The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: Star*Men

cambridge film festival logoThe Cambridge Film Festival, the UK’s third longest-running film festival returns 3rd – 13th September 2015 for its 35th edition, at the Arts Picturehouse, the Light Cinema and other venues across Cambridge. One of the UK’s most prestigious and well-respected film festivals, 2015 also celebrates Festival Director Tony Jones’s 30th anniversary with the festival, which has been shaped by Tony’s passion and exceptional knowledge of cinema.

This year’s festival features specially selected screenings for everyone, from parents with babies to retirees, the programme offers a diverse mix of films of short and feature length spanning different genres including 7 World Premieres, 55 UK Premieres, with films from more than 30 countries, plus special guests and complementary events and workshops, all scheduled at convenient times and locations. The Cambridge Film Festival is operated by the charitable Cambridge Film Trust and funded by BFI Film Forever. You can find out more about the festival at their website:  http://www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/

Here at Failed Critics, we’ll be taking a look at a selection of films from this year’s event starting with the opening night gala screening of Star*Men.


by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Make no small plans.” – Daniel Burnham

Documentaries come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s an enlightening investigative piece of journalism by Errol Morris, or a touching emotional film such as Star*Men, they all need to have one thing in common: they have to tell a story. Without it, the audience won’t be engaged no matter how potentially interesting the subject matter may be.

Director Alison E. Rose believes that in Roger the instrument-maker, Donald the theoretician, Nick the visionary, and Wal the observer, she has found a story worth telling. She brings together these four highly respected and exceptionally bright astronomers and friends for a road trip through the Southwestern United States. Having worked together for approximately fifty years, each of the now elderly and mostly retired professors impart their knowledge, wisdom and experience on the viewer with a series of personal reflections on friendship, faith, life, death and their own contribution to the world of science. Indeed, Rose directly poses Professor Nick Woolf the question ‘What did you learn from a lifetime of observing the Universe?’ and is met with a startlingly profound response after a brief thoughtful pause.

To answer the point made at the start of this review: yes, it is a story worth telling. Not only that, but Rose tells it in such a heart warming way with a genuine affection for those involved. After spending so much time apart, witnessing the first reunion of these close chums immediately sets the tone and rebuffs any such notion that Star*Men will be taking a dry, impenetrable, academic approach. Although, there’s no dumbing down of any aspect either.

Those of us hoping for a few nerdy astronomy anecdotes will not be disappointed. With their wealth of life experience, Roger, Donald Nick and Wallace have as many entertaining stories to tell about their research and discoveries as they do about their current situation, crossing seemingly impossible paths (both literally and figuratively speaking!) Through their hikes across rocky terrain as they reminisce about life when they were younger, they provide us with as many smiles as they do thought-provoking self reflection. They stand resolute when tackling without fear a subject such as their impending final journey, death and separation. Each of the group are immensely likeable chaps and it becomes a pleasure to listen to them share their thoughts and opinions with us.

If nothing else, Star*Men will entertain, enthral and make you think throughout its relatively short 85 minute run time. All of this is in no small part thanks to its fascinating blend of characters, the insightful interviews and comments they provide and of course the lovingly crafted direction from Alison Rose.

You can gaze at Star*Men tonight (Thursday 3rd September) at 18:30 at the Arts Picturehouse, or tomorrow at 16:00 over at The Light in Cambridge. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Cambridge Film Festival website.

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