Manchester Film Festival 2017: Hunter Gatherer Review

An understated comedy about finding happiness in the simpler things

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Hunter Gather marks Joshua Locy’s first venture as both a writer and a director after formerly working as an art director. This encouraging debut is an understated and quirky comedy about surviving in a lower-class black neighbourhood whilst finding glimmers of joy in the simpler things. Although far from perfect, it certainly broadcasts Locy as a capable director and is a refreshing break from the filmmaking norm.

Returning to live with his mother following a three year stint in prison, Ashley (Andre Royo – The Wire) is looking to continue his life exactly where he left off. Except everyone around him has moved on. This does little to affect his infectiously positive outlook on life, rather it gives him new life goals. Firstly, to win back his sweetheart Linda, who has since moved on to a local garbageman, and secondly, to hustle enough money to treat her how he feels she deserves. His escapades lead him into the refrigerator disposal business, one that gives short term financial gain in return for a garden full of broken refrigerators that he lacks the ability to shift. Enter Jeremy (George Sample III). Around half his age, this curious initial encounter blossoms into a charming friendship with each providing the other with their most urgent needs. Ashley, with a truck to transport his fridges and a first friend after his release from prison and Jeremy, with an important father figure as his only referenced family is the grandfather who’s nursing home room he sleeps in.

The feeling of renewed childhood is used consistently throughout the film with this being the source of many hilarious moments. During an exchange at a school supplies store, Ashley asks the worker to give him recommendations and ultimately critique his look wearing different backpacks. The effortless manner this scene plays out cements it’s place as perhaps the best in the film. Later on, a situation that is all too familiar for those in the audience, the ‘but mum’ moment. Where one child receives a stern telling off from his mother in the presence of a friend. It’s highly entertaining to watch this unravel with a forty something year old man as the target. Humour lies at the core of this film, whether whimsical like those mentioned or deadpan, like Jeremy reminiscing about the time his pinky toe was removed and reattached using a laser. Locy manages to integrate bizarre elements into his scenes without losing the realistic foundation he has made.

Unconventionality is embraced by Locy in various aspects of the film, for example the camera is used in ways not often seen on the silver screen. One in particular which worked each time it was utilised was the ‘blur to foreground, blur to background’ technique. Whether to emphasis loneliness or show different character’s exploits in a single shot, this stood out as interesting and incredibly well implemented. The same cannot be said about everything Locy attempts. At several points the film strays into surrealism with the main characters faces overlapping and passing through each other. This seemed out of place but also a step away from style of work that suits Locy best.

Hunter Gatherer excels in making the abnormal normal with situations that seem ludicrous in real life feeling utterly everyday through Locy’s directorial style. Occasionally it may wander beyond its boundaries but the poetic beauty and ever-positive Ashley make this film one you won’t easily forget.

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Creedmoria Review

An unusually unique coming-of-age tale

Greatness in the coming-of-age genre is rare. Far too often the same story gets simply repackaged with a different cast. That’s why the best films stand out, they have unique qualities that set them apart from the crowd. In the case of Creedmoria, that quality is unconventionality. The only comparable aspect it possesses to other films of the genre is its incomparability. For that reason alone it was hardly surprising that Alicia Slimmer won the Best Director award at this year’s Manchester Film Festival.

Set in the fictional city of Creedmoria, named after the local institution for the mentally ill Creedmoor, we follow one of the most dysfunctional families seen on the big screen through the eyes of 17 year old Candy (Stef Dawson – Hunger Games). Each family member has one key personality trait that is exaggerated to the nth degree to create this fantastical world. Her mother is wholly self-centred and emotionally devoid, using her children as pawns to progress her own social status. She also has two brothers. One, a drug and alcohol addict who never ceases to find ways to embarrass his mother, and the other is a closeted gay that seems to be the last person to find out about his sexuality. The family is rounded off by their ironically named dog Cuddles. Although the entire family’s problems are amplified beyond that of anything in real life, they coalesce to form a charming family dynamic more realistic than most found within the genre.

The world Slimmer creates is similarly overemphasised, taking each stereotype of the late 70’s early 80’s era and magnifying it to an parodical level. Candy’s boyfriend Billy for example, who is terrifyingly jealous, appears to have modelled his complete physical appearance on Danny Zuko from Grease. They met at the drive in burger joint she works at, where she is relentlessly belittled by the aptly credited ‘dickhead manager’. Away from the people, several other elements of the film demand the viewers attention. The soundtrack is an eclectic compilation of songs with each used perfectly to either represent a particular character or scene. This eclectic theme continues in the fashion and decoration with Slimmer stating that Wes Anderson has been a direct influence on her work.

As the film progresses through its story arc there are a few moments where it lurches slightly. This occurs in the form of shifts between the many individual stories and in tone with the climax of the film being a prime instance. Whilst this can be partially forgiven due to the independent nature of the picture and the problems this triggers, most notably in the painfully low budget, it is a shame given the high quality of everything preceding it.

Creedmoria’s message is about rising above the unpleasant events that take place in your life and maintaining a resilient positive attitude regardless. Alicia Slimmer deserves high praise for her impressive debut feature. After 10 years of hard work to get the film to screen, every award won is a well deserved triumph. For me personally it was the most entertaining film at this years festival.

Click here for the Q&A about the film

 

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Creedmoria Q&A

The Q&A of Alicia Slimmer’s debut film Creedmoria

Once the screening of Creedmoria had finished, the director and writer Alicia Slimmer and the lead actress Stef Dawson came out to answer any questions the audience had. It was a heartwarming end to the film’s festival run and Slimmer seemed at times emotional to have reached this point after 10 year attempting to get the film made. Below are some of the questions asked.

What was your inspiration for the film? When pregnant with my daughter I thought about the type of mother I wanted to be, and the type of mother that I really didn’t want to be. The film is semi-autobiographic in the sense that some of the elements were real. For instance the scene where Billy gets a tattoo with Candy’s name did really happen.

Were there any problems with the early 80’s setting? The biggest challenge was cars as they are very expensive. The idea was to use a lot of muscle cars, fortunately I used to be a drag racer and still had contacts. Locking down an entire street without SUV’s was also hard. Luckily there were no phones or computers in that time period so cost was cut there. The outfits and costumes were at times a problem but a fun problem. Sometimes a crew member would wear something that fit the time period so we would borrow it for the shoot.

How big was the crew? We tried to stay small, one gaffer, one grip, one dp etc. The aim was usually to keep it under 25 at any given time with under 40 total. This was to keep everything efficient but also due to the incredibly small budget we had.

How did you (Stef Dawson) develop Candy as a character? To begin with I couldn’t understand why I was cast but as time passed it clicked. The passion and sunniness despite all of life’s challenges is the main reason, a key part of Candy’s nature.

What were your influences when writing the screenplay? As this was my first feature film it was a unique experience. Mainly it was music, I grew up on the confluence of heavy metal and new wave. When I incorporated music into the film, I gave each character their own song. This was given to the relevant cast member in advance to allow them to get the tone of the scene perfect. I also didn’t watch many films growing up so my imagination had the chance to run wild. Wes Anderson’s quirky style did influence me though, and so did my favourite film ‘A Fish Called Wanda’.

Is the mother character based on your mother? Yes it is. My relationship with my mother has healed over time. The first time she watched it was during the Brooklyn Film Festival. During the Q&A there she stood up and said how the mother character isn’t based upon her. It absolutely was, karma’s a bitch and sometimes its your mother.

What is next for you? The indie film scene is a bit disheartening at the moment. If it wasn’t for small festivals like this one then who would watch these films. I’m transitioning into television now, in particular i’m working on a Game of Thrones type show set in medieval France. Another reason for the transition is that the money just isn’t in indie films unless you get a big break whereas with television I know that i’ll be getting a paycheque.

The Q&A was a fabulous end to the both the film’s showing and the day’s program. A staple of the film festival, it allows the audience and amateur filmmakers alike the chance to pick the brains of those involved.

Click here for the review of Creedmoria

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Josephine Doe Q&A

An opportunity to learn more about Ryan Michael’s film

Following the UK premier of Josephine Doe, there was a chance for the audience to pick the brains of some of those involved with the production of the film. The writer/lead actress Erin Cipolletti, the cinematographer Brad Porter and the director Ryan Michael were all visibly passionate about their film, and eager to give insight into the behind-the-scenes aspects of the film.

Why the choice of black and white? This is a very interesting decision, one that I feel sets the film apart from the norm. The answer lies in how I imagined the film. When I read the script initially, I imagined it in black and white. Claire’s life was not normal, she couldn’t tell what was real and what was not. Black and white was the right choice as it really emphasises the grey areas in her reality.

How long did it take to film? The production period was just 12 days, but ‘the time was made up for in post’ which lasted for over one and half years. A major problem which led to this is that Emma Griffin who played Josephine lived in Australia. When the post-production period started and things needed changing it became difficult to reshoot or rerecord as it required Emma to travel. To overcome this we waited until there was a large amount of required reshoots before flying her out.

Did much change from writing to the end of the post-production period? Many aspects of the film did change, mainly due to production issues. In the end though the complications ended up creating a better film than we started out making. Something that was very important to us was that the tone should remain the same. If the tone changed then it would no longer be the same film. The scenes, the words, the people could change but the tone was the backbone.

How was the experience of being both the writer and the lead actress? Was It empowering? This is a very interesting question that brings up both personal and business points. Some of the crew had issues separating me from my independent roles, often coming for scripting problems when I was assuming the role of lead actress. This was only a minor issue as the experience was wonderful overall. The role allowed me to easily alter the script on the fly allowing the filming process to be more fluid.

Was Erin’s character ultimately meant to evolve into her mother? That was one of the questions that we were intent on evoking. In particular involving fear. The fear that Claire had that she would become her, especially after she saw how she was in the mental facility. The fear Angie had that she would lose another member of her family to mental health issues but also the fear the genetic aspect of her families mental health issues would ultimately affect her daughter. This was emphasised by the choosing of a child actress to play Lily who had physical features more closely resembling Claire than Angie.

Who was the Inspiration for Josephine Doe? There was not one simple answer for this. More a confluence of lots of ideas that came together to form her. Firstly it’s the sister she never had. Who laughed, loved and cared for her. It was also meant to embody the childhood she never had. Due to her mother suffering from mental issues whilst she was very young she lost her innocence, the ability to just be a child. Lastly it is a version of her without fear, to be who she desires to be.

This Q&A was but another example of the wonderful events at this year’s festival. All those involved with Josephine Doe were happy to discuss their film after the showing and seemed eager to hear the audience’s opinions.

Click here for the Josephine Doe review

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Josephine Doe Review

Sometimes life isn’t all it seems

Coming to Manchester Film Festival for its UK premier, Josephine Doe is the tale of one girl’s battle with grief after her father’s death. Whilst Claire attempts to deal with this dramatic change in her life she meets Josephine, a much needed ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark world. It seems suspicious however that her arrival is always at the exact moment she is needed and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The black-and-white cinematic style is an intriguing directorial decision by Ryan Michael, one that gives the film individuality whilst also acting as a vital detail of the narrative. Following her father’s death, Claire’s life begins to blur the boundaries between real life and imagination, no longer being able to distinguish whether the people around her actually existed. Opting to shoot this way allows the grey areas in her reality to be emphasised, giving the audience the opportunity to see the world through her eyes.

Furthermore, the use of black-And-white changes the focal point of a film, shifting the interest to the story and the substance. What is within the frame moves to the forefront of the viewer’s mind as there are far less distractions in the form of colour. To create striking or evocative imagery for this particular style, one must master the art of lighting. Where in the frame the light should hit, and perhaps more importantly where it shouldn’t. Every frame in a truly great black-and-white picture should be a well-composed thing of beauty, for example Casablanca or more recently the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There. Josephine Doe does not reach the same heights, that is definite. But for an indie film with a relatively unknown cast and crew it is a marvellous effort.

In terms of quality there is a disparity between the best and worst scenes. When the film excels, it does so commandingly of which a perfect instance of this is the ending. At the climax, Claire’s sister Angie approaches her in an attempt to rekindle some form of a relationship, an attempt to lead her away from her grief induced mental health issues. Claire is then faced with a difficult decision: try to mend her family ties and leave Josephine behind, or abandon her sister to live in the realm of fantasy. The presentation of her decision was both deft in its implementation and emotionally fraught rising far above everything prior.

Another scene which should have equally stood out is the moment Claire is told that Josephine isn’t real. From the steady build-up of anticipation to that moment the expectation was of an uncompromising and harrowing reveal. An explosion of emotion as Claire’s life begins to slowly collapse around her. Instead she simply brushed the news off, as if it was but another small issue to add to her pile. This is an area where the film falls short. Too often the scenes with the biggest impact on paper didn’t materialise on the screen.

Had Josephine Doe managed to maintain that same high standard seen in the final 10 minutes the resulting film would have been a masterpiece. Nevertheless Michael’s work is worthy of high praise and is a fantastic addition to the line up at the festival this year.

Click here for a Q&A with the director, lead actress/writer and cinematographer of Josephine Doe

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Jury Select Panel

An honest insight into the inner workings of a film festival

Away from all the incredible feature-length and short films on display, there is a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at how Manchester Film Festival is organised and ran. The Jury Select Panel offered a unique insight for filmmakers and cinema goers alike and was chaired by film critic Tom Percival and featured festival co-ordinator Al Bailey as well as several of the jurors.

How do you decide which films go into the program? The key word is objectivity. We are trying to attract a wide range of people for all demographics. Something for everyone. There is a team of 6 who watch all the films to choose which will make it to the festival. It’s a very long process but we feel it is necessary to give every film a chance.

How do you plan the opening night? We want the people who come here to know they are in Manchester and know what we are all about so all the films have a North-West (of England) theme. A divisive set of films is key too, we want to start debate.

How do you go about selecting jurors? I absolutely hate the word alumni but I guess it’s the right word here. People who have come before and entered films are generally the right type of people. We want people that will get involved. The idea is to get a range of film industry roles such as writers, casting directors, actors etc. For each category we want jurors who have strengths in that area, animators in the animating category for example.

How many jurors are there and what is the process in choosing the winner of each category? There are 18 jurors altogether that are split into teams of 3, with each team getting the same set of 3. Each juror has their own method of critiquing. Some for example use a points system, breaking the films down into categories such as writing, structure, characters, direction, editing etc. We usually advise each film be watched more than once as different moods when watching can provoke a different reaction. Then when the individuals have voted we pool the results together to decide the winner.

What happens in the event of a tie? If a tie occurs then Gareth (head juror) would ultimately decide.

Is there any ‘X-Factor’ qualities you look for in the films? Usually we (jurors) have a gut instinct on the film within the first 10-15 minutes. From that we usually gather whether it will hold our full interest. There are 2 main factors that go into making a great film: script and performance. The best actors in the world can’t make a bad script good, and conversely the best script in the world won’t make bad actors good. More often that not a film will just do one well, or both mediocrely. A great film nails both. You also want to get immersed into the film, that’s a sign of quality.

Is there a difference between watching the films on a laptop where judging and on the big screen here? Oh definitely, this a major reason why we strike to have the jurors present at the festival rather than just watching them remotely. A film is always better on the big screen. The indie film scene is incredibly tough at the moment and getting distribution is so hard. So to see a small film on the big screen is really a big gift.

What is the run time limit on the short films? This question has been a bit of an issue for us over the past couple of years. This year the rule is anything under an hour but previously we weren’t sure how long was too long. A prime example of this was a 32 minute short that we received in year one. In the end we decided to include it and it was a great decision looking back as it ended up being nominated for an Oscar.

How many films are submitted? In year 1 we had 650, year 2 just under 1000. This year is over 1500 with around 75% of those being shorts. From May to November we wind down that number to the 92 you see in the festival.

How much does it cost to enter a film? There is an early bird which is around £30 and the last possible entry is around £100. As each filmmaker is paying considerable money to enter we make sure to watch every single film. From speaking to people at other film festivals I learned that they don’t watch all the films that the receive, opting to watch ones featuring acclaimed actors or directors. This is a completely dishonest way of running a film festival as some of the best films we see are by first time directors. For example we have an incredible debut student film that just wouldn’t have been watched let alone considered at other film festivals. At the Manchester Film Festival we try to be as transparent and honest as possible, something that we feel sets us apart from others.

In summary this was a surprisingly honest look at the inner workings of the the festival. Co-ordinator Al Bailey emphasised the need for transparency in what he called ‘the murky world of film festivals’. There was no doubt that everyone involved was driven by the intense passion that they shared for films and filmmaking, something that was conveyed not just at this panel but throughout the whole of the festival. It was a genuine pleasure to be involved with such a wonderful event and there was not a single negative moment to mention.

If you enjoyed this article click here for another on the Screenwriting Panel

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Across the River Review

A love story in a day

On day two of Manchester Film Festival it was an honour to witness the world premier of Across the River. A remarkable achievement in filmmaking given the micro budget the crew had, it goes to show that millions of pounds isn’t a requirement for making a heartwarming movie packing an emotional punch.

The story begins when Emma and Ryan bump into each other on the side of the River Thames. Emma, a highly regarded lawyer and Ryan, seen on a tiny stretch of beach making sand art. Director Warren Malone is quick to convey the stark differences between the two, while also illustrating the tangible chemistry that is present. On paper they shouldn’t possibly work yet we learn of a long passed relationship, ended when Ryan just left one day without a trace. Their feelings of love, hate, anger, inadequacy, happiness and the lack of are explored during the film. A process that would normally take weeks if not months is condensed into the single day the film takes place. This is due to a tube strike in London and Emma, desperately trying to get home for her daughter’s birthday which she missed through work, reluctantly enlists the help of Ryan as her travel guide.

Enough time has passed for Emma to find someone else, get married and have two kids but still her feelings towards Ryan remain. The thoughts of what used to be almost lead her into temptation, however each time she realises what she would lose. This is where Across the River sets itself apart from more fantastical romance films. Emma and Ryan don’t just get together and screw the consequences. You don’t spend years creating a life to just throw it away for an old romance after just one day. It’s this grounding that makes the film more accessible. Love isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, sometimes it’s regret and sorrow too.

A surprising fact to learn is that aside from the general story arc and a select few lines the entire dialogue was improvised. This is a brave decision that gives both positive and negative results. For instance the chemistry between the two characters feels human, through the laughs they share and the arguments that attempt to ruin the encounter. The process becomes more natural, allowing the cast to make the roles their own. That said it does present the very real issue of pacing. There is alternation between a sense of urgency and a need to relax and enjoy the present without any explanation as to why each is used at any given moment. Unfortunately a large number of viewers will be turned off by this, which really is a shame as the premise has lots of potential.

Across the River delves into the idea of their love as the elephant in the room. An unspeakable bond they share regardless of how much time has passed. The elephant in the room for this film is that the substance just isn’t quite there to hold the audience for the whole duration. Complete improvisation is interesting as a concept but it requires perfect execution to create a truly great film, Malone falls short of great but his first feature length film is certainly a respectable effort.

Click here for a Q&A with the director and lead actress of Across the River