The likes of Electrick Children and The Last Elvis wrapped up an eclectic EEFF in style recently.
The East End Film Festival came to a close on Sunday evening after six days of features, shorts and industry events across multiple venues. Growing year on year since its launch more than a decade ago, the programme offered an eclectic mix of homegrown and international titles, many screening for the first time anywhere in the world.
One of the highlights of the event came on the final weekend, when hundreds descended upon Spitalfields Market for a free screening of FW Murnau’s horror classic Nosferatu, celebrating its ninetieth anniversary this year. With a specially commissioned score from festival favourites Minima, arriving with a 60-piece choir to provide the soundscape, it proved a rousing success with the (somewhat tipsy) crowd and a fitting first climax to an event that would finish with the UK premiere of Argentinian director Armando Bo’s The Last Elvis the following evening.
Another double-bill proved a terrific mini-retrospective in the form of the remastered premieres of Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo films, accompanying his latest jaw-dropper, Kotoko. Like the kind of nightmares David Cronenberg has after a day spent failing to fix his hoover, the Tetsuo films now look better than ever. Despite an upcoming Blu-ray release, for the soundtrack and foley work alone they benefited enormously from a big screen outing.
It was a shame that due to his father having taken ill, Tsukamoto was ultimately unable to attend the planned Q&As, but the opportunity to see his latest film Kotoko was ample recompense. A blackly comic, relentless assault on the senses, it’s a troubling yet sensitive account of a schizophrenic mother’s fears for her young child. Reminiscent of Andrezj Zulawski’s Possession in it’s frenzied, restless camera work, it may stop short of any slimy id monster projections, but offered parallels in its depiction of a masochistic relationship with a young child at its centre alongside its themes of doubling and self-harm.
Another film coming out of Japan (but directed by Iranian filmmaker-in-exile Amir Naderi) proved far less successful. Cut was an agonisingly pretentious work centring around a filmmaker who resorts to selling his body as a punchbag to pay off a debt incurred by his brother. If its thinly-veiled metaphor for the difficulties involved in getting low budget features made begins as a neat concept, the relentless soapboxing and diarrhetic diatribes against mainstream cinema ("Cinema is not a whore!") quickly begin to grate.
Naderi is clearly an ardent cinephile, but does himself no favours in repeatedly playing sections of the likes of Ugetsu Monogatari, La Strada and Sherlock Jr., announcing that these are the films that all cinema should aspire to. Not that we’re in disagreement, but a final sequence in which the titles of his hundred favourite films are literally plastered across the screen as his hero takes a hundred punches, screaming "Down with shit films!", it becomes abundantly clear how wide of the mark his own film’s deluded aspirations finally are. Few directors possess the ability to derive howls of laughter from playing part of Citizen Kane, but Naderi’s bombastic grandstanding in his film’s final moments managed just that.
Luckily there was more than enough on offer to serve as antidotes to the above. Electrick Children was a beautifully crafted tale of immaculate conception within the Mormon community, serving up a real find in its ethereal-looking star Julia Garner. Even if its fish-out-of-water plot devices as the film moved forward often proved hard to swallow, Garner is given excellent support from the likes of Rory Culkin. Director Rebecca Thomas is a talent to watch.
Two particular standouts were awash with stylistic imagination. Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s Carré Blanc was a brilliantly conceived and executed sci-fi debut that belied its low budget origins. Channelling George Orwell and the future landscapes of (very) early Cronenberg in the clear lines of its dystopic setting, the human drama that simmered under its surface themes of automation and societal control meant that it transcended the easy trap of becoming a technical exercise or conceptual calling card.
The other came from Italy in the form of Davide Manuli’s staggeringly bonkers The Legend of Kaspar Hauser, an exquisitely styled black and white allegory that took its influences as much from the Commedia dell’Arte as it did from Werner Herzog. Ostensibly a re-telling of the story of Kaspar Hauser, and featuring Vincent Gallo in multiple roles (alternately dancing, shouting and dancing some more), it posits trashy Euro-house music as a means of salvation, with UFOs and multiple dance-offs all putting in a welcome appearance. Defying any real categorisation, it’s likely to split audiences into those walking out after ten minutes and those that fall for the sheer weirdness of its kitschy charms.
Documentaries also showed a strong hand this year, with particular praise lavished on a film we foolishly missed. Any further opportunities to catch Anand Patwardhan’s three-hour plus Jai Bhim Comrade should from all accounts be swiftly snapped up. That said, those we did manage to see proved equally fascinating. David France’s How to Survive a Plague was a stirring account of the AIDS epidemic in late '80s America, while Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s Call Me Kuchu proved a horrific look at the treatment of the gay community in Uganda, centring around activist David Kato who was murdered in early 2011.
The real standout amongst the documentary features however was Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim’s account of the Egyptian uprising, ½ Revolution. A terrifying, first person piece of reportage from the heart of Cairo in January 2011, it’s frontline immediacy lent a real power and sense of urgency to the shocking images with which we were presented. A worthy winner of the Festival’s Best Documentary prize, its insider’s perspective on an event only witnessed via the filter of world news reports as riveting as the discussions amongst the protagonists, fighting to understand the events to which they bore first hand witness.
Further information on the East End Film Festival can be found at www.eastendfilmfestival.com