Stingray Sam


29 April – 4 May 2009

Venue: Apollo Cinema

Festival website

Now in its 8th year, Sci-Fi London has developed into a more wide-ranging science fiction festival than ever before. In previous years, 90% of the festival was focused on films and the Arthur C. Clarke awards for sci-fi literature seemed a strange satellite event not fully integrated into the rest of the long weekend. Now, albeit still housed in a cinema, Sci-Fi London includes talks on literature, science and comic books that not only sit alongside the film events in the programme, but provide a dialogue with the screenings: TV and radio writers will discuss sci-fi comedy while comic book artist Kevin O’Neill will talk about his drawings on screen and the film based on them, Hardware (1990), which will be shown afterwards.

Perhaps due to growing maturity, the festival is less embarrassed to be associated with what casual observers might see as the more kitsch aspects of SF fandom than in previous years – the opening film is Eyeborgs, which stars ‘TV’s Highlander‘ Adrian Paul. A perennial and popular strand at SFL is the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 all-night screenings, where fans of SF B-movies watch a TV version of those films, with heckling by an onscreen astronaut and two robots. This year’s festival takes that idea into the realm of stand-up comedy, screening one of the films showing in the festival again with a live redub of the soundtrack by improv comedians. Elsewhere there are different kinds of interaction with SF fans. For the first time in its history, SFL 8 will screen a ‘fan-film’, The Hunt for Gollum, which boasts production values similar to any of the authentic Lord of the Rings films and should keep devotees of the saga happy before the official prequel hits the big screen. In addition, SFL features an on-stage reading of a radio play script, The Brightonomicon, by some of the original cast, allowing the audience to see behind the scenes of something they’d normally only hear.

The films at this year’s SFL are a mixture of old and new, Western SF and films from further afield. As well as The City of Lost Children (1995), featuring a Q&A with co-director Marc Caro, there’s a kids screening of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986), Ever Since the World Ended (2003), and four of the best Star Trek movies from the 1980s, which fans can see for free. World cinema is represented by Turkish comedies G.O.R.A. (2004) and A.R.O.G. (2008), Japanese SF epic Twentieth-Century Boys part 2 and a selection of Israeli short films. New films and premieres include Bill Plympton’s Idiots and Angels, Stingray Sam (from the director of The American Astronaut, a low-fi American indie favourite of recent years) and new Japanese / American co-produced animé Afro Samurai: Resurrection, featuring the voices of Samuel L. Jackson and Lucy Liu. Perhaps the most obvious example of combining old and new at the festival is Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2.0, which is a remix of the original film, replacing all of the backgrounds and some of the characters with new visuals. Whether Oshii’s interference with his own film is on the level of George Lucas’s endless tinkering with Star Wars – making it worse each time – or Ridley Scott’s various re-edits of Blade Runner – all equally as good and as unneeded – remains to be seen.

Full details of this year’s festival are available online at their website, including last minute changes and additions to the programme.

Alex Fitch


The Heart Is a Dark Forest

Format: Cinema

Title: The Heart Is a Dark Forest

Screening at: Birds Eye View

Date: 6-7 March 2009

Director: Nicolette Krebitz

Writer: Nicolette Krebitz

Original title: Das Herz ist ein dunkler Wald

Cast: Nina Hoss, Devid Striesow, Franziska Petri

Germany 2007

86 mins

Birds Eye View website

This year’s Birds Eye View Festival opened with German writer-director Nicolette Krebitz’s second feature The Heart Is a Dark Forest, a daring, darkly stylish and artfully constructed marital drama centring on a woman’s emotional meltdown after she finds her illusions about bourgeois family life shattered forever. Vacillating between social realism, emotional tragedy and mysticism, Krebitz (who is best known in Germany as an actress) dissects what lies underneath the grid of social roles in contemporary society through an increasingly surreal modern-day version of Medea that is not always easy to digest, both formally and thematically.

With a mesmerising Nina Hoss and Devid Striesow in the lead roles, who last performed together in Christian Petzold’s remarkable thriller Yella, the film centres on Marie, who one morning accidentally discovers that her husband has a double life, with a second wife and little child in another suburban house just like hers. Utterly shaken and bewildered, Marie escapes into the nearby forest where she passes out. After returning to her children, strangely calm and collected, she attends a masked ball held in a friend’s country mansion in a scene reminiscent of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. There, she confronts her tragic fate and the inner demons that haunt her.

Pamela Jahn spoke to Nicolette Krebitz during the Birds Eye View Festival in March 2009.

Pamela Jahn: Your film is based on a tragedy of betrayal and focuses on a woman whose love ultimately leads to her destruction. What attracted you to this kind of subject matter?

Nicolette Krebitz: I saw Medea on stage and read the play again when I started working on a new script, so the story comes partly from Medea, and partly from some real-life cases that I discovered during my research. I found out that there were basically two different types of women, two different reactions, when they found out about the double lives of their partners. The first type just remained silent and never said a word about it, not even to their children, for fear of losing their husbands and the lives they lived. The second type of women reacted in a very extreme manner, most of them tried to kill themselves, and I was shocked by this. I started asking myself all these questions: Why would they do it? What’s the point? Are there really no more reasons to go on living? My conclusion was that it must have had a major impact on their desire for being wanted, being needed, and that it has something to do with their roles as mothers in society. They must have felt betrayed also in the way that they had given their lives and bodies to build a family, to become mothers and to raise children… It’s still a big deal, I think. And it’s this archaic feeling that caused such an extreme reaction, that I found very fascinating.

PJ: The metaphoric title perfectly matches the theme and the increasingly gloomy atmosphere you’re creating in your film. What does the image mean to you?

NK: Neither the man nor the woman in the film is to blame for what they do because of love. Most of the time, you don’t really know what it is that you love, or what you long for. Basically, you just don’t really know what you want when you love, and this for me is like a dark forest. It implies a lot of things that are hidden or invisible, but they are all part of what we call love…

PJ: In addition to the literary and cinematic references such as the masquerade scene in the castle, the film also has many theatrical elements, in particular the scenes in which Marie plays out her memories with Thomas on a sparse Brechtian stage. What was the idea behind this?

NK: To me the scenes that take place on a stage are the ones that draw the audience into the story. I think they are very necessary because they are the only moments were you see Marie and her husband Thomas, happy or not happy, but actually together. The rest of the film focuses on Marie and her point of view. To me these scenes are the soul of the film, because you see what their life as a couple has been, you witness their conversations, and thus you realise that everything that happens was mentioned before. It’s like psychoanalysis, when you reconstruct the past and look at what really has been said and done, and then you compare this to what you’ve built up in your mind.

PJ:Although we’re drawn into what happens to Marie and how she tries to cope with the situation, it seems that in a subtle way we’re also kept at a distance from her…

NK:Yeah, we change perspectives when we follow Marie. Sometimes we are inside of her, looking through her eyes, and sometimes we are spectators of the whole scenario. What I tried to do here was shifting between being part of society and being part of the person involved in this tragedy. And I think it’s important to get this distance from her, because she does something very cruel in the end.

PJ:Was it always your intention to end the film in such a surreal, nightmarish way?

NK:I don’t see it as unreal as a nightmare would be…It’s reality. Of course it is not a documentary, it’s a fiction film, and I tried to not let the audience down by being too…grey. But what fascinated me most was the fact that, if there is somebody just like you and an entire situation that mirrors your own life, you could just as well be deleted, because you are no longer of any use. This is how Marie feels, and this is because she had already given up on everything. It is possibly the most irrational decision and the darkest way to end this story, but my aim with this was to provoke a discussion in the audience.

PJ:What sort of reaction did you get from the German audience, especially women?

NK:A lot of women said they were very touched by the whole story, even the ending. Of course, they said they wouldn’t have gone that far, but they know that this is how it feels, and maybe it’s what they forbid themselves to do. But they could allow themselves to think about it through the movie…it’s a relief in a way. Because society expects all these things from a mother, and sometimes it’s just too much. And by the end of the day it’s a story about two people, a man and a woman, and too often it is down to the woman to deal with the situation.

PJ:You’ve recently contributed to a film called Germany 09: 13 Short Films about the State of the Nation, which premiered at the Berlinale in February, and your segment, ‘The Unfinished’, tells the story of a young writer who travels back in time to meet with Ulrike Meinhof and Susan Sontag in 1969. Do you feel an urge to make films about women or women’s issues in your work as a writer-director?

NK:I’m a woman and I tell stories and make films, and I think the film industry needs more women because they make different films. It’s a way of showing even to the male audience how we are, how we see things, how we feels things in order to understand it instead of treating women like objects or reduce them to being only mothers or only daughters. Yeah, so that’s my contribution but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I will also make films that deal with emancipation issues. It can be anything, but it will always be seen and told through my eyes.

Interview by Pamela Jahn


Love You More

Still from Love You More

7th Hull International Short Film Festival

21-26 April 2009

Reel Cinema, Hull, UK

Glimmer 2009 website

Short films are often the ideal form for fledgling filmmakers to develop ideas and themes, whilst also honing their storytelling skills, although they are often unjustly overlooked by mainstream audiences. Laurence Boyce, director of Glimmer, insists that ‘Any good film – whether one minute or four hours long – will ultimately justify its running time. We hope that people will find things to discover and enthuse about, and realise that short films are brilliant slices of cinema despite their smaller running times’. Now in its seventh year as an event, and in its second year under the Glimmer banner, the Hull International Short Film Festival celebrates the recent output of the short film community, whilst also providing educational sessions for aspiring visual artists, and a social-political context that is often absent from such events. Boyce believes that ‘shorts are a great indicator of a culture and a time in society, as if they were snapshots of a particular idea or concern’, and by programming films that deal with life in Israel alongside retrospectives of the work of cult animator David Firth and the experimental filmmaker John Smith, who will be on hand to discuss his career to date, the 2009 Glimmer Festival promises to confirm the importance of the short film format.

This year’s line-up of over 200 shorts from the UK and overseas will compete for the inaugural Anthony Minghella Awards for Best UK Short and Best International Short. Appropriately, one of the main attractions in the UK competition is Sam Taylor-Wood’s Love You More, which was produced by the late Minghella himself and screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 before being nominated for the 2009 Best Short Film BAFTA. Written by Closer scribe Patrick Marber, this is an affecting portrait of youth in 70s London, in which two teenagers bond after they find themselves in the local record shop where they both want to buy a copy of the new Buzzcocks single, ‘Love you More’. The coming of age theme is also explored in Muriel d’Ansembourg’s Play, in which children discover what happens when dares are played for real, and Ryd Cook’s Away, which follows a young boy as he runs away from home and spends the night in a decrepit barn. Grisly pleasures are promised by the Yorkshire competition, which offers a girl coming to terms with her transformation into a zombie in Duncan Laing’s Bitten, and a family outing becoming something more sinister with the arrival of a stranger in Matt Taabu’s Into the Woods.

Aside from rewarding the industriousness of short filmmakers, the festival is not afraid of examining pressing issues within the industry itself, and the Pay to Play? section of the programme will discuss the attitude of the business towards its unpaid workers, many of whom make the realisation of both short and feature length projects possible, and the ethical legitimacy of festivals charging submission fees to filmmakers. Anatomy of a Film 2 focuses on the process of developing and making a short film, while a panel of industry insiders will contribute to What Happens Next?, which will deal with the necessity of advertising and the role of film critics in bringing audience awareness to such projects. With a programme that includes such a wide range of screenings and topics, the 2009 Glimmer Festival should prove to be an essential event for anybody interested in the short film sector.

John Berra


Waller Jeffs

Birmingham, UK, various venues

11-15 March 2009


I’d been looking forward to Flatpack ever since interviewing the organisers, Pip and Ian, way back in December. At that point the schedule was in its embryonic stages – with many films and speakers still to be confirmed – but, even then, it was clear that there was a rare thoughtfulness and passion behind the festival’s programming. And spending five days zig-zagging between Birmingham galleries, art-house cinemas and specially converted warehouses, I wasn’t disappointed.

A perfect combination of careful programming and a jumble-sale of treasure troves, Flatpack is a breath of fresh air among increasingly industry-focused UK festivals. Community is paramount to its identity – whether between visiting filmmakers or local cinema-goers – and there was clearly a great deal of reciprocal love between city and festival.

The opening night paid homage to Birmingham’s answer to Mitchell & Kenyon – the entrepreneurial Waller Jeffs – and Brum made recurring cameos throughout the programme, from a delightful selection of films made by a local boys’ group in the 1950s (my personal favourite was their attempt at sci-fi shot against a chalkboard solar system) to Peter Watkins’s magnificent Privilege (1967). A satirical look at the record industry, the film opens with Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones, an increasingly reluctant pop puppet in the government’s manipulation of youth, on a messianic pilgrimage through the city streets. With a hilariously wooden performance from Jean Shrimpton, psychedelic renditions of ‘Jerusalem’ and some wonderful 60s tailoring, the film is at once a trippy, hallucinogenic dream and an acute critique of the commercialisation of youth and protest.

As always, music films were very strong at Flatpack, from the hip-hop classic Style Wars (1983) to Kieran Evans’s lyrical and beautifully paced documentary Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before (2008) – a fascinating look at the myths and memories involved in the folk singer’s now legendary 1960s’ horse-and-cart journey to the Outer Hebrides.

One of my personal highlights of the festival was ‘Unpacked’ – a day-long series of panels and discussions exploring the creative methods behind many of the works being screened at the festival. Animator David O’Reilly proved particularly popular as he gave a whistle-stop explanation of the theory behind his animation film, Please Say Something (winner of the Golden Bear for best short film at this year’s Berlinale). Several panel discussions explored the use of pre-cinema technologies – a strong element across many of the films and art installations displayed at the festival. With many of the guests coming from fine arts backgrounds, it was interesting to hear differing approaches to the filmmaking process. These talks are a new feature of Flatpack and make a very welcome addition to the programme – the audiences were really engaged and the warm atmosphere prompted some very fluent and insightful discussions.

Another nice new touch to this year’s programming was the children’s strand, which took in a wide range of material from the Moomins to Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 classic, The Red Balloon. Paper Cinema was a particular gem among the children’s screenings as illustrator Nic Rawling moved paper cut-outs (think Quentin Blake crossed with Saint-Exupéry doodled onto old cereal packets) in front of a live video camera. Watching the film being created before their eyes, the audience was enthralled. It was great for children to be involved in the festival and exposed to imaginative works of art at such a young age. Just like Unpacked, Paper Cinema provided inspiration and an intimate, inclusive atmosphere, sadly lacking at older, more institutionalised affairs.

A young, fresh festival with a fantastic range of films, discussions and installations, long may Flatpack reign!

Eleanor McKeown


The Sleeping Years - Dale Grundle

Since the release of the Sleeping Years’ debut album ‘We’re Becoming Islands One by One’ (Rocket Girl) last year, Dale Grundle and his band have been busy playing shows in Europe and the UK. Formerly of indie darlings The Catchers, Grundle’s new project pays close attention to his Irish roots with a highly personal collection of songs swathed in gorgeous melodies, intelligent lyrics and heart-wrenching melancholy. They have just played some shows in Spain and are playing in London throughout April: catch them at The Troubadour on April 2 (solo show), The Slaughtered Lamb on April 8 (full band), at the Local (downstairs at the Kings Head – full band) on April 17 and at the Downtown Diner in Ashford, Kent, on April 30 (acoustic). For more information go to their website or MySpace. Below, Dale Grundle tells us about his favourite films. LUCY HURST

1- The Night of the Hunter (1955)
I don’t think I will grow tired of watching this. Robert Mitchum is outstanding and the movie flows from one memorable scene to the next – from Preacher Harry Powell’s hands battling for good against evil, to the children escaping along the river under the stars, to the corpse in the water… Famously, it’s the only movie actor Charles Laughton directed. Well, if you are only going to do one…

2- Stalker (1979)
The first Tarkovsky film I discovered. People travel from their monochrome town (shot by Tarkovsky in almost tar-like tones of black) in search of truth or meaning that they believe will be found in the Zone (itself shot in a subdued green). It’s not for everyone – it’s a slow movie with lots of long shots (some lasting minutes), but it’s a wonderful thing to behold.

3- Touch of Evil (1958)
It opens with an amazing three-minute uninterrupted shot winding through a Mexican border town full of characters, including a grotesque Orson Welles, Charlton Heston as a Mexican, Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich. It feels like a movie taking risks and certainly seems a little out of step with Hollywood at that time.

4- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
America at its most paranoid. All is not what it seems when a doctor’s reception begins to fill up with people convinced that their husbands, wives, parents are not who they are supposed to be. I still think of this movie every Xmas when I see lorries driving around with Xmas trees all bound up, pod-like in the back.

5- Jojo in the Stars (2003)
A really beautiful animated short created by Marc Craste. It’s a strange little love story set in a freak show where Jojo, the main attraction, glows brightest throughout. The animation stays in black and white and I love all the little details that appear, for instance the debris that blows up around the tower. It is worth tracking down for the soundtrack alone! Craste also directed a great video for the Icelandic band múm…

6- Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)
The stories in this docudrama are based on 19th-century newspaper articles from the town of Black River Falls in Wisconsin. German and Scandinavian immigrants come to Wisconsin in search of what they think will be the Promised Land only to find barren soil and unforgiving winters. What follows is sometimes madness, murder and a struggle to survive. I love the whisper used by the narrator Ian Holm when he speaks of someone being taken away to the Asylum. I borrowed that effect for a line in my song ‘Human Blues’. A fascinating glimpse at an episode in American history.

7- Cat People (1942)
When I was growing up I was taken to Scotland every year to spend some time with my grandfather. One of my memories from that time is staying up to watch the old RKO and Universal horror movies. Lots of shadows and fog! This film stands apart from most of those movies partly because of Jacques Tourneur’s style. Some scenes are still very powerful – I love the pool scene that uses the reflections of the water on the ceiling and the reverb of the room to great disorientating effect.

8- M (1931)
A subject that would probably be hard to film these days – that of a child killer – in a movie that gets turned on its head. M is unique in that the mark – a chalked ‘M’ – sets Peter Lorre apart even from his fellow criminals. His murders have terrorized Berlin to such an extent that the police investigations have started to interfere with the underworld’s ability to continue with their own business. Lorre is unforgettable.

9- Wages of Fear (1953)
My keyboard player Dan introduced me to this. It’s full of thoroughly dislikeable characters trapped in a small town. They are so desperate to do anything for money that they sign up to drive trucks full of nitroglycerin along a hazardous journey. The cinematography is stunning, the language is brutal and the movie full of an almost uncomfortable tension. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot thankfully seems more intent on making great cinema than pleasing his audience.

10- Hana-Bi (1997)
It’s hard to choose which of Takeshi Kitano’s movies to add to this list but let’s go for this one. Poetic, violent, infused with moments of humour and serenity – you never know where he is going to take you next. Stylish cinema with Kitano at his most deadpan.