Another brave batch of indie movies were on display at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival.
By
Rodney Appleyard

6 Jul 2012 - 3:54 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2012 - 3:54 PM

The Edinburgh International Film Festival is renowned for celebrating the gutsiness and risk-taking spirit of independent filmmaking – it delivered yet again this year.

One hundred and twenty-one new feature films from 52 countries were screened from around the world, including 76 UK Premieres, 19 international debuts and 11 new European screenings.

Here, Then, directed by Mao Mao, was the lucky winner of the coveted award for Best Film in the International Feature Competition. This movie also had its world premiere at the festival. The story is about the alienation, disillusionment and loss of direction that has become widespread among young people in contemporary China.

The jury, which included veteran US actor Elliot Gould, praised the film (pictured, right) for being an alluring, low-key and enigmatic portrayal of young lives adrift in a desolate resort town in China.

According to the jury, the selection process was difficult thanks to the choices of Chris Fujiwara, the festival's artistic director. It commends him for putting together a challenging and brave selection of films, which included both fiction and documentaries for the first time.

“Every work we had the privilege to see brought something new and extraordinary to us and choosing the best was a difficult task. After the final deliberations, the jury unanimously decided to give the main prize to Here, Then.

“But the special mention goes to the documentary Papirosen from Argentina. It is a real paradigm for why cinema remains relevant. There is beauty, pain and urgency in this film. It tells us that the greatest struggle of man is the struggle for the truth.”

In this movie (pictured, left), director Gastón Solnicki spent more than a decade recording the lives of various members of his Argentine Jewish family on video. The result is a dramatic documentary about the conflict between four generations, burdened by the weight of the past.

The other prestigious presentation at the festival was the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film. It was won by director Penny Woolcock for One Mile Away (another world premiere). The movie tells the story of two rival gang members from Birmingham (middle of England), Dylan and Shabba, who try to broker a peace agreement after being introduced by filmmaker Penny Woolcock.

The jury for this award, headed by actor Jim Broadbent, said that One Mile Away is a brave and honest film. “It tackles a huge problem with sensitivity and skill, not only charting the efforts to reconcile a community but also showing the great wealth of creativity that is part of that struggle."

Woolcock is ecstatic about winning the award. "As individuals living in an ugly world, sometimes we feel that we can't do anything. On occasions, what it takes is somebody like Shabba to step forward, say something is not right and take action.

“It proves that together, love can prevail over hate. One Mile Away (pictured, left)is about transforming and saving lives. We hope this film will get the message out to other communities that need to change."

Andrea Riseborough and Brid Brennan also jointly won awards for the Best Performance in a British Feature Film thanks to their acting in James Marsh's Shadow Dancer (pictured, top), which had its UK premiere at the festival. The movie also stars Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson and Aidan Gillen. Potential Films picked up Australian rights for Shadow Dancer and will release it locally in October.

The story is about a Republican single mother who lives in Belfast with her mother and hardliner IRA brothers. When she is arrested for her part in an aborted IRA bomb plot in London, an MI5 officer offers her a choice: lose everything and go to prison for 25 years or return to Belfast to spy on her own family.

Clive Owen says he wanted to be in this movie because he is a huge fan of Marsh's directing in documentaries and dramatic feature films.

"Marsh brought a level of integrity to the project and documentary makers are not interested in anything fake or phoney. They have spent their lives trying to capture the essence of something real so their sensibilities are very grounded and that's exciting."

The film cleverly blurs the lines between right and wrong, which appeals to Owen. "It was a very complicated time for Northern Ireland and the film addresses the fact that people became trapped in situations, just like my character does. They all have to wrestle with issues and decisions; there are no clear cut answers, as there never are in situations like this.”

Sticking with the UK theme, the British Scenes strand debuted at the festival with a celebration of films made on shoe-string budgets. The three productions showcased in this category (which also had world premieres at the festival) were Jules Bishop's Borrowed Time, Steve Rainbow's NFA and Bryn Higgins' Unconditional.

To qualify for this section, the UK productions had to be made by new filmmakers either trying out non-traditional funding models or venturing into unusual thematic areas.

Borrowed Time (pictured, right) was the only movie from this strand to make it into the 'Best of the Fest' section, which consists of the most popular productions at the event. The story is about Kevin, an inept young would-be criminal who needs money fast to pay back the local crime lord – a sword-wielding sociopath. Breaking into the home of an eccentric recluse seems like a good plan for Kevin, until the enraged old man unexpectedly shows up with a gun. The strange bond that forms between these two misfits becomes the premise of this unusual comedy-drama. It was produced through the Microwave scheme (Film London's micro-budget feature-film fund) in partnership with BBC Films and the production company Parkville Pictures.

The Microwave scheme aims to promote new talent and challenge filmmakers to produce a film for no more than £120,000. In return, it offers practical advice and support, plus half the cash budget. This is the seventh film made under the ground-breaking scheme, marking the feature debut of writer-director Jules Bishop and producer Olivier Kaempfer. Shot over a tight 18-day schedule, Bishop and Kaempfer embraced the challenges they faced off-camera.

“We set about finding the magic in the mundane – small moments that can just give the film production value, from the performances to the locations, making the most out of everything," says Bishop. "If you chuck money at every problem then you end up with something generic. The most creative decisions come out of some sort of deprivation.”

“Constraint has always been a very good ally to creativity,” adds Kaempfer. “If you've got all the choices in the world you end up trying to make a blockbuster where no-one's saying no, and it all ends up being a lot less exciting as a result. At the festival, the film took a lot of people by surprise, coming in only just completed and without a poster, let alone a trailer. Word of mouth quickly escalated into a buzz."

Another film that turned heads at the festival was 7 Days in Havana, which includes Benicio Del Toro in the directing credits, alongside six other directors. Fred, Grabbers, Pusher, Solo and God Bless America also gained rave reviews.

The festival opened spectacularly well with William Friedkin's Killer Joe and ended on a high with the European Premiere of Disney/Pixar's Brave. Many filmmakers left feeling inspired by their peers to take even more risks in the future.

Full list of feature film awards below.

The Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film
Named in homage to one of Britain's most original filmmakers and inaugurated in 1990. Rewarding imagination and creativity in British filmmaking it is judged by an international Jury. Performances within the nominated films will also be eligible for the Award for Best Performance in a British Film.

Nominees:

Berberian Sound Studio - Peter Strickland
Day of the Flowers - John Roberts
Flying Blind - Katarzyna Klimkiewicz
Future My Love - Maja Borg
The Imposter - Bart Layton
Life Just Is - Alex Barrett
One Mile Away - Penny Woolcock
Pusher - Luis Prieto
Shadow Dancer - James Marsh
Small Creatures - Martin Wallace

Winner: One Mile Away

The Award for Best Film in the International Feature Competition

Nominees:

Girimunho - Clarissa Campolina, Helvécio Marins Jr
Here, Then - Mao Mao
It Looks Pretty from a Distance - Anka Sasnal, Wilhelm Sasnal
Kid-Thing - David Zellner
The King of Pigs - Yeon Sang-ho
The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus - Alexandre O Philippe
The Lifeguard - Maite Alberdi
One.Two.One - Mania Akbari
Papirosen - Gastón Solnicki
The Search for Emak Bakia - Oskar Alegria
Sleepless Night - Jang Kun-jae
Tabu - Miguel Gomes
The Unspeakable Act - Dan Sallitt
A Woman's Revenge - Rita Azevedo Gomes

Winner: Here, Then

Best of The Fest

Flicker
Director - Patrick Eklund
Starring - Kjell Bergqvist
Country - Sweden

7 Days in Havana

Directors - Benicio Del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Elia Suleiman, Gaspar Noé, Juan Carlos Tabío, Laurent Cantet
Starring - John Hutcherson, Daniel Brühl, Emir Kusturica
Country - France/Spain

Borrowed Time
Director - Jules Bishop
Starring - Phil Davis
Country - UK

Fred
Director - Richard Ledes
Starring - Elliot Gould
Country - USA

Jackpot
Director - Magnus Martens
Starring - Kyrre Hellum
Country - Norway

Berberian Sound Studio
Director - Peter Strickland
Starring - Toby Jones
Country - UK

Day of the Flowers
Director - John Roberts
Starring - Eva Birthistle
Country - UK

Flying Blind
Director - Katarzyna Klimkiewicz
Starring - Helen McCrory
Country - UK

Future My Love
Director - Maja Borg
Country - UK/Sweden

Grabbers
Director - Jon Wright
Starring - Richard Coyle
Country - UK/Ireland

California Soul
Director - Marshall Lewy
Starring - Robert Carlyle
Country – USA

And If We All Lived Together
Director - Stéphane Robelin
Starring - Jane Fonda
Country - France/Germany

Life Just Is
Director - Alex Barrett
Starring - Paul Nicholls
Country - Life Just Is

One Mile Away
Director - Penny Woolcock
Country - UK

Pusher
Director - Luis Prieto
Starring - Richard Coyle
Country - UK

Shadow Dancer
Director - James Marsh
Starring - Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen, Andrea Riseborough and Brid Brennan
Country - UK/Ireland

Small Creatures
Director - Martin Wallace
Starring - Michael Coventry
Country - UK

The Imposter
Director - Bart Layton
Starring - Frédéric Bourdin
Country - UK

Guinea Pigs
Director - Ian Clark
Starring - Alex Reid
Country - UK

Dragon (Wu Xia)
Director - Peter Chan
Starring - Kara Hui
Country - China

God Bless America
Director - Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring - Joel Murray
Country - USA

Rent-a-Cat
Director - Naoko Ogigami
Starring - Mikako Ichikawa
Country - Japan