Category Archives: East End Film Festival

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Sink – Review

When people think of dramas centred around the working class in Britain, you think of EastEnders, gangster flicks, or kitchen sink dramas. The varying interpretations of working class people on TV and film range from gritty and naturalistic, to stylized and extreme. With new film Sink, director Mark Gillis takes his drama back to the more natural, if darker side of the spectrum.

Focusing on one man, with morals and a good work ethic who finds himself on the wrong side of the system. For Sink, writer/director Gillis has delivered a thought-provoking, raw debut feature. Featuring a strong lead performance from Martin Herdman.

Micky (Herdman), is a down on his luck industrial worker, who struggles to get by after being made redundant. His situation is made worse when his ailing father cannot stay in the care home he has lived in. With the two of them forced into Micky’s small flat and with work scarce, Micky tries to get by while still looking after his father Sam (Ian Hogg), and in recovery son Jason (Josh Herdman). With the system, and, at times, bad luck making things harder, Micky turns to other options to support his family.

Written and directed by Mark Gillis in his feature film debut. Gillis is better known for his smaller acting roles on British TV and film. Previously he directed short A Quiet Drink before moving into features.

The film acts to simply follow in its subject tale. We meet Micky as his life becomes all the more difficult. Finding work, taking care of his father and supporting his son build more and more pressure. The film shows at every turn that our system can act as punishment to those who need help. Despite clearly wanting full time work, the industrial workforce has disappeared and Micky is a casualty.

Viewers will feel frustration wanting the films lead to catch a break. Once he succumbs to bad decisions, the film turns into a tense waiting game to see if he will pay for his choices. Alternatively, can the character live with himself if there are no consequences?

What the film and story does so well is question, and indeed display, that good morals and a strong work ethic are not always enough to survive. When immoral decisions are not only your last options, but prove more successful, what does this say about our system?

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This is not all doom and gloom though, with the film displaying characters inside and out the system that help. The friendly neighbour, the job centre worker that cares or the teenagers that assist a lost man.

The obvious comparison will be the works of Ken Loach. The social realism dramas of his early years right up to I, Daniel Blake. He portrays the lives and struggle of working people in Britain with a gritty and natural eye. Handheld camera, diegetic sound and a constant scenic reminder of its London setting. At times, the film can feel a little heavy handed but it finds its feet quickly.

Leading the film with a natural performance is Herdman. He plays Micky as moral, strong but slowly cracking under the pressures of his world. He is supported by a strong cast who all aid or hinder Micky’s journey, including the actor’s own son as Jason.

A simple yet heartfelt and honest look at the current state of English working class population. The performances and natural tones make Gillis a director to look out for.

Sink is out in cinemas Friday!

East End Film Festival Highlights: Punk Voyage – Review

From This is Spinal Tap to Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars, there have been many prominent band documentaries made over the years.. Yet it is safe to say that there has not been one quite like this before. Punk Voyage follows the last few years of Finnish Punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat. The band, which has members all with mental disabilities, gained recognition in their home country, before touring internationally. Despite often gaining attention due to the disabilities of its members, the film is a brilliant demonstration of the typical tensions, creative differences, and experiences of a musical groups dynamics.

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Following the band a few years into their musical career. Lead vocalist and writer Kari is no longer happy and aims to quit the band. When the opportunity to represent Finland in The Eurovision Song Contest comes up, will Kari change his mind? Will their new challenge bring the band back together, or drive them further apart?

The film is in fact a sequel to the acclaimed documentary The Punk Syndrome. In the original, we watched as the four men join together, through love of music, to form the band. Both film makers Jukka Karkkainen and Jani-Petteri Passi returned to follow the band as they continued their journey on the road.

Punk Voyage is typical enough in its subjects issues. We join the band as tensions have begun to arise. Creative differences and personal issues have driven the band apart, making the members question if they should continue. With their profile on the rise the opportunity to represent Finland at Eurovision is a big opportunity. As the competition gets ever closer, the audience is left to wonders if the band will last that long.

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What really stands out about the film, and indeed drives it, is the opposing personalities of the band; temperamental Kari, reserved Pertti, peace keeper Sami and sweet, naive Toni. The film follows as each members experiences new things such as love rivals, moving away from home and losing friends. All are shown as the band progresses towards the Contest.

The film also gives audiences a behind the scenes view of the worlds campest (and strangest) musical event. Surrounded by other bands and with the cameras always rolling, the film covers a large event in an intimate way.

The style of the film is simple fly on the wall. The camera observes it subjects but never questions or intervenes. We watch the highs and lows of band life and the audience is drawn into the bands most intense moments. This story is small but handled with care and consideration.

This may not be as intriguing for those with no knowledge of the band. But this effective observer documentary normalises the experiences of disability and follows an interesting act.

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East End Film Festival Highlights: Pili – Review

The issues that face the third world as well as the struggles of women, particularly women of colour, are subjects that are beginning to be explored in film. Instead of just the white saviour narratives, with ethnic secondary background players, central characters are becoming more diverse than ever before.

In a time of great change the film Pili is a welcome project. Written and directed by women as well as featuring a young Tanzanian in the central role. The film is a small but poignant story about a woman’s struggle to escape the hardships of her world.

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Pili is a woman living in rural Africa. In her poverty stricken village,  she has to take care of  her two young children alone, while also walking miles to her low paid farming job. She dreams of renting a small kiosk and providing a better future for her children. When a kiosk becomes available, she aims to gather the money that will secure her future. Along the way her health, well-being and strength are tested, but can she persevere?

The film is the feature debut from Leanne Welham, who had previously directed shorts, and the film is co-written with Sophie Harman. The project is indeed unique in that only one trained actor was used for the production, the remainder of the cast are Tanzanian locals.

The screenplay contains the stories of the female participants and 70% of the cast are HIV Positive. All the locations within the film are real, including the scenes set inside clinics aiding its authenticity.

Pili is first and foremost a simple story. It follows the trail of one women and the obstacles her everyday life faces. Through her we see a harsh criticism of third world conditions, healthcare, and the treatment of women. Slowly elements of her character and life are revealed and begin to unravel through circumstance. Pili comes up against the elders of her community, financial plight and even the vulnerability of womanhood. The film also beautifully covers the still taboo issue of HIV. In a continent torn apart by the virus, it is still a mark of shame and stigma which the characters must face head on.

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The cinematography of the piece is brilliantly done; wider scenic shots show the natural beauty of Tanzania while scenes inside Pili’s home emphasise her isolation. There is also a constant intimacy to Pili with close-ups on its leads face and eyes.

The film boosts an impressive cast, led by newcomer Bello Rashid as Pili. Her ground performance fuels the film and audiences will marvel at her resilience and sympathise with her struggles. Able to portray strength and vulnerability in equal measure, every scene reveals more about her and her character.

A heartfelt story of a woman in the cycle of poverty. Atmospheric and emotional, the film explores larger themes of destitution and vulnerability through a simple, intimate narrative. An impressive debut by director, screenwriter, and its phenomenal lead actress.

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East End Film Festival: Another News Story – Review

by Kirsty Jones

Having to undertake a journey seeking refuge over 2,000 miles away is a horrifying prospect. Unfortunately, for those living in war-torn countries, fleeing can be the only, desperate option to escape becoming a fatality of conflict. We’ve been afforded insight into such migrations thanks to the reporters and documentarians who are willing to face the disturbing reality in person. Orban Wallace is one of those documentarians and with Another News Story he shares all the key events from an incoming influx of Syrian Refugees to Europe. What makes Wallace’s debut feature so unique is that it’s focus is widened to include the journalists that are following the story and reporting back.

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There’s an unease amongst some the reporters when the camera is turned on them; this isn’t misplaced – I wouldn’t want to be shown running towards a landed boat of refugees, not with aid but with a camera. And it’s the addition of these bodies, these camera-wielding figures, that add to the heartbreak felt while watching. Having seen countless news reports of refugees risking their lives to reach the shores of another country, you feel helpless, a feeling that is reinforced by the cameras’ tight focus on those people – they’re on their own isolated by circumstance and at the mercy of the elements and sometimes law enforcement. But in this wider picture, you realise they’re not on their own; they’re surrounded by people. The catch is, those people are there to capture footage of their struggle, not help them through it. Personally, I just can’t imagine running to take a picture of a crying child, especially when that child hasn’t eaten for two days, has lost a parent and sibling, and doesn’t understand what is happening. This is the job of the foreign correspondent; which requires a certain amount of detachment to stay sane. However, phrases such as ‘OK, that’s a wrap, let’s get some dinner’ appear abhorrent against the backdrop of a refugee camp.

While in the opening sequences of the film, there’s a distinct whiff of exploitation; the refugees aren’t completely oblivious to what the presence of reporters means. Those who give interviews know they’ll end up on international news, and they’re happy to share their stories, wanting it to be seen by westerners who might sympathise with their situation. However, as they get closer to their destination, there’s a realisation that their presence is on every political agenda and worse, there is no control over how they are represented to the masses.

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Being completely blindsided by the message put across through the filmmaking, it’s difficult to look at this film with a critical eye. I will put that down to Wallace’s skill; my focus remains where the filmmaker wants it to be throughout. Impeccable sound design only adds to the films’ credibility and the editing successfully pulls together a gripping juxtaposition of characters from each side of the camera. Despite the upsetting subject, there’s a warmth in Wallace’s filmmaking, sometimes with reporters but certainly with the refugees, which is surely down to Wallace’s approach. He shares extremely difficult parts of the trek; something no other reporter seems prepared to do, and with that, shows solidarity with the people he’s become acquainted with.

The story of a refugee should never become less shocking. However, as this film reflects, we the viewers are quick to lose interest, or worse, put judgement and blame on the faces we see on screen. Those desperate to feel an ounce of the security we sit in, in our minds, become the villains and terrorists who are out to exploit us or hurt us. The truth that Another News Story reveals, is that the reporters are there to feed our hunger for headlines, when we’re tired of this crisis, they’ll be on the road to the next.

Another News Story is out at East End Film Festival on 22nd April! 

East End Film Festival: Blue My Mind – Review

Adolescence is a tricky time. It is one shrouded in nightmarish hormonal changes that rage within us. Hair sprouts from every crevice, even ones you didn’t know existed. There’s all these smells that your body produces much to the ire of those around you. Emotions twirl and dip and glide, causing you to transcend different personalities all in the same day. What’s worse is that it is the time of your life where the world is throwing all kinds of social and adult pressures at you, demanding that you decide on your future now, now, now.

Now imagine your body just goes bat-shit insane, that’s the plot of incredible drama Blue My Mind.

Directed by Lisa Brühlmann, the film revolves around a young girl named Mia who has just moved to a brand new part of town. With her mother being over-bearing and her father not understanding, Mia struggles to fit into the students at school. When she is drawn to an outrageous group of girls who drink, smoke, and do drugs, Mia unexpectedly finding a close-knit of friends. However, after her first period, she starts to experience bizarre and strange changes. As she tries to keep her cool and new popularity, can Mia also keep her disfigurement a secret?

Luna Welder is an entrancing lead in this mysterious and poignant piece that studies teenage changes within the umbrella of magical realism. The lead takes charge in Brühlmann’s work as she tries to battle against the world around her as well as the rage within her. As extreme urges compel her to do weird things, she is battered by her sexuality, the need to strive in an adolescent world, as well as the pressure put upon her my her parents. It culminates in a terrific performance that leads an engrossing story.

What I am most obsessed with in this film is the colouring. Blue is, indeed, the warmest colour here as cinematographer Gabriel Lobo enhances the sea-like hues around Mia as she explores this brand new world of emotions. The piece is deep with aquamarines and turquoises that add a certain depth to the colouring. It is a completely beautiful watch.

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Though the film falls into teenage drama pitfall (seriously, who has this much alcohol and drugs when they are like 15?) Blue My Mind swims into a different conversation. There are interesting character decisions here that do differ from the norm (for example, the mean girl/leader of the girl tribe isn’t the horrible bully that you’d expect and eventually becomes the best person for Mia.) Feeling like a combination of Raw and Thirteen, this movie is such a beguiling film that will take you to the depths of adolescence and growing up.

Blue My Mind plays at East End Film Festival on 21st April

East End Film Festival: Waiting for You – Review

Charles Garrad’s Waiting for You seems to tick all boxes. A good dose of Indie cinema; Merlin no less as the front man with a mysterious French twist and a dash of summer romance promised. Albeit, after viewing, Waiting for You, it seems that we are still waiting for the narrative to truly take off.

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Part of this year’s highly esteemed London East End Film Festival, this tale starts with the death of Paul’s (Colin Morgan) father, as he reveals a confusing, yet intriguing clue to his former life in Army that his son and indeed his wife never knew about. Becoming obsessed with his father’s last utterance, much to his mother’s dislike with her late father’s past; Paul goes full Sherlock (Cumberbatch still takes Gold) after finding an old photo and follows other prompts that lead him to a rather stunning house in the middle of nowhere in the sunny French countryside. Using his own past to unlock his fathers, Paul poses as an architecture student, sweet talking the gardener into approaching the Lady of the manor to ask if he could see the house that is so deeply rooted in the story of his newly found secrets.

After some more sweet talking he finally gets to see the house, being careful not to get in the way of the very private and shadowy owner, pianist Madeleine (Fancy Ardant). When it’s revealed as to who she is and how she is connected to Paul’s exploration the slight mystery lingering in the air to this ticks over nicely. As we follow Paul on his journey, Morgan portrays a man with a mission as well as one who needs a dose of romance whilst escaping the rigmarole of life at home. Lead actor Morgan holds his own without magic and a dragon, but in no way does this push him. His big eyes and awkward mannerisms gel with his rather unsure of everything Paul, and there is sure to be an ‘awww’ sound throughout the theatre when you see him desperately try and chat to the confident and pretty Sylvia (Audrey Bastien) where he is staying.

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With this being a short and sweet 92 minutes, our writers get us straight down to business although it takes a good hour before anything actual comes of Paul’s snooping around. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a slow burner, yet Waiting for You presents itself in a rather unnecessary convoluted way. A tad more urgency would have done wonders here, and would have perhaps diluted the fact that you can’t stop thinking about a nice, crisp glass of wine in the French sun rather than the story at hand.

Above all else, Waiting for You offers an enticing story, which has something missing at its core. Expect to left wanting this one to reach a juicy conclusion

Waiting for You screens at East End Film Festival on Saturday 21st April