The Best of Beeston 2017!

   This past weekend was my favourite local festival, Beeston Film Festival. In spite of their size, and the fact they've only been running for three years, Beeston has an incredibly high standard of international films on show, so I knew I'd be in for a fine show. In fact, the films are so good that I can easily remember and name great films from the festival's previous years: for example, Humanexus, Moving Day and Bunny from year one, and (En)vie from year two. You should watch all of those films - they're all different genres, and they're all from different countries, but they are universally brilliant.

   As well as being international, Beeston also supports local films and filmmakers, and that includes myself. In year one, they screened Ashes; year two, they screened Stop/Eject, which I produced. This year they not only screened Night Owls (twice), but it was also nominated for five of their awards: the beautiful 'B'OSCARs'.

   Because they support local filmmakers, there were a few films this year that I'd seen already. So, while I won't go into too much detail on those films now, here's a quick shout out to the brilliant films at this year's Beeston Festival by filmmakers that I know: Cadence by Siskamedia, Big Bad Wolf by Sojo Animation, Stereotype by McGibney Films, Dolls by Badshoes Film, Hinterland by Small Person Productions (a group of incredibly talented teenage filmmakers!), and Transcended & Hollow Men by YSP Media. All great films, but all of which I had seen before.

   So which films, that were new to me this year, were my highlights of this year's Beeston Film Festival? I could name absolutely tons of worthy entries, but somehow I've managed to narrow it down to my top ten favourites... (warning: contains mild spoilers)

10) Butterfly (dir. Alex Withers)

   A drama about a teenage girl, whose shot at a professional swimming career is held back by the discovery that she is epileptic. I know that the crew behind this spent years making sure it was right, so I've been keen to see it for a while, but it was worth the wait.

9) Apollo 11 (dir. Chen Chih Yin)

   Another coming-of-age drama: A teenage girl grew up idolising her Dad and his love of space so much, that she went into a career in an astrology museum. However, in a heartbreaking moment, she discovers that her Dad had a son with another woman - and she finds out because the boy shares the same love of space, and uses the same catchphrases her Dad used with her. Definitely a film about having to face maturity faster than you'd choose to.

8) What a Peaceful Day (dir. Eden Chan)

   An animated film that really appealed to my daft and quirky sense of humour. An old woman goes on a camping trip - and finds herself suddenly in the companionship of a deer. But when a hunter goes after the deer's horns, the old woman and the deer (driving!) have to make a dash for it in the old woman's caravan. An epic battle ensues. It involves a ladle. I'm not even kidding!

7) Time Thieves (dir. Fran X. Rodríguez)

   Definitely the best-edited film of the festival: such great rhythm, and more match-cuts than you can shake a stick at! The film revolved around a man trying to literally steal time from the most prompt and routine-driven man you could hope to meet. A funny film with a touching ending.

6) Transmission (dirs. Varun Raman & Tom Hancock)

   A man wakes to find he's trapped in a hangman's noose, in an underground bunker, being mentally and physically tortured by a very dapper chap. I can't say I always understood this film, but the cinematography and set design looked incredible (it was shot on 35mm), and so I was surprised it wasn't up for any technical awards.

5) The Bread Bear (dirs. Eason Lu & Yichin Tsai) 

   Another very silly film - in fact this was, without a doubt, the most random film of the festival - but it had everyone in stitches. A bear with a bread shop finds his sales rising when his customers discover an addictive creamy filling inside his loaves. But then the bear discovers the filling is actually flamingo poo... and things take a dark and (even more) bizarre turn... Lots of quirky touches in this film, like the fact the bread is 'grown' in the bear's garden. What's more, the film was made in stop motion, which is always such a treat.

4) Twiddly Things (dir. Adara Todd)

   The second stop motion film on this list, but the polar opposite of The Bread Bear. Twiddly Things is a beautiful, dark and haunting portrait of Alzheimers, using the metaphor of things literally unraveling. The fact that the voiceover came from a genuine Alzheimer sufferer made it all the more poignant. 

3) First Snow (dir. Lenka Ivančíková)

   The last animation on my list (I was surprised by how much animation I absolutely adored this year). This film was so epic and beautiful, with an incredible set and fantastic puppetry. An adorable hedgehog wanders away from hibernation in order to witness his first snow, but when he can't find his way back to his parents, and he realises the world is a dangerous place, the adventure really kicks off. Even if you don't like adorable things (what's wrong with you??) then watch this film for the stunning eagle puppet - particularly the way it lands.

2) Cinephiliac (dir. Matthew Tichenor)

   This film was the most epic of the lot, and it nearly made my top spot for sheer cinematic storytelling. A woman chases the man she's meant to be with through every genre of film: romantic comedy, thriller, western, film noir, sci fi... the film nails every genre and utilises every aspect ratio. There's even a little loving homage to the wonderful Metropolis. But the film is most lovable and relatable when it moves into the real world. If it is the real world...

1) What Is Hidden In Snow? (dir. Loic Gaillard)

   This was one of the first films I saw at the festival, but it stuck with me throughout. It's at once hilarious and brutal, colourful and bleak (the production design and costumes are so bright it's almost uncomfortable). In the near future, a man uses a performance-based simulation service to act out the revenge he wanted to take on his cheating wife. Meanwhile, a group of plastic-faced staff with huge, constant smiles watch on encouragingly. Definitely one for the Black Mirror fans!

   And finally, honourable mentions to Anoesis, (a dark and engaging portrait of an outcast, featuring some raw and watchable performances) and I Am God, And Severely Underqualified (a set dresser's dream, with an enigmatic lead performance and a subtle Edgar Allen Poe feel to the script). I loved both films, both of which featured local actors, so they nearly made my list!

It didn't say 'La La Land', but I still couldn't believe it!

   So, how did Night Owls do? Unfortunately we didn't win any of the awards we were nominated for (the quality and budgets of our competition were just too high), but I did come away with a special, unexpected award: Rising Star, an award that comes with industry mentoring. I was so surprised to have won anything that it didn't sink in for a bit: I just carried on clapping without realising I was supposed to go up and make a speech!!

   Thank you to John Currie and all of the Beeston Film team for another great year. I'll be sure to support you guys again in 2018!



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