Friday, 25 March 2011

17th Bradford International Film Festival Day 4: A bit of allsorts, but mainly Bradford After Dark in this post (Stake Land and Hobo with a Shotgun)

(Temporary home for my Film&Festivals magazine coverage until the new website is up. Please feel free to agree, disagree or anything in between in the comments)

I had a particularly busy Saturday in order to make up for my slow start and the fact that I was missing the Sunday. The atmosphere for the whole day was exciting; there was a buzz about the place ahead of Terry Gilliam's arrival and there were a couple of new, very exciting strands taking place. Three of the five Northern Showcase films were playing, of which I managed to catch the first two (INNOCENT CRIMES and HAROLD'S GOING STIFF). I was very impressed with two things: with how well attended they were and with their audacity for getting made in the first place. The two films were striking examples of how to make truly independent films - without even the attachment of any funding bodies - through sheer hard work, passion and dedication. I enjoyed both films, but would just like to single out HAROLD'S GOING STIFF as my real find of the festival so far; it was much more than I had expected. I will have full coverage of both these films along with interviews with the filmmakers up toward the end of the festival.

The interview with Terry Gilliam was in the form of a round table press interview and descended a little into informal chatter. Something that I was fine with considering Film&Festivals had recently featured a comprehensive interview with the maestro in issue 21 . I will put the discussion up as a separate post later in the week.

What I will cover in a little more depth here is BIFF's other exciting new strand, Bradford After Dark. Genre cinema has been conspicuous in its absence in previous years at BIFF. Not that it has been excessively missed, but having this event certainly was appreciated. It wasn't only appreciated by myself, but by the pretty busy screening of STAKE LAND (Jim Mickle) and the even busier midnight screening of the Rutger Hauer exploitation vehicle, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (Jason Eisener). These were only the last two features of a programme of five and were brought to BIFF in partnership with Sheffield's Celluloid Screams.

Both features were preceded by a short. I don't have much to say about CLICK, but WHITE HORSE (Michael Graham – USA) was an interesting non linear, expressive art film. It had no clear narrative, but left a vivid impression of a post alien-invasion world. It was somewhere between being an art film and a music video, as all three tracks that played over the respective three chapters were from the same band, Shadow Shadow Shade (free EP )

STAKE LAND was introduced as the anti-Twilight, which prompted a cheer from most in attendance. It is a post apocalyptic road movie, which I am fully aware has been done before, but it is a worthwhile feature none the less. It is unfortunate timing that it has been produced at the same time as, but will be released after, ZOMBIELAND and THE ROAD, to which it is undoubtedly going to be compared. It is clear that it wasn't copying or exploiting their success; it is more a case that this narrative seems to be something that society under current socio-political circumstances is naturally both producing and demanding. To expand this point across media formats, I also saw shades of what is largely accepted to be the videogame of 2008, FALLOUT 3; particularly the way the religious cult has hijacked the airwaves, becoming a constant presence and wide reaching influence.

Mister (Nick Damici) kills a bunch of 'vamps’ (as they are frequently referred to) that have just butchered a rural family. He takes the surviving teenage boy under his wing and they head north, braving the harsh wilderness of post apocalyptic, religious cult and vampire infested America. Along their journey to - the possibly fictional - ‘New Eden’, they pick up some - and inevitably lose some - fellow travellers.

It was introduced as being Romero-esque. I started sceptical of this, but by the time the eclectic group had formed the bonds of a post apocalyptic band of survivors, working as a microcosm of what could be a potential society, I would concur; it is an accurate, vampire variety homage to the master.

The impressive thing is that the film is completely independent of studio funding, but has - at least - the same amount of spectacle and is safe enough to be commercially viable. It didn’t say anything outside of what a studio production could have, but to not have to answer to anyone demanding that they tone it down must have been reassuring.

Where HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN is concerned, I don't really know where to start. It is what it says on the Tin basically and laid its cards out from an early stage. The first decapitation for instance, which prompted a scantily clad woman to instantly start performing a strip tease routine in the fountain of blood that sprayed from the victim's neck was a pretty clear statement of intent.

Hauer plays a simple 'hobo', who rolls into Scum Town (or also referred to as Fuck Town) on the freight train. All he wants to do is save enough money to buy a lawn mower and start his own lawn mowing company (i.e. the concept of the American Dream), but the ridiculously over the top criminal gang leader, who runs the place like a surreal and deadly game show (actual result of the American Dream) won't stop getting in his way; whether killing people or having topless women batter hanging corpses with baseball bats. Our hobo-protagonist is joined by a prostitute, who he repeatedly insists is a school teacher and they fight back, armed with his shotgun to wipe the scum off the streets. Hence, a newspaper headline states "homeless man stops asking for change... starts demanding it".

The whole event took place in Cineworld Bradford’s Delux screen. This comfier than average screen is a little isolated from the rest of the cinema and from what I experienced, it had harboured an enjoyable day long fan friendly atmosphere, with the crescendo being the whoops and cheers involuntarily vocalised throughout HOBO’. The horror fan atmosphere was aided by Gaylen Ross (of Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD fame) having a few words to say before STAKE LAND.

This was a strand I wish I could have made the whole of; a strand that I would be happy to see return and an event that may has convinced me to get down to Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams when it comes around.

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