Members Blog: What can Screening Days offer your venue?

Michael McDermott and Bill Murray

Michael McDermott was awarded a Training and Travel bursary from us to attend Autumn Screening Days in November 2017 at HOME cinema, Manchester, on behalf of Hove’s The Old Market venue.

Screening Days run by Independent Cinema Office (ICO) offer programmers and exhibitors the opportunity to watch and select new titles to bring to audiences around the time of their release dates. Effectively, the Screening Days are a way to determine the quality of new films in advance and to see if they suit your venue and your audience before you programme them proper. 

Since starting TOM’s Film Club at The Old Market, something we’ve wanted to do much more of is to show newer titles, the sorts of films that are a bit more diverse, obscure and independent, usually the sort of films that will sadly have limited or no release in Brighton. Effectively, to give these films more of a reach or an outlet in the city.

HOME cinema in Manchester

I saw 12 films over three days, but we were forewarned by various ICO reps and film distributors before every screening explicitly to refrain from talking about the films, tweeting, posting anything on social media or generally  giving any personal opinion about the films or spoil anything for future audiences when they eventually go on general release.

So this account bears that disclaimer in mind, without giving up my personal opinions about any films.

HOME itself is a pretty lush venue; like The Old Market it is also known as a theatre but there is a gallery space too, of which there was an exhibition exploring the Russian Revolution in its centenary year. I found this to be almost as exciting as all the films themselves, having studied Russian history at college and travelled to both Moscow and Saint Petersburg as part of those studies – earlier this year at TOM’s Film Club we marked the centenary of the February Revolution with a screening of Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark; shot in the historic Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg, it is a film which covers 300 years of Russian History in one continuous shot!

35mm Projector

On the second floor you’ll find five cinema screens, with DCP, 35mm and 4K projection, comfortable seating and most importantly cup-holders for much-needed coffee – I found that watching four films a day in accession with limited breaks in between meant that coffee was a necessary and vital component of the day (I was recently advised by my dentist that I shouldn’t have been drinking all that coffee since I chipped my front tooth last month and haven’t yet had it capped. Sometimes, sacrifices must be made for the greater good, even if some of the films aren’t particularly that great or good).

Along the walls there are photos, drawings and information detailing the making-of stop-motion animation films like Wes Anderson’s FANTASTIC MR. FOX and Tim Burton’s FRANKENWEENIE and CORPSE BRIDE (part of another exhibition HOME were having at the time about the work of Mackinnon and Saunders, which was commissioned by the Manchester Animation Festival), and before you enter the screening space, they have a huge 35mm projector on display from another cinema that had since closed down, reminding movie goers of film’s former, rarer and better format.

My main drive for wanting to attend ICO Screening Days was to watch THE PRINCE OF NOTHINGWOOD, which is the current New Release Strategy title selected by BFI’s Film Audience Network (FAN), and I’m happy and very grateful to report that Film Hub South East is funding The Old Market screening on 7 February 2018.

Seeing it as an early preview definitely built up my enthusiasm for the film, and confidence to include it in TOM’s Film Club, and although it’s an obvious afterthought, seeing these films before programming them really does make a world of difference, because not only can you think about the film, but you can think about ways of marketing the film, who to market the film for, and any cinema+ activities that could work to accompany the screening. The film was previewed as part of Brighton’s CINECITY Film Festival on 12th November, but as my brochure deadline for getting TOM’S Film Club together in spring was for 6th November I figured it better to actually watch this documentary before trying to write about it.

I’ve already booked myself a place for the ICO Archive Screening Day in December, which I hope will equally inspire and give me the means and resources to programme archive film at the Old Market; having recently watched IN SEARCH OF COLOUR: KINEMACOLOR at CINECITY, I want to try and bring to focus in our programme the cinematic history of Hove and the early primitive but technologically innovative films that were created here by George Albert Smith and the Brighton School of pioneers in the early 20th century.

In all, I thought being a part of the ICO Screening Days was very beneficial, and I would recommend anyone who runs film clubs or cinema communities to get involved as it is a very useful resource for selecting new titles for your programme, as well as a great way to preview films before their general release to see if they’ll work for your audiences. It’s also a great opportunity to network with other programmers, as well as a chance to meet the distributors responsible for the getting these films screened in this country in the first place.

Also, in case you’re wondering, here is a list of all the films I saw in the order I saw them in. I’ll be able to let you know next year what I thought:

  • LADY BIRD (Dir: Greta Gerwig, Universal)
  • THE DISASTER ARTIST (Dir: James Franco, Warner Bros)
  • THE PRINCE OF NOTHINGNESS (Dir: Sonia Kronlund, Vertigo Releasing)
  • BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL (Dir: Takashi Miike, Arrow Films)
  • HUMAN FLOW (Dir: Ai Weiwei, Altitude Film Entertainment)
  • LOVER FOR A DAY (Dir: Philippe Garrel, MUBI)
  • THE NILE HILTON INCIDENT (Dir: Tarik Saleh, New Wave Films)
  • SWEET COUNTRY (Dir: Warwick Thornton, Thunderbird Releasing)
  • DOWNSIZING (Dir: Alexander Payne, Paramount)
  • CUSTODY (Dir: Xavier Legrand, Picturehouse Entertainment)
  • ON CHESIL BEACH (Dir: Dominic Cooke, Lionsgate)
  • LEAN ON PETE (Dir: Andrew Haigh, Curzon Artificial Eye)

Tim Brown’s Cannes lowdown

Brighton CineCity Festival’s director takes you through his picks from Cannes 2017.

Tim Brown

Tim Brown of CineCity Festival

As ever many of the gems and real pleasures of the festival were to be found outside of the main competition, in the Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight and Out of Competition strands.

Faces Places

An excellent and engaging documentary – screening out of the main Cannes competition streams – is Faces Places (Visages Villages), which follows legendary Agnès Varda, now 89, and French photographer JR as they travel through rural France pasting up JR’s massive photographs on buildings.

As the pair form an unlikely friendship, their interactions with each other and the ordinary working people they encounter are immensely uplifting. Varda – awarded an honorary Palme d’Or in 2015, the same year she came to Brighton to present her films in person – is now suffering from failing eyesight and unable to make films on her own, but this was an absolute delight.

The Prince of Nothingwood
(Directors’ Fortnight).

Nothingwood is Afghanistan’s version of Nollywood, Bollywood or Hollywood. Sonia Kronlund makes her feature debut with this documentary profile of Salim Shaheen, the most prolific and popular actor-director-producer in Afghanistan who has made more than 100 films in the past 30 years in his war-torn country.

This is a highly entertaining celebration of cinema and a fascinating character study of a one-man industry. Vertigo is planning to release in the UK in late 2017.

I Am Not A Witch

(Directors’ Fortnight). This highly original feature debut from Zambian born, Wales- based filmmaker Rungano Nyoni and set in a world of contemporary witchcraft, is an intriguing mix of satire and fairytale.

Nine year old Shula (a wonderful central performance from Margaret Mulubwa) is banished from her village and sent to a travelling witch-camp where she is told that if she tries to escape she will be transformed into a goat. Cut through with moments of humour and surrealism, I Am Not a Witch is wonderfully shot and also features a striking soundtrack. Curzon Artificial Eye has picked it up for UK distribution.

The Rider

(Winner of Art Cinema award, Directors’ Fortnight). Two years after her debut feature, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, which Cinecity was delighted to screen in 2015, Chloé Zhao’s follow-up focuses on a former rodeo star, played by real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau, who must rebuild his life after his skull is crushed in a riding accident.

Brady Jandreau in The Rider, with horse

Brady Jandreau in The Rider

The film is not at all what one might surmise from a brief synopsis. The ‘masculinity in crisis’ tale is subtle and nuanced and expertly handled throughout with a balancing tenderness, especially in Brady’s relationship with his sister who has learning disabilities. Sumptuous cinematography from Joshua James Richards (he also shot God’s Own Country coming out in September, and which screens at our Hub member event on 18th July) superbly captures the vistas of South Dakota. Chloé Zhao’s first feature Songs did not get a UK release but Altitude has thankfully bought The Rider for UK distribution.

April’s Daughter

Mexican director Michel Franco (Daniel and Ana, After Lucia, Chronic) has produced another assured and unsettling drama, which won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. 17 year-old Valeria (Ana Valeria Becceril) is pregnant by her teenage boyfriend but doesn’t want her absent mother, April (Emma Suárez, last seen as Almodovar’s Julieta) to know. When her sister Clara (Joanna Larequi) goes behind her back and calls April, their mother arrives all ready to help. However, once the baby is born, it soon becomes all too clear why Valeria wanted to keep April as far away as possible.

A number of reviews refer to Franco’s cool, detached style as sometimes reminiscent of Michael Haneke but somehow at odds with a melodramatic storyline that pushes believability. But Franco is powerfully adept at skewering family dysfunction and April, brilliantly portrayed by Suárez, is a fascinating case study.

Tim’s personal highlights

As for the main competition, extensively covered elsewhere, my personal highlights were:

Loveless, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, The Return), winner of the Jury prize. It is a masterful examination of the emptiness at the heart of contemporary Russia as a divorcing couple, in the process of selling their apartment and preparing to move on with their new lives, neglect their 12-year-old son Alyosha and barely notice when he disappears. Somehow combining elements of a police procedural with a state of the nation dissection, it confirms Zvyagintsev as one of contemporary cinema’s most accomplished film-makers. It is due for release by Altitude on Nov 10.

Loveless

Loveless: Unforgettable

120 Beats Per Minute
Winner of the Grand Prix, Franco-Moroccan director Robin Campillo’s third feature follows  gay activists in 1990s Paris amid the rise of the AIDS epidemic and their battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies. With a tender love story set against a detailed backdrop of ACT UP Paris weekly meetings, 120 Beats Per Minute brilliantly links the personal and political and features an excellent ensemble cast. It is due to be released by Curzon Artificial Eye on Oct 20.

You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay’s first feature since 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin won joint best screenplay award and a best actor for Joaquin Phoenix’s contract killer (Joe) trying to rescue a politician’s kidnapped daughter from the sex trade. Joe has the physical, and – revealed through flashbacks – mental scars of time spent in the FBI and Marines but partly what makes the film so utterly compelling is the way familiar tropes are thoroughly re-invigorated and elevated by a director at the very top of her game.

There are scenes of graphic violence (the film has been described elsewhere as a 21st century Taxi Driver) but everything revealed is so finely judged and precise. The film also features a great score from Radiohead‘s Jonny Greenwood.