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London Fog -- Fest Disappoints Amidst Rising Market Tide

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire December 8, 1998 at 2:0AM

London Fog -- Fest Disappoints Amidst Rising Market Tide
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London Fog -- Fest Disappoints Amidst Rising Market Tide

by Laura MacDonald




A festival with such promise of great films, fascinating filmmakers,
glitzy galas and located in an enviable city brimming with fun and
rebirth of late, has missed it's mark. This writer was forewarned,
admittedly, but as the sun shone on the first day of the 42nd London
Film Festival and the program highlighted many intriguing films and
events, it was still hard not to feel excited. This was all dampened
when in the hub of Soho, the Delegate Center (usual meeting place for
one and all between screenings and snatched meals) turned out to be not
only understaffed, but cramped and unfriendly.


At the first press screening, a host of people spilled out of a freshly
finished film. After asking a couple friendly faces what looked
interesting, particularly in the British lot, the response came like a
tidal wave: "Everything British is complete shit and generally the films
are either old or boring." Well, aren't we all just having a jolly good
time?


This was a underlying tone at the festival. Despite the triumph of
Samira Makmalbahf's "The Apple" winning Best First Feature alongside a
special mention for Gasper Noe's consistent crowd shocker "I Stand
Alone," and the Dogme debate that raged via panels and screenings or the
John Waters interview that brought the house down, there was an
underlying cynicism and antagonism that was not only surprising, but
depressing. indieWIRE spoke to a variety of industry reps and fellow
journalists who all felt this vibe in one way or another. None of them
were willing to go on record as, understandably, the British Film
Institute who runs the London Film Festival holds the reigns over much
of the industry here.


Of course, the festival wasn't completely rotten, not by a long shot.
There were still great people to meet and the World Cinema section was
particularly good. Such a pity, though, seeing a potentially great
festival waste its chances. Nigel Cross, who ran the industry desk this
year, claimed double the amount of industry delegates over last year.
Yet Graham Smith from Dennis Davidson Associates pointed out, "The
festival isn't a market, anything that happens in that regard is
incidental."


The London Film Festival runs parallel to MIFED, the annual Film and TV
marketplace in Milan, and claims to shy away from the glitzy market that
Cannes has become. The only problem is that the festival seems to love
the glitz it attracts and is fast becoming an unintended market for
films without distribution. Dominic Anciano had his film, "Final Cut,"
in the British Cinema Section, and commented, "I think it's a healthy
move that the filmmakers come with their good films, which attract the
industry and vice versa. The kudos [are] definitely growing within the
filmmaking community as people realize it's a good place to shop their
wares." He was particularly complimentary about the festival and didn't
want to think about Jonathan Romney, a writer for The Guardian
newspaper, (which notably co-sponsored the British Section), who stated
that in Britain there was, "a lack of imaginative work going on." For
Anciano, who got Jude Law, Sadie Frost and Ray Winstone to play
themselves in a strange videotaped world that unravels a murder, these
words must have truly stung. However, everyone just seemed to smile and
pretend not to be bitter.

Above all, it was the World Cinema section that provided wonderful
delights for audiences. From Thomas Vinterberg's triumphant "The
Celebration
," to Deepa Mehta's second film in her trilogy, the deeply
beautiful and moving, "Earth," to James Bogle's strangely terrifying
Australian film, "In The Winter Dark," all had audiences gasping and
coming back for more. With a record number of Aussie entries this year,
the buzz film was Craig Monohan's multi-award winning "The Interview,"
starring Hugo Weaving (he picked up a Best Actor award at the Australian
Film Awards, it also won Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay).
Although beautifully shot and with clever dialogue, the film ended up
disappointingly as not much more than a pale imitation of "The Usual
Suspects."


The Experimental Section was also brimming with gems, in particular the
tangled madness of the Czech film "Buttoners," Francois Ozon's bizarre
"Sitcom" and the popular "Frost," by German director Fred Kelemen,
described as "a film that makes no attempt to fit the parameters of
category." With so many films making the trek from Cannes and Venice and
other festivals to London, there is a tendency to think that much of the
program is old hat. Certainly for most festival veterans, seeing
Aronofsky's "Pi," Chris Eyre's "Smoke Signals," Tsai Ming-liang's "The
Hole
," Marc Levin's "Slam" or Rolf de Heer's "Dance Me to My Song" in
the catalog is a bit disheartening. However, it makes films such as
Jason Freeland's U.S. debut feature, "Brown's Requiem," that much more
exciting. Plus, it simply confirms the 'audience festival' aim that was
stated and restated many times during the two weeks.


"Brown's Requiem" is an adaptation of a James Ellroy novel, starring
Michael Rooker of "Henry, Portrait of A Serial Killer" fame. Freeland
found, "This festival was much more organized than the festivals I've
been to in the U.S. [Worldfest Houston, Cleveland, Miami, Ft.
Lauderdale, Philadelphia] though it's very different when you have a
feature, compared with a short. Here it's just like one big party every
single night."


Yes, there were loads of parties. What seemed to be missing, however,
were the lunches and meeting places of years gone by that allowed
filmmakers, industryites and journalists to chat outside of a crowded
party atmosphere. Derek Malcolm, the UK's leading film journalist
described it in The Guardian as "the fading of the productive
interaction between the critics, filmmakers, distributors and head of
other festivals that used to exist."


The New British Cinema Award went to two films, Caleb Lindsay's
"Understanding Jane," starring "Trainspotting"'s Kevin McKidd, and Rose
Troche's "Bedrooms & Hallways" which split the 10,000 pound prize
(approx. US$16,000). "Bedrooms" also starred McKidd, alongside Hugo
Weaving and a host of British notables. Troche has just recently secured
UK distribution from Alliance Atlantis and is still looking in the U.S.
Perhaps this will provide the faith needed for it to cross the Atlantic.


Lars von Trier's "The Idiots" was a less popular winner which took home
the FIPRESCI International Critic's Award. Despite the Dogme spotlight,
many felt it was Thomas Vinterberg's film that wowed the festival.
Adolfazl Jalili's mesmerizing "Dance of Dust" won a special mention.
There was an award given to the "most promising film critic under the
age of 25 who has not yet had an article published in the national
press" and two British Film Institute Fellowships were awarded to
Bernardo Bertolucci and Jeremy Thomas, one of Britains most prominent
producers ("Naked Lunch," "Crash") who also had his directorial debut at
the festival.


[Laura Macdonald is a gypsy film writer from Australia and England, who
has returned home to New York <laura@filmmag.com>]