Crowds braved the chilly weather for a second night on Friday to watch a series of short films on a big screen in Trafalgar Square, accompanied by pianist Neil Brand. The classic shorts, all set in London, spanned the first 50 years of film history. Meanwhile, on the red carpet in Leicester Square, Kelly Reichert presented her new film Wendy and Lucy, Daniel Mays and director Eran Creevy came for the world premiere of their London drama Shifty, Ari Folman brought his animated doc Waltz With Bashir, and Jean-Stephane Sauvaire brought his Liberia-shot war film Johnny Mad Dog.
A few highlights from the festival yesterday, today and tomorrow...
American Teen ***
Shot and edited like a reality TV show, but clearly partly fictionalised, this lively and very clever film follows a group of Indiana teens through their senior year in high school. It's a little too constructed to really believe (especially since cameras catch things that would be impossible in a true doc), but the characters are vivid and likeable. Their struggles and angst are nothing remotely new, but for them, of course, it's like the end of the world.
Frozen River ****
Melissa Leo gives a wonderfully moving performance in this extremely timely tale of a fractured family on the verge of financial oblivion. As she and her sons get creative about making money, we know trouble is looming, but filmmaker Courtney Hunt has some surprises for us, including an intriguing look at the tension between residents of upstate New York and the Mohawk reservation that sits on either side of the icy US-Canada border.
The story of music pioneer Joe Meek is told in period style, as a madcap 1960s comedy-drama tracing his outrageous rollercoaster career as the guy who produced the first British record to go No 1 in America. The film, directed by actor Nick Moran, had so much energy that it's almost exhausting, but it also keeps us thoroughly entertained with the antics of Joe and his merry band of musicians. And when it all goes horribly wrong, Joe's descent into paranoia is truly terrifying.
The Baader Meinhof Complex *****
The late-60s and early 70s in Germany were extremely turbulent times, mainly due to the activities of activists like Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), and this film expertly follows their tense partnership and rise to prominence, and then the even more virulent group of terrorists who took on their name after they were arrested. The film pulsates with energy and authenticity, packed with gripping dialog and daring escapes while finding present-day parallels that are extremely chilling.