Sunday, 25 June 2017

A Distant Echo (film review)

A Distant Echo, directed by George Clark, is a visually beautiful meditation on the desert landscape of Southern California. The stunning cinematography dwells on the play of light and shade on the everchanging rippling patterns in sand dunes, giving rise to some beautiful natural geometries. Mountains change colour, coming into sharp focus in the sunshine and disappearing entirely in the dramatic desert storms.

The film mostly stays in uninhabited areas of the desert, only a tortoise and the occasional black clad figure coming into view. Only occasionally do we see roads and other human imprints on the desert. This in contrast to the dialogue, in which explorers reveal the negotiations between an archaeologist from Cairo and members of a tribe who guard ancient desert tombs. Their words offer insights into the history of Western exploitation of the desert, the people who live there and their history.

The sound track by Tom Challenger adds a genuine desert atmosphere to the visuals though is sometimes a bit jarring. Also jarring are the overly self conscious 'chapter headings' that break up the film into ten sections. Ten feels too many sections for a relatively short film and the headings break the meditative flow of the film.

This multilayered film offers two simultaneous mediations on the desert, the visual landscape and the spoken history. It feels like a fitting, contrasting companion piece to The Challenge (also showing at the film festival and which I reviewed here).

(A Distant Echo was adapted from the 1969 Egyptian film A Night of Counting the Years / Al-Mummia directed by Shadi Abdel Salam.)

A Distant Echo is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at: 1810 Tuesday 27 June and 1810 Thursday 29 June both at Odeon Lothian Road. You can book tickets here.

 here are links to the other films I've seen in the festival:

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

Leaning into the Wind.

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Leaning into the Wind (film review)

I have long been a fan of Andy Goldsworthy's site specific environmental art made with natural materials and designed to change with the elements until the art blurs into nature. About sixteen years ago I saw Rivers and Tides a film  directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer which focussed on Goldsworthy's artworks and I was delighted to get the chance to see Leaning into the Wind, another collaboration between artist and film maker.

The film also took us across the globe, including San Francisco, Brazil, Spain and France, showcasing various site specific works Goldsworthy has made using rocks or plant based materials.

Some wonderful artworks feature in this film. I was particularly impressed by the work that Goldsworthy has been doing with a fallen elm tree that lies across a stream in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland (where the artist is currently based). Every year he creates a new installation around the tree. I was very interested in what he said about the yellow of the autumnal elm leaves being slightly different every year and how if hard rains are followed by hard frost at just the wrong time then all the leaves go black and there is no more yellow that year. I also loved the way he 'painted' rocks in the river with the fallen leaves gathered from nearby elm trees. It was clear that not only do the elements play a part in weathering and completing his work, but in this case the wind made it very difficult to create the work in the first place, with leaves blowing all over the place as he tried to complete the piece.

My other favourite artwork is made up of the footprints sheep made on a sheet that had been laid under a large bowl of sheep feed. The sheep unwittingly becoming the artists.

I started to wonder though how environmentally friendly some of his installations are. One piece involved crawling through a hedgerow breaking branches and twigs, which certainly seemed more destructive than artistic.

I have to admit to leaving the film feeling less wholeheartedly enthusiastic about Goldsworthy's work. Having said that, at his best, he provokes our thinking about our relationship with nature in interesting ways, which in this day and age can only be a good thing.

Leaning into the Wind is showing as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival at: 2030 Monday 26 June and 1800 Tuesday 27 June, both at Edinburgh Filmhouse. You can book here.

We're now at the end of the first week of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and here are links to the films I've seen so far:

God's Own Country.

Journey's through Time and Culture (review of Zer, Sami Blood and Donkeyote).

The Erlprince.

Two Films about our relationship with animals (review of Okja and The Challenge).

 Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended press screenings of these films.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Two films about the human relationship with animals

Okja is the latest film from cult Korean director Bong Joon Ho (who also directed Snowpiercer which I saw at the 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival and which I reviewed here).

Okja is one of several superpigs bred by the Mirando corporation, who, lead by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) want to present themselves as the environmentally friendly face of mass food production. The baby superpigs are sent out to farmers across the world who are asked to look after the creatures for ten years in the ways traditional to their area. One of these baby superpigs is Okja, who finds himself living in the stunning mountain scenery of South Korea with Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather. Mija and Okja become inseparable, wandering the hillsides together and enjoying bathing in the mountain pools. Mija sees Okja as a cute, cuddly, clumsy companion, the Mirando Corporation see Okja as a producer of meat once she has grown up.

Dressing the occasion up as an audition for the 'best superpig in the world competition' representatives of the Mirando corporation visit Mija and Okja and kidnap Okja.

There then follows an adventurous chase across continents with Mija wanting only to rescue Okja from both the Mirando Corporation and the Animal Liberation Front, who she doesn't trust.

Okja is a wonderfully imagined creature, part giant pig, part hippopotamous, part everyone's favourite puppy and is the centre of this sometimes sweet and adorable, at times incredibly upsetting and other times hilariously funny film that has a serious message about animal rights and corporate miuse of power.

Okja inexplicably has failed to get release into cinemas (this follows on from Snowpiercer inexplicably failing to get released into UK cinemas) and is going straight to Netflix after the festival is over. Therefore this may be your one and only chance to see this brilliant film on the big screen. So book one of the dates below and remember to take a box of tissues.

Due to the distressing nature of some of the scenes later in the film, I'd advise not taking young children to this film (it doesn't have a certificate yet, but I'd put it at a 15, possibly a 12).

Okja is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 1715, Sunday 25 June at Filmhouse and at 1805, Wednesday 28 at Cineworld. You can book your tickets here (it's apparently selling out quickly so hurry!)

The Challenge is a documentary about the commodification of  birds used in falconry among super rich sheikhs in Qatar. This documentary, relying on atmospheric sequences rather than narrative or dialogue, is a fascinating peek into the world of the super-rich and their expensive hobbies. You can't help but feel sorry for the falcons, mostly (I think) saker falcons, and their prey, the captive pigeons. To me it seems as though the director has been influenced by Werner Herzog in his observations of the oddities of life in the desert. Striking set pieces include the Qatari chapter of the Hells Angels stopping in the middle of the desert to pray to Mecca, a super rich sheikh driving his sports car with a tame cheetah in the passenger seat, four wheel drive vehicles gathering in crowds to race through the desert, a giant TV showing football in the middle of the desert. Most bizzare of all perhaps is the scene showing the falcons been pampered on a luzury jet flight!

It's an engrossing film (though personally I found some of the car centred scenes a bit tedious) and certainly offers a glimpse into another world. Also striking is how it highlights the balance between the ancient tradition of falconry and modern life and technology.

The Challenge is showing as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 2035 Sunday 25 June at Cineworld and at 2040 Saturday 1 July at Edinburgh Filmhouse. You can buy tickets here.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Erlprince (film review)

Goethe's Poem The Erlking acts as inspiration for (and is spoken during) this coming of age drama. The protagonist is a 15 year old physics genius (Stanislaw Cywka) who has just moved to a new city with his over-protective single mother (Agnieszka Podsiadlik). His absent father, who works at a wolf sactuary, makes occasional appearances. The characters never address each other by name.

The young man is a troubled soul obsessed with the end of the world and the possible existence of other dimensions. The narrative follows his experiments into finding a way of linking between dimensions and describes our understanding the boundaries between dimensions as being like the boundary between water and air as seen from the point of view of fish.

The young man is reluctant to follow his mother's instructions to apply for a presitgious scientific award and becomes lost in a world where his own imaginings blur with reality to a disorientating degree. This disorientation is brilliantly enhanced through the score and often disjointed cinematography. Nature and landscape are  used brilliantly to create atmosphere - the mythical wolf pack, the misty lake, the narrow passages between rocky cliffs.

Can the young man negotiate the tricky path from adolescence to adulthood or will his world actually come to an end?

This magical, diturbing and brilliantly weird coming of age film is showing as part of the Focus on Poland strand of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017.

The Erlprince is screening at 1540 Saturday 24 June and 2040 Monday 26 June, both at the Odeon, Lothian Road. You can book here.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Summer trees and fungi

No films for me today so I was able to do my regular weekly patrol of the Water of Leith in Colinton and Craiglockart Dells. It's beautifully summery out there just now, this old silver birch tree looks wonderful in among all the buttercups in the 'Hidden Meadow'

and the hornbeams are displaying their wonderful chandeliers now

Meanwhile new fungi are emerging, it's easy to think of fungi as an autumnal phenomenon but there are fungi for most seasons, here's a giant puffball (the first I've noticed in this area)

Enjoying Summer for 30 Days Wild.


And for the Edinburgh based cinema goers out there, there's still time to book your tickets for the opening gala for Edinburgh International Film Festival. It's generally a great occasion and God's Own Country (which I review here) is certainly a great film. You can book here.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Journeys through Time and Cultures (a film review)

Three film recommendations for Edinburgh International Film Festival today and all of them involve travel through time and cultures.

First is Zer, the story of Jan (Nik Xhelilaj) a young man studying music in New York who becomes close to his Turkish grandmother, Zarife (Güler Ökten), in her dying days and is fascinated by a Kurdish song she sings (the Zer of the title).

A wonderfully touching relationship develops between the young man and his grandmother and they become close, bonded at least in part by their shared love of music. Jan however is very innocent of the history of Kurdistan as his parents have hidden what they see as a shameful part of their family history. Jan becomes intrigued by the history that lies in his grandmother's memories and the story behind the song Zer. Following her funeral in Turkey he decides to find out the origins of this song, a quest that takes him further and further into remote regions of Kurdistan.

This is a fascinating journey geographically, historically and culturally, revealing buried memories and the existence of a whole multiplicity of songs called Zer, all of which relate to an original story about a pair of ill starred lovers. The film blurs the present and past, memories, dreams and reality in a way that is beautiful and yet not confusing. This is really enhanced by the stunning cinematography - New York has never looked more beautiful on the big screen and the mountains of Kurdistan are stunning.

This is a beautiful, haunting film that explores a painful part of history without ever feeling like a history lesson.

Also delving into painful history is Sami Blood, the story of Ella Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrock) a young Sami woman, a pupil at a brutal boarding school in Sweden, where all attempts to speak Sami are punished and Ella herself the brightest student in the class is told she can't continue her studies as Sami are known to have small brains. Ella has ambitions and desperately wants to escape the school, her life of reindeer herding (which see feels is backward) and the simmering prejudice that is found all around. She meets a young Swedish soldier at a party and decides to visit him at his home in Uppsala, hoping that she can then continue her education and make a life for herself in that city. But even here, the cards are stacked against her for her Sami heritage. We also meet Ella Marja (or Christina as she later calls herself) as an old woman returning for her sister's funeral and this made me curious to know what happened for her between her young adulthood and her old age.

The landscape is stunning and the story, though quite documentary in style is very affecting in its portrayal of the brutal prejudice shown against the Sami people in Sweden.

Ella Marja as an old woman is looking back on her life, but in Donkeyote, the elderly protaganist (Manolo) is planning a final great adventure, despite his failing health. He has always enjoyed walking and riding in the Spanish countryside near where he lives but now has an eccentric and ambitious plans to travel from Spain to the USA to walk along the Trail of Tears (the enforced migration route for many thousands of native Americans in the 1830s) accompanied only by his donkey Gorrion and his dog Zafrana.

His daughter supports his ideas, but is concerned for his health and well being. Manolo becomes concerned about the amount of planning the whole project will take, how he will get Gorrion to the USA being one of the most frustrating aspects. He also has to help Gorrion to overcome his fear of water, a not inconsiderable task, given that Gorrion, normally a good natured animal becomes very stubborn when near water. So will the trio surmount their problems and explore the USA?

Edited to add: in retrospect I realise Donkeyote has lots to do with Don Quixote, but apart from the scene with the windmills I don't know Don Quixote well enough to analyse the connection! 

These films are showing  at the Edinburgh International Film Festival:

Zer is screening at 2050, Thursday 22 June and 2030 Saturday 24 June both at Filmhouse.
Sami Blood is screening at 1800 Thursday 22 June and 1520 Saturday 24 June both at Cineworld.
Donkeyote is screening at 1800, Thursday 22 June at Odeon and 2040 Saturday 24 June at Cineworld.

Disclaimer - I have a press pass for the festival and attended press screenings for these films.

Monday, 19 June 2017

God's Own Country (film review)

So this is the time of year when 30 Days Wild coincides with the Edinburgh International Film Festival! As has been the case over the past few years, I have a press pass for the festival and will be reviewing films that deal with environmental issues (including rural life) or literature in some way.

God's Own Country is the film that will open the festival on Wednesday evening and has been described by some as the British Brokeback Mountain, but it is much more than that, certainly more interesting and in my humble opinion a better film.

Johnny (Josh O'Connor) lives on his family farm in the bleakly beautiful Yorkshire Pennines, with his father (who is disabled from a stroke) and grandmother. The farm is only just succeeding, conditions are unforgiving and family life is demanding. Johnny works hard, drinks hard and picks up men at cattle shows. He seems envious of his friends who've gone to college but claims to be doing the better thing by staying at home.

Things begin to change when young Romanian farm worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) arrives to help out on the farm. Gheorghe is a natural, enthusiastic farmer with a wonderful skill with sheep, he adopts an orphaned sheep and looks after it in a most touching way. Gheorghe is also able to reach Johnny in ways which the English guy stays clear of. 

When Johnny isn't being his own worst enemy, the two develop a relationship, which has to rate as one of the most beautiful I've seen recently on film. Unfortunately Johnny all too often is being his own worst enemy and there are many times when I wanted to shake him and say 'don't be such an idiot!'. Is he ever going to grow up and see sense?

This is the debut feature of director Francis Lee and I hope we see lots more from him.  

Astonishingly at the time of writing, there are still tickets for this film (which already features on many lists of the best British films of the year)! 

You can buy a ticket here for God's Own Country, screening as the opening gala of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017 at 2040 on Wednesday 21 June at Festival Theatre, or for its second screening at 1810 on Thrsday 22 June at Cineworld. 

If you can't make either of those screenings then the film will be released in the UK from 1 September.

See a film for 30 Days Wild.