Leeds International Film Festival – Volunteering

LIFF

I love you, Leeds International Film Festival.

This year I had the pleasure of joining the red army of volunteers for the 27th installment of LIFF – this time round it was a two-week-and-one-day-long party celebrating a wide range of fine films.  As well as the obvious joy at the promise of viewing many, many films for free, the experience of meeting some of the many unknown, beautiful and kind faces of Leeds was too much of a draw for me.  If they’ll have me back next year, I have every intention of rejoining the ranks for another few weeks of intensive consuming – my ass won’t thank me for the hours of sedentation, but it’s a small price to pay for free deep-brain stimulation therapy.

I wanted to do a quick run-through of the films I did manage to catch, but will do a separate post for those that seem more relevant to my Context of Practice module (keepin’ tags right, keeps my schoolin’ right).

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

[link to its own post]

Carol Reed’s 1949 thriller, The Third Man

The premise was enough to send me goofy: a film noir mystery set in post-war Vienna, haunted by Orson Welles’ elusive on-screen alias, Harry Lime.  It was a gorgeous film, with enough skewed camera angles to leave even the least engaged viewer feeling unbalanced.  I gave it five, for five was well deserved.

Ask Hasselbalch’s Antboy

This was a pleasantly goofy Danish kid-superhero-kinda film.  The Danish pronunciation of ‘Antboy’ was my favourite thing.  The costumes were great too, in particular, the placing of a Dark Knight rip-off, imitation-Kevlar Ant suit on a round-faced little pre-teen – that made me larf.

Jindrich Polák’s Ikarie XB1

[its own post]

Sci-Fi Fanomenon Shorts Special (list these)

Hiner Saleem’s My Sweet Pepper Land

Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (+ Q&A with director and ‘making of’ documentary)

Unfortunately, I was quite drunk and fell asleep soon after the film started.  The Q&A with Ruggero Deodato was great fun though – he seemed a lively, chatty man, with no qualms about defending the gore in this film.  He said he’d never repeat it again though – the live animal slaughtering and whatnot.  A video of the event.

Fanomenon Anime Day:

Shinkai Makoto’s The Garden of Worlds

Gushy, slushy Shinkai Makoto!  He really loves his melodrama.  The animation was very, very beautiful, but I feel as though this short can be judged only by a moisture detector.  The first short I saw of his was She and Her Cat, and still remains my favourite by a long way.  While the animation was as detailed and the plot as heavily melancholic as the others, it was from the viewpoint of a gorgeously-drawn, plump little cat who is completely in love with his owner.  This slight subversion in what would otherwise have been just another tale of unrequited love gave it so much more self-awareness, and a little humility, which has made it stand out as one of my favourite anime shorts ever, not just those created by Shinkai-san.

Ryōtarō Makihara’s Hal

This was another fairly wet piece of romance.  It did have some fun, subtle future-visions of slightly more developed technology (aside from the humanoid replicants), such as beads that work as memory banks which can be placed onto a projector and replayed instantaneously, but it does stay fairly sober in regards to any other major developments.  The robot(s) concept wasn’t very convincing here – with no real insight into how they are made, powered, or any kind of technical difficulties with the actual machine.  This is difficult to discuss without revealing pivotal plot points and being a big fat spoiler, so I will leave it at that.  Eyes too big, protagonists too gooey, but the secondary characters were more fun, and again, the animation was very impressive.

Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Patema Inverted

I got a burrito instead of watching Steins;Gate.  I do not regret this choice.

Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo

[this gets its own post]

Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira

This marked the climax of the anime day: the 25th anniversary release of Akira was (as expected) superb.

Sean Noonan: A Gambler’s Hand

Some sketches from this ‘live collision of music, film and storytelling‘.  Drawing in the half-light of the Hyde Park Picture House was a challenge, but the dramatic, frantic playing from the string quartet (even the cellist with his sunglasses) was something I wanted to remember.

Gambler

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(I’ll be making some form of forced meatballs later in the week)

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Gambler2

Short Film City: World Animation Award 2

Cargo Cult by Bastien Dubois: Unfortunately I missed this one due to door duties, which – now I’ve seen the trailer – I am displeased about, as the animation looks great!

Guilt by Reda Bertkute: Again, I missed the first snippet of this, and so I thought maybe I had missed out on a pivotal plot point, but I wasn’t too keen on the heavy use of sketchy animation as it felt a little too much like an attempt to distract from the lack of content in the story.  The character was saggingly melancholic, and the scenes of disturbing surrealism worked well to create a sense of growing paranoia, but I wasn’t fully won over.

Punctuwool by Jacob Streilein: I really wasn’t expecting to be so enamoured with this animation at its opening – I felt a growing sense of dread at the premise of another animated short about clouds – but this was a really lovely piece of work from a very talented student at Calarts.  The textures and tonal work that could only really have come from use of traditional drawing techniques gave a warm dimension to the beautiful bounce in Streilein’s character animation.  The concept for the piece felt fresh too – the different emotions played out by the cloud herd were well thought through, and though their shepherd was a bit of an over-actor, the fact that his madness was softened in the end gave him a pleasant human depth.

A City on Fire by Michelle Tsen: The crumpled paper cut out technique was alright – not the best of the set.

Electric Soul by Joni Männistö: This was a gorgeous short.  Very impressive gait on those little LED lights – one of my favourite animated walks ever seen.

Winter Has Come by Zima Prishla: This was my favourite of this set.  The central fox character felt novel and fresh, the lace patterning was tastefully selected, and I loved the fact that their actions were somewhat sinister, but absolutely unopposed.  The oncoming winter cannot be stopped.

The Visitor by George Dechev: This was pretty cool, all full of beautiful young people as it was, and based on a piece of old literature.

The Nether Regions from Wonky: I found this one fairly annoying.  Not even the beloved voice of Brian Blessed was going to save this for me – the jokes were poor and actually surprisingly old.

The Missing Scarf by Eoin Duffy: Very impressive, but I couldn’t get past the infographics aesthetic.  I just felt like someone was selling me something – something old and tired, reimagined for a very contemporary world.

In the Air is Christopher Gray by Felix Massie: I think I had a similar problem with this one, but I thought the title (and opening line of the story) was a beautiful bit of worduse.

Rabbit and Deer by Péter Vácz: This was pretty.

Short Film City: World Animation Award 3

Futon by Yoriko Mizushiri

Ham Story by Ela Liska Chytkova

The Maggot Feeder by Priit Tender

Tap To Retry by Neta Cohen

Whaled Women by Ewa Eihorn and Jeuno JE Kim

Rhino Full Throttle from Kamerapferd

Devil in the Room by Carla Mackinnon

I Love Hooligans by Jan-Dirk Bouw

Subconscious Password by Chris Landreth

Then there was Yuichi Fukuda’s HK: Forbidden Superhero

Finally, Masterpiece: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns from Alexander Gray and Jeff Maynard

Light Night Volunteering – COP Creative Practitioner

From Light Night:

I was posted at Akeelah Bertram‘s installation piece that was exhibited inside the Art Gallery, entitled Vase: an installation of abstract colour and throbbing noise in an otherwise blank room, where participants were welcome to simply sit, and gradually give themselves up to the immersive qualities of the piece.  The title called to mind a mash of mostly forgotten (to me, you understand) theory on the concept of the vessel, particularly in theories of the significance of sculpture, and even more specifically in ceramics.  Watching the visitors to the Gallery enter the room, it was often disappointing to see so many unchanged expressions after a two-minute drop-in and skulk-around.  Yet, much more heartening were the slightly dazed, softer faces of those who resurfaced after having made the choice to take a space on the cold floor, get comfortable, and give themselves bodily to the Vase for more than a few moments.

The nature of Light Night, though, does lend a sense of urgency to each event/piece, so it was understandable that a number of the visitors that night didn’t stick around for very long.  Nevertheless, it was by no means an unpopular piece, and I felt the fact that so many people did stay served to exemplify the powerful hold a constructed, almost virtual, environment can wield on even a passing audience.  In her bio on DIScrit 89Plus, Bertram explains the purpose of her video installations:

‘to make digital video a physical experience. Not 4-D cinema – and most definitely not a hologram. The creation of an experience in which you feel the material of video, like you can the material of sculpture. Making video transcend the optical experience and turning it into a tactile one.’

Her work addresses something intrinsic to our society of escapism-addicts: in bringing this pulsing, digital video into and around the realm of the body, she gives us the opportunity to relinquish our grasp on the world outside this one room and away from the projection.  It seems crucial then, too, that this is not a solitary experience.  The rooms Bertram exhibits in are chosen for their capacity too, and so in a group of anything under 100 people (this was the number I was given when guarding the door at the Leeds Gallery anyway), we can have a collective experience of something we can imagine as akin to digital transcendence.

I thought it was quite an impressive piece, and seeing it just helped solidify the fact that I could benefit from having projections of some kind in my own creative response for COP.  I think the almost-intrusive quality afforded by projected video is too much opportunity to pass up.

Hideaki Anno and Neon Genesis Evangelion

OK, so here, I will attempt to outline why the anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is a heavily influential factor in my Extended Research Project for Context of Practice 3.

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Omono otaku

Firstly, my serious interest in the show feeds on the topic of my essay for Context of Practice 1, ‘Otaku culture in post-war Japan’.  During the course of my research into the key components of otaku culture, Ikari Shinji (NGE’s teenage protagonist) was a near constant presence.  Shinji is a tragic figure, and knows it.  In this character, Hideaki Anno seems to have created the ultimate otaku stereotype: Shinji is lonely, self-involved, sexually frustrated, distant from his father – a victim of his environment.  He is expected to pilot Eva 01, in order to assist NERV‘s attempts to defend the earth against the Angels‘ attacks, but he is usually unwilling to do this, because it is scary.  He has understandable, relatable emotions in the face of this terrifying proposed task:

  • the angels are really, really scary creatures (I will expand on the goodness of this shortly)
  • in order to pilot the Eva, Shinji has to effectively relinquish his conception of his own identity, allowing it to merge with that of the Eva (which, by the way, is inhabited by the soul of his dead mother – oedipal much)
  • the responsibility they put on his shoulders is phenomenally weighty

My interest in otaku culture is has been renewed though this research project, especially when viewing it as a national syndrome which has (at least in part) arisen from a society deeply integrated with technologies that encourage escapism and increasing engagement with virtual reality.  This interview with creator Anno is confusing and seems to beg negation of any in-depth analysis into the meaning of his story.  The Ideas Channel produced this interesting video discussing the relevance of Anno’s opinion on his own creation, which is fantastic:

Either way, I have come to accept the fact that I have no way of getting around Evangelion as a pivotal point of interest in getting this project off the ground.  I wanted to pick apart what exactly about the series (television series  and films – as is often the case in many anime franchises, there is a series, followed by a feature-length reinterpretation of the series, and now a new series of films re-imagining the basic story with new characters and shinier special effects) that strikes such fear into my heart, but still keeps me coming back for more.  I acknowledge that the dramatic music and frantic editing (especially evident in Death and Rebirth) will have had something to do with the adrenaline pumping through my veins as I feed on this hyper-stimulant, but the fact that I can’t quite shake the things I have seen, or the almost-disabling sense of fear I have when recalling certain scenes, led me to believe there is something in the ideas presented that directly attacks something essential to my humanity.

I went on to do some research into Monster Theory – in a way continuing on from the studies into cyborgs and the fear of the Uncanny in my Context of Practice 2 project.  By way of the omnipotent Google, I came by this very interesting publication from Jeremy Jerome Cohen.  I particularly enjoyed his presentation of the ‘Monster’ as a culture’s own exploration – and simultaneous distancing from – their fantasies and desires.  This quote:

‘The habitations of the monsters (Africa, Scandinavia, America, Venus, the Delta Quadrant – whatever land is sufficiently distant to be exoticized) are more than dark regions of uncertain danger: they are also realms of happy fantasy, horizons of liberation.’ (18)

The idea that our fictional monsters are a fairly risk-free method of playing out our risky desires has really lodged itself snugly in my mind.  Applying this theory to Evangelion aids in understanding the appeal of the horror the show brings to me.  To wield enormous power, to become something more than myself, to (eventually) transcend the human form I was born with and connect, wholly, with a collective consciousness – these are fantasies explored in Evangelion, and the baffling, disorientating finale to the television series is an animated approximation of how we might experience these fantasies, were they to ever actually happen.  Cohen’s Monster Culture (Seven Theses) again comes in very useful in wording things right:

‘We distrust and loathe the monster at the same time we envy its freedom, and perhaps its sublime despair.’ (17) 

I watch the Eva entering ‘Berserker Mode‘ and am at once in awe at its unrestrained brutality in tearing the Angel apart, and completely horrified – sickened to my stomach, much like the employees at NERV who can’t seem to take their eyes off the scene unfolding on their observation screens.

As well as the powerfully scary giant robots, the underlying themes in Evangelion can often pose an even more sinister threat to the viewer.  This, I think, boils down to the loss of identity, a kind of death.  Not a particularly new fear, but now repackaged in technophilic terms.  This, I am now joyfully realising in a rather late-in-coming revelation, is the very same kind of idea discussed in some of the essays in Cybersexualities, where the concept of the womb is diabolical in its very biological function as it challenges the commonly accepted Cartesian ‘individual’ – and this is perfectly paralleled when the pilots in Evangelion enter into the belly of their assigned unit, where they are submerged in amniotic fluid which sustains their survival inside.  Their ownership of their own consciousness is sacrificed.  This is scary, and important.

I feel as though there is a great deal to examine in the psychology of the sexual tensions between the characters too.  The pilots are a bunch of hormone-driven teenagers when it boils down to it, but this ties into another aspect of the studies in otaku culture that interest me, which explores the idea that Japan as a nation has strong tendencies toward reticence, and ah, this is a different post.  I’ll come back to this.

I would very much like to dedicate large portions of my time to studying this show as an incredibly effective depiction of the modern, Japanese monster.  I’ve got some work to do.