Daily | Edinburgh 2014


Edinburgh 2014 opens with Gerard Johnson’s ‘Hyena’

“Should Scotland be an independent country?” That question, to be put forward to Scottish voters in a referendum to be held on September 18, is pretty straightforward, but of course, the issues, debates and history behind it are anything but. Variety‘s Leo Barraclough: “Where would a ‘yes’ vote leave its film industry, and its leading movie event, the Edinburgh International Film Festival?” As the festival opens today, it’s launching its inaugural Scottish Film Summit. “Ken Hay, Edinburgh festival CEO, says the summit takes place within the context of a wider debate about ‘how a nation handles film and how film is not just an art form, it is an economic enterprise.’ … At the end of the summit, a series of conclusions will be reached, and they will be published on the following day as ‘a statement of intent from the Scottish industry, in all its richness and diversity, about what we aspire to,’ says Hay.” Adds artistic director Chris Fujiwara: “If Scotland becomes independent and the Scottish film industry can really take off as something independent of the British film industry then we would want to be part of that process.”

Meantime, Edinburgh’s got films to screen, 156 features from 47 countries, plus shorts, from now through June 29. Here’s Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter on tonight’s opener: “The title of broodingly overwrought London-set policier Hyena may never be spoken in writer-director Gerard Johnson’s sophomore feature, but it unfortunately fits just fine. The eponymous loping scavenger is neither cat nor dog, despite displaying traits both feline and canine; Johnson’s swaggering exercise in hand-me-down stylistics likewise frustrates categorization. Trying to hybridize thick-ear genre material with more artistically ambitious fare, the results are too leaden for the Jason Statham crowd but insufficiently distinctive to find a more rarefied niche.”

Along with a focus on new films from Iran, there’ll be a strand entitled Interrupted Revolution: Iranian Cinema, 1962 to 1978. Similarly, Germany and Secret Master: Dominik Graf and the Hidden History of German Cinema. Established auteurs will be showcased as well as work by emerging directors and artists experimenting with cinematic form. There’ll be family fare, scary movies, animation, more than a few Americans and a special focus on John McGrath’s work in television, theater and film.

As more reviews appear, we’ll be making note of them here.

Updates, 6/19: A few more reviews of Hyena have appeared and they’re a bit more upbeat than Neil Young’s. Guy Lodge for Variety: “Johnson’s ultraviolent crooked-cop thriller wears its plethora of genre influences, from Nicolas Winding Refn to The Sweeney, prominently on its sleeve. What Hyena lacks in invention, however, it makes up for in technical bravado and geographical specificity, its vivid West London milieu coloring a stock story of a corrupt narcotics detective (the excellent Peter Ferdinando) whose chickens come home most bloodily to roost.”

“Johnson manages to put his own vivid stamp on familiar material. He moves beyond dirty realism to a heightened intensity that’s appropriate for the misadventures of these coked-up bad lieutenants dangerously out of control,” agrees Time Out‘s Trevor Johnston. “It’s the most powerful homegrown crime flick since Sexy Beast.”

The Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver: “Despite its thematic ambition—and clear debt, via a brooding sense of moral dislocation, hectoring electronic score and an extended-take final shot, to The Long Good FridayHyena gradually abandons the cold logic of realism as the body count rises. In the final third, Johnson nudges his characters into increasingly histrionic face-offs and unlikely reversals, diluting its distinctive flavor and taking on more generic prerogatives. It is something, perhaps, that the marketplace has dictated; but it sits awkwardly with what has gone before. Nevertheless, Hyena remains rowdily watchable, a Saturday-night special in its own way.”

Update, 6/22: Dispatching to Electric Sheep from Edinburgh, David Cairns notes that “most were favorably impressed by its moody, pounding soundtrack by The The. Since director Gerard Johnson is brother of that band’s frontman Matt (really the only consistent member, as well as the songwriter), it makes sense that film and score are such a good fit. Albums such as Infected and Soul Bomb covered a similar territory: male angst and self-laceration, violence and bodily fluids.”

Back to Neil Young in THR: “On paper a high-octane, low-budget Brit answer to Upstream Color, Noel Clarke’s mind-frazzling, patience-sapping The Anomaly instead provides meager rewards for those willing to endure its laborious convolutions.”

Updates, 6/21: “Epistolary cinema, in which directors communicate via digital video, has quietly emerged as a distinct sub-genre over the past half-decade or so,” writes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter, “and now a pair of very different UK-based directors join illustrious ‘pen-pal’ predecessors such as Jonas Mekas, José Luis Guerin, Lisandro Alonso, Albert Serra and Abbas Kiarostami. A five-part correspondence between Edinburgh-based polymath Mark Cousins and London-resident Iranian writer-director Mania Akbari, Life May Be is a wistfully poetic exchange between close friends that successfully straddles the tricky line between private communication and public consumption.”

The Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver: “In his missives, Cousins sticks to his now-characteristic meld of travel photography, aesthetic analysis and meandering philosophizing. Some of it is brilliant… Akbari, in contrast, has taken a much less whimsical approach… You also get a clear sense of how Akbari works her life experiences into her creative work; something that distinguishes her from Cousins who, for all his eloquence, is essentially strip-mining a film-festival-and-hotel-room lifestyle.”

Also: “With its tremendous title and its fierce determination to do right by Zahid Mubarek, the 19-year-old killed by Robert Stewart in the cell they shared in Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution in 2000, We Are Monster has a lot going for it. And socked over with heartfelt dedication by its young cast and director, it’s an unsettling description of a brutal episode that, despite some awkwardness in approach, does its job with admirable sincerity.”

Update, 6/22: “Three years ago,” writes the Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver, “documentary-maker Anthony Baxter told the David vs. Goliath story of Michael Forbes and Donald Trump in his film You’ve Been Trumped; the former was the face of a tiny coastal community who decided to put up a fight when the latter set out to build a golf resort on the Menie estate, near Balmedie in Aberdeenshire. This Local Hero-ish scenario never quite found its happy ending, as Trump got his way and built his resort; now Baxter takes up the tale again, with a widened focus to examine the damage that the luxury golf course business does on a worldwide scale.” Four out of five stars for A Dangerous Game.

Update, 6/23: “A steady, austere treatment of a notoriously and riotously rambunctious subject, Set Fire to the Stars takes a non-incendiary, safe-hands approach to potentially combustible material,” writes Neil Young in THR. “Dramatizing the personal and professional relationship between superstar poet Dylan Thomas (Celyn Jones) and his tour-agent John Brinnin over a few weeks in 1950, this big-screen directorial debut by TV veteran Andy Goddard (five episodes of Downton Abbey) arrives in timely fashion just months before Thomas’s centenary in October.”

Updates, 6/27: First up, the award-winners were announced today:

  • Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film: Hide and Seek, directed by Joanna Coates.
  • Best Performance in a British Feature Film: Eddie Marsan, Still Life.
  • Best International Feature Film: Ice Poison, directed by Midi Z.
  • Best Documentary Feature Film (Supported by Al Jazeera): My Name Is Salt, directed by Farida Pacha.

And here‘s the full list, including the awards for short films and a few more.

“Vitor Gonçalves is the Portuguese filmmaker whose 1986 film Uma Rapariga no Verão (A Girl in Summer) remains a vivid, elusive study of Portugal in the stagnant years following the end of the Salazar regime in the mid-70s,” writes the Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver. “It has taken him nearly 30 years to muster a follow-up, having spent the interim period teaching at film school in Lisbon. His new one, The Invisible Life (A Vida Invisível), perhaps inevitably, is about a man paralyzed by doubts, unsure of which way to turn, anxious that he may have wasted his life.” Four out of five stars.

Meantime, we hope you’ve seen, here in Keyframe, Ehsan Khoshbakht and Houshang Golmakani‘s discussions, sparked by the retrospective Interrupted Revolution: Iranian Cinema 1962 to 1978, with Dariush Mehrjui, Kamran Shirdel and Masoud Kimiai. Each filmmaker addresses these four questions:

  • “How conscious were you of a New Wave in Iranian cinema during the 1970s?”
  • “What did you achieve in your film(s) in this period which hadn’t already been tried in Iranian cinema?”
  • “After four or five decades, how do you think those films stand in your career, and in a larger context, in the history of Iranian cinema?”
  • “What were your cinematic influences?”

Update, 6/29: Edinburgh’s festival “has the history, prestige and evident budget to program enough great works each year to lure in skeptics like me,” writes Michael Pattison here in Keyframe. “But the interchangeable pap remains.”

Updates, 7/2: At Little White Lies, Tim Hayes offers quick takes on Hide and Seek, Hyena, A Dangerous Game, Gillies MacKinnon’s Castles in the Sky and Guy Pitt’s Greyhawk.

Neil Young for the Hollywood Reporter: “Sometimes all a documentary needs is one strong, charismatic personality to keep things watchable: Garnet’s Gold boasts two in the form of the middle-aged eponymous protagonist and his feisty octogenarian mother. Tracing the madcap quest by the former to find long-lost treasure in the Scottish highlands, this visually striking foray into a very British form of eccentricity has already proved a crowd-pleaser at both Tribeca and Edinburgh.”

Update, 7/7: John McGrath’s Border Warfare (1990) “is an angry, aggressive, argumentative work, which traces Scotland’s political history as something actively shaped by prolonged and systematic oppression at the hands of the English—their explicitly terrible monarchies, their insidiously tyrannical governments, their openly proud and self-absorbed propertied classes.” Michael Pattison for Sight & Sound: “At two and a half hours, it’s a succinct and persuasive argument for Scottish independence.”

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