2014 Festival

All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone, USA, 1930, 136min)

Considered perhaps the seminal reflection of the complex realities of war, BRFF will screen the original film adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel on the centenary of the ‘Great War’. Remarque’s anti-war message was considered so potent that on gaining power, the book was banned and burned by the Nazi’s, and many other countries in fact followed suit, it’s repression remaining for decades. The film’s unflinching exploration of the duplicity, futility, and inevitable brutality of war can still be reconciled with the sentiments of national military cultures today, and though many aspects are inevitably dated it is striking how astutely similarities between our cultures can be felt. It is unsurprising that film reviewers still consistently define it as one of the most powerful and vital war films ever made.


Arna’s Children (Juliano Mer Khamis, Israel/Palestine/Netherlands, 2004, 84min)

This painful yet measured documentary gives the audience an intimate insight into the effect of war, poverty and oppression on those who grow up under its influence. Director Juliano Mer Khamis and his Jewish mother Arna dedicated themselves to teaching and providing a safe space for vulnerable children in Palestine. Years later, Khamis returns to Jenin Refugee Camp to discover the fate of the children he taught. Arna’s Children is a bitter exploration of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the reality of the chronic chaos of responses by those who cannot escape it.


BRFF Competition Strand: Radical Shorts from Around the World

After a hugely successful first year the radical short film session returns, showcasing a range of politically-charged works chosen from the hundreds of films submitted over the previous months. With each film introduced by its director and followed by an audience discussion, this session exhibits some of the best radical short filmmaking from around the world.


Defence of Madrid (Ivor Montagu, UK, 1936, 34min)

Filmmaker, aristocrat and communist, Ivor Montagu was a key figure in British left-wing film culture in the 1930s (as well as Hitchcock’s editor and producer). In 1934 Montagu founded the Progressive Film Institute – responsible for classics such as Hell Unltd (1936) and Peace and Plenty (1939) – and sent a crew to Spain where he produced Defence of Madrid, a fascinating and committed document of Franco’s siege of the city, all proceeds from which were donated to the Republican cause.   


Enemies of the People (Thet Sambath & Rob Lemkin, UK/Cambodia, 2009, 94mins)

Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing was one of the most significant documentaries of 2013. In many ways filmmaker Thet Sambeth set the precedent for Oppenheimer’s film when he returned to Cambodia from exile in 1998. For the next decade he interviewed the executioners of Pol Pot’s supposedly communist Khmer Rouge, which slaughtered nearly one third of Cambodia’s population from 1975-1979. Featuring extraordinarily candid interviews with former Khmer Rouge murderers, many of whom acknowledge their crimes for the first time, Enemies of the People is at once cinematically beautiful, chillingly insightful, and as personal as it is political.


From Tehran to London (Mania Akbari, Iran, 2012, 45min) + Dancing Mania (Roya Akbari, Iran, 2013, 25min), + director Q+A

Since her debut role as the protagonist in Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten Mania Akbari’s own films have dealt with some of the most sensitive topics in the Iranian cultural landscape in a way that is both politically relevant and bravely personal. Her directorial debut, 20 Fingers, consists of several episodes that display varying forms of male and female interaction in a bid to expose the confines of traditional family life in Iran. After being diagnosed with cancer she directed 10 + 4, expanding on the episodic structure of her previous films in a discussion of the complex social situations that arise in the face of mortality. Her 2012 film In my Country Men Have Breasts follows on from these topics, allegorising the personal, bodily scars resulting from a battle against cancer with the scars of a war torn middle east. Despite international acclaim she has never received a license from the Iranian government to make films in her home country. After the arrest of several Iranian filmmakers in 2012 Akbari moved to London. Tonight we are presented with the film she was halfway through shooting when she left Iran, now aptly titled From Tehran to London. This poetic exploration of women’s roles in her home country is paired with Roya Akbari’s Dancing Mania, an insightful analysis that explores the key themes of dance, sexual imagery and death in her sister’s film.


Matewan (John Sayles, USA, 1987, 135min) with introduction from Dr Mark Bould (UWE)

If there is one director who epitomises independent filmmaking in the U.S. it is John Sayles. Based on true events, his film Matewan displays the revolutionary intensity, and potentiality, of narrative cinema. A small town in 1920s West Virginia explodes when newly unionised miners clash with the owners of the tyrannical Stone Mountain coal company. When the mine owners bring in black and Italian labourers to break the strike, union organiser Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper) facilitates the overcoming of racism and prejudice among the workers so that they can organise themselves against the hired thugs of the mining company. With an introduction from Dr Mark Bould, who has written extensively on Sayles’ films, this session aims to reveal a small piece of the much maligned yet rich history of labour struggles in the U.S.


McLibel (Franny Armstrong, UK, 2005, 85min)

Filmed over ten years by ‘no-budget’ director Franny Armstrong, McLibel is the David and Goliath story of two people who fought back against one of the most powerful corporations on the planet. When Helen Morris and Dave Steel criticised McDonald’s business practices, the fast-food chain threatened to sue unless they apologised. Rather than back down, Morris and Steel chose to fight McDonald’s in court, and exposed every aspect of the corporation’s business in one of the biggest PR disasters in history. Funny, moving and inspirational, McLibel is not just about hamburgers. It is about the importance of freedom of speech when multinational corporations are more powerful than countries.


Migrant Solidarity: Tracing Movements Showcase

Tracing Movements is a collaborative audio-visual research project documenting resistance to a Europe which tirelessly attempts to stop, filter, select and control the movement of people across and within its borders. Against the backdrop of yet another capitalist crisis, the rise of the far right, continuing anti-migration rhetoric and the further violent securitisation of E.U. territories, a number of self-organised migrant struggles and solidarity movements have emerged and developed. In this session the activists and filmmakers from Tracing Movements will introduce and showcase a selection of their work, discussing the collaborative mode of production behind it and the importance of challenging borders and other social barriers in the struggle for a better world.


Mourir à Madrid/To Die in Madrid (Frédéric Rossif,France 1963, 85min)

2014 sees the 75th anniversary of the end of the Spanish civil war, when a fragile democracy was allowed to be overturned by the combined forces of European Fascist regimes. Since then, the tragedy and horror of a fratricidal war has loomed large on European consciences. ‘The Spanish Civil War joined the appetites for social justice and for social aesthetics. The doctrinaire and the picturesque. Marx and Hemingway’. Many films have been made about the Spanish Civil War but among the best is the little known To Die in Madrid. It is a compilation film made mostly from archive footage never seen before at the time of the release of the film.


On the Art of War, British première with director Q+A (Luca Bellino and Silvia Luzi, Italy/USA, 2012, 85min)


Provocative, mature and cinematic, Luca Bellino and Silvia Luzi’s award-winning documentary explores the 15-month struggle of militant factory workers in Milan to save their plant from closure. The stakes are raised when the workers occupy and over 8 days in 2009 their fight against the bosses, the police and the union becomes a symbol of the crisis in Italy. Expertly combining the heat of battle with ice-cold political analysis, On the Art of War is both a complex evocation of 21st-century class struggle and an object lesson in how to fight and win.


Our Times (Rākhshan Bani-E’temād, Iran, 2002, 75min) and We Are Half of Iran’s Population (Rakhshān Bani-E’temād, Iran, 2009, 47min)

Rakhshan Bani-E’temad (1954- ) is one of Iran’s premiere female filmmakers. Since beginning her career in the 1970s she has developed a highly distinctive body of work, blending documentary with fiction filmmaking while tackling issues from poverty, criminality and polygamy to women’s oppression and war. Our Times is an inspiring account of the numerous female candidates who ran for the 2002 presidential election. The subsequent film, shot just three months prior to the massive protests that accompanies the 2009 election, shows women confronting the myriad legal, economic and social challenges they face in Iran – and the response they receive when the film is screened to the male presidential candidates. Seldom screened in the UK, these films offer a rare insight into the lives of the actual people living under the Iranian government. This event takes place at the SPAN Centre in Bristol, which supports and empowers single-parents from diverse backgrounds throughout the UK.


Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, USA, 1957, 88min)

Paths of Glory is one of the most powerful anti-war films ever produced. Adapted from a novel based on true events, the film exposes the irrationality & inhumanity of the military machine. Dismissed by the Hollywood intelligentsia, the film was shot on a tiny budget of $1 million. It’s title, from a poem by 18th-century English poet Thomas Gray, is ironic: ‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave’…


Strangers in Good Company (Cynthia Scott, Canada, 1990, 101min)

What is the ‘radical’ in the Bristol Radical Film Festival anyway? This screening reminds us that radical film is not a given and that the term can be readily applied to those films which radicalize our understandings of marginal identities and/or stereotyped groupings.  In recent years, in a cynical  bid to exploit  the economic potential of the west’s aging population, mainstream film production has increasingly focussed its gaze on old age in ways that simply map existing hetero-normative gender imperatives onto the aging body, or which reduce  old age to a problem to be solved. In this context, Cynthia Scott’s award winning Canadian film of 1991 is a highly radical film.  This beautiful docu-fiction employs photo-montage and improvised dialogue to represent the richness of long-lives well-lived and to tell how a group of older people collaborate and survive being stranded in the wilderness.


The Happy Lands (Robert Rae, UK, 2012, 108min) with director Q+A

The final film of this year’s festival is The Happy Lands, Theatre Workshop Scotland’s epic account of the 1926 General Strike, when millions of workers across the country downed tools to fight back against the savage austerity cuts of an earlier Liberal-Conservative government. Created with over 1000 members of the Fife community, The Happy Lands is a triumph of contemporary collaborative filmmaking and an inspirational account of a country on the brink of revolution. Director Robert Rae will be present to discuss the extraordinary process of the film’s creation and the clear parallels with the political situation today.  


The Language of Video-Activism

The way you speak reveals the way you think. The way you shoot discloses the aims to which your film aspires. Narrative matters. It is never innocent. Video-activism has shaped suggestive solutions to expose protests (actions). At times, ad-lib; at times, classic-styled. The Arab Spring, Spanish 15M, Occupy Wall Street… when news reporting becomes radical, it produces a raw narrative. Concha Mateos and Luis Lanchares, academics and political activists from Madrid, and authors of one of the first studies on video-activism in Spain, present and explain video-activism’s way of looking when it is made from the street.


The Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, Soviet Union, 1929, 68min), plus bonus short film, The Bristol Bike Project (Alistair Oldham, UK, 2010, 18 min)

For this event we’ve teamed up with Cycletricity (http://cycletricity.co.uk/) and DJ Spin Thief to present a screening that is truly unique: not only will we be running from a pedal-powered generator, but our screening of the Soviet classic, The Man with a Movie Camera, will be accompanied by a live electronic score… Hosted by Bristol’s not-for-profit community bike café, Roll for the Soul, and featuring a bonus screening of Alastair Oldham’s short film about one of Roll for the Soul’s partners, The Bristol Bike Project, this event is not to be missed.