28 October 2009

BFI London's 53rd Film Festival

At last, the annual film festival has begun! My personal second year in attendance but the first time, I'm actually taking advantage of the festival. I hardly ever spend money on entertainment. Most of my money usually goes into food and books, my two strongest vices until recently. This year, I decided to embrace my love for film and became a member of the British Film Institute (BFI)!

I was quite looking forward to seeing this film adaptation of the Balibo 5 by Robert Connolly but unfortunately, I happened to be giving a presentation (why screen it at 1.45pm?!) and therefore missed the movie's European premiere.

"As Indonesia prepares to invade the tiny nation of East Timor, five Australian based journalists go missing.

Four weeks later, veteran foreign correspondent Roger East is lured to East Timor by the young and charismatic José Ramos-Horta to tell the story of his country and investigate the fate of the missing men. As East's determination to uncover the truth grows, the threat of invasion intensifies and an unlikely friendship develops between the last foreign correspondent in East Timor and the man who will become President.

BALIBO is a political thriller that tells the true story of crimes that have been covered up for over thirty years. (From the official website)

Definitely one of the saddest and most moving movies I have ever seen, it is a portray of Sergio Vieira de Mello, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Although you know what is going to happen eventually, it is nevertheless shocking when the film eventually reaches the point of the bombing of the UN mission in Iraq (there actually happened to be a press conference at the same time in the same building, therefore the actual moment of the blast and the chaos is captured on tape). It is horrible, horrible. There is no other word for it. As I was dabbing my tears away discreetly with the end of my sleeve, I realised that the rest of the audience was very moved as well, also blinking away tears or wiping their faces, men and women alike. I have never experienced like that in a movie theatre before. A very unique film.

"Based on the biography Chasing the Flame by Samantha Power, Sergio is the story of the United Nation’s go-to guy. A cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy, Sergio Vieira de Mello could descend into the most dangerous places, charm the worst war criminals, and somehow protect the lives of the ordinary people to whom he’d devoted his life. After a string of doomed relationships, he was about to settle down finally with the woman he loved. And then came the call: another crisis, and Sergio was the only man for the job. Persuaded by Kofi Anaan, Condoleezza Rice, and Tony Blair, Sergio reluctantly took up his post as U.N. ambassador to Iraq.

On August 19, 2003, a bomb struck the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, marking a watershed moment in history. For the first time, the U.N. had become the target of terrorism. The news shocked the world.

With visceral immediacy, filmmaker Greg Barker recreates the events of a day that will forever live in infamy. Harrowing testimony from Sergio’s fiancée and the military paramedics who risked their own lives to save him is interlaced with haunting footage shot on the day of the bombing and reenactments of the rescue attempt. Devastatingly powerful, Sergio paints a portrait of a man who gambled with his own life to restore dignity to the lives of others.
—DAVID COURIER" (review taken from the Sundance Channel)

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
I liked it for the way it conveyed the themes of inner strength and perseverance. It is by no means a light film to watch but thanks to that emphasis away from the depressive, you come out of that movie with one sad and one happy eye. Haven't read the novel but I suppose it's a great likeness. Main actress Mo'Nique appeared at the screening but only said "Hi" and "Bye", literally.

"With sheer audacity and utter authenticity, director Lee Daniels tackles Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire and creates an unforgettable film that sets a new standard for cinema of its kind. Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a high-school girl with nothing working in her favor. She is pregnant with her father’s child—for the second time. She can’t read or write, and her schoolmates tease her for being fat. Her home life is a horror, ruled by a mother (Mo’Nique) who keeps her imprisoned both emotionally and physically. Precious’s instincts tell her one thing: if she’s ever going to break from the chains of ignorance, she will have to dig deeply into her own resources. Don’t be misled—Push is not a film wallowing in the stillness of depression; instead, it vibrates with the kind of energy derived only from anger and hope. The entire cast are amazing; they carry out a firestorm of raw emotion. Daniels has drawn from them inimitable performances that will rivet you to your seat and leave you too shocked to breathe. If you passed Precious on the street, you probably wouldn’t notice her. But when her story is revealed, as Daniels does in this courageous film, you are left with an indelible image of a young woman who—with creativity, humor, and ferocity—finds the strength to turn her life around.

Recipient of the Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic, the Audience Award presented by Honda: U.S. Dramatic, and A Special Jury Prize for Acting." (taken from the Sundance Film Festival's official website, check out the bio of director Lee Daniels who also produced Monster's Ball and directed Shadowboxer)


This was my start into the BFI London Film Festival this year. A whole corner of Leicester Square was a carpet at the beginning of the week, they reduced the cordon to half the size after. Probably The Men who stare at Goats gala was taking place, it has a rather high profile cast with George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor. I would have liked to go there but the tickets were rather expensive, demand high and unlike the lower profile, more independent movies, it will be shown across the country for a longer period of time. Might as well spread out the cost and reward other great movies. Anyway, it already seems to be stealing the show of Storm here! One of Storm's main actresses, Kerry Fox came and since Intimacy (directed by Patrice Chéreau, based on a novel by Hanif Kureishi) was the last and only film I have ever seen her perform in, I felt kinda awkward (since there were some graphic scenes in Intimacy and she was sitting in the seat two rows in front of me) but delighted at the same time to see her in her role in Storm. She was quite chirpy, quirky and jovial when she addressed the crowd. A lot of questions from the crowd were also addressed to director Hans-Christian Schmid and supporting actress Alexis Zegerman. Unfortunately, Anamaria Marinca who plays the witness Mira Arendt could not be there. Apparently, they cast both in Bosnia and Serbia, as well as London and Berlin I believe but then found a Bulgarian actress who could show the strength very well and asked the casting agencies in Bosnia and Serbia if it was alright to use her and they said yes. A barrister who was also a judge sat behind me and she commended the director for the movie which she thought was very accurate in terms of how the judicial elements and the lawyers were portrayed and the director replied that they actually did a lot of research by going to the Tribunal and talking to various people, judges and lawyers. I personally believe it could have ended up a rather cheesy Hollywood production too but I found the movie came across as rather close to real behind-the-scenes politics (from an uninformed point of view in relation to the Tribunal). A movie about integrity with a lot of strong women characters.

"Having made a number of successful and distinctive features in Germany (Crazy, Distant Lights, Requiem), director Hans-Christian Schmid moves into English-language filmmaking with a legal drama about personal and political integrity. Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox), a prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, is given an apparently cast-iron case against a former Yugoslav National Army commander accused of ethnic cleansing. When the chief witness for the prosecution proves unreliable, Maynard travels to Bosnia with only a week's grace to try and rebuild a case. In the course of her investigations she stumbles across further atrocities, consequently placing herself under threat from the war profiteers now running the Balkans. She persuades a reluctant young woman, Mira (Anamaria Marinca), to testify, but is shocked to find that the judicial process she has believed in and passionately supported throughout her career is itself suspect. Her loyalty towards her witness is at odds with her professional role, and like Mira, she has to make a choice between silence and speaking out. While the higher production values of Storm mark it as something of a shift from Schmid's earlier films, it shares with them his interest in the pursuit of individual freedom and being true to one's self.

Sandra Hebron" (taken from the BFI London Film Festival's official website because the film's own is only available in German)

What shall I say - no better expression of one of my greatest fears about the future. Swedish director Tarik Saleh was there (en route to Brazil), quite a jovial fellow. The main "actor" of the movie was not there, probably because he was not really an actor but a local pizza parlour guy "who had a paranoid look about him". So they used his face and also stills of various train stations and created the 2D-animation by "using a (Photoshop?) software the wrong way", a rather complicated technique. Tarik Saleh said, he had the idea for the film when he was shooting a documentary about Guantanamo and went back to Sweden after he visited the place and nobody believed him when he was trying to convey to them the shock of what control governments could have in the world because since Sweden is well, Sweden, the people could not possibly imagine that, so he decided to do a movie about this idea of an agency taking over power and control of citizens - Metropia. Somebody in the audience asked about the "Hello Kitty" theme. He grinned, "Ah yes, the Hello Kitties"! He elaborated that he was together with a girl for a very long time who was quite into them and liked surrounding herself with these Kitties. Apparently, he must have felt rather haunted by them! Watch the trailer and freak out!

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