The 36th Leeds International Film Festival begins tomorrow and it seems a good time to reflect on film festivals in the UK. Since the COVID shutdown, I have still not returned to full-time cinemagoing which means I’ve missed my usual trips to London, Glasgow and Manchester for HOME’s two specialist festivals. In the meantime I’ve been grateful for online festivals and access to previews, but the scope of my film watching, especially of new films, has been reduced. I have other reasons why travelling to venues is a problem, but mainly it is the collapse of rail services this year in the North of England which has put me off going to Manchester and London in particular. Fortunately, Leeds is less difficult to get to so I hope to see something this year.
With the uncertain future of the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2023 following the collapse of the company that runs both the festival and the two cinemas, Filmhouse in Edinburgh, home of the festival, and the Belmont in Aberdeen, Leeds looks likely to rise up the league table of UK film festivals. With films from 78 countries appearing at venues across the city this year and with the total number of screenings rivalling both London and Glasgow, Leeds has a new opportunity to shine.
The brochure shown above is downloadable from Leedsfilm.com and this years programme has the usual Leeds sections of ‘Official Selection’, Cinema Versa (Documentary), Fanomenon (horror, fantasy and science fiction and other genres) and Short Films. This year there are three ‘Spotlight Programmes’: ‘Films Femmes Afrique: Women Creators of the Future’, ‘Disability Futures’ and ‘One Love for Jamaica’. It looks like a great programme and we wish the festival team well for their fifteen day extravaganza. There have been some technical problems with ticketing but they seem to be sorted out now and I’ve purchased tickets online with no problems. Regular visitors should note that two of the best loved venues are not available this year. The refurbishment and expansion of the Hyde Park Cinema in Headingley has suffered delays and the cinema is now expected to re-open in Spring 2023. At the same time, the £15.3 million refurbishment and expansion of facilities at Leeds Town Hall means it is closed for events until 2024. The future of both these venues looks exciting but the result is that most of the screenings at LIFF this year will be at the Vue in the Light Centre and the Everyman in the Trinity Shopping Centre with smaller numbers of screenings at other venues in the city centre and at the Cottage Road Cinema in Headingley.
I have tickets for screenings in the last few days of the festival, including the documentary about Patricia Highsmith above, and I will be posting reports then – but feel free to give your comments here on your LIFF experiences.
The outstanding film for me in the last few LIFFs I have attended have either been Russian or a Russia-based international co-production such as ‘Compartment No. 6’ from last year, and ‘Beanpole’ from the festival before that and, before that, ‘Loveless’. With the ongoing special military action I feel some reluctance to actively seek out a Russian film this time, if indeed there are any on offer. The slow progress on the Hyde Park and the Town Hall is another big disincentive for me and I see that I can catch at least one of the features, ‘A Bunch Of Amateurs’, in Bradford at a similar time as the festival. No doubt I will get around to buying some tickets and if I catch anything worth mentioning I will report here.
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First, on titles from Russia; the logic of the previous comment would be that one also avoids titles from the USA, Britain, Israel, Iran and a few more.
I have got the printed brochure as I find the online programme unwieldy. So far I cannot find any information on formats; a common problem these days. It looks like it is all digital formats. This includes a number retrospective screenings though there is not a retrospective programme as such.
The Hyde Park Picture House will be seriously missed; though less so the Victoria in the Town Hall.
A word of warning about the Everyman, (strictly speaking a video lounge); the sight-lines are not great: a friend advises me that the best position for subtitles is the front row or the back row.
It seems that Vue has sorted out the audio problem that bedevilled two earlier festivals but the venue continues to have a too-high level of illumination during screenings. I am going to try the front row and see if it alleviates the problem.
Given this it is disappointing that the Cottage Road Cinema has only five titles over only four days; it is at present the best theatrical venue in Leeds.
The biggest disappointment is the absence of a tribute to Jean-Luc Godard; I do not think any cinema has done this yet? We could have had a 35mm print of one his early classics at the Cottage Road.
I have to respond to Roy’s comments; for a really good film festival I still go to Europe.
I don’t think that I suggested that UK festivals were better than European festivals. If I was able to travel to Europe at the moment I would attend those festivals as well.
Re Godard, I suspect the programme was finalised well before his death in September. I suspect we will see retrospectives in various cinemas in the near future.
There seems to be a strong South Korean presence at LIFF this year and the first offering for me was indeed a winner. First off, I would like to say I am pleased by the return of the low tech tear card to rank the films rather than the online system they trialled. ‘Next Sohee’ was a moving and very relatable film about the exploitation of young high school students during work experience in a call centre. Their given mission is to discourage and dissuade customers from cancelling their contract for what seems to be a very poor online service rather than simply actioning their request. Young Kim Sohee is initially depicted aa a very spirited and individual teen but is quickly ground down by the repressive working conditions. A little surprisingly the narative then moves on from her story to that of a young woman police detective who gets involved. The auditorium was not full on a Sunday morning but had a healthy attendance which bodes well, I think, for the rest of the festival.
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Another day, another film at LIFF. Actually only my second this year unless you count the outreach entry of ‘A Bunch Of Amateurs’ at the museum in Bradford (sold out !). This time it was a director’s audience with the amusing Harry Kumel with a restored print of ‘Daughters of Darkness’ from back in 1971, which is when I last saw it at the renowned Euro softcore cinema the Plaza just off the Headrow in Leeds (now some adjunct of Howard Assembly Rooms). Although I saw Mr Kumel do a Q&A following a screening of ‘Malpertuis’ some years ago, I was a bit surprised to see the old boy accompanying his film some fifty years later; he is now eighty-two. He introduced the film with some dismissive comment that he was surprised that an exploitation film made at the height of a brief lesbian vampire craze and one that had ‘no meaning whatsoever’ was still attracting an audience fifty years later. He would expand on this in the Q&A. The film itself featured Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory still roaming the continent looking for the blood of attractive young women to keep herself youthful, where she finds herself in a wintry Ostend with her companion looking to prey on a couple of newlyweds. If there was such a thing as a spaghetti vampire flick with bizarre characters spouting dialogue full of non sequiturs, this would be it. The restored version was nice and crisp, and had a slightly expanded ending, was enjoyable but not essential. I have been ducking out of a lot of Q&As recently as they seem to be more of an opportunity for various audience members to formulate a question that may impress the rest of us rather than find out anything of interest, but this one was worthwhile. Harry Kumel was quite happy to ramble on with as many anecdotes as they gave him time for. More out of respect for him than for his film, I tore my audience response card against the five star mark. In fact I also picked up the audience response card left behind by the guy next to me who had jumped out before the Q&A and gave him five stars on that too.
We do have a blog post on this film. It’s certainly worth seeing, especially if restored to 4K as the NTSC DVD looks good at a much lower resolution.