2.54 Films a Day
Shadows Film Festival Report 2002
B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
london film fest I somehow managed to see 71 festival films over the course of 28 days this autumn, a record even for me! And this doesn't include the 20 regular film releases I saw during this same period, so no wonder I feel just a wee bit overwhelmed. But now that I'm back to normal, I can look at the 46th London Film Festival and see a few intriguing patterns...


ETHNICITY The main theme that leapt out at me was ethnicity and nationality. This was at the heart of films like Atom Egoyan's sprawling and powerful Ararat, Australia's Aborigine-centred drama Black and White, the warm American drama Real Women Have Curves, and even Britain's decidedly uneven Anita and Me. More specifically, several films dealt with issues of immigration and being foreign, most notably Stephen Frears' opening night thriller Dirty Pretty Things, Michael Winterbottom's ambitious Silk Road project In This World, Lucas Moodysson's chilling Lilya 4-Ever, the Swiss-Italian stalker romance Burning in the Wind, and of course the Palistinian comedy Divine Intervention.

MARGINS People on the margins of society also featured heavily in such films as Italy's Respiro (a woman from outside an Italian village), The Man Without a Past (an amnesiac, homeless man in Helsinki), Raising Victor Vargas (a fatherless teen in urban New York), Glowing Eyes (regulars at a Paris porn cinema), Road Movie (homeless men in Korea), and my favourite film from the entire festival, Fernando Meirelles' astonishing City of God, set in the favelas of Rio.

TABOOS From here we come to a long list of films touching on taboos like abuse in the Catholic church (The Magdalene Sisters), American foreign policy disasters (The Quiet American), teacher-student sex (Blue Car), sadomasochism in the workplace (Secretary), children coping with parental drug addiction (Pure), teen drug abuse (The Rules of Attraction and Shanghai Panic), severe dysfunction (Scars), and sudden tragedy (School Trip).

NEW DOCS Intriguingly, these are the same kinds of issues a new breed of documentaries are dealing with, often blurring the line between fact and fiction to make a powerful point. Check out Bowling for Columbine (Mike Moore wrestles with the American gun culture), The Kid Stays in the Picture (Bob Evans reflects on a life of excess), All About My Father (a Norwegian son tries to cope with his dad's transvestism), Polissons et Galipettes (a French filmmaker collects 1920s porn) and, well, The Year of the Devil (a Czech musician tries to keep himself together long enough to go on tour).

SEGMENTED There were also four montage films, made up of short segments that were only tangentially related: Dolls (Takeshi Kitano's triptych based on the Japanese art of bunraku), Personal Velocity (Rebecca Miller's three-part exploration of female independence), State of the Nation (six short segments by four leading Austrian directors looking at their country's political shift to the right) and the intriguing Three (a trio of ghost thrillers in which top filmmakers from Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong each present an artistic look at death and the afterlife).

ACTOR-DIRECTORS Moving on to the bigger fish, three actors presented their directorial debuts: John Malkovich's The Dancer Upstairs is a beautifully filmed, must-see movie about terrorism in Latin America; Denzel Washington's Antwone Fisher is the sensitive and honest true story of a hothead young sailor; and Todd Louiso's Love Liza is an offbeat examination of grief.

BIG TICKETS Which brings us to the high ticket items, films you're likely to find in your local multiplex over the next few months, in descending order of preference: Eminem and Kim Basinger in 8 Mile (directed by Curtis Hanson); Roman Polanski's intimate WWII drama The Pianist (starring Adrien Brody), Steven Soderbergh's delightful pastiche of movie love stories Full Frontal (with Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, et al); Paul Schrader's offbeat bio of Bob Crane Auto Focus (with greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe); Paul Thomas Anderson's quirky romance Punch-Drunk Love (with Adam Sandler and Emily Watson); Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson and Wes Bentley in the war epic The Four Feathers (directed by Elizabeth's Shekhar Kapur); the Russo Brothers' odd caper comedy Welcome to Collinwood (with a starry ensemble cast); and Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Bettany and Olivia Williams in the closing night British period drama The Heart Of Me.

SMALL GEMS And finally, the little guys worth looking for, if only for the delight of cinematic discovery: JT Petty's American micro-budget thriller Soft for Digging; yet another brilliant Danish Dogme drama in Suzanne Bier's Open Hearts; Canadian Guy Maddin's surreal and deeply engaging silent-movie ballet Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary; Jeff Lau's outrageous spoof Chinese Odyssey 2002; and Alexander Sokurov's ambitious one-take epic Russian Ark. So yes, it was all worth it. Whew!


46th London Film Festival
6-21 Nov 02

2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall