Wednesday 19 June 2013

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2: Cities and Art

Taboor is billed as 'indescribably strange Iranian sci-fi' and it certainly is weird, though I'm not sure that it's really sci-fi. The opening shows the protagonist in his aluminium foil lined bunker as he gets dressed in an aluminium suit and other protective gear. He then walks out into the night to pursue his job as a pest controller, patrolling vast old buildings with endless corridors and never-ending spiral staircases.

However, despite what the bunker might imply, life out there in the city seems normal, there are lots of cars in the streets, and though there aren't many people out walking, those that are, are dressed normally. The emergency services seem to work efficiently and the hospital is well equipped with modern technology. So is the pest controller paranoid? Is he hypersensitive to microwave radiation? Is his health deteriorating due to overexposure to pesticides?Is he in fact purely a symbolic figure?

The film doesn't answer all the questions it poses, but it offers a fascinating perspective of city life and how it affects us.

A different perspective on city life is offered by the quirky documentary Yumen. This is a cinematic exploration of the Chinese city of Yumen. The city became rich when oil was discovered locally, but when the wells ran dry, the city became largely depopulated. The film shows us the desolate landscape, the pollution remaining from the abandoned oil refineries, the endless blocks of abandoned flats, the strangely beautiful geometries of the abandoned oil workings. Then suddenly we notice a young woman dancing in the valley, then another young woman, dressed in yellow, reciting poetry from the top of a pile of rubble, a young man perches on a concrete column and performs gymnastics. People are painting portraits on the walls of an old community centre and start singing as they wander through the city market (which is lively and vibrant). It seems to be all for the sake of the film, but does hint at a rich cultural life thriving in the areas of the city that haven't been abandoned. Oh and about a third of the way through the film, a happy group of well fed rabbits hop around a yard, eating hay.

At one and the same time, this is a desperately sad film and one that is full of hope that art can bring life back into declining cities.


Art is at the centre of Breathing Earth a documentary about the Japanese artist Susumu Shingu. As the title suggests, the film focuses on the artist's international tour to try and find a location for his Breathing Earth project, an environmental activity centre to be powered by artistically designed wind turbines. Personally I have to admit that it would seem more environmentally friendly to allow those kind of projects to emerge organically from a local area, rather than be imposed by an international artist, no matter his eco-credentials.

That aside, this is an excellent film. Shingu is an artist who is truly inspired by nature, from his beautiful paintings to his kinetic sculptures and he inspires children to think about art and nature through workshops.

Shingu's sculptures are mesmerising, delicate looking forms that swivel and soar in the air as they are captured by the wind. Some of them are fully functional wind turbines or air conditioning systems too, demonstrating that technology and aesthetics can go hand in hand.

Alongside the footage of Shingu's sculptures are images of nature - flower seed heads floating on the breeze, the wind moving through fields and stunning images of Monarch butterflies in a Mexican forest. There's also a wonderful scene of an insect (a cricket I think it was) crawling round one of Shingu's sculptures as it moved in the breeze.

A wonderfully inspiring film for anyone who loves art and nature. 

Taboor is showing 1800, 21 June at Cineworld and 1945, 25 June at Filmhouse

Yumen is showing 2005, 21 June and 1345, 23 June both at Cineworld

Breathing Earth is showing 1800, 26 June at Filmhouse and 1240, 30 June at Cineworld

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

1 comment:

Bill said...

Very informative. I'll keep an eye out for these films.