Stars, exclusives and premieres
UK premieres, high profile foreign language films, rare documentaries, star guests, live music and even a clutch of unmade or unfinished films by master film-makers are all part of the mix which makes up the 30th anniversary of the Cambridge Film Festival.
For artistic director Tony Jones, who has presided over 25 of the 30 years, it is important the Cambridge festival is open and accessible to all. “It’s all about providing a wide range of good quality films for everyone to enjoy. That’s what it has always been. It may be getting a little more difficult to stage as everyone hangs onto their films until the last possible moment but we still have our fair share of premieres and rare screenings.”
This year he has managed to pull out all the stops and has the UK premiere of the new Luc Besson movie The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec to open the festival – which he hopes that Besson will attend and host a post-screening question and answer session.
“He’s incredibly busy but he’s a huge fan of the festival and we’ve just arranged for him to fly in to Cambridge airport in his private jet and then fly off immediately after the screening, so we are hoping that will help him fit us into his schedule.”
Tony described Luc Besson’s film as an eye-popping fantasy based on a popular French comic strip. “Who else could unleash a pterodactyl swooping above the boulevards of pre-First World War Paris?” he laughed.
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Also on the programme will be the UK premiere of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest – the final instalment in the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy which started with the record breaking The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The closing film will be the highly anticipated Made In Dagenham – a new UK feelgood movie from Nigel Cole, director of Calendar Girls.
In-between the festival will be screening a rare opportunity to see Almost The Truth – the celebrated documentary on the influence and the history of Monty Python which will be attended by Terry Jones who will also then lead a post-screening discussion. Other film-maker question and answer sessions will accompany the UK premieres of Brilliant Love – a film about when some compromising snaps become public art – and GravyTrain, a new absurdist comedy from Canada.
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One of the most high profile guests at this year’s festival will be British directing legend Stephen Frears who will be hosting a Looking Back … event where he will talk about his directing career which seen him make such box office hits as My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, Dirty Pretty Things, Mrs Henderson Presents, The Queen, Cheri and his critically acclaimed new film with Gemma Arterton Tamara Drewe.
Tony said: “We are really very pleased to get Stephen back to Cambridge. He will not only be talking about the way his career has developed, his films but also about the fact that he studied law at Cambridge and has obviously gone off in a completely different direction.”
He said that the festival line-up is never the same two days running. There are lots of last minute changes and even on the day of our interview Tony was on the phone persuading distributors to show their films at Cambridge.
“It’s always a negotiating nightmare because film-makers and distributors always like to keep hold of their films until they think they are ready and yet they have to get them onto the festival circuit at the right time. So there is always a lot of talking and persuading but at the end of the day it’s a system which suits both the festivals and the film-makers themselves.
“As always we are trying to add to our line up, right until the last minute, so I would say keep looking at the website for additional movies being dropped into the programme. It is an ever-changing canvas but we are particularly pleased with the wide range of films we have on offer this year - particularly the exceptionally strong documentary strand that gives the festival a real kick.
“For example, Human Terrain is one of the most extraordinary films I have seen for a long time. It shows how in 2005 the US military started integrating social scientists into combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan then you have the human drama when a recruit who the directors had befriended is killed by a roadside bomb. It is a very moving and involving film.”
Other documentaries include Stephen Fry’s Wagner and Me in which he comes to terms with his love of Richard Wagner’s music and his Jewish descent and the fact that Wagner was so beloved by the Nazis; Two In The Wave, a look at the founding fathers of the Nouvelle Vague, Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut; Nenette the story of oldest inhabitant of the world’s oldest zoo, an orang-utan called Nenette, directed by Nicolas Philibert (Etre et Avoir); and The Desert of Forbidden Art, a documentary on banned art and artists in the former Soviet Union, narrated by Sir Ben Kingsley.
An unusual documentary strand this year is a couple of events which look into films that were either unmade or suffered a fate worse than death at the hands of unfeeling studio executives who locked the director out of the editing room and then proceeded to butcher their films.
On September 20 Bill Lawrence will explore Stanley Kubrick’s lost film Napoleon. In an illustrated talk he will take audiences through the evolution of a film that never was.
Tony said: “Kubrick started pre-production on the film straight after the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In a letter to a friend, Kubrick described Napoleon’s life as an epic poem of action. Told through a series of letters, memos, costume tests and production drawings, Bill Lawrence will show how a film, at quite an advanced stage of production simply disappeared from the schedules.”
Casting was already underway with Stanley Kubrick talking to and considering big name stars like Sir Alec Guinness, David Hemmings, Sir Laurence Olivier and Audrey Hepburn for both leading and supporting roles.
“What killed the film was the fact that another big budget Napoleonic epic Waterloo with Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer went into production at the same time and the studios felt that the public wouldn’t weather two huge films about Napoleon and pulled the financing. Kubrick kept all his pre-production plans, hence the fact we can use them here, and still talked about re-mounting it in the 1990s but sadly it came to nothing.”
In a related strand Professor Ian Christie will be looking at films by four great directors that were either killed in the editing suite or never made it before the cameras at all. In a relaxed talk, entitled Unfinished Symphonies, Prof Christie will look at Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, Sergei Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico!, Josef von Sternberg’s I Claudius and Erich von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly.
Guests and seminars aside, films are obviously at the heart of any film festival. Cambridge has always prided itself on being a film festival that is a community event rather than a buyers market or a critics showcase.
This is reflected in the fact that there are a plethora of open-air screenings on the banks of the Cam as part of their Riverside Screenings this weekend and on September 10-11, as well as a screening at the Cambridge Lido on September 12.
“The Riverside Screenings have been a huge success in the past. There’s nothing like watching the giant screens from the banks of the Cam or eating a picnic in a punt watching a film. Also for the first time this year we are extending our community screenings to the Cambridge Lido. Saturday is the last public use of the Lido for the year and we take it over for the Sunday for an exciting collection of shorts, early silent and under-water classics all loosely based around the theme of water. It will be a celebration of all things liquid.”
However, it will be the screens at the Cambridge PictureHouse that will host the majority of the festival. Among the standout movies in this years line-up are Winter’s Bone, described as a leading Oscar contender after receiving rave reviews and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year. The story is set in the rural American Ozark country, and tells the tale of Ree Dolly, who learns that her father left the family house as collateral against his bail before disappearing. If she can’t find him, she and her siblings and her mentally ill mother will be homeless.
It provides young actress Jennifer Lawrence with the opportunity for a tour-de-force performance and creates a film which is both powerful and unsettling.
GravyTrain provides a total contrast. Created by surreal Canadian director April Mullen, it tells the story of Gypsy Creek’s No 1 cop Charles GravyTrain (Tim Doiron) has struggled to collar the killer of his father. But, he finally scores a lead when teamed up with the foxy Miss Uma Booma (Mullen). Events turn fishy though when the pair are blackmailed into starring in avant-garde filmmaker Hansel Suppledick’s latest extravaganza. Visually the film’s a treat as Mullen turns Gypsy Creek into a bizarre 1970s throwback.
The Girl Who Kicked Over The Hornet’s Nest will undoubtedly be one of the talking points of this year’s festival. The final part of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked Over The Hornet’s Nest, continues the story of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, as Lisbeth is trying to clear her name of murder. Pulling together all the pieces from the previous films, this final chapter completes a trilogy of foreign language films which have so so successful they have broken through into the mainstream.
Modern warfare has been a reoccurring theme in this festival. The Messenger, starring Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Samantha Morton, is a powerful exploration of the effects of war on its casualties, and on those who are left behind. Foster stars as Will Montgomery, a US Army Staff Sergeant re-assigned after injury to the Casualty Notification Team. Partnered with an experienced hand, Capt. Tony Stone (Harrelson), Montgomery learns the delicate business of telling families that their loved ones have died on duty. After he delivers the news of her husband’s death to one particular woman, Olivia (Morton), he finds himself losing his emotional detachment, as he feels ever-increasingly drawn to her in her grief. Extraordinary performances make this Oscar-nominated drama an unflinching examination of grief and loss.
The best of UK film-making is represented in two leading titles Brilliant Love and Made In Dagenham. Brilliant Love, by independent film-maker Ashley Horner, exposes all from its opening shot as the private life of the two lead characters become public property when local photographer turns some intimate snaps found on a camera into some provocative examples of modern art. The only problem is that the subject doesn’t know she has become a 21st century poster girl.
The subject of sex is also central to the new film from Nigel Cole. Made In Dagenham stars Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson and Geraldine James. Workplace sexual politics rise to the fore when in 1968 female workers at the Ford car plant in Dagenham walk out as they demand equal pay to their male colleagues.
Their action led to the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970 no less. As with Calendar Girls, Brassed Off and The Full Monty it’s a story of relationships, communities and the fight of the underdog.
Tony says that the continued credit crunch has meant that the 30th anniversary celebrations are rather more muted than they would have wished. “At the end of the day we are about films and we would rather put films up on the screen than use precious money to fund a large party – as nice as that would have been. But, having said that we have some special events to mark our 30th birthday including a rare appearance by film critic Mark Kermode’s band The Dodge Brothers who will be providing live accompaniment for the silent melodrama Beggars of Life and we have wonderful restored screenings of the FW Murnau silent classic City Girl and Fred Zimmerman’s Oscar-winning war-romance From Here To Eternity. There’s plenty to enjoy and hopefully things will be a bit brighter next year.”
The 30th Cambridge Film Festival runs from September 16-26. For tickets and more information go to the website www. cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/