The strength and character of Buxton's community is reflected not only by the scale and diversity of the Fringe, but by the range and reach of cultural activity in the town throughout the year. A full time commercial cinema is unfortunately not viable in this small town, but that doesn't stop people wanting one. The inspired response in recent years has been the establishment of the Buxton Film Club with screenings a couple of times a week in a pub function room and the Paupers Pit. Run entirely by volunteers on a not for profit basis, the films on offer range from main stream recent releases to foreign language and art house with a good range of shorts. The Festival is a chance to widen their audience, celebrate film, and this year an innovative project with 6th form students to create their own.
The austerity of the pub function room was quickly swept away by first a trailer for Three Idiots, a Bollywood romp which will be shown on 20 July at 7:30pm, then a home made trailer by a group of young men from Buxton Community School for Another Year, the feature film we were about to see. The wry take of the sixth formers set an appropriate mood for the feature and gave the evening another dimension that commercial cinema could never offer.
The main film itself, Another Year, has rightly earned accolades and five star reviews and is regarded by many as Mike Leigh's best film yet. This gentle atmospheric film features Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as a happily married couple providing an anchor, patient support, compassion, and wholesome food for old friends and family. Their comfortable unpretentious kitchen is a safe harbour for old friends and family members faced with the challenges of life and loss. The situations evoke a spectrum of emotions including respect, pity, humour and empathy for well drawn characters we can all recognise. It is a film that stays with you and warms the heart.
There was unfortunately a hiccup with the sound at one point, but it was soon resolved and a small price to pay for enjoying such an excellent film here in Buxton. Do try to catch one of the Film Club offerings this weekend and if you live locally support the screenings through out the year. For more information go to www.buxtonfilm.org.uk and sign up for their free emails.
7July, The Railway
Ice Cream: Manchester' Little Italy was an excellent choice to set the mood for the longer film to follow. This documentary gives an insight into the Rise and fall of Italian ice cream in Manchester and Macclesfield. It brings together much archive material as it tells its story. From the earliest manufacture with collection and storage of Ice from Lake Derwent prior to freezing technology taken from the fish market trade through replacement of re-useable glass ice cream cups with biscuit cones (on health grounds) to the threat from soft, whippy ice cream. From the family's children with the pushcart and slogan "Stop Me and Buy One" through horse drawn carts with bells to motorised vans with distinctive musical jingles.
Everlasting Moments was a long film and we were given an interval about an hour into this film. It starts with marriage proposal in 1907, accepted with the proviso that as wife she would be allowed to use her husband's new camera.
The filming starts in sepia and as the years progress the footage subtly changes to greys and then greys with weak colour and ends in full colour. The introduction of cine photography is also skilfully introduced in its rightful place in the chronology, though the leading photographer retains using the original make of camera. The composition and lighting of the scenes is of a high standard throughout.
Although the film was subtitled and the size of this was poor, and sometimes white on white, the sense of the story came across from the action of the film rather than the words.
The story itself, addressed social attitudes and conditions of the times, like: poverty, strikes, drunkenness and adultery, wives working and raising children, (though not much about their education). This film is an excellent comment on those times, especially when seen from the perspective of today's attitudes towards family planning, corporal punishment and divorce.
This film could be used to spark discussion in schools.
Buxton Film Festival has come of age. Over the festival they are showing excellent, unusual films to a growing and appreciative audience. This evening was no exception and one of the best I've spent on the Fringe.
The third session of the Open Shorts competition showed 7 of the best films submitted and the standard was universally high. The films were very different and perhaps this suited my increasingly short attention span and fitted with my predilection for tapas-style eating.Sparkel by Hugh Morgan - the shortest at 3 minutes - was an abstract essay on water and spoke directly to me, addressing as it did the possibilities of focus and shutter speed with running water and playing with scale on the shoreline. Both are ideas which have obsessed me as a photographer in the past. Problems by young people from RAFT and Four Dwellings High School addressed bullying using a simple realist style with very effective shot selection and editing. The story had punch and drama with a twist. Best Young Person's Film Rail by young people from Staffordshire Youth Service took on group culture, teenage drinking and rail safety. Not, one might think, subjects likely to inspire young creators or an audience. And yet they did and the result is an excellently constructed, well shot, well acted and entertaining film. Some Scenes from the Life of John Harris by Caroline Palmer is a docudrama on the life of a miner (note the spelling!) poet. Again excellent photography, great acting and beautifully edited. This is a film that could be expanded and hopefully will be. Best Documentary The Bag Lady by Mark Callum introduced us to the eponymous tramp and used excellent imagery and good acting in a simple film to explore prejudice and possessions. Commended The Unconventional by local boy Ben Jones was another witty, funny, unpretentiously shot short story to follow "Complete Nutter". It was completed in record short time just before the entry deadline like a teenager's homework and its easy success is a tribute to innate talent. Ben works in the Museum so you may be able to blag a copy. Best Comedy Come Home by Will Herbert is a moving and telling examination of the plight of a soldier returned from the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan contrasting the pride and ethos of soldiery with vulnerability and the need for help on return to civilian life. Again excellent acting, direction and photography, Commended
Many of the people involved in these films were at the showing or represented and it was good to see them applauded to the echo and receive their certificates and (small) cheques.
The Railway, 16th July 2011
Buxton Film are becoming part of the Buxton cultural establishment and their annual film festival is attracting good audiences down to the Railway Hotel for their intriguing mix of films. The atmosphere is nice and relaxed and their policy of showing a short before the main feature throws up some hidden gems.
Tonight the appetiser was 'Lady of Leisure' following the course of the River Derwent from its source high in the Peak near the Yorkshire border to beyond Derby where it joins the Trent. The footage came from the 1950s and has been restored by the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University. The industry along the river, the beautiful scenery and the leisure activities around the water were highlighted by a sometimes snobbish commentary - Matlock retained its beauty despite the "dawdling, munching merrymakers"!
After a brief comfort break - or opportunity to replenish stocks at the bar - the main feature was Skeletons, filmed around Bonsall by local man Nick Whitfield, and a recent award winner at the Edinburgh Film Festival. This was an excellent film that deserves a wide audience. Two contrastingly sized men in suits tramping around the countryside and visiting clients' homes where they carry out mysterious 'procedures'. Over time they are revealed as psychic investigators or exorcists literally and metaphorically removing the skeletons from people's wardrobes.
Things are going wrong, Davis is misusing his powers and Bennett is guilty about offering no "after-service" to their shocked clients, and when they turn up at a family searching for a missing husband they meet their match. The film is strange and at times confusing, but not unpleasantly so, the characters are lovable, and the underlying themes are the timeless ones of family and friendship. The cinematography is superb and the Peak District looks wonderful!
It's always a pleasurable experience down at the Railway with Buxton Film. Their selection of films is ever eclectic but always worth seeing.
Railway Hotel, 10th July 2011
The Last Laugh was originally written as radio play by High Peak Writers and adapted for the stage by Caroline Small for last year's Fringe. Now it's back in a third guise as a film made by Jim Lampard during the two performances last year.
The story follows Jackie's stressful life with her two kids, partner and a struggling career as a stand-up comic. She drinks too much, leading to a collapse and a psychotic episode. She ends up in a psychiatric ward where she gradually comes to terms with her schizophrenia.
Although the film loses some of the immediacy of the original theatrical presentation it is well put together. The play was staged transversely with the audience on both sides so selecting unobtrusive camera angles must have been awkward. From the corner of the stage it keeps close to the action while covering the whole of the playing space, judicious use of a second camera for close-ups means it is more than simply a recording of a play.
High Peak Writers was formed to help those suffering from mental distress and the play has a mission to educate people - but is never preachy, and if this sounds all very worthy, don't worry there is plenty of black humour. The use of an actor (Sue Woolley) to play the voice in Jackie's head was well-managed, the explanations of schizophrenia are neatly handed to the doctor, and the chaotic yet repetitive nature of the psychiatric ward is convincing. The highlight of the film, however, is the performance of Fiona Paul as Jackie, it is a warm and sympathetic portrayal never sliding into bathos in the emotional turmoil.
I'm glad this film has allowed this challenging insight into mental health issues to have an extended life.
Buxton Film goes from strength to strength and last night's final feature of this season was played to a full house and cheered to the echo at the end. A suitable way to celebrate their considerable and growing contribution to the Fringe. Most encouraging was the audience demographic, ranging from young teenagers to lively eighty year olds and including many people not otherwise seen around the Fringe. Buxton Film's festival within the Fringe is a real asset.
As for the film, what can one say? Bollywood's biggest ever box-office success, the first Bollywood screen kiss, three hours long and never flagging it is a gift to western audiences too and should have received a general release here and around the world. Bollywood has a knack of combining morality with sentiment, pathos with farce, soap with grit. It is the modern opera. This film is its apogee. Heralding a new India it is the poster boy for rejection of old restrictions and stultifying traditions, a celebration of youth, freedom and creativity.
The plot? Well there are good guys and bad guys and the good guys win - after three hours of plot twists, a love story, song and dance, tears and laughter, song and dance. The audience rock with laughter, blub into their handkerchiefs, sway to the rhythms and never question the absurdity.
Aall iz well!