Bringing the Underground overground: Underground Cinema Festival 2012

The festival circuit can be the best way for a burgeoning filmmaker to make inroads into the industry. Unfortunately, getting anywhere near a major festival can be a task as tricky as making the film itself. For makers of short and low-budget films, that’s where Underground Cinema comes in.

Yours truly at the Underground Film Festival in Dun Laoghaire

Underground Cinema is a movement dedicated to championing emerging filmmakers. They offer monthly showcases of short Irish films, and their efforts culminated in the third annual Underground Cinema Film Festival, which took place across four days last week in Dun Laoghaire. The festival is a combination of both short and feature-length screenings, workshops and talks. This year’s festival was their most ambitious yet, notes festival director David Byrne. ‘We did about 20 workshops last year and we screened about 70 films. This year we got even more ambitious; we went to over 100 films, and included international films.’

The initial aim of Underground Cinema is to showcase the short films across the country, and then to help get them distributed further afield, to other festivals and arthouse cinemas in Britain and Europe. The ShortWave cinema in East London, for example, screens many of the films that Underground Cinema promotes.

Getting the films screened in this way is the key to getting them picked up for distribution. ‘The filmmakers know how to make films’, explains Byrne, ‘but they don’t know how to sell them.’ The Underground Cinema provides the filmmakers with access to markets they may not have even considered. One beneficiary of such access is Ivan Kavanagh. A guest speaker at this year’s festival, Ivan’s film Tin Can Man screened at last year’s festival, and went on to win a Special Jury Prize at this year’s Dublin International Film Festival. ‘Any festival like this that gives young filmmakers a chance to show their films is a good thing’, says Kavanagh. He also admires the quality of film that can be found at festivals like this one. ‘Because digital technology is so accessible by almost everyone now, pretty cheaply, and because the quality is so good’, maintains Kavanagh, ‘that’s why there are so many filmmakers out there who are making good quality work.’

The quality of films on offer clearly makes an impression on those from further afield on the lookout for independent Irish work. The special guest at this year’s festival was Jack Sargeant, director of the similarly-themed Revelation Film Festival in Perth, Australia. An acclaimed author, columnist and lecturer, Sargeant has been responsible for bringing some successful Irish exports to Australia, including Tin Can Man and Charlie Casanova. Sargeant was in attendance at the festival to host a day-long programme of shorts and discuss his insights on short films and independent filmmaking.

When it comes to the filmmaking process, Sargeant certainly concurs that distribution is the tricky part when getting independent film to an audience. ‘You don’t need anything to make a film except an idea. [If] someone’s got an idea they believe in, they can make it on their phone! Distribution’s the hard thing.’ That said, he feels the festivals are a golden opportunity for young filmmakers. ‘Festivals need films’, says Sargeant. ‘There’s enough film festivals out there, if you’re a young filmmaker, to get your film seen around.’

In between its work in promoting new Irish film, the Underground Cinema festival also takes the opportunity to salute Irish artists of old. This year, the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death was marked by screenings of Nosferatu and Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was introduced by Stoker’s great-grandnephew, the Canadian author and filmmaker Dacre Stoker. Other features shown this year included The Other Side Of Sleep, Rebecca Daly’s hit from earlier this year and Driller Killer, Abel Ferrara’s classic censor-bothering horror. Other features saw their premieres at the festival, including Bing Bailey’s Portrait Of A Zombie, itself an independent Irish production. Despite the difference in budgets and style between these bigger features and the shorts being shown at the festival, they are all linked by one key factor: all their makers wanted to tell a story.

Ivan Kavanagh perhaps describes it best: ‘People love to tell stories, and I don’t think that’s going to change, no matter what the technology or what the changes are.’ Underground Cinema continues the search for these good stories, and makes sure that they are told to as wide an audience as possible.

For further information on the festival and Underground Cinema, visit their website.

Review: Holy Motors (2012)

Director: Leos Carax

*****

(This review was originally published on Ramp.ie)

Holy heck! It’s Holy Motors! The Cannes favourite must be holy, because it feels heaven-sent. Like a bolt from the blue, Leos Carax’s film arrives to inject a healthy dose of idiosyncrasy into your multiplex viewing options. After all, where else can you expect to see a leprechaun-derelict hybrid kidnap Eva Mendes from a cemetery? Or Kylie Minogue channelling Jean Seberg by speaking French with a healthy side order of malaise? It may seem an unlikely candidate for the title of best film of the year but, with just three months to go, Holy Motorsis the film to beat.

Acclaimed French actor Denis Lavant plays monsieur Oscar, but then monsieur Oscar goes on to play many more roles. Oscar is an actor brought from job to job in a stretch limo by his chauffeur Céline (Edith Scob). However, these are acting jobs in the broadest metaphysical sense. He plays a beggar woman, a thuggish hitman, a gangster, a dying man and a caring father, all across the course of a day. He’ll die in one scenario, only to resurrect himself to continue on to the next job, changing make-up and costume in the limo. Initially, you may be left feeling like the boy in the YouTube video on his way home from the dentist, asking ‘Is this real life?!’. Who is Oscar doing this for, and why? Is it for a paying client? For a higher deity (the limo company is called Holy Motors, after all)? Or for himself? The fun is in the ambiguity.

At one point, Oscar is asked why he does what he does, and he replies ‘For the beauty of the act’. There is a beauty to the dexterity of Lavant’s acts, and it may well go unrecognized. The decision by France to submit something perceived as safer than Holy Motors for Academy Award consideration shows how irreverent and different Holy Motors can be. In a wonderful parallel universe, monsieur Oscar would be chasing his namesake, such is Lavant’s dedication as he bares himself both literally and emotionally via his distinct mini-roles. Each is different from the next, and he pulls them all off with aplomb aplenty.

So, what is Leos Carax up to here? Holy Motors looks and sounds like esoteric arthouse, but this is not an oddity just for the sake of it. With each change of character for monsieur Oscar, Holy Motors jumps from genre to genre. After a round of odd tantric sex on a motion capture stage (Can we please give Lavant a role in Avatar 2?), Oscar becomes the cemetery-bothering leprechaun in a wonderfully surrealist segment. Dramas, musicals and gangsters all get their due, but it’s never flippant. Holy Motors is highly reverential. Scorsese and Godard get due nods, but then so do the more contemporary likes of Audiard and Kassovitz. Yet Holy Motors isn’t just enthusiastic about cinema; it’s a big bonkers slice of life in all its forms. People go to work, have sex, eat, die, resurrect. All shapes and sizes make both the world and Holy Motors spin on its lopsided axis. Carax’s clear and giddy enthusiasm is infectious, from odd beginning to glorious entr’acte (Big shout out to all the RL Burnside fans!) to delightful end.

For all its references, Holy Motors is utterly and bafflingly unique. As a celebration of the craft of the actor, it’s unparalleled. As an eccentric mind-bender, it’s a delight. As a sensory cinematic experience, it’s majestic. Carax has said he wants Holy Motors to capture the feeling of being alive. Holy Motors is alive and kicking, singing, dancing, shooting, loving and moving. Forget Cosmopolis; for prime limo-based storytelling, Holy Motors is the model of choice.