REVIEW: Ian (Short)

Directed by: Abel Goldfarb
Written by: Gaston Gorali

Written by Jessica Peña

Inspired by the real life story of Ian, a young boy who was born with cerebral palsy, Abel Goldfarb’s animated short film about the titular boy is a sweet and profound revelation, even for a child’s perspective, where its strength lies. It tells of a boy’s struggle to make friends at the playground, using unique stop-motion animation and CGI to bring Ian’s obstacles, the mobile and emotional, to life. It’s a push for awareness through universal imagery and only invites kindness into the world around it, as portrayed in Ian’s will to connect. Just shy of ten minutes, this endearing short film is of the firm belief that misconceptions and stigmas, especially at a young age, can be diminished in the face of benevolence.

Discrimination to Ian’s incapacitation and bullying keep him at bay when all he wants is to play with the kids in the gated off playground. He musters up the courage to integrate himself with the others, hanging by shyly, until he’s suddenly whisked away into the wind and back through the gates, shattering into little blocks and reforming back to his wheelchair. This happens a few times, Ian will peek the chances to feel normal, be perceived by the kids as such, and play with no limitations, but inclusion doesn’t need to come at a cost to Ian’s identity.

Eventually the kids, one by one, begin to notice him and lend a hand so he can stay without his wheelchair (before getting pulled toward the fences once more), but that’s far from the point of what the animated short is trying to communicate. It’s not exactly Ian’s determined bravery that finally wins the other kids over, but it’s the integration of putting yourself out there and freeing yourself of those doubts, not to be overshadowed. This closely works as a teaching moment for the younger audience as it smoothes out the social divide kids sometimes make around that age. This film means so much more when it comes to the mentality of young children. It’s easy for them to pick sides, brush others off, be occupied with their own matters and games, and so Ian’s ability to socialize and play with his able-bodied peers suffers…but it doesn’t have to. When kids interact and spend time with each other, the companionship is equivalent to acceptance with no barriers.

And speaking of barriers, Goldfarb’s short is without spoken dialogue, a creative decision that welcomes the interpretation of other backgrounds. Produced by Oscar winner and two-time Emmy winner Juan José Campanella, this small story for a better tomorrow brings you down to the bare pillars of humanity, lending a hand of its own to shatter petty judgement worldwide. Lack of knowledge and awareness about the condition even in the country of Argentina raises action for change, backed by an organization that’s willing to plant the effort in.

A 2019 Oscar-qualifier for Animated Short, Ian is doing well to win the hearts of Academy voters and audiences alike. Released from Argentina with the help and funding of companies and nonprofits like Mundoloco CGI and Fundación Ian, an organization that raises awareness and further enriches the lives of children with cerebral palsy, the short film is all-embracing to understanding. In part due to its absence of spoken words, the short emphasizes to the viewers just how far kindness, understanding, and patience can cross the fences of discrimination and bullying, especially in the lives of our children who are so perceptive to these behaviors. The film’s description says it best: Inclusion is vital for our society, it makes us richer, more diverse and more just.

Jessica’s Verdict

5

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CAMFF 2018: Lemonade (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Ioana Uricaru
Starring: Mãlina Manovici, Dylan Smith, Milan Hurduc

Written by Elena Morgan

Mara (Mãlina Manovici) is a young Romanian woman working in America when she meets and marries Daniel (Dylan Smith). After she brings her nine-year-old son Dragos (Milan Hurduc) to America, things are looking good for her new family until she encounters problems when applying for a Green Card.

Lemonade opens with Mara and Daniel being interviewed by the US immigration authorities, including immigration officer Moji (Steve Bacic), who seems kind to begin with, but he has a cruel misogynistic streak and he’s happy to exploit those desperate enough. It’s through the conversations between these characters that you slowly start to piece together their story, how Mara and Daniel met and if their marriage was just a way for Mara to stay in America. Lemonade paints the immigration process as something that’s incredibly difficult and often dehumanising to those who go through it. With the problems Mara encounters it’s clear that this hardship is worth it to her and that living in America would give her and her son more prospects than in her homeland.

It’s unfortunate that Mara’s naivety almost stretches the credibility of her story. The decisions she makes are in part fuelled by her desperation to stay in America, and in part due to her being an honest person who’s still learning the way America’s rules and regulations work. She believes in America to be different but she soon finds that the men in power can be just as corrupt and dangerous as in any other country.

Manovici gives a fine performance but it’s a shame that Mara is such an inconsistent character. She’s mostly naïve but there’s the odd moment when she gets some steely determination as she tries to overcome the many obstacles that are put in her path. Those moments are short-lived and she’s soon back to being ignorant of the world at large.

Lemonade is a topical yet bleak film about immigration but with some characters actions and reactions being so inconsistent and full of naiveté, it makes the whole venture feel less believable and even more depressing.

ELENA’S VERDICT:

2

 

CAMFF 2018: Burning (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Chang-dong Lee
Starring: Ah-In Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jeon

Written by Elena Morgan

When Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon) goes to Africa she asks her old schoolmate Jong-su (Ah-In Yoo) to look after her cat. When she returns with enigmatic Ben (Steven Yeun) who she met in Africa, Jong-su is dismayed and feels pushed out by the two of them.

Burning is a slow-burn of a film about class and sexual desire. Jong-su and Hae-mi are both originally from the north of South Korea, from a farming town that’s so close to the border that they can hear propaganda announcements from North Korea. Ben, on the other hand, is a Gatsby-like character, he’s young and rich and no one – Jong-su especially – knows what he does to earn his money. He’s charming and mysterious and lives in a modern apartment in Seoul and appears to have the perfect life compared to Jong-su.

Burning follows Jong-su’s perspective and he isn’t a particularly likeable character. He’s quiet and reserved and, as the film progresses, it reveals to be more or a character-study of Jong-su than anything else. Burning is full of unexpected choices, evolving from a potential love triangle into a psychological mystery, with three characters that are equal parts captivating and cold.

The scenery at Jong-su’s home is bleak yet beautiful. Conversations with double meanings happen at sunset with haunting music playing that leaves both Jong-su and the viewers unsettled by what they’re experiencing. As everything begins to build, Jong-su becomes more obsessed with both Hae-mi and Ben, two characters who aren’t altogether what they seem. There are secrets and lies, and the mystery becomes more and more mesmerising.

Burning is a weird, unsettling film anchored by a subtle yet absorbing performance by Ah-In Yoo. Its 2 and a half hour runtime can be noticeable though, as it certainly takes it’s time to slowly rack up the tension, but the performances from the three main actors are all brilliant and it’s their little nuances that pull you in and make this film so mesmerising.

ELENA’S VERDICT:
4

CAMFF 2018: The Guilty (2018)

Directed by: Gustav Möller
Starring: Jakob Cedergren
UK Release Date: 26th October 2018

Written by Elena Morgan

On his last night of dispatch duty, police officer Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) gets a call from a kidnapped woman and it’s a race against time to find her.

Films set in one location aren’t that uncommon anymore, but truly great and gripping ones are – The Guilty is a brilliant addition to the “genre”. Set solely in the dispatch room, the camera follows Asger as he works at his desk, bored of taking calls about muggings and is looking forward to getting back on the streets when fifteen minutes before his shift ends, he receives a call from a woman saying she’s been kidnapped. Frustrated with how slow the police are dealing with it, Asger takes matters into his own hands, calling the woman’s family, the kidnapper, and each call is more compelling than the last.

Like Asger, you only have the information he receives on his phone calls to make your judgement, and with snap decisions to be made, things aren’t always what they seem. There are twists and turns, but as well as being surprising, The Guilty works because you begin to care about who Ager is talking to, and that’s down to the performances. Cedergren gives a fantastic lead performance, it’s his minute reactions that so easily show his frustrations and anxiety – a clenched jaw, a twitch in the fingers – they all show a man that’s on the edge. His unseen co-stars are just as fantastic, the emotions in their voices allow us to visualise what is happening down the phone line.

The Guilty is gripping and thrilling. Director and co-writer Gustav Möller knows exactly when and how to release the tension and then go straight back into building it up again. It’s a film that keeps you guessing and is never what it seems. It’s no wonder The Guilty has been selected to be Denmark’s official Oscar entry for best foreign language film.

 

Elena’s Verdict

4-5

 

CAMFF 2018: An Interview with Rudy Riverón Sánchez

Interview by Elena Morgan

Director Rudy Riverón Sánchez, a Leeds-based filmmaker, is currently on the festival circuit with his feature film debut Is That You?. We got the chance to talk to him as the film is having its UK premiere at the Cambridge Film Festival this week. Rudy, who was born in Cuba, filmed Is That You? in his home country back in 2016 and it recently won an award for ‘Best First Feature Film’ for the first psychological horror to be made in the country.


Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers…

I’m Rudy Riverón Sánchez, the writer and director of ‘Is That You?’, the first psychological horror film to be made in Cuba. I’m originally from Cuba but I’ve lived in the UK for more than 15 years.

You wrote and directed Is That You?, can you tell us what inspired this story?

I took part in a screenwriting workshop for which I had to write a 20 minute screenplay, a scary story for children. The workshop led me to rediscover my interest in the horror genre. I then started to develop an idea for a horror feature film, one aimed at an adult audience, what was to become ‘Is that you?’. I wanted to tell the story of a young girl in conflict with her family but I wanted to ensure that my film was going to be distinctive. I decided to set the story in Cuba and use elements of psychological horror, a subgenre of horror which had not been explored before in Cuba. Having decided to set the film in Cuba, I started to think back to my life in Cuba in order to build the characters. Lili and her family are focused on surviving. They are isolated and caught deep into their own struggles. Lili’s father controls his family and forces his values upon them. This is where the horror element plays the most significant role, real fear in Cuba, mirroring the Cuban way of life.

What was it like filming in Cuba? Did the death of Castro affect the films production at all?

Our producer Emma Berkofsky brought the cameras from the UK, 14 suitcases with two mini Arri Alexas, lenses, and accessories, because the cost of this kit is too high in Cuba. Thanks to Reymel, our line producer and main contact in Cuba, we had the full support of RTV Comercial, the production services company that we were working with in Cuba, and the Cuban government. This helped to make sure everything went smoothly. Everyone we dealt with were really kind and helpful and all the cast and crew worked really hard. The only surprise was that we had to wrap up warm for the night shoots because the temperature in the countryside dropped to 2 degrees some nights. When Castro died, initially we were told by the local authorities that we had to stop filming, which would have been a disaster for the film. But luckily, because we had the right paperwork, we only lost half a day of shooting and after that we were allowed to carry on. However, the country had nine days of mourning and pretty much came to a standstill and so, until those days passed, the production team and myself couldn’t feel completely confident that things would go according to plan.

What did you find the most enjoyable about writing and filming Is That You??

What I enjoyed most when I was writing was the feeling of power that comes with creating a new world, with new characters, and while that’s challenging it’s also really satisfying. Once I got to Cuba, I really enjoyed the rehearsals because that was the first time I saw the characters coming alive, after they had just been on the page and in my mind for so long. Once we started filming, I felt a great sense of satisfaction after finishing each scene because I knew I was achieving the realisation of my vision.

Lili is a distant yet intriguing character, was it difficult finding the right actress for the role?

It took some time to make the decision. Gabriela Ramos, the actress that plays Lili, was recommended to me by the film’s cinematographer, Raúl Pérez Ureta, as he’d previously worked with her on ‘Últimos días en La Habana’. I then mentioned her to our casting director Libia Batista who also thought Gabriela would be great for the role of Lili. When I met Gabriela, I thought maybe we can try because she looked like I had imagined Lili looking. I wasn’t sure at the very beginning if she could do it because she didn’t have the experience, and the character demands a lot. So we did a rehearsal. Our producer Emma was like, “Rudy, are you sure?” I felt a lot of pressure to get it right, because Lili is the protagonist and so critical for the success of the film. It was only during the second week of rehearsals, after focusing on certain scenes, that I felt sure that Gabriela and I together could achieve what the film needed.

JC-ARTICLE-IMAGE.jpg

Congratulations on recently winning the Anna Mondelli Award for the ‘Best First Feature Film’ at the TOHorror Film Festival in Turin. Is That You? has been accepted into several film festivals across Europe, how do you get the most out of them?

Thank you.

At each festival, we’ve done as much as we can to promote the film and so that helps you to have a bigger turn out for the screening. I think doing Q&As is also a good thing to do, so that the audience don’t just get to see your film but they get to hear about the director’s inspiration and the experience of making the film. I also make the most of the opportunity to meet other filmmakers, to see their films, and build up my network.

Do you have advice for anyone who may be starting out in the film industry, or want to get into the business?

First of all, don’t give up, no matter what. Be thick skinned. Be patient. Keep working and learning. But at the same time be selective about the projects you get involved with and the people you work with. Learn how to quickly spot mediocrity. Be yourself and believe in yourself. 

Do you have any future projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m currently developing a psychological drama with the working title ‘Carlitos’. I’m looking forward to being able to return to focusing on this after this period of festivals. I’m also having conversations about a psychological thriller that would be a film adaptation of a novel.

We like to end our interviews with the all-important question – does pineapple belong on pizza?

No.

 

 

CAMFF 2018: Roobha (2017)

Directed by: Lenin M. Sivam
Starring: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Amrit Sandhu, Thenuka Kantharajah, Angela Chrstine
UK Release Date: N/A

Written by Elena Morgan

Roobha (Amrit Sandhu), a trans-woman, struggles to find her place after being ostracized by her family. Her chance encounter with a family man, Anthony (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), leads to a beautiful romance. But their blissful relationship soon comes crashing down for reasons not their own.

Set in the Tamil community in Toronto, Roobha is a romantic story that touches on the complexities of gender identity. At one point Roobha talks about Mata, “the goddess of transgenders”, who was once a princess but when she discovered her husband in women’s clothes instead of coming to her bed, she cut off his penis. Mata is a figure Roobha gets comfort from, along with the idea of the ancient rituals that turned men into women. Roobha wants to undergo gender reassignment surgery but the costs and social pressures are almost too much to bear sometimes.

Roobha finds comfort and sisterhood in fellow sex workers. They look after one another and with them she finds a family to fill the void of her biological family. With her new-found sisters, she meets Mai and David, an elderly couple who own the Chinese restaurant the girls frequently visit. They all call Mai “mum” as she takes care of them. One conversation between Mai and Roobha is heart-warming as Roobha gets the nurturing and understanding mother figure she’s needed.

The scenes where Roobha and Anthony are so soft in every sense of the word. The way they are around one another is so gentle and caring, the lighting is soft and gives them an almost romantic glow. These are two very different people, but they love each other dearly and that love shines off the screen.

It’s wonderful to see how Anthony’s understanding of Roobha and who she is evolves. Anthony is a lot older than her, but he is kind and sensitive. Both Jesuthasan and Sandhu give sensitive and touching performances, because of them you believe that Roobha and Anthony could be a loving and stable couple if there weren’t other factors affecting them both.

Roobha is a unique romantic story that shines a light on the transgender stigma in the South-Asian community. Some people can be accepting, other’s views can change, all the while Roobha is finding her own way and her own community.

Elena’s Verdict

3-5

CAMFF 2018: I Love My Mum (2019)

Directed by: Alberto Sciamma
Starring: Kierston Wareing, Tommy French, Aida Folch
UK Release Date: 30th March 2019

Written by Elena Morgan

After a freak car accident, Ron (Tommy French) and his mother Olga (Kierston Wareing) get trapped in a shipping container and are shipped off to Morocco. They only have the pyjamas they’re wearing and now they have to work together to travel across Europe to get home, attempting to rebuild their rocky relationship as they go.

I Love My Mum is everything you could want about a two very confused Brits, stranded in Europe with no money and no foreign language skills. The situations Olga and Ron get into are farcical and often hilarious as they try to make their way back home.

Olga and Ron act more like feuding siblings than mother and son, with Ron often being the more mature of the two of them as Olga seems like she never really grew up. She’s needy, impulsive and a liar while Ron is sometimes simultaneously a realist and very naïve. Their relationship isn’t a solid one though their circumstance forces them to work together and attempt to communicate properly with one another, with mixed results. It’s both funny and strangely sweet seeing these two people slowly begin to understand one another, and French and Wareing have great and realistic chemistry.

This is Tommy French’s first film and boy does he have pretty perfect comedic timing. Ron is such a normal British lad, the kind of guy so many of us know or regularly seen on the street. He’s the kind of guy who knows some things when it comes to the world at large (when asked by his mother what they are when they’re stranded in Morocco, his guess is economic migrants, she was going for British) but when it comes to love and relationships is pretty clueless.

I Love My Mum is smartly directed and edited, wide shots show Olga and Ron arguing in the middle of busy markets, showing how out of place they truly are, and some of the edits perfectly allow a joke to grow and then come to an abrupt yet brilliant conclusion. The film does slow down a bit towards the end, substituting laughs for some more dramatic moments that don’t always hit the mark, but it’s still a really enjoyable film.

Elena’s Verdict:

4

 

GRIMMFEST 2018: Anna and the Apocalypse

Year: 2018
Directed by: John McPhail
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Marli Siu, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins

Written by Sasha Hornby

“What if High School Musical had zombies?” When Anna and the Apocalypse was first conceived, this was the pitch. 8 years later, this zom-com Christmas musical is taking the film festival world by storm – and met with uproarious laughter and applause as the Grimmfest closing film. Set in the peaceful British town of Little Haven, a global pandemic threatens to derail Christmas. Anna (Ella Hunt), and her friends, John (Malcolm Cumming), Steph (Sarah Swire), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Lisa (Marli Siu), plus ex-boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins), must fight and sing their way to survival.

The film opens (after a wonderfully animated opening credits has run) with Anna, and best friend John, getting a lift to school from her dad, Tony (Mark Benton). Some minimal exposition occurs during this journey; as the trio discuss Anna and John’s plans for post-school – Anna wants to travel the world, John wants to go to art school – the radio plays a news bulletin detailing the flu-like disease doing the deadly rounds.

Even those uninitiated in zombie lore know the story from here. The infected die, and their still-animated corpses single-mindedly seek out living humans for sustenance. Meanwhile, our hapless heroes have to traverse their sleepy town, now teeming with the living dead, to reunite with each other. In this respect, Anna and the Apocalypse has little new to add to the undead canon. The same rules apply – don’t get bit, avoid the hordes, aim for the brain. There is a quaint social-commentary attempted as the zombies are easily distracted by flashing lights, glittering tinsel and vlog-style videos made on a phone. For the most part though, the evolution of living to undead is familiar.

What does stand out is the way the kids navigate the end of the world. We all remember being 17, and thinking we’re all grown up and know everything we need to know. The titular Anna is no exception. She’s tough, and practical. And stubborn. She believes she can still go globetrotting, even in the face of Armageddon. Ella Hunt is the perfect choice for Anna, as she exudes effortless cool in every frame. It’s easy to root for her. She also manages to look bad-ass while wielding a novelty candy cane as a weapon. John is Anna’s polar opposite. He’s a little geeky, unashamedly wears a light-up festive jumper, and definitely doesn’t keep his cool. Malcolm Cumming has impeccable comedy timing, playing bumbling yet adorable fool with aplomb. If he doesn’t go on to become a top talent in British comedy, I will be very surprised.

If you thought the only antagonist in Anna and the Apocalypse was the zombies, you’d be dead wrong. John’s nemesis Nick is the school bad boy, played with delicious delight by Ben Wiggins. Wiggins walks with an unrivalled swagger, clearly relishing his big moment crooning about his zombie-killing skills. The real big bad though is acting head-teacher Savage (Paul Kaye), who so clearly hates children, you have to wonder why he ever became a teacher at all! He is utterly demented, void of any compassion, finding the zombie apocalypse a massive inconvenience to his plans for school domination. Kaye is a scene-stealer, delivering each line with a harsh wit. His descent into nihilism is hammed up to 11, with one particular song standing out for hilariously painting Savage as a cartoon villain.

The soundtrack is chocked full of absolute bangers. It has been 3 days since I saw the film, and I am still humming “Hollywood Endings”. To categorise Anna and the Apocalypse is an impossible task. It has been called “La La Land meets Shaun of the Dead.” I say think Glee, but set in Grange Hill, with more blood. Every song is delightful, many laugh out loud. An entirely inappropriate Christmas serenade, sung like a wicked version of the “Jingle Bells Rock” performance in Mean Girls, had me weeping. Everyone commits so fully to the musical trope of bursting into explanative ditties, or emotion-laden refrains, singing and dancing their hearts out for us on screen, they earn your buy-in.

Anna and the Apocalypse is an absurdly good time, dripping in laconic Scottish humour, with a cast of misfits you can’t help but care about. I recommend everybody make this their festive film treat when it’s released in cinemas on November 30.

Sasha’s Verdict

4-5

LFF 2018: The Hate U Give

Year: 2018
Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Algee Smith
Screening at LFF: 20th & 21st
UK release: 22nd October

Written by Sarah Buddery

If Spike Lees’ BlacKkKlansman was the powerful, resonating and necessary film for adults in 2018, then The Hate U Give is the same in terms of potency but packaged in a way that is accessible to young adults and teens. Beyond that, however, this film has messages and relevancy across the board, and alongside the aforementioned Spike Lee joint, you’d be hard-pushed to find two films more relevant to our times.

Amandla Stenberg (who fans will recognise as Rue from The Hunger Games) absolutely astounds, and a lot is placed on her young shoulders in this film. We spend almost the entirety of the film’s runtime with her, and the nuances in the way she shows the development of her character are mesmerising. She portrays the duality of a girl torn between her “white” school and friends, and her “black” neighbourhood, family, and peers expertly. From the offset, there is the sense of a character caught between worlds, not really feeling sure of what one she belongs in, and this theme of identity is beautifully played throughout. Anchored by Stenberg’s performances, this idea of belonging and identity is something which resonates beyond race, and ensures this film is accessible to a wider audience, particularly it’s teen target audience.

The film takes a little while to settle into its groove, and indeed initially plays out like any other teen movie. Whilst the “slang” and very obvious steer towards a teen audience grated initially, in hindsight it was completely necessary, the earth-shattering events Stenberg’s Starr witnesses are a jarring gut punch into her teen normalcy, and the tone of the film from here on out, is very different.

The Hate U Give is a film which feels consistently, and perhaps horrifyingly relevant, it’s quiet broiling tension and anger eventually exploding in a way that is simultaneously cathartic and a call to action. This is a film which demands a response, and one which perhaps more than anything, encourages young people to use their voice. Throughout, it emphasises that it is having the courage to speak out that is seen to be greater than any act of violence, and the voice is the most powerful weapon you could have.

The final act is absolutely stunning with Stenberg’s performance being at its absolute peak, with emotion and talent beyond her years. It’s an act which is simple, defiant, earned, and incredibly powerful, and it is here that the film truly shines.

The initially uneven tone of the film perhaps lets this down slightly, but this is a film with something to say and it is important that audiences give it the time to listen to it.

SARAH’S RATING:

4