It’s always tricky identifying the best films at a festival when you’ve seen as many as I do. Looking at the rest, those to which I have awarded four and three stars, I find, after a year’s cogitation, that there are only a few that I would really recommend.
This is especially relevant given the current debate about China that’s happening in the West. This film is by a director banned in China, who has been living in Hong Kong. I wonder where he is now. He fictionalises his own story. In the film we follow a woman director, banned in China and living in Hong Kong who, with her husband and child, is following a party of Chinese tourists as they are bussed around Taiwan. They are following the tour, in order to see her mother, who is on the tour. Through conversations between mother and daughter you get a picture of what life is like in China – what it was like before, and what it is like now – much worse, says the mother. Beautifully done. You spend a lot of time thinking about how you would behave in the same situation. It was an inspired choice to make the director a woman. Well worth a look. Here’s the trailer.
The Gift: Johnny Cash
I thought I knew pretty much everything about Johnny Cash, probably from the movie Walk The Line, but I was wrong. I like his music but I’m not a massive fan. But this is a terrific documentary. Lots about his early life and then quite a bit about his declining years. All interesting and you get a few of the songs; not that many considering. And you can actually watch the whole thing on YouTube. I’d recommend it. Here’s the trailer.
I actually couldn’t remember anything about this until I jogged my memory with the trailer. This is another quintessential festival film, and why I love festivals! We’re in Sudan; I’m not sure where exactly. Stunning scenery. There’s a war on and rebels are looking to press gang young men into fight; so our hero is on the run, from both army and rebels. He dresses up as a girl and flees to avoid one lot, and from there all sorts of weird things happen. Including some magic realism. There’s lots of toing and froing between young men, between young men and women, between young and old. It all ends up at a glorious wedding; traditional Sudanese style. Which is amazing. So, a bit of fantasy, lots of humour and along the way you learn a little bit about Sudanese culture. Despite not recalling it, I do recommend it. Quite endearing. Here’s the trailer.
H is for Happiness
I loved this Australian film. It was full of colour and energy. The girl playing the lead was fantastic. And the boy she befriends was also great. There’s been a death in the family and Mum is consumed by grief. Dad is struggling professionally and is at loggerheads with his successful brother, our girl’s loving uncle. It’s all a little mad, but beautiful, life affirming message. It’s already been and gone in Australian cinemas – no doubt without the patronage it deserved which is a shame. Check it out if you can. Here’s the trailer.
This was a great documentary because of the subject. I always liked Suzy bit I didn’t know much about her; except her classic, leather suited look! I wasn’t that keen on her music. But she is terrific in this. You learn about her start, her time in England and her post Suzy life. She is irrepressible. Here’s the trailer.
This was terrific. Set in Afghanistan, a young boy is sent to an orphanage. You get to see how the boys survive the brutal, self-imposed hierarchy, with devastating consequences for one of them. Negligent oversight leaves them to it. This is during the Soviet occupation and there is a funny interlude when they are all taken to Russia for a summer camp. Back home the Taliban are coming. There’s humour in the frantic attempts by the orphanage’s staff to rid the building of all Russian imagery but it call comes to nought. A different take on the situation in Afghanistan and an interesting one. Here’s the trailer.
Brittany Runs A Marathon
This was a nice, feel good film about self redemption. A bit by the numbers, but great performance from the lead makes it. Brittany is an overweight, self centred loser at the start. Horrible to her friends and neighbours, and , of course, herself. Then she decides to run a marathon. It’s based on a true story and you see film of the real person run the real marathon during the final credits. It’s already been commercially released here, to great acclaim. Here’s the trailer.
Long Time No Sea
I had quite forgotten this film and had to look at the trailer to recover any inkling as to what it was about. Even then, I’ve had to go to this review to get the details; especially the name of the people it depicts, the Tao, who live on an island off Taiwan. It was on the schools programme at MIFF that often has hidden gems and this was one of them. It was a gentle, humanistic film, very informative about the culture of these people. Through one of the children we see how families on the island get by. His father works as a taxi driver on the mainland. A teacher is sent from the Taipei to the island and from his perspective we find out what mainland Taiwanese think of the Tao. He’s not happy at being apart from his girlfriend and not very sympathetic to his new charges. He enrols them in a dance competition and we see the children learning about their culture – they don’t like the traditional male thong that’s for sure! As you can see in the trailer.
Marianne And Leonard
I didn’t have high hopes of this documentary, as I didn’t think it would have much new to say. Nevertheless I wanted to know more about Marianne so went along. It was as I expected mostly about Leonard, and mostly excerpts from interviews and recordings that have been aired elsewhere. There was a little bit about Marianne; although a lot of it was repetitious about what a muse to Leonard she was. Boring and inaccurate I’d say. The most interesting bit was a throw away line from someone who’s lived on Hydra forever who said, if you lived on the island; you didn’t want to cross Marianne. That Marianne sounds more interesting than the muse. I did learn one new thing about Leonard; he used to play in mental institutions whenever he gave a concert anywhere. There was footage of one in London. Interesting. If you like Leonard, as I do, it’s worth seeing. Here’s the trailer.
A documentary about a food writer, Diana Kennedy who I had never heard of, but who is well known in America, famous for popularising Mexican food. She is a great character. In her nineties she lives in a fantastic house in the jungle somewhere in Mexico from where she drives to local markets; negotiating bumpy roads in a four wheel drive. At the market she pontificates expertly on the produce. Back home she gives cooking lessons to people – mostly Americans I think – who have ventured into her domain. It’s a by the book documentary, but a fascinating character makes it interesting. Here’s the trailer.
Amazing Grace (D)
This is a film of a famous concert given by Aretha in 1972. Here’s a review of the documentary that gives the details; apparently people have known about the footage for years but Aretha wouldn’t give permission for it to be shown. Also there were technical problems with it that had to be ironed out and this couldn’t be done until new technology became available. I didn’t know anything about it. I loved the music, and it was interesting seeing Aretha in this setting; a church hall similar to the one she grew up in. Her father is in the audience. Most reviews, including the one above, have described it as transcendental. But I found the actual footage distracting; close-ups of Aretha’s face covered in perspiration; the toing and froing from choir to crowd. It was interesting seeing Mick Jagger in the audience. Here’s the trailer.