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Festival Review: Derby Film Festival

25th May 2018

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The Midlands city of Derby might not always be the first name that comes to mind when thinking ‘film festival’, but for over half a decade the city’s art space Quad has been bringing an eclectic and essential programme of films in a city that has produced a wide-range of film-making talent, not least the sadly-departed John Hurt (who was patron of both Quad and the festival before he passed).

Derby Film Festival 2018With hundreds of films over ten days it was not physically possible to view everything, but this is how our Derby Film Festival unfolded.

The first weekend, dubbed ParaCinema, for the first time sought to bring gems from the outer reaches of the horror and sci-fi genres to the Quad screen. This it achieved with aplomb! Whether it was the genre-bending, lo-fi German sci-fi, slacker rom-com Leon Must Die (UK Premiere) or the daunting, Black Mirror-esque medical research horror of Bodies (European Premiere) it constantly brought movies to the screen that showed that indie film-making is pushing cinema into new realms.

As a documentary like no other the visual-feast of Borley Rectory proved that the docu-genre still has places to go. The story of the ‘most haunted house in Britain’, it combined rotoscope and digital animation to create a feel of history leaping from old photos.

Another indie movie with incredible results was cult-thriller The Endless, with which filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorheads' all-encompassing work (directing, acting, writing and producing) has produced a brilliantly written, slow-burning wonder that diverts into unexpected realms as the film unfolds. The editing and production gives the impression of a Hollywood production. This duo is set for big things.

With a mission to uncover bizarre cinematic gems this first ‘ParaCinema’ weekend, was the perfect setting for Callum Waddell’s latest documentary Images of Apartheid, a look at the almost completely unknown period of South African B-movies under the repressive regime. Focusing on interviews from experts and those that were there, this is a unique and personal look at a fascinating vein of film history. Despite it not having enough footage of the movies in question included, and large portion covering already-trodden Apartheid-history ground, this is an essential new documentary for film buffs.

The festival really hit its ‘bizarre’ stride with mind-melting Japanese ‘pink cinema’ film The Glamourous Life of Sachimo Hanai. A cinematic mash-up of softcore pornography, video art, absurdist comedy and political satire, Mitsuru Meike’s creation is not as sexy as it would hope, nor as clever or as silly, but with its constant trickle of risky ideas, abusively edited, it is a must watch. If only to see how insane cinema can get.

Director Dominic Brunt’s (yes him off Emmerdale!) new film Attack of The Adult Babies was an unexpected gem. In fact, everything about it was unexpectedly brilliant. Attack of The Adult Babies is the cleverest, stupid movie you will have seen in a long time. Go to see this movie with no expectations, leave your moral judgements at the door and open your mind to the sick wonders that will unfold. You won’t regret it.

Several re-showings of Derek Jarman’s madcap, time-travel ‘punk movie’ Jubilee (following a fascinating Q&A with star Toyah Wilcox about her acting and music career), fully displayed the fearless creativity of the time and how the film more in-line with the zeitgeist than it was back in 1978. Bizarre, violent, anti-establishment and alluringly feminist, Jubilee is a quintessential piece of cult cinema.

As the festival moved away from the Paracinema thread into more “normal” cinematic fare, the festival again excelled itself in its choices. A preview of festival patron Sir John Hurt’s final, emotional performance in That Good Night was fittingly introduced by his widow Anwen (this year’s festival patron). A masterclass in acting, not least from Hurt, That Good Night is a strangely optimistic look at impending death, grief and the nature of relationships.

Another preview for the adaption of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach also took on a narrative of loss and high-emotion in a fraught, slow-burning affair propped up by another stunning performance from Saoirse Ronan.

World cinema is a particularly strong thread at the festival (and the Quad venue) proven by the screening of Ismael’s Ghosts, a darkly comical examination of loss, the workings of the human mind and relationships. With incredible performances from filmmaker Mathieu Almaric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg this is an absolute must see.

From the other side of the globe, and part of the on-going Satori Screen series, the Suffering of Ninko seamlessly blends Japanese folklore into a visual feast using live-action and animation for a unique take on cinema. Thought-provoking, funny, disturbing and dark this story of irresistible monk Ninko is like nothing that would be made in the West and ends in a completely unexpected manner.

All in all, Derby Film Festival brought together the best of interesting movie-making, small and large, new and old for a feast of ideas and visual delights.

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