Tag Archives: cambridge film festival

36th Cambridge Film Festival

 

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Fans of our recent 36th Cambridge Film Festival episode of the Failed Critics Podcast will be pleased to see that contributor Andrew Alcock has written down some of his thoughts on the cluster of world cinema that he managed to get his hands on during the UK’s longest running film festival. Starting with…


Wonderland
Wonderland

Wonderland (2015) – Switzerland

Ten young Swiss directors explore how society would react if their country was plunged into crisis. The crisis arises in the form of an ominous storm cloud which appears over central Switzerland. It quickly spreads until it covers the whole country, stopping exactly at the borders. Experts predict apocalyptic disaster, insurance companies panic, vital services collapse, electricity cuts out, the government re-opens WW2 bunkers, social disorder ensues. Some people try to flee, some hide, others try to ignore it.

The premise is very good, the dark clouds can be used as a metaphor for so many things and the directors have mainly gone in different directions. Some themes are obvious; immigration, xenophobia, power, wealth, the EU. Some are so subtle that I have to admit that I didn’t even spot them. Three or four of the stories add nothing to the film other than increasing the run time.

Had this been four or five perspectives with the directors collaborating so that the stories overlapped / characters interacted it could’ve been superb. Unfortunately, these are independent short films spliced together by an editor leaving your interest yo-yoing. The good stuff is good – at times very good – but overall I was left with a sense of frustration at a missed opportunity.


On the Other Side
On the Other Side

On The Other Side (2016) – Croatia

Vesna lives a content life in Zagreb. She works as a nurse and shares her home with a daughter whose wedding she is helping to plan. Her son and his wife have a house close by and Vesna often pops over to babysit her grandson. Her quiet existence receives a jolt when her estranged husband calls her out of the blue.

[I must point out that my knowledge of Eastern European conflicts, in particular the Croatian War Of Independence, is limited to what I could gather during the film and a bit of research since. I may have misinterpreted some things but I’ll explain as best I can.]

About 20 years prior to this phone call war broke out and split up Vesna’s family. Her husband, Zarko, is Serbian and heads off to fight for the Yugoslav/Serb forces against the Croats, leaving his Croatian wife and children behind. Not only do they have to live in a country at war but they are the family of a Serb, the enemy. The family soon move to Zagreb to start a new life, the Croats win their independence, Zarko is tried at The Hague on war crimes and no more is heard from him. Having reacted to the first call with dismay and anger Vesna receives more calls from Zarko. Over time she discovers he is back in Serbia and as they talk it brings back memories, both good and bad. Her son wants nothing to do with his father. Her daughter is more understanding but feels the legacy of Zarko’s actions when her applications to get a job in the law profession are rejected when the potential employers discover her family history.

Ksenija Marinkovic does a fine job as Vesna, portraying a woman who has horrific memories and is still seeing the effects of her husband’s choices on her children today but has reconnected with the man she loved. There’s a twist near the end of the film which I liked but really wanted more details of. I know what happened, I know who did what but I don’t know why. I’m not sure if it wasn’t explained or if I just didn’t pick up on it. That confusing end took the gloss of what was a very interesting and well-made film.


alba-cdt-stills-43-postalAlba (2016) – Ecuador

11-year-old Alba lives a very quiet life. Her mother has been unwell for some time. Almost entirely bed-ridden, a nurse comes in to wash her and change her clothes and Alba is able to help her to the bathroom and back to bed. Due to this Alba spends her time at home playing silently, allowing her mother to rest. This quietness continues at school where Alba is very reserved. She will sit with the other girls but rarely join in. Always reticent to speak. One night her mother takes a turn for the worse and is taken to hospital for ongoing treatment. This results in Alba being taken to stay with her dad, a man she has not seen since she was three. Her dad is used to a life of solitude, a man of few words. He does what he can to make her feel welcome but finds it hard talking to a child he barely knows.

There are long mute periods between the two, neither knowing what to say, any conversation they do manage consisting of a short question and reply. Alba switches school and her shyness again holds her back until she is approached by an older girl, Eva. They chat, Alba still not saying much, and Eva invites her to a party. Hearing of this the other girls at school try harder to engage with Alba whilst she tries to overcome her withdrawn nature.

The onset of puberty, awkwardness at living with her dad, her first kiss, truth or dare, the party and her mother’s illness all affect her as we see her slowly mature, becoming more confident, wrestling with her conscience whilst trying to be accepted. There’s a really nice scene where Alba and her dad go to the beach. Although they still don’t communicate verbally you can see they have accepted each other and enjoy their time together. Macarena Arias plays Alba wonderfully, displaying the difference between the introverted young girl at the beginning and the more self-assured character she becomes. I definitely recommend you give this a watch when it becomes available on whichever completely legal format you use for film viewing.


tel_0913790_s_01_xx_big_1Between Sea And Land (2016) – Colombia

Over-the-top melodrama. I could leave the review at that point and I think most readers would know whether they want to see this film or not. Many people enjoy this type of thing, I am not one of them. It follows the ‘person with debilitating illness tries to achieve goal with help of family and friends’ formula.

In this film:

Person = Alberto, a man in his twenties
Illness = a form of muscular dystrophy
Goal = experience the sea

To explain how disengaged I was from this film I will share a thought process I had upon seeing a shot which started above Alberto’s shack and pulled back directly upwards until there was a Google Maps-style shot: “I wonder how they got that shot. Perhaps a drone? Would a drone be able to carry a good enough camera to get such clarity? Might’ve had a built-in camera. Either way that’d be pricey. How much would the budget for a film like this be? Is the Colombian film industry particularly wealthy? Maybe it wasn’t a drone. Perhaps a crane? It would need to be a massive crane to pull back that high up and not have it in shot. Maybe they lowered something down and reversed the shot. No, that wouldn’t work, the waves would be going away from the shore…”


press__oneofus_victor_softgun-tif_One Of Us (2015) – Austria

A huge supermarket is the only thing of note in the hometown of 14-year-old Julian. So this is where he congregates with his mates. Sometimes going inside the shop, annoying the stuck-up manager. Often hanging about on the outskirts of the large compound, smoking, vandalising, chatting, messing about, doing whatever it takes to pass the time in their dead town. Michael, a kid a little older than Julian, is starting his career working in the supermarket. Despite not being overly enthused he does what he can to impress, performing his duties and trying to ignore the requests of local wannabe gangster, Sedler, to sneak things out. 16-year-old Marko is freshly out of prison, his first port of call upon his return to town is the supermarket. A reunion with his old mate Sedler soon follows as well as a meeting with Julian. As friendships grow, Julian tries harder to impress. During a night of smoking and drinking the decision to break in to the supermarket ends in tragedy.

I know I’ve not sold the film very well with that synopsis, it’s a tricky one to get across. At it’s heart is a very simple story of youngsters craving adventure, thrills and acceptance. Doing whatever they can to alleviate the monotony of life. The use of the supermarket is superb. Not only is it used symbolically, the most mundane of places seen as the beacon of excitement, but it is utilised visually throughout.

The straight lines of the regimented aisles, the gaudy, unnatural colours of the packaging all in blocks creating a rainbow effect, the bright artificial lighting. It all adds to create a surreal environment in contrast to the dull reality of the outside world. This is another I recommend you catch if you ever get the chance.

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Failed Critics Podcast: 36th Cambridge Film Festival Special

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As the 36th Cambridge Film Festival nears its conclusion, we round-up and preview some of the best independent and international movies that you still have a chance to see!

In this episode, Owen Hughes guides you through our pick of the bunch as he’s joined by our world cinema experts Liam and Andy (who you may remember contributed to our World Cinema Special podcast back in January).

From Romanian and Greek, to Ecuadorian and Colombian films. From docu-dramas to short film compilations. On topics as diverse as incest and the Russian avant-garde movement. If you’re looking for a movie that’s just off the beaten track from the usual mainstream cinema, then we’ve got you covered.

In the podcast, we chat about:

Cloudy Sunday – Showing Wednesday 26th October, 4pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Next Generation Tiger Shorts 2016 – Wednesday 26th, 5.30pm (Cinemobile)
Wonderland – Wednesday 26th, 5.30pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Between Sea and Land – Wed 26th 8pm (Arts Picturehouse) & Thu 27th 12.45pm (cinemobile)
Alba – Thursday 27th, 5.30pm (Arts Picturehouse)
Illegitimate – Thursday 27th, 6.15pm (Arts Picturehouse)

Plus the Dutch Scottish drama Bodkin Ras, high-brow documentary Revolution – New Art for a New World, and Andy’s favourite from the festival, Austrian drama One of Us. All of which you’re too late to catch at the festival, but are worth digging out if you can find them!

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

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Failed Critics Podcast: Halloween Necromancing Triple Bill

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Brushing the cobwebs out of the way through the passage right at the back of the Failed Critics library, where nobody has been for centuries or more, we’ve found an ancient book containing spells for raising the dead.

Using our powers wisely, we let Steve Norman, Owen Hughes and Tony Black conjure up some deceased actors, putting them straight back to work in brand new movies pitched on this very episode of the Failed Critics Podcast Halloween special.

Resurrecting the dead in a triple bill is about as creepy as it gets this year, with What We’ve Been Watching ditched in favour of reviewing the new release Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and a quick chat about the brand new semi-biographical comedy The Comedian’s Guide to Survivalstarring James Buckley (The Inbetweeners). Comedian’s Guide is co-written by and based on the life of our very own James Mullinger from Underground Nights – check out their latest episode for some great background information on the making of the hilarious film.

Elsewhere on this podcast, the Failed Critics found time to bring back the quiz with Owen in the driving seat. News was trailer heavy, packed with discussion about the new Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Logan trailers.

We’ll be back as normal next week with a review of Doctor Strange, but in the meantime keep an eye out for a brand new episode of our sister gaming podcast Character Unlock – as well as a round-up from this year’s Cambridge Film Festival, the longest running film festival in the UK!

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Failed Critics Podcast: Sharman & Other Filth

american_ultra_2015-1366x768Welcome to another edition of the Failed Critics podcast. This week, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Paul Field (making his first appearance since the Corridor of Praise: Danny Dyer episode) and Phil Sharman, one third of the award nominated comedy podcast Wikishuffle.

On top of the news about Danny Boyle confirming production will begin on Trainspotting 2, there are two new release films reviewed by the team this week; Nima Nourizadeh’s stoner comedy American Ultra, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, and the Statham-less Statham-vehicle Transp4ter (…no? AKA The Transporter Refueled.) As well as the new releases, Owen discusses the documentary Welcome to Leith (which is screening this week at the Cambridge Film Festival) with Paul, who also reviews Fort Tilden. Phil rewatches a recent favourite in The Adjustment Bureau and Steve follows up on a discussion from last week’s FrightFest summary by checking out Australian pre-post-apocalyptic thriller These Final Hours.

Fans of our classic debates will also be in for a treat as plenty of our most popular topics were brought up for discussion at various points! A conversation about the Netflix series Narcos somehow ends up as a rambling stream of thought about the BBC and future of broadcasting. The Transp4ter review leads into another rant about film classification. We even manage to squeeze in a quick chat on the merits of found footage horrors, American remakes of English language movies and a short quiz complete with dodgy fake accents.

Steve will be on holiday next week but you can join Owen and Phil again, who will be ably assisted by Jack Stewart and Andrew Brooker to review Legend, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Visit.

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The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: Cruel

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/

In today’s article, Andrew Brooker takes a look at the French dark crime drama, Cruel.


by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

“There’s no one left in his head. He’s gone”

Imagine being so bored in your life, so depressed with your situation or just so annoyed at the world that the only way to vent your frustrations is murder. Now imagine being so evil that you don’t simply kill your victims, but you toy with them for days beforehand. To spend your time meticulously planning a kidnapping so no one would know it was you keeping these people in your basement for your own twisted pleasures. Now imagine realising after years of no one knowing you were doing this, that you want to be noticed for what your doing! You nasty, attention seeking psychopath!

Unfortunately for Pierre, this is exactly the life he’s living. Spending his days in meaningless, menial jobs that make little or no difference to the world; coming home to look after his father who is suffering from sever Alzheimer’s disease and needs constant round-the-clock care that is ruining his finances and not having any way to vent his frustrations on the world that’s been so cruel to him. His solution? To be cruel right back. Pierre spends his free time either in the company of people he has kidnapped and locked in his basement, or out stalking and meticulously planning the abduction of his next victim.

Pierre torments his victims, spending his time getting to know them and their lives and always leaving them with a glimmer of hope that they may get out of their horrific situation alive; right up until he chooses his desired instrument and snuffs out the light in their eyes. Taking great delight in writing all his experiences down in his diary and confessing his crimes to the one and only person he can trust to forget everything he has said, his already suffering father. This method of coping seems to work for Pierre until, almost simultaneously, two very different things happen to him. First, he finds his need for attention suddenly growing. Wanting recognition for his work, the usually very careful serial killer finds himself taking risks in order to get the thrill of being noticed. At the same time, he meets Laure; a woman he takes an instant liking to in a way he’s never experienced before. As he finds his feeling for the young woman growing, he feels the need to kill may be disappearing, leaving him to these new feelings that are far more pleasant to deal with.

Probably the most interesting part of Cruel is how cruel it isn’t. The film takes the parts that, more often than not in these films, are gratuitous and over the top and hides them in shadow, or obscures them behind walls and leaves what we would usually have as the “gory bits” to our imagination. Instead, this debut feature from a celebrated French crime writer chooses subtlety and narration by giving us a peek behind the curtain and letting us watch Pierre unravel from the inside. We get to watch his conflicts play out and to watch the good and bad sides of this quiet killer fight it out out at the same time, vying for control of the man that desperately wants his demons to leave him be and let him spend his time in the company of a woman that is bringing out the best of him.

As serial killer films go, Cruel is far closer to the quieter, more low-key parts of films like American Psycho and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer than it is the violent, sadistic sides of them and their ilk. It’s a thoroughly interesting look at the internal conflict of our main character and has been beautifully filmed and brought to the screen with care and attention, even if it does use a little too much of that French accordion in the score.

Cruel is showing tomorrow night (Monday 7th September) at 19:00 over at The Light. You can find out more about Cruel and book tickets at the Cambridge Film Festival website.

The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: Welcome to Leith

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/

In this review, Owen takes a look at the Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominated documentary, Welcome to Leith.


by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

To coin an American phrase, you can bet your bottom dollar that come the end of the year as we start to round up our top ten lists, Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s Welcome to Leith will certainly be there for me.

Set in Leith, a small town in North Dakota with a population of just 24, Nichols and Walker document the unfolding nature of events shortly after the infamous white supremacist Craig Cobb moves into one of the run down vacant homes. Buying up plots of land, Cobb enacts his plan to legally take over the town government and establish Cobbsville, inviting white separatists and proud racists from all over the state to join him there. Understandably, the current residents of this typically quiet and peaceful rural town are agitated by their new neighbours and it’s not long until they become united in ridding themselves of the unwanted bigot.

Welcome to Leith has received a generally very positive festival run this year. On top its Grand Jury Prize nomination at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, it’s either won or been nominated for a further ten awards in 2015. Whilst the subject matter is inherently fascinating in a voyeuristic “as long as it isn’t happening in my own town” sense, what really makes it a compelling piece is how maturely the footage is presented. It could have easily slipped into a freak-show, encouraging the viewer to laugh and throw rotten fruit at all the prejudiced (and somewhat intimidating) nut jobs.

Instead, it comes across as an earnest attempt at getting you to think about human (and in the case of its American audience, their constitutional) rights and how conflicted they might make you feel when pushed to try and defend the actions of some people. How protected should Cobb and his friends feel when being jeered at by their neighbours, having their vehicles vandalised and being victimised by everyone in town for having their beliefs? Whose anti-social behaviour came first in this town? Is Cobb using or abusing his constitutional rights? They’re all questions that are addressed in the documentary and it does its best to leave those open to interpretation from the viewer. There’s very little attempt made to misguide the audience nor insult their intelligence.

There’s certainly no intention there to make you feel sympathy with one side or the other, either. The directors do a fantastic job at presenting the argument in as objective a manner as possible, using home video footage from both sides of the feud. We see interviews with the townsfolk who claim to be victims of domestic terrorism, and we hear how the Government themselves deal with this level of insecurity in their own country.

Obviously given the controversial and hateful opinions held by Cobb and his men, and the stomach churning footage of him desperately trying to get a rise out of his fellow Leith residents, it is difficult to not feel anything but disgust at these people. You are guaranteed to get angry about their behaviour and level of both ignorance nad arrogance. They’re clearly deluded and paranoid, and Cobb in particular loves the attention (although isn’t perhaps as charismatic as he thinks he is). Nevertheless, Welcome to Leith is an interesting, sometimes infuriating documentary and I highly recommend it.

Welcome to Leith is showing at The Light cinema on Thursday 10th September at 18:30 and again on Saturday 12th at 16:50. You can find more information and book tickets on the Cambridge Film Festival website.

The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: The Visit

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/

Next in our series of reviews from this year’s event, Tony Black takes a look at Michael Madsen’s conceptual documentary, The Visit.


by Tony Black (@BlackHoleOnline)

A legend appears at the outset of The Visit: An Alien Encounter which informs us everyone who takes part in this ‘simulation’ are real professionals, scientists and thinkers. The word simulation marks Michael Madsen’s (not that one) piece out as slightly to the left of the documentary, despite being filmed as such. Rather, it’s a thought piece, a consideration, a classic ‘what if?’ presented not as fiction but almost-fact. What if, in this case, we were visited by an extra-terrestrial life form? Fiction has of course covered this ground in cinematic terms a wealth of times, perhaps most memorably in 50’s B-movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, but Madsen’s spin on the idea presents the film less as entertainment, more a conversation we happen to be part of, or a series of conversations. Our POV is that of the unseen, unheard alien being who the aforementioned real life professionals respond to, explaining the procedures immediately following the aliens’ arrival and later delving into the philosophical, practical and psychological repercussions of his arrival. We are welcomed to planet Earth. We become the very thing we are questioning.

This does serve, at points, as if these world famous (in their field) people are communicating into a void, almost talking back to themselves, which is a consequence of the approach and in real terms a budgetary consideration from Madsen; this is stripped down Scandinavian conceptual filmmaking, without the license to show visual effects of aliens, the inside of spacecrafts or too many cosmic landscapes. It’s also definitely a creative choice on his part; he seeks in part to evoke the almost religious wonder of the unknown we witnessed in Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (though using the Blue Danube Waltz is perhaps a little on the nose), as scientist Chris Welch explores the spacecraft interior and finds unusual landscapes. Madsen is also, certainly, playing with our perception of reality – not just considering what lies within the craft, but scenes involving one contributor see him deliberately trick the frame, inducing parallels while flipping props to enable a sense of disorientation; indeed the scientists themselves posit the philosophical idea that if the alien leaves without sharing any information or shining a light on its own existence, was its presence theoretical? Madsen explores all of these concepts within the thin running time, though frankly he has the breathing room.

Even at just shy of eighty minutes, The Visit doesn’t necessarily feel longer but Madsen struggles at points to fill out the narrative he does present. A documentary could call upon facts and research, but a fascinating look at the makings of the Voyager space probe aside, his picture is solidly in the realms of the conceptual. It may dress itself up as a simulation but in many respects it is a drama, a play of sorts only featuring naturalistic performances functioning as reactive conversation between people well respected in their field. Madsen at times can’t quite balance whether he wants to explore an element of narrative or rest on the mere pondering of the ‘big questions’ – why are we here? What is a human being? Almost all of the big theological & philosophical ideas are in play here, as are the practicalities. This too is where Madsen over eggs the pudding. He’s a slave to the slow motion tracking shot – at first it evokes a slightly otherworldly mood, a cold and calculated exploration of the unnatural, but it quickly becomes a crutch he relies on to deploy his imagery of unusual constructions, people going about their day to day, and the mobilising balance of a military deployed as a reaction to the alien’s visit. He seems afraid to let his camera breathe as naturally as the scientists on screen, ironically enough serving to further detach himself from the documentarian approach he primarily wants to ape. It’s a shame because his imagery, intersected with the static interactions with the people on screen, is often interesting.

If nothing that will revolutionise either the science fiction or documentary genres The Visit dips a toe in either way, Michael Madsen’s film is an intriguing look with an intriguing hook at a concept which has fascinated writers and filmmakers for the last half century – what would happen if aliens visited us? It’s quite rare to find a film which doesn’t approach the subject matter in bombastic or fantastic terms, moreover one that uses real life thinkers & scientists to consider the extreme possibilities & consequences that we’re not alone in the universe; amusingly at one point two of those on screen describe ‘fiction’, and report that more often than not such attempts to portray first contact end without a happy conclusion. If you’re looking for a film with such conclusions at all, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a flawed but fascinating, rational and illuminating exploration of the idea, this may be worth exploring yourself.

The Visit will be screened as a part of the festival on Monday 7th September at 18:45 at The Light, and Thursday 10th at 15:30 in the Arts Picturehouse. To find out more information and to book your tickets, visit the Cambridge Film Festival website.

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.