incredible mind of American cult writer Harlan Ellison. Other treasures to be found in this section included Jesus Christ Saviour, which already stood out at this year’s Berlinale in February.

Significantly, it was the excellent Shirley Clarke retrospective that ensured there was always something worth seeing. It provided the rare opportunity to watch Clarke’s magnificently stark The Cool World on a cinema screen, while also presenting the memorable and rarely-screened documentary Rome Burns (Rome Brûle – Portrait de Shirley Clarke), a collection of delightfully unpretentious interviews with Clarke shot in January 1968. Seeing the fascinating filmmaker nonchalantly talking about her work to date while Jacques Rivette and Yoko Ono hang out on a futon in the corner might have been the closest Edinburgh came to an event.

Pamela Jahn

For more Edinburgh Festival coverage see: See also EIFF 08: Under the Radar, Interview with Olly Blackburn, Jay Taylor and Rob Boulter (Donkey Punch) and Standard Operating Procedure.


Donkey Punch

Format: Cinema

Release date: 18 July 2008

Distributor Optimum Releasing

Director: Olly Blackburn

Writers: Olly Blackburn, David Bloom

Cast: Robert Boulter, Sian Breckin, Tom Burke, Nichola Burley, Julian Morris, Jay Taylor, Jaime Winstone

UK 2008

95 minutes

Olly Blackburn’s debut feature, Donkey Punch, recently had its UK premiere at the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival. Shown alongside other British films such as the trite, sentimental and miscast period drama The Edge of Love, Shane Meadows’s gritty black & white Somers Town, and Steven Sheil’s schlocky Mum and Dad, Donkey Punch stood well above the rest for its slick production values, witty intelligence and its finely-tuned ensemble cast of young, virtually unknown talent.

In the film co-written by Blackburn and David Bloom, a budget holiday in Mallorca goes horribly wrong when a drug, sex and ego-fuelled party on board a luxury yacht ends in the violent death of one of the girls. Still tripping, and grappling with the brutal reality of the shocking accident, the young, male crew must decide how far they’ll go to protect their precarious futures.

Olly Blackburn talked to Electric Sheep‘s Sarah Cronin at the Edinburgh Festival about genre cinema and the making of a British thriller. Sarah also caught up with actors Jay Taylor and Rob Boulter to ask them about the characters they play in the film and the moral dilemmas they face.

Sarah Cronin: Talk about your motivation and the inspiration behind this film.

Olly Blackburn: Well, I really like genre film, and that’s what I wanted to make. It’s very hard to make a first movie, and I thought it would be good to try and figure out a genre film with a small group of characters that was set in a confined space, because you can shoot that for very little money. My co-writer and friend David Bloom was on holiday in the south of France, and he had seen that all of the luxury yachts in the marina there were crewed by very young guys from England, so he called me up because he thought this could make a really great story. We met up and we sort of mind-melded and came up with this idea for the film. It flowed very rapidly, and the more we did research on crews on these boats, the more it fitted in with what we wanted to do. So that was the inspiration for the film. I also just really like films like Alien or Knife in the Water, where you have people in isolated spaces and they have to get out of a terrible situation, but there isn’t any help available. That’s what this story offered up.

SC: There’s a sub-genre of disaster-at-sea movies and the confined space of the ship really works to your advantage.

OB: You’re right. We wanted this boat to be as isolated as possible and just be lost out at sea. We researched communications on those yachts, how easy or hard it would be to get help, how easy or hard it would be to actually pilot the boat. It was all geared to the idea that these people are just stuck, that they might as well be out in space.

SC: What was it like working with Warp X and their low-budget initiative?

OB: Brilliant. I think what Warp X is doing is really exciting for British cinema, because they’re allowing people like me and Chris Waitt (A Complete History of My Sexual Failures) to make quite edgy, challenging films and they’re doing it in two ways. The first is because they’re low-budget, it means that they can raise the funding very fast and just motor these projects through. Also, because they are really skilled, tasteful producers, and they really do everything they can to make the project work, both in terms of what the filmmaker is trying to do, and in terms of reaching an audience. We all agreed that the film should be able to show next to American films, but with the budget the question was, how could we make something that would stand up and punch above its weight and not embarrass us all. They were very keen that we achieved those production values.

SC: I think that your experience in music and commercial directing really influences the film. It does look very slick and quite commercial, very American – it doesn’t look low-budget.

OB: The biggest thing about making commercials and music videos is that they’re focused on image, on making things look good, and you learn very quickly that you don’t need that much money to do that. Technology is really great these days, things like grading; so if you’ve got a very good camerawoman, in my case, it’s actually quite easy to achieve something on a very low budget. It’s about having the experience. I would recommend that all young filmmakers learn about that kind of stuff.

SC: There’s a very luminous feel to the beginning of the film when they’re in Mallorca, and you seem to have used that to help build up the tension as things become darker and darker.

OB: Well, that was a very big thing for me. I really wanted the story to start off very naturally, and suck the audience in, the same way that the characters get sucked into this ever darker situation. And obviously that is reflected in the fact that the film starts in daylight, goes through to sunset and ends at night. When we were writing the script there were lots of sparks happening between me and David, and a lot of stuff was very instinctive and that was just one of those things. It just seemed natural.

SC: Talk about the nature of power on board the ship between the characters, and the power that the male characters try to exert.

OB: We love Neil LaBute, and his films In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbours, because he’s very good at tapping into a particular side of the male psyche, a dark side, which people don’t like, maybe because it’s very accurate. And I think when we were writing a group of young guys who are kind of on the prowl, and then get into a situation with these girls, it just made us think of Neil LaBute. And the other thing was all this stuff in the press, this kind of culture where footballers were picking up these girls and going to hotel rooms. What was interesting to us was this very LaBute-ian scenario, where you have five naked men in a room and they’re all commenting on each other’s performances, and it’s more about them than the girl. That’s kind of the movie in a nutshell.

SC: Josh, who’s responsible for the girl’s death, really retains an aura of innocence, even as he gets nasty and violent. I think that’s very effective, so how integral was that to the film?

OB: The whole thing about the film is that these are normal people, so how far do you need to push things for them to do really abnormal, crazy things? Now that’s going to divide the audience, I’m sure a lot of people will watch the film and say ‘oh, that’s nonsense’. But that’s the purpose of making a film, you want to push people and see how they respond. A big part of the film is that the characters get pushed, they do something that has really bad repercussions and then things get even worse, and they have to make an even more difficult set of decisions with even worse outcomes and it just keeps escalating. That is something that I really wanted to explore in the film. It starts off psychological and then becomes physical and then even more physical.

SC: The film straddles different genres, from horror to thriller and slasher films, but it’s also quite funny. The humour provides some relief.

OB: The humour is definitely intentional. I have enough respect for the genre to be able to screw around with it and do a few different things. First of all there are no rules. For example, the biggest laugh line comes towards the end, at about the most disturbing point of the film. I felt that we should keep the line in there because it’s almost like a release. Likewise, just speaking as a punter, I like to go see films where I’m surprised, where you can’t see what’s happening, or you are kind of shocked, and I just wanted to do that, because there’s no better gauge than to try and do something that you would want to see yourself. There’s this theory about horror films that they’re actually a great way for releasing our worst nightmares, because you’ve got them in a safe space, up on a screen, with a group of people, and you can share in them and then walk away from them. That’s kind of, I hope, what that second part of Donkey Punch does, just throws things at people, and, like you said, at the end there’s this kind of relief, ‘I got through that one’.

Jay Taylor and Rob Boulter play two of the young crew members on board the yacht. Rob, who plays Sean, is the sensible, level-headed guy, who also has the misfortune of being Josh’s brother. Marcus, played by Jay, is the ship’s skipper, in charge of the yacht and the ultimate decision-maker. Embroiled in the sexual act that causes Lisa’s death (played by Sian Breckin), Marcus has too much to lose to allow her death to get in the way of his future.

SC: Your characters in the film provide quite different functions, they play off each other. Talk about your roles.

Jay Taylor: Our characters have quite an important relationship because if the situation was different, they could have made quite good allies. It becomes the downfall of the whole lot. Marcus is the leader of the pack, has this authoritarian quality and Sean has a real sense of diplomacy and what’s right and what’s wrong. That could have really worked but it doesn’t because Marcus is involved in what happens. And Bluey (the on-board DJ and drug dealer, and instigator of the violence) is a good mate of his.

Rob Boulter: That’s the thing really, Bluey is the little devil on his shoulder.

JT: It’s almost a case of good versus evil, and Marcus doesn’t really have this huge decision to make. The big moral dilemma is Sean’s, what to do, the right thing by his brother or do the right thing essentially. Those are the stakes.

RB: Sean’s whole life, his dreams, everything he’s worked for – he wants to crew boats and he wants to own his own boat and live honestly. That’s the life for him.

JT: All the characters have their own idea of the way they see their future, certainly the boys anyway. Josh is off to law school, Bluey maybe less so, but he’s just intent on living the life, being a DJ.

SC: He seems like the one unredeemable character.

JT: There doesn’t seem to be a moral conscience on his part, he’s obviously come from this fairly twisted place, a fairly disturbed upbringing.

RB: He’s just a bit of an asshole, and Marcus is supposed to be mates with him. He brings him along.

JT: Yeah, that’s the thing, Marcus has brought him along for the ride, it’s all his fault almost. Yes, Josh is the one who commits the title act, but it’s more about the way that Bluey takes the situation and develops it all and coerces and manipulates people. He’s obviously the most destructive element on the boat.

RB: He’s a provoker as well, isn’t he. The whole thing happens off of questionable human decisions, and faced with huge life-changing consequences, the chance to brush it all aside and get on with your life is so tempting. They don’t have the perspective to think it through and see that they’ll have to deal with this for the rest of their life. At that time they might find it the lesser of two evils, but obviously they make very wayward decisions. But I totally buy those decisions, they’re very human. It’s what makes the film exciting.

SC: I think there’s a sense that the men have more valuable lives than the women. The girls are down there partying, whereas Marcus is about to join the military, for example. Does that impact their decision-making?

JT: I think the boys certainly regard the girls in that way, or sorry, disregard them in that way. They don’t hold them in very high esteem. It’s a typical kind of macho bullshit male attitude. When they were trying to get lucky with them, they were treating them like princesses, showing them the boat, telling them what they wanted to hear, and then suddenly when their presence becomes a problem they’re cast aside, and they’re suddenly nothing. It’s all about the boys and you see the interesting side of Rob’s character, Sean, because he doesn’t do that, he still sees the girls as people. I also think Nicola is the only one to come through, she’s definitely the strongest character in it in terms of her perseverance. The guys outnumber the girls as well, four to two in the end, and that’s a hell of a thing for anyone to deal with.

SC: Psychologically how difficult was it for you to be a part of the violence?

JT: Well, there is some pretty extreme stuff, sex and violence. Even though Rob’s character is not involved in the sex, he has his fair deal of the violence and the emotional trauma. But to talk about the actual sex scene, it’s a very strange thing to be asked to do, and it’s quite a challenging thing for actors, and I guess relatively inexperienced actors. I don’t think any of us had ever done anything quite like that. It was treated with absolute respect and Olly made it quite clear that we wouldn’t have to do anything we weren’t comfortable with, and I think the proof is in the pudding. I think it’s a really great scene, and I think it looks pretty sexy, to be honest with you.

SC: It is very explicit, I think more so than in other mainstream, commercial films. It had to contribute to the realism of the film.

JT: And it is a realistic film. When you see a lot of sex scenes they’re in this beautiful setting, on a Greek island, with the curtains blowing in the wind, and that’s not what it’s about, especially for characters our age who go on holiday. This is what happens, and maybe it’s a heightened realism, they’re on this amazing boat and there’re more of them involved than just a couple in a room, it’s a group scene, but it’s quite realistic, I think.

SC: How did you find filming in such a confined space and out to sea?

RB: That just contributed to the film and the psychology of it. It’s very much an ensemble piece, and we all got on really well. It got very intense because it was a very short shoot. But we did it in sequence, which helped a lot.

JT: It was quite a small area to work in, you could go a little stir-crazy at times. But being on that boat and being a part of that was quite conducive to creating a really fantastic atmosphere in the film. We all got in the zone, as they say.

Interview by Sarah Cronin

For more Edinburgh Festival coverage see: See also EIFF 08: Best of the Fest, EIFF 08: Under the Radar and Standard Operating Procedure.


The Pearl

Fashion in Film Festival

10 – 31 May 2008

Fashion in Film Website

Alone at last, Bette Davis reaches out for the object of her desire: a deliciously alluring mink coat. Caressing the fur, Davis envelops herself in its sensual embrace, looks longingly at her own reflection and twirls around the pokey living room. The screen suddenly blackens… Davis reappears exhausted, lying on the sofa, puffing on a cigarette. This absurd tryst (the cause of much laughter amongst the assembled audience), with its glamour, elegance and sense of fun, provided a fitting entrée into this year’s Fashion in Film Festival.

With a special focus on the links between fashion, crime and violence, the festival’s carefully selected programme provided a host of thieves, petty criminals and femme fatales fixated on acquiring the latest ‘it’ accessory. Forget feeble lusting over Manolo Blahniks, these formidable heroines took lusting over clothing to a dangerous and criminal extreme. In fact, watching the beautiful array of costumes, it was hard not to sympathise… just a little!

In Asphalt (1929) – a striking example of German Expressionist film – the beautiful actress Betty Amman played a glamorous kleptomaniac with an impossibly chic closet of stolen jewels and furs. Dressed in an array of stunning silk, lace and fur outfits designed by René Hubert (who worked for Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo), Amman used her sexual magnetism to distract the hapless owner of a jewellery store and a morally upstanding police officer. Shots of Amman’s stocking-clad legs provided a link between sex and crime, perfectly mirrored in other works showing in the Criminal Desire strand of the festival.

In The Pearl (1929), another seductive temptress used her charms to steal a piece of jewellery, in this case, a pearl necklace, from a young man hoping to impress his doting, innocent girlfriend. A game of chase ensues between the young man and the female jewellery thief, and he quickly becomes smitten with this conniving criminal. Screening alongside a number of silent shorts, this Belgian surrealist work, with its army of female robbers dressed in figure-hugging body suits, was a real visual treat. In The Kidnapping of Fux the Banker (1923), an early Czech crime parody that enjoyed its UK premiere at the festival, yet again, the male of the species is taken for a ride. Having already financially ruined one suitor with her clothing habit, the greedy flapper Maud hatches an elaborate plan to find a substitute, bringing about a farcical plotline with a cast of cartoon-like characters including the hopeless detective ‘Sherlock Holmes II’.

As well as giving audiences the chance to see these rare early films, the festival offered an array of talks and introductions. Those attending the special symposium ‘Taking Stock’ at the ICA soon learnt that Bette Davis wasn’t the only leading lady with a passion for mink. In a fascinating lecture, film noir expert Petra Dominkova revealed the mink coat to be a status symbol with much deeper cultural and social significance than a mere frivolous piece of fashion. Indeed, this was the beauty of the festival: it looked beyond the groomed surface and used clothes to discuss questions of power, status, sex and greed. With such intelligent curating and rich themes, we eagerly await the next instalment of the Fashion in Film Festival.

Eleanor McKeown


Spring Love

Still from Spring Love

London premiere of 75 of the best of straight 8 08 at Rushes Soho Shorts Festival

July 28-29 at Curzon Mayfair

July 30 at Renoir Cinema

For tickets and information go to straight 8.

While many big filmmakers started their careers with the silent visuals of Super 8, it is likely the device of their humble beginnings is now left to gather dust in the coffers. However, contributors to straight 8, the annual Super 8 filmmaking competition, have clocked on to the fact that the limitations of Super 8 film also give rise to an ‘olde worlde’ creativity and pleasing simplicity.

The rules of the competition are simple; apply to compete, get sent a registered Super 8 cartridge and get three months to make your film. The soundtrack must be supplied separately (to be added later) and the only editing allowed is what you can do on the camera itself. Apart from this, filmmakers are free to fill the 3,600 frames as they see fit.

‘We don’t limit creativity’, says competition founder Ed Sayers. ‘That’s when you get really nice, artistic work. We don’t set a theme and if people have access to studio lighting for example, they can use it. People are starting to be smart about it by playing to their strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. Teams can sometimes be up to 10 or 20 people, and it doesn’t have to cost more as no one is being paid.’

This does not mean that those with an eager workforce and a wealth of equipment always end up on top. Sayers is proud of the fact that he has created a level playing field for those wanting to take part. ‘We are about to screen the winning films at Cannes Advertising Week. People working in advertising could be watching a film made by absolutely anyone, including a cardiologist (I explain participants’ professions in the programme). Normally, the entrants are filmmakers but The Last Trip is the third film made by cardiologist Malcolm Finlay and it’s brilliant.’ Finlay’s film is a far-fetched story about a Welshman who wants to send the ashes of a departed friend into space. Simply, yet amusingly told, and starring a host of non-professional actors, it is story-telling at its finest.

Similarly inventive is 2007 winner Sticks and Balls made by Jacqueline Wright and Alice Lowe. Using the euphemistic potential of a game of golf, the film depicts a frolicking female player trying to distract her man while out on the green. Set to a witty electro soundtrack, it is easy to see why it has notched up nearly 30,000 hits on YouTube, demonstrating the potential of basic filmmaking.

Often entries are lavishly executed, their simplicity betrayed only by the occasional flickering or underexposure at the edges of the frame. Some have even pushed the camera to its limits by coming up with painstakingly meticulous production methods. Herrjaapmans’s Spring Love, for example, follows a couple through the streets and parks on a spring day. The simple love story is made more complex in two ways: Firstly, it is set to the jagged edges of the soundtrack; secondly (and most impressively) it is filmed entirely in stop-motion so that the actors are suspended in the air for each and every shot. ‘The actors had to leap into the air. It’s amazing that they were all caught mid-air for every single shot, you would expect a couple of them to be on the ground but it is just done so well’, says Sayers. ‘The title is a clever play on words in that it’s spring and they’re literally springing in the air. When someone has a really great technique and works it so well into a theme, that’s when I really want to show the film up on a big screen.’

The suspense of darkroom development, often forgotten in the wake of ever-ready digital imaging, is magnified by the competition, as the winners see their films for the very first time only when they are being screened to an entire cinema audience. This is obviously part of the fun. Some of this year’s films were given a preview screening on Channel 4, but the man behind The Last Trip reportedly avoided watching his film on TV, preferring to wait until the Cannes screening.

It is the unpredictability of Super 8 that Ed Sayers loves above all. ‘You could accidentally push ‘record’ as you’re walking across the road and when you watch the film a random floor shot will appear – which actually happens quite a lot – and you will be worried but no one else will really notice it.’ Maybe precisely because of that unpredictability, Sayers believes that it takes a lot of careful planning to make a good Super 8 film: ‘You have to be a bit ‘zen’ and go with it. You have to plan thoroughly and do more pre-production. It pushes you to be a better filmmaker.’

Super 8 can also help to remind the industry types what filmmaking is all about. ‘Kodak started to show an interest in what we were doing and suggested we did a regular screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Now some people tell us that it’s the part of the festival that they most look forward to. Super 8 appeals to these ‘grown-up’ film people as it is often easy for them to forget what attracted them to the industry in the first place.’

Sayers is particularly proud of the fact that 75 of the 175 films submitted to this year’s straight 8 will be shown in London at the end of July during the Rushes Soho Shorts Festival, both at the Curzon cinema in Mayfair and the Renoir cinema near Russell Square. ‘It’s amazing how a film that began with an old camera can end up in a nice cinema like the Curzon or the Renoir. From having no budget, to having a West End audience! This is why we do it.’

Lisa Williams


Bochum Welt

Bochum Welt, aka Gianluigi Di Costanzo, combines day-time toiling in Silicon Valley with nocturnal recordings for the Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label. His music has been described as ‘gloriously melodic lo-fi ditties’, ‘plastic noises’, ‘a sci-fi love story’ and ‘mid-pace electronica’ (Work that thesaurus NME!). A revolutionary games accessory, produced by Nintendo in 1985, inspired the title of his latest album, R.O.B (Robotic Operating Buddy). Among his credits is a remix of Paola & Chiara’s single ‘2nd Life,’ which reached number four in the Italian charts. For more information visit MySpace or the Bochum Welt website. Below, Gianluigi Di Costanzo discusses his 10 favourite movies. Interview by Nick Dutfield.

1- Vertigo (1958)
I love Hitchcock and Vertigo in particular. When I was in San Francisco I spent a night in Nob Hill, in an old hotel where Vertigo was shot. I’ve visited the Psycho set in LA too. That was so well maintained. Bernard Herrmann’s music for these films is intense.

2- Tron (1982)
This is blazingly colourful and geometrically intense. The plot involves the characters Flynn and Tron trying to out-manoeuvre the Master Controller program that holds them captive in the equivalent of a gigantic, infinitely challenging computer game. It may have been made by Disney in 1982 but it’s still visually impressive and I love Wendy Carlos’s moog soundtrack.

3- Giant (1956)
The horizon-to-horizon plain with a lonely, modest mansion dropped in the middle – it’s so striking. It matches the scale of this story with three generations of Texans who love, swagger, connive and clash together. It’s James Dean’s last film. Last summer I spent some time at the Chateau Marmont in LA where James Dean hopped in through a window to audition for Rebel Without A Cause.

4- The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather is one of those rare experiences that feel perfectly right from beginning to end – almost as if everyone involved was born to do it. Marlon Brando played against the author Mario Puzo’s conception of the patriarch Vito Corleone. Time has certainly proven the actor right. An actress friend of mine worked on The Godfather. I love to listen to her Coppola film stories while we drink Coppola’s wine – I visited his vineyard in Napa Valley and picked up some good bottles.

5- Mulholland Drive (2001)
If there was such a thing as an epic horror-soap, this is what it would look like. Many established David Lynch motifs are in place, most of them summoned from one corner of the 50s or another (the innocent blonde, Los Angeles corruption and ambition) to create his voyeuristic universe of desire. I love to drive from Mulholland to Malibu at sunset.

6- Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection
This is a collection of eight iconic titles in the ‘Universal Horror’ pantheon from the 1930s and 1940s. Each DVD comes with original poster art and the films have all been significantly restored.

7- The Gate to the Mind’s Eye (1994)
This is a computer animation extravaganza. Thomas Dolby’s incredible score is one of my favourites.

8- Back to the Future – The Trilogy (1985-1990)
I tried the Back to the Future Ride at the Universal Studios in Los Angeles, it was so much fun. I hope that the recent fire at the studios didn’t ruin it. Robert Zemeckis, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd changed the future of the adventure movie genre with these films. I was having breakfast a few months ago at a table in Hollywood and I caught Christopher Lloyd’s eye. I was distracted so I focused on him for a couple of seconds before I realised it was him – he just watched me, like an interrogation, with that classic Doc look!

9- High Fidelity (2000)
This is a hilarious homage to the music scene. The central character Rob has to face the undeniable fact that he’s growing up. Together with the offbeat clerks who inhabit his shop he expounds on the intricacies of life and song while they all try to have successful adult relationships. Jack Black is so funny.

10- Metropolis (1927)
When Fritz Lang made this in 1927 he must have used contemporary Modernist and Art Deco architecture as the blueprint for his designs in the film. It was made in Germany in the Babelsberg studios.