Making the Most of a Bad Party
Shadows Film Festival 2004
B Y   R I C H   C L I N E Edinburgh
San Sebastian
Los Angeles
St Louis
the motorcycle diaries
house of flying daggers
bad education
the incredibles
vera drake
finding neverland
torremolinos 73
shadows film fest This year's Shadows Film Fest ran from August 18th to November 21st, encompassing the Edinburgh, Venice, Toronto, San Sebastian, London, Los Angeles and St Louis festivals. The rest of the year is just as full of festivals (from Sundance in January and Berlin in February to Cannes in May and Karlovy Vary in June), but these three months are just that much more intense. And Shadows is able to personally cover two festivals in Britain during this period, although London is the only one I actually get to attend...

BAD LOVE. So it's basically the 48th London Film Festival we're talking about here, and there are a few things that set it apart from other years. If there was a noticeable theme this year, it was definitely love between an adult and a child. But not the good kind. Of the 63 festival films I saw, 14 had paedophilia, underage sex or child abuse as a major theme, which was fairly unnerving for those of us who watched a lot of films! The good news in this respect is that filmmakers are taking a bold and honest look at the issue, giving actors remarkably strong material to work with.

NOT MUCH OF A PARTY. And the other thing about London this year was its astonishing lack of festiveness. For an event that's designed to celebrate the movies, there was very little partying going on. Well, maybe it was happening, but journalists were not only uninvited to all social events, we didn't even know they were taking place until we saw the photos in the paper the next day. The people from the film industry got in on everything it seems, including all the free food and drink (festival sponsors provided wine, champagne, beer, mineral water and ice cream, but the press got none of it). Previous festival organizers have shared the wealth, generating an upbeat atmosphere, but this year it was more like a particularly intensive film season at the National Film Theatre.

THE BEST OF THE FEST. But what a season! With more than 250 films, there was something for, quite literally, everyone. And a complete feast for movie fans. My favourite films from the festival come from a variety of genres--dramas, comedies and action movies--and this is perhaps the main characteristic of the LFF: programmers really try to mix things up. My ten best films would have to be, in order: Zhang Yimou's astonishing action-romance HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, Brad Bird's masterful and surprisingly adult animated action-comedy THE INCREDIBLES, Mike Leigh's gorgeous and emotionally devastating VERA DRAKE, Taylor Hackford's excellent Ray Charles biopic RAY, Bronwen Hughes' remarkably entertaining and illuminating South African action movie STANDER, Nicole Kassell's raw and achingly honest paedophile drama THE WOODSMAN, Thom Anderson's entertaining and telling documentary LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF, Pawel Pawlikowski's lyrical drama of obsession MY SUMMER OF LOVE, Gregg Araki's beautifully skilled examination of the repercussions of child abuse in MYSTERIOUS SKIN, and Jonathan Caouette's jaw-droppingly revealing autobiographical collage TARNATION.

SHOULD'VE BEEN BETTER. Meanwhile, I was disappointed by: Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 (drop dead gorgeous, but long and repetitive), Hou Hsiao-hsien's CAFE LUMIERE (a style-over-substance tribute to Ozu), Gregory Jacobs' CRIMINAL (a pointless remake), Angela Robinson's D.E.B.S. (a toothless spoof), Paddy Breathnach's MAN ABOUT DOG (an unoriginal crime romp), Jonathan Demme's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (a skilful but unnecessary remake), Jonathan Nossiter's MONDOVINO (an important doc, but far too long and dry), Jared Hess's NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (a mean-spirited goofball comedy), Eric Rohmer's TRIPLE AGENT (all-talk-and-no-action spy thriller) and Mira Nair's VANITY FAIR (lush and colourful but overcrowded and uninvolving).

MEANWHILE, SOMEWHERE ELSE. My picks from other festivals include Walter Salles' breathtaking THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (Edinburgh, San Sebastian), Almodovar's superb BAD EDUCATION (San Sebastian, St Louis), Marc Foster's sumptuous FINDING NEVERLAND (Venice, St Louis), Pablo Berger's fabulous TORREMOLINOS 73 (St Louis), Bill Condon's astonishing KINSEY (Toronto, St Louis), Alexander Payne's hilarious SIDEWAYS (Toronto), Ken Loach's powerful AE FOND KISS (Edinburgh, Los Angeles), Park Chan-wook's remarkable OLDBOY (Toronto, Raindance), Zhang Yimou's gorgeous HERO (Edinburgh), Richard Eyre's striking STAGE BEAUTY (Edinburgh, Toronto), Morgan Spurlock's entertaining SUPER SIZE ME (Edinburgh, San Sebastian), and Brad Anderson's unsettling THE MACHINIST (Edinburgh, Toronto, Raindance).

COMING ATTRACTIONS. And that concludes the 2004 festival season here at Shadows! Of course, it all kicks off again in January, when Sundance will unveil the first of next year's festival offerings. But I'll try to hold off my anticipation until the party reaches my neck of the woods next summer. Now, my next project is to find someone who wants me to cover Cannes for them. I hear the parties are great...

London, 7.Nov.04

2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall