The Mancunion

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Manchester Film Festival Opening Gala

The Manchester Film Festival kicks off to a flying start

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After the immense build up to the third year of the Manchester Film Festival, the opening gala certainly lived up to its high expectations. The atmosphere itself was warm and friendly, with filmmakers, journalists, and actors all being photographed and chatting to one another in the same area. After our informal interview about our favourite film stars and cinema snacks — and after filling up our pick’n’mix tubs — Mancunion Science editor Georgie and I headed into the screening room.

The evening consisted of three shorts before the screening of Alfie Boe on the Wheels of a Dream (dir. Lisa Edwards), before the directors of each film came to the front for a brief Q&A.

The first film to be shown was Paul Hendy’s The Last Laugh, a short with only three characters — Eric Morecambe (Bob Golding), Bob Monkhouse (Simon Cartwright), and Tommy Cooper (Damian Williams). The short is as funny as it is dark, the dingy changing room in which it is set is brought to life by the huge personalities of the comedians. In the Q&A, Hendy explains that he wrote the film because he “knew the actors”.

“Once I had those three people I knew… I knew I had the characters and I could film around them.”

He went on to add, in response to a question about whether the gags were original, that although he wrote “some of them”, some also came from the careers of the comedians themselves.

“There’s some famous gags in there, that Tommy did, or the speech where he says about how he used to open his cabaret act, he genuinely used to do that, he used to stay in the dressing room for ten minutes just not saying anything and the people would just laugh, you know, just in anticipation.”

“Some of the other stuff in there I tried to write in the style of comedians.”

Hendy also sung the praises of the actors, describing them as “brilliant”, “disciplined”, and Damien Williams as “the funniest guy [he] know[s]”.

Photo: Manchester Film Festival

Still from Luke Losey’s One Last Dance.  Photo: Manchester Film Festival

The next short film on show was Luke Losey’s One Last Dance. It was a beautiful and moving short, set in a “forgotten seaside town” (Losey’s words to me following the film), and the colour palette truly captured the bittersweet nostalgia which the film conveyed. After the event I asked Losey about a particular scene in the film where the lights dim and flicker, as it contrasted with the realism of the rest of the film. Losey described the “magical realism” of the scene as adding something to the film, creating a detachment from reality. During the Q&A the audience fixated mostly on the plot of the short, and of the parts of the story which we didn’t get to see, but One Last Dance is a short which, in my opinion, is best watched for the cinematography and meaning. It is brief and fleeting for a reason, capturing the nuances of life and the experience of the individual that are often forgotten.

Finally, the much anticipated Taubman is shown. The third in a string of somewhat emotionally draining films, it deals with some very serious subject matters. To explain the plot would be to ruin it, but similarly to the other two shorts it is minimalistic, featuring only two actors (Jack Shepherd and Ian Puleston-Davies) in an entirely white room. It’s sinister and futuristic, and although the very obvious comparison to make of the film would be with Black Mirror, its length and simplicity caused Taubman to feel completely original.

In the Q&A, director Ben Price explains the significance of a certain aspect of the film to his family. The film is deeply related to being Jewish, and what it means to be a Jew or have originated from Jewish ancestors. He also unravels his characterisations, explaining that “you want to hate” Jack Shepherd’s character, but ultimately he’s just “bored” and ends up being a different character than the audience initially thought. Taubman is certainly a sinister watch, but one with a poignant and surprising ending.

Photo: Manchester Film Festival

Alfie Boe on stage. Photo: Manchester Film Festival

Finally, the screening of Alfie Boe on the Wheels of a Dream began, described by a currently unknown source to us as “like David Brent on wheels”. This was certainly apt, Alfie’s hilarious personality was the true centre of the film. His story was also incredibly interesting, documenting his rise to Opera singer stardom, transformation to rock-singer, and eventual move back to the theatre. Boe certainly has an incredible voice, but is clearly a humble and genuine man, as well as being funny and a natural on stage. His Lancastrian upbringing is shown through old home videos and interviews with family, contrasting with Alfie’s very much Americanised life and career. Director Lisa Edwards follows suit, and the Q&A with herself and one of the producers of the film was handled very well. Questions about the purpose of the film, and why they ended it as they did were calmly and confidently answered, sarcastically retorting “really?!” back to an audience member who described them as American. (Both the director and producer had strong American accents).

The opening gala night really did set the precedent for the rest of the weekend, and also proved that the short film selection is as good a quality as that of the feature-length films.

For more information on the festival, please go here.