March 3, 2003

Regus Sets the Table for a London Film Feast

From Martina Kudlacek and Stan Brakhage's 'In the Mirror of Maya Deren.'

To say the Regus London Film Festival (RLFF) is a feast of film is an understatement. For the gourmet there's enough of the esoteric or obscure to be satisfying; for the gourmand it justifies gluttony with an international array of high profile movies. Nearly 250 films were shown during the 46th annual festival (November 6-21), 20 percent of them documentaries—apparently a record year for nonfiction screenings there.

 Having attended the fest two years ago, I came better prepared to manage the plethora of films, with my focus on documentary. Nevertheless my mission was daunting-just coordinating my schedule for the continuous screenings and maneuvering to various venues from South Bank's National Film Theatre (NFT) to Leicester Square and beyond. According to Artistic Director Sandra Hebron, the program represented "a remarkably exciting and diverse selection, reflecting the film culture of some 48 countries," and screened "new films from some of the world's best known and loved filmmakers alongside work by the most original and distinctive new talents."

Hebron was highly visible and involved in the screenings, making introductions, leading Q&As and talking with filmgoers. Her active presence, along with that of Executive Director Adrian Wootton, brought a certain familiarity and warmth to the enormous agenda.

As well as showcasing new films and some classics, the festival presented panel events and discussions with British and international filmmakers, master classes and education events, including free morning screenings for students from secondary to university level.

The inspiration of London's Sunday Times film critic Dilys Powell, RLFF started in 1956 as a kind "festival of festivals," with about 20 films selected from premieres at other international fests screened at the NFT. Run by the British Film Institute (BFI), with tremendous corporate sponsorship, the RLFF continues its original mission to grant the public access to films, the majority of which would not have been accessible otherwise. The fest has grown in size and significance, corresponding to public interest, with record attendance in November.

Films are submitted for consideration by the RLFF board, while Hebron and Wooten attend festivals around the globe in search of films to be included. The film program was essentially divided into six sections: New British Cinema, French Revolutions, Cinema Europa, World Cinema, Experimental and Short Cuts & Animation.  Docs fell into the various categories, depending on country of origin and nature of subject. Many were musically oriented, including the USA's Muddy Waters - Can't Be Satisfied (Dir.: Morgan Neville), I'm Trying To Break Your Heart (Dir.: Sam Jones) and Standing in the Shadows of Motown (Dir.: Paul Justman).  A personal favorite was the outstanding and often amusing Live Forever (Dir.: John Batsek, UK), which looked at British music and pop culture and its relation to the politics of New Labour in '90s in Britain. 

Other festival highlights were All About My Father (Dir.: Even Benestad, Norway), a touching and insightful tale of a respected doctor and transvestite from a small Christian town in Norway. Directed by his son, the film showed candid encounters between parent and child trying to understand a complex issue and family dynamic. In The Mirror of Maya Deren (Dir.: Martina Kudlacek with Stan Brakhage, Germany) is a feature-length bio of life and work of the woman whose cinematic endeavors are regarded as the starting point for post-WWII avant-garde filmmaking. From Italy, Carlo Giuliani, A Boy (Dir.: Francesca Comencini) tells—through his mother's reconstructed recollection—the last hours in the life of Carlo, a young demonstrator and innocent victim of a police shooting in the midst of anti-capitalist riots in Genoa in 2001. Don Vitaliano (Dir.: Paolo Pisanelli), also from Italy, is about a dynamic, controversial priest who participated in the same demonstration and carries on in the fight for human and political rights in spite of risking his position with the church. Medium of Love (Dir.: Elli Safari, Iran/Netherlands), shot on location in Iran, tells the story of a defrocked cleric teacher-turned-screenwriter so in love with cinema that his wife maintains "one well made film can have more effect than dozens of sermons." Little Sammy Davis (Dir.: Arlen Tarkofsky, USA) looks at the life of 72 year old Mississippi Delta Blues harp player, capturing his charm and fading culture of the bluesmen at core of American music. Both Dance With Farmworkers (Dir. Wu Wenguang) and Railroad of Hope (Dir. Ning Ying) from China focused on peasants from the Sichuan Province who crossed the country in search of better paying work.

 Following its closing night, the RLFF continued on tour to major cities across the UK, aiming to represent every strand from the fest and providing a great opportunity for those outside London to enjoy films that probably won't find distribution in the UK.

Fortunately, for fans of documentaries in the UK and environs, there are the annual Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in October and the Doclands Documentary Film Festival earlier in the autumn in Dublin, Ireland.

For more information about RLFF, go to www.rlff.com.

 

Stephanie Mardesich is a public relations consultant and freelance writer specializing in arts and entertainment; she frequently travels to the UK.

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