The festival, which is organized every autumn by the rental company Arthouse Traffic and the British Council, already has its history. Typically, it involves viewings of films shot in the United Kingdom in the past two years. This year, however, it’s a little different.
Generally speaking, British cinema is a somewhat contradictory phenomenon. There are distinct names, but there is no school like in France, the US or Italy. Most talented directors or actors sooner or later, having reached a certain level, repeat the path of Alfred Hitchcock — they cross the ocean and join the American matrix of film making. A decent number of British cinematographers’ most famous works have been shot in Hollywood.
The most developed genres in British cinematography are chamber, family drama and comedies. The previous years’ festivals usually consisted of such films. The organizers attempted to diversify the 10th festival more, yet comedy was once again the basis of the repertoire.
The beginning was untypical. The New British Cinema festival was opened not by a film, but by the “Multigenre collage” performance, by the renowned VJ Vicki Bennett. VJing is a special kind of visual improvisation that emerged as a form of entertainment in discos and night clubs: a collage of different video fragments is projected on a screen while being composed by a VJ live during the musical set and according to the rhythm and mood of the music.
Vicki Bennett created her collage within the framework of her video-art-project People Like Us (also her stage name), which was possible thanks to access to the BBC archives of 2006, which the artist received. People Like Us has shown its audiovisual compositions on such famous venues as the Tate Modern gallery in London, the Sydney Opera House and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
In terms of cinematography it’s quite simple. Bennett had shown a montage of various images to a similar collage-like soundtrack. How this was done was clear from the first minutes. Then one was supposed to appraise the sense of humor and technical ingenuity of the author. The source material was classical Hollywood films and series of the past century; many fragments from films by Hitchcock were seen. There were many colorful montage images, however, some sense of discrepancy between space and material remained after the show — this art is not for cinemas, but for galleries, museums, atypical interiors or landscape architecture.
Three guests arrived from Britain this year: apart from Vicki Bennett, DJ Goldierocks and director Nick Whitfield also came. Strictly speaking, Whitfield’s directorial debut Skeletons opened the cinematographic program of the festival. It is about two very particular specialists, Davis and Bennett, who reveal the secrets of their clients with a special method — in other words, they drag all the skeletons out of family drawers, everything, from concealed Latin American dance lessons to financial fraud. However, Davis and Bennett also have things to deal with in their lives. So the comedy finally turns to melodrama with rather nasty consequences for the viewer.
One of the most famous contemporary English directors Steven Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen) presented his new work named “Tamara Drewe.” The protagonists are writers who live in a quiet village, to which returns Tamara, a local resident. The girl had a plastic surgery and became a picture of beauty, so her appearance disturbs the bored literary environment. There is more talk than laughter here, as always in Frears’ films.
There were more intellectual comedies: My Last Five Girlfriends (Julian Kemp) and Boogie Woogie (Duncan Ward). To be precise, they are black comedies on the edge of drama. The first one is about a 30-year-old architect, who is so unlucky with women that he decides to commit suicide. The film is obviously influenced by the renowned French inventor-director Michel Gondry — the history of the hero’s misfortunes is shown as a chain of attractions, sometimes in the direct meaning of this word. Kemp diversifies the story as much as he can, he changes filming styles, adds visual effects and quotes classical movies, making the mundane story really exciting.
Boogie Woogie is wonderfully filmed, brilliantly cast (Gillian Anderson, Alan Cumming, Heather Graham, Danny Huston, Christopher Lee), and smart, with an extremely biting research of London’s art world. Ward spares no one: gallery owners, collectors, artists are depicted as residents of one large terrarium, ready to eat one another for any reward. The abnormal quality of Damien Hirst’s works was shot (he is the film’s art-producer), but these are not an apologia, but, thanks to the director’s talent, wonderful decorations of the world where one can lie, betray and even kill for success and freedom of self-expression.
Undoubtedly, Sylvain Chomet’s animated film The Illusionist (France-Great Britain) became a high point of the festival.
Chomet is a uniquely gifted French animator, one of the most interesting contemporary European directors. His previous film The Triplets of Belleville was awarded many prizes and gained overall sympathy of both film critics and ordinary viewers. The Illusionist is based on an unknown screenplay by a great French comedian, actor and director Jacques Tati.
This is the story of the star-crossed juggler that travels from London to Edinburgh to find better fortune. Chomet has painted the main character as Tati himself — with his recognizable thinness, gangling figure and elegant clumsiness. The animated incarnation turned to be worthy of the original: Chomet made a funny, poetic and extremely touching story, which can be watched again and again with delight.
Another new part of this festival is Music Doc, a separate program, which consists of four documentaries about the musical life of Great Britain.
Joy Division (director, Grant Gee, 2007) is a film about, without exaggeration, an outstanding rock band of late 1980s. Founded in Manchester, primarily due to their vocalist Ian Curtis, Joy Division quickly gained international acclaim, and became a true cult after Curtis’ tragic death. Still, after 30 years, his music sounds more modern than today’s artificially inflated rock and pop stars do.
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Stephen Kijak, 2006) is a film about a man with an unusual destiny. Scotty Angel failed at the beginning of his pop-career in US. However, having moved to England, he gained insane fame with The Walker Brothers band — their fan club was bigger than that of the The Beatles. And then he changed his life, abandoned show-business at the peak of his fame and became a radical musical experimentalist, a real anchor of avantgarde.
The two films by experienced British rock music chronicler Julien Temple will undoubtedly attract many viewers (enough to say he is the author of the classical film about punk rock The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle). Kyivites will be able to see Temple’s films Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007) and Glastonbury (2006). The first one is dedicated to the legendary punk rocker, leader of the famous group Clash, Joe Strummer, while the second is dedicated to the 30-year anniversary of the British festival in Glastonbury. The number of stars in both movies is impressive. In the first film one can see Joe Strummer, Mick Jagger, Jim Jarmusch, Matt Dillon, Johnny Depp, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Bono, Mick Jones, David Lee Roth, and Brigitte Bardot. The second film stars Bjork, David Bowie, James Brown, Nick Cave, and Joe Strummer.
Therefore, having emphasised the best examples of comedy and music documentary, the organizers have created a really balanced and, with one exeption, equal program.
After Kyiv, New British Cinema will be shown in regional centers of Ukraine, in particular, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, and Vinnytsia.