Ahead of London’s Raindance Film Festival, Fohnhouse were invited to a cluster of advance screenings of some of the low-budget movies in competition. What’s exciting about these films is that they’re passion projects made by people who’ve gone out and made something special to them. There will be full reviews when the films are given a wide release, but here’s a quick overview of what we saw.
Of the selection we were shown, our favourite would have to be Mike Cahill’s ANOTHER EARTH, which has already found a distributor in Fox Searchlight (UK release in December). This sci-fi drama has an alternate Earth appearing in the sky on the same night that a young woman (co-writer Brit Marling) causes a car crash. Released from prison a few years later, she builds a relationship with the man whose wife and son died in the collision. It’s a little pretentious in places and Lost star William Mapother never quite convinces but it’s beautifully shot, the soundtrack is great, and Marling is superb. She wrote an excellent character for herself: lonely, withdrawn, but fascinated by the possibility an alternate world might offer. Fans of Gareth Edwards’ Monsters should find much to love in this contemplative, emotional film.
We were also impressed by Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe’s offbeat comedy drama BLACK POND. It cleverly casts the notorious Chris Langham (The Thick of It) as the head of a family accused by the tabloids of murder. Black Pond is deliberately difficult to get a handle on, shifting from comedy to tragedy and back again with no warning. It doesn’t all work, particularly some of the more self-consciously experimental touches, but the characters are very well drawn and the cast (including Simon Amstell), are excellent. By the end we found ourselves strangely moved. Another British drama, STRANGER THINGS (dir. Eleanor Burke and Ron Eyal) begins with a young woman returning to her mother’s house after her death only to find a homeless man taking refuge there. As the two begin a tentative friendship, it reminded us a lot of Tom McCarthy’s superb The Visitor. It may be too slight to really make a strong impression, but it is touchingly heartfelt and its stars Bridget Collins and Adeel Akhtar are excellent.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Norwegian-American relationship drama EXTERIORS was not a success. The story of two miserable young foreign actresses in LA and their callous, awful boyfriends, it’s 80 minutes of crying and arguing. Despite good performances from Gitte Witt and Ruta Gedmintas as the two miserable girls, Exteriors is a long slog through poor dialogue, inelegant comparisons between bad relationships and auditioning, and unlikeable characters. Also disappointing was British found-footage horror HOLLOW, which puts its four characters in a country house near a creepy tree that may have malevolent supernatural powers. It starts promisingly, some of the acting is solid, and there are a couple of effective moments in the final third, but overall it’s too predictable, adhering much too closely to found footage tropes and too clearly influenced by The Blair Witch Project.
Finally, we saw two documentaries: WHERE MY HEART BEATS (dir. Khazar Fatemi) and HEAVEN+EARTH+JOE DAVIS (dir. Peter Sasowsky). The former tells the story of Fatemi’s own return to Afghanistan after fleeing with her family 20 years ago. Fatemi sets out to give the ordinary people of her homeland a voice, which leads to some powerful accounts from victims of the conflict and stranded refugees who were told that it was safe to return. However, the decision to keep a focus on Fatemi’s own journey is often distracting, and the lack of personal distance leads to a cloying sentimentality that seems at odds with some truly upsetting footage and moving stories.
However, we would urge you to see the latter documentary. The tale of Joe Davis, a brilliant one-legged American inventor, artist and scientist. Sasowsky expertly shows how his obsession with these bizarre ideas (sending vaginal contractions into space is the most memorable) is linked to his artistic side, how he won’t or can’t think of his work in terms of financial gain (which leads to frequent evictions), and how the constant stream of ideas means that nothing is focused on for very long. Davis is great company, even if you don’t fully understand what he’s talking about. It’s a very well-made look at a fascinating individual.
The Raindance Film Festival kicked off on the 28th of September and will run until the 9th of October, and you can see all these films there (and many more, of course). Head down to the Apollo cinema in Piccadilly Circus to get in on the action.