Review of the London Film Festival
Amid the choking fumes, overcrowded tube and ludicrous house prices the London Film Festival is a welcome reminder of the benefits of living in the capital. A chance to see many films weeks, if not months, before their general release, it features works from most nations and every genre. From guaranteed high-grossers like 'Anita and Me' and Eminem's thespian foray '8 Mile', to documentaries such as 'Don Vitaliano', about an Italian priest hounded by the Catholic church for his participation in the Genoa protests, over four hundred features and shorts were crammed into this year's two-week schedule.
The latter film was shown alongside 'Carlo Giuliani, A Boy', which traces the last day of Carlo's life before the Italian police murdered him. His mother, Haidi, gives an in-depth interview which, as well as providing a moving account of her son, highlights the deliberately brutal and provocative tactics of the police. Though it excellently recreates the fear and intimidation of the Friday of his killing, it's a shame it doesn't also present Saturday's determination that we wouldn't allow his murderers to drive us off the streets.
Dramatisations worth looking out for include Roman Polanski's 'The Pianist' (reviewed next issue), and 'The Magdalene Sisters', Peter Mullan's powerful condemnation of the Irish Catholic church's brutal treatment of 'immoral' young women. 'The Children of Russia', based on the evacuation of Republican children during the Spanish Civil War, is one of many intriguing European films that are unlikely to be on at your local multiplex.
Two films that thoroughly deserve a wide release (though sadly probably won't get one) are 'In This World' and 'Standing in the Shadows of Motown'. The first is a barely fictional account of two young Afghans who make the tortuous journey from Peshawar to start a new life in London. Its unshowy, digital camerawork and minimal script allow the actors to be refreshingly naturalistic, and it furthers a strong polemic against racist scapegoating by the director of '24 Hour Party People'.
'Standing in the Shadows of Motown', a 14-year labour of love, finally got its premiere at the festival. Those of us who came to hear the story of the Funk Brothers were pleasantly surprised by Joan Osbourne's unexpected introduction. In 'Standing...' Osbourne, along with other modern singers such as Chaka Khan, performs with the surviving Funk Brothers. You may not have heard of them, but as the studio musicians behind Motown they had more hits than the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis combined. To hear them play in a packed cinema with good acoustics is to feel like you're at their comeback gigs--and what gigs they are! While holding yourself back from dancing in the aisle (or, if you've more sense than pride, giving in to the urge), you'll empathise with their deep love for their craft, and the communal bond that it created. When one of the white guitarists is asked if the riots in Detroit following Martin Luther King's murder caused friction between them, he breaks down in tears at the possibility. Such camaraderie was not shared with the company's bosses, who tried, and failed, to bribe one of them to spy on his moonlighting colleagues, and who informed them of the company's move to Los Angeles with a note on the studio door. The Funk Brothers' cruel treatment by Motown is nonetheless transcended by the warmth of their friendship and the spirit of their music. This inspiring documentary really is a must.
It's unfortunate that festival ticket prices are so expensive, starting at £5 but going up to several times that. This combined with the need to book most of the high-profile films well in advance makes the event unnecessarily exclusive.
Still, if geography is your main barrier, and you don't enjoy the mixed blessing of living in London, then you may still be able to catch the festival on tour. It's due in Cardiff, Manchester and Glasgow between 29 November and 5 December, and in Canterbury for three days after that.