Last weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to Keswick Film Festival. It all started on the Thursday evening, there was a great selection of food at the opening party but I didn’t get chance to try much of it as I was too busy catching up with old friend and trying to find more clean plates for people. The opening film was Michael Winterbottom’s Everyday a film which was premièred on C4 last November and I had been keen to see. It’s been sat on my PVR since that broadcast but when I knew it would be showing at the festival it made sense to wait. Mark Kermode was correct to say it is worth seeing in the cinema but the film felt more like an interesting experiment than anything else. I wanted something dramatic to happen and when it didn’t it felt like a wasted opportunity.
Friday started for me by seeing Men At Lunch, a fascinating documentary focussing on the iconic photo taken during the building of the Rockefeller building. Unfortunately the end of the film undoes all the great work of setting up the story and mystery by focussing on only two of the men from a village in Ireland. Perhaps this was a results of funding by the Irish Film Board but it’s a huge mistake and a massive shame. The film starts repeating and even contradicting itself whilst tightening the focus on the two most boring people interviewed in the film.
I Wish and I wish I’d liked it more, I’d heard great things and it’s a charming film but for one reason or another it didn’t quite work for me. The following film was Play and this worked much better for me but not the rest of the audience with walk outs and one of the lowest audience scores at the festival, I even heard that one person had claimed the film should never have been allowed to me made. For me it remains one of the best films of the festival; wonderfully shot and performed, funny in places, mysterious in others and utterly terrifying throughout. Along with I Wish and Everyday, Play contains some wonderful performances from children. My final film of the day was Nightbreed – The Cabal Cut, I’d have preferred to see About Elly showing at the same time but realised I could see that another time and there wouldn’t be another chance to see this strange work in progress edit pieced back together from found footage and introduced by the restoration director. It was fascinating to see even if it was more work-on-progress than I expected, some parts were unwatchably poor VHS quality but they expect to be able to clean it up a lot more. I was expecting a horror film and perhaps this is what was originally released but this version is a monster love story which reminded me more of Guillermo del Toro than anything else.
A lot of my Saturday was taken up with my work on the Osprey Short Film Awards from finalising the winners with the judges, meeting the film makers, showing the films and seeing the prize given out. I shouldn’t divulge the inner workings of the judging panel but the standard of films was incredibly high and I’d have been happy for most of the films to have won one of the prizes. From the back of the cinema it felt like most of the films went down well, especially New Deal which went on to win the Audience Award. I thought Believe might win the Audience Award, it only narrowly missed out on one of the main prizes but at least John Hurt gave it a special mention which hopefully will do the film more favours than our little award. As always, I wondered if we’d given the prizes to the right films but I’d be doing that whoever the winners were and as clichéd as it sounds everyone deserved to win. It helped make the following tweet so I’m happy with that:
— Heather Smith (@HeatherRobyn) February 25, 2013
I stayed at The Alhambra for the rest of the evening, even managing to squeeze it a quick pint at The Square Orange between films. Good Vibrations was a great music biopic (I was expecting it to be a documentary), I enjoyed John Hurt’s choice of Tulpan a lot more than I expected (how do they make films like this) and Owning Mahowny is one of my newest favourite films.
So to the final day, Thursday evening felt like such a long time ago as I settled into watching The Man With The Jazz Guitar, I may have selected this film because they are active on Twitter I certainly had no immediate interest in the subject. The film was the first real disappointment of the festival, an interesting man and life story to be told but a mess of a documentary which lacked any structure. The next choice was perhaps the most difficult an potentially great film I’d never heard of (Kauwboy), the nearly-première of Peace And Conflict with the film makers or McCullin a film I’ve been wanted to see since it’s release but could be easily seen elsewhere. I’m glad I went for McCullin, it was the best film I saw at the festival (and possibly so far in 2013) and deserved the Audience Award.
I made up for not seeing Peace And Conflict by going to the on stage In Conversation with director Tony Britten and Don Boyd, it was an interesting chat but focussed too much on Benjamin Britten which if I’d known in advance might have persuaded me to see Touch instead. I stayed on to watch War Requiem which again I saw because it seemed like a more interesting choice and chance to see something I wouldn’t normally see. It lived up to my expectations of something that wouldn’t be to my taste but I’m still glad I saw it. I also didn’t have high expectations for the closing film which I hadn’t heard of and knew it had a failed to get a theatrical release. As it turned out I really enjoyed Ashes, fantastic performance from Ray Winstone (shocking to think he probably made this around the same time as The Sweeney) and stylishly made, I knew how it was going to turn out but I enjoyed the ride.
I hadn’t seen any of the films in the Odd War strand so I thought I’d start the last day of the festival with The Manchurian Candidate. Unusually the film was shown with French subtitles (presumably the only available print) but that only made the screening feel even more special.
I already knew what a wonderful cinematographer Jack Cardiff was but I was still really looking forward to seeing Cameraman, a documentary all about him. The film turned out to be highlight of the festival for me (and many others) and the whole experience was even better because the director Craig McCall, was there to introduce the film and talk about it afterwards. McCall went on to introduce Black Narcissus in the main theatre which got off to a bad start by being projected backwards but was quickly turned around (literally) and up and running. The quality of the print seemed quite poor especially compared to the extracts shown in Cameraman but it was still great to finally see this Powell & Pressburger film for the first time and on a big screen.
My penultimate film of the festival was going to be The Harimaya Bridge but technical problems meant that we never got to see the final half of the film, this was a real shame because I’d gone in not quite sure what to expect and really liked the first hour. Keswick Film Club will be show the film again at the end of the Spring Season but I don’t think I’ll be able to get back to see it.
Apart from selecting the winners (and shortlist) for the Shorts competition the hardest decision I had to make at the festival was which of the closing films to see. I wanted to see Animal Kingdom at Leeds Film Festival but didn’t, knowing it was planned for Keswick, but then I saw the trailer for The Tempest and thought that looked wonderful. In the end I saw The Tempest, it seemed like a better fit for Keswick and the theatre and I know I’ll make the effort to see Animal Kingdom when it comes to Hyde Park Picture House next month. The Tempest was a nice way to end the festival but was definitely lacking something, it’s also a shame that more people didn’t come and see it as it was a good preview for the festival to show.
All in all, despite too many technical problems, it seemed like a huge success. I enjoyed something about all the films I saw and didn’t regret any of the choices I made. I still need to see Animal Kingdom, Summer Wars, Cleo From 5-9, Whisper With The Wind, Waste Land and track down the end of The Harimaya Bridge. We’ve already started thinking about what we can do the 2013 Festival and I can’t wait to get started on it.
So Saturday started early as we got together to finalise the details of the Osprey Short Film Awards. Jack Gold, one of the guest directors at the festival, had stepped and agreed to announce the winners which was a huge relief for me. Unfortunately sorting out all the last minute details meant I wasn’t around to meet any of the film makers as they arrived. It looks like the full page advert in the brochure, more details on the website and a handout available from the opening party had raised awareness of the event and more than 100 people came along to the screening, this was really pleasing as the turnout had always been quite low in the past. It was great to see the films with an audience and hear them laughing in the same places. I didn’t see all the films as I was still dealing with other enquiries at the cinema but what I did see made me start worrying if we had selected the right films for the prizes. All of the films were great and judging them was incredibly difficult, it’s not hard to conceive that the prizes could have easily gone to any of the films we showed. It was such a shame we couldn’t get the Fell Pony Hill Breeders documentary by Dreamtime Films to play, it had worked perfectly without an audience, but at least we’d already decided to give the film the Bronze Osprey. Details of all the shortlisted films and the winners can be found on the Keswick Film Festival Website.
The technical problems of the shorts meant I didn’t have much time before the next film Jack Gold’s Red Monarch and people were already queuing so I had to leap in and start selling tickets. I really wanted to stay and listen to the Q&A session after the film as Jack Gold had said some really great things when announcing the Osprey winners, but I had to rush down to the Theatre for Into Eternity. I didn’t know much about this documentary which looked at plans in Finland to bury nuclear waste in a safe way for a hundred thousand years but I was fascinated by it. It raised some really interesting points such as how on earth do you plan something to last for a hundred thousand years when most people, including myself, can’t even conceptualise that length of time. There was a discussion after the film which apparently got quite heated, unfortunately more behind the scenes running around meant I missed out on that as well.
I’d been looking forward to Frankenstein Sings for quite a while and it was easily one of the highlights of the festival. Lancaster Millennium Choir sang along to an abbreviated version of the James Whale classic and it was a real delight and exactly the type of thing a film festival should be doing; you can usually see a film at almost anytime but you’re unlikely to get a choir to sing along. The only downsides was that it was a relatively short show and we now have to find something even better for the 2012 festivals. I also wish it had been scheduled slightly differently so I also could have seen Summer Wars.
I’m sure both of the original closing films for Saturday, Tehroun and Jerusalema, were great but I was having difficulty choosing between them so I was pleased an extra screening of Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I had been scheduled. I really loved this film, almost everybody that Varda met could have been the subject of a film of their own and it was a delightful way to finish of the day.
Once again most of the beginnings of my new year were taken up getting ready for Keswick Film Festival which took place last weekend. I’ve run the website for Keswick Film Club and the annual festival for over 10 years and the festival is one of the few opportunities I get to join in with the rest of the club and see some films.
It all started on Thursday evening with a party and a screening of the film version of A Passionate Woman, I’d already seen it on TV last year but it seemed to work better as a film. It may have been improved by the atmosphere or by having writer and director Key Mellor there for a Q&A afterwards. Mellor was a great guest, she stayed for most of the weekend and it was good to see her talking to other festival goers.
On Friday I saw Vagabond, A Screaming Man and Trainspotting. Vagabond was great introduction to Agnes Varda, one of the strands at the festival and made me want to see her other films. Trainspotting is still amazing 15 years later, it’s a shame more people didn’t come to see it on the big screen. I struggled with A Screaming Man but only because I’d started to worry about the Osprey Short Film Awards taking place the following morning.
Once again I was co-ordinating the judging for the short film awards and once again the high standard of all the entries meant selecting the winners was extremely difficult. We’d more or less decided on all the winners but because all the judges are scattered across the country we thought we should sit down together to finalise the decisions. The judges had all separately arranged to meet their friends in The Square Orange after the final film so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to get together and finalise everything. It didn’t quite work out that way as the bar was packed with festival goers and some of the film makers in competition making discussion difficult. So we agreed in principle to what we’d already discussed and decided to get together again before the screening to finally finalise everything.
Somewhere amongst all these discussions I foolishly agreed to announce some of the winners and this was now also filling me with dread.
Yesterday I wore my Keswick Film Club hat and attend a workshop to find out ways of using social media tools and new technology to promote events and build communities. I wasn’t familiar with Christian Payne (aka Documentally) who was running the workshop but it turned out I did know his work. He was involved with the campaign last year to restore Bletchley Park which hit the headlines when Stephen Fry got involved and (accidentally) tweeted the birth of his child. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I thought I knew a bit about social media already and the day might just be a basic introduction to Twitter, but it turned out to be much more than that.
It all took place in the Cornerhouse in Manchester which seemed like a great place and our lunch was fantastic, I wish I’d had time to look around a bit more but I hope to go back someday. As expected most of the day focussed on Twitter but as Christian/Documentally pointed out the skills you need to make effective use of Twitter will transfer to any social media, including whatever may eventually replace Twitter and more than likely your networks will migrate as well. One of the most interesting things was watching people who “didn’t get Twitter” at the start of the day slowly come to understand what a wonderful and powerful thing (I wanted to say tool but it’s so much more than a tool) it is and embrace it. I really hope these people stick with it, I consider myself a geek and it took me a while to fully understand (I’m still not sure if I really do) and it took a car accident for Documentally to get it.
Here a some of the useful things I took away with me to make the most of Twitter:
- Once again it’s all about who you know, build a network and interact with your network.
- Make sure you have a URL and Bio filled in so when people stumble across you on Twitter (and that’s perhaps the point of Twitter) people can find out who you are and what you do.
- If you have an account for your organisation, use your real name on the profile. It’s much easier to build relations with a person than a faceless organisation and people are less likely to be negative to a real person.
- If you are an organisation and many people use the account put their details in the Bio and end each tweet with your initials (some apps will do this for you automatically).
- Clicking your avatar takes you to the full size picture so use a good sized image and when people want a picture of you it’s already there.
- Use the same avatar everywhere, it’s still all about branding and you want people to recognise you wherever you are.
- Similarly don’t change your Avatar on a regular basis, a company doesn’t change it’s logo on a weekly basis and it’s no different here.
- The mentions/replies page is the most important part of Twitter, you need to know what people are saying about you and don’t want to appear to ignore people.
- Lists, it’s all about lists now:
- Follow more people and use lists to filter them (you don’t even have to follow them to have them on a list).
- Look what lists people are adding you to and see who else is on that list, somebody thinks you have something in common so maybe they should be in your network.
- Follow other people’s lists that interest you.
Even for me, already knowing quite a bit, it was a lot to fit into one day but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Quite a bit of time was also spent on audio and video blogging which I didn’t think I’d be that interested in, but I hadn’t realised how easy it is to do and maybe it’s something we should be considering at the Film Festival.
It was a really informative and enjoyable day and I think everyone who attended went away with lots to think about.
Oh and just so I know where to find them here’s a list of some sites/services/apps that were mentioned and may be useful: