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By Jamie Cross on

James reviews BIFF 2012: Day 1

Our in-house festival junkie and film-lover reviews Juan of the Dead, We Are Poets, How I Filmed the War and Conference.

Hello! It’s that special time of year that excites me more than any other—no, not Christmas, it’s the Bradford International Film Festival. This is the festival’s 18th year, and recently our beloved Pictureville Cinema has celebrated its 20th Anniversary, but for other reasons, this festival is an especially interesting one.

Co-Directors Tom Vincent and Neil Young take the helm for the first time; the festival has a new brand and sponsor, and a new approach to its audience. A greater emphasis has been placed on making the festival interactive and inclusive for the public. In among the regular cinema screenings there are performances, social events, and activities for families.

I will be around most days of the festival, watching whatever takes my fancy. If you wish to follow my cinema exploits or meet up to chat about what you’ve been watching, find me on twitter @JamieCross.

How I Filmed the War + Conference

I often find the first film you attend of a festival sets the tone for the rest. Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed, and this double-bill was a bold and intriguing choice.

First up was Norbert Pfaffenbichler’s Conference, which compiled a montage of screen images of Adolf Hitler. This experimental piece conveys the constructed nature of one of history’s most notorious figures, without using any dialogue. Pfaffenbichler shows images of Hitler as villainous, evil, grotesque, and even funny; being confronted with clips of Hitler from Downfall one moment and Monty Python the next evoked quite contradictory feelings, and forced me to ask questions of my long-held notions.

How I Filmed the War is Yuval Sagiv’s investigative piece into the 1916 First World War propaganda film The Battle of the Somme. Using extracts from that film, director Geoffrey Malins’ autobiography, academic journals, and footage from the film, Sagiv questions the biased nature of this ‘documentary’ and Malins’ motives.

This film is near silent with only an ambient soundtrack to pace the narrative. Text excerpts tease the voyeuristic self; being denied footage of any ‘action’ forces a parallel between our (the audience, and Malins’) mutual desire for conflict. How I Filmed the War explores the authenticity and motivation behind historical documents and how they are received. Is History written by the victors?

We Are Poets

This film follows six hopefuls from Leeds Young Authors as they enter poetry slam competition ‘Brave New Voices’. Representing the UK in one of the world’s most prestigious poetry slam competitions, they travel all the way to Washington to compete in an international arena. Each poet has their own reasons and motivations for entering the competition and using poetry as their outlet.

Having seen the film it’s easy to see why it has been doing well at festivals, winning the Youth Jury at Sheffield Doc/Fest and wowing the audience at Leeds Young People’s Festival. It is an energetic, passionate film that shows us the transformational power of spoken poetry. The film was followed by a Q&A with Alex Ramseyer-Bache, Daniel Lucchesi, and one of the poets from the film (sorry, I’ve forgotten his name—can anyone remind me?)

They were keen to convey their conviction that poetry is a form of expression, and that it increases in popularity when society feels oppressed; it is a way of dealing with the current issues in a public and emotive fashion. We were treated to some live poetry from one of the schools Leeds Young Authors work with. It was the perfect close to a film that challenged my pre-conceived and misguided perceptions of poetry, and most importantly made me care about the plight and dedication of the poets involved.

Juan of the Dead + Bobby Yeah

I came in half-way through short film Bobby Yeah after sprinting from We Are Poets. I’ve tried to tell the programmers that they should consult me about what I want to watch before scheduling films, but they don’t seem to listen *sigh*. The only way I can describe Bobby Yeah is: a Jan Svankmajer film on acid. Go see it and decide for yourself.

I have been eagerly awaiting the chance to see Juan of the Dead since November. It screened at Leeds International Film Festival’s infamous Day of the Dead, where I was working, so I didn’t get to see the film, but I saw the audience reaction on the way out. Praise was high, and it won the Fanomenon Audience Award.

After that Fanomenon screening, I briefly met the director, Alejandro Brugués, who is a charming, witty character; this film is a reflection of his personality: funny, charming and self-assured.

Set in Cuba, this is a zombie film with a difference. Instead of panicking in the face of certain doom, what does Juan do? He sets up a business: ‘Juan of the Dead. We kill your loved ones’. Trapped with an eclectic mix of social misfits, Juan must try to get them through hordes of ravenous zombies, while making some cash along the way. This is a real crowd-pleaser, making some very dry and loving observations on Cuba along the way. As long as you don’t mind a bit of blood and gore, go see it.

5 comments on “James reviews BIFF 2012: Day 1

  1. Saw both We Are Poets and Juan of the Dead recently at other festivals – enjoyed both thoroughly! Amazing to find out that was Alex’s first full-length documentary!

    1. I loved the opening sequence, i saw the short film at a minicine screening a couple months ago.A great way to represent Leeds in poetry and in visuals. I hope they have more documentaries planned!

  2. Thanks for that honest & thoughtful review of We Are Poets James & I’ll pass on to the team that it challenged some poetry preconceptions! -the poet who appeared with Alex for the Q&A after We Are Poets was Saju Ahmed (@saju_leeds on twitter).

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