Portobello Film Festival 2010: Roundup

The Portobello Film Festival celebrates its 15th birthday in style this year with its two-and-a-half-week run between 2nd and 19th September. Promising to screen over 600 new films, Portobello makes use of various screening facilities it has at its disposal. Screening classics such as George Lucas’ The Empire Strikes Back (1980) in the Westbourne Studios Bar, family-friendly films like animation Planet 51 (2009) at the Tabernacle and older, off-kilter films such as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) in their pop-up cinema, Portobello is nothing if not eclectic.

The array of films on offer was made evident at the London Film Makers Convention Video Cafe held on 6th September. Opening with Conny Wobbles Dream King – a strange and rather ethereal representation of one rambler’s dream in which he wanders a mountainous landscape – the collection of documentaries and shorts on show embraced the diverse nature of the festival.

Some of the material shown in the café provided an exciting glimpse of the talent living in London. Perhaps the most jovial piece of the evening was Clayton Fussell and Ashley Wing’s three minute OMG, which follows the simple yet satisfying tale of Malcolm who, after sending a text asking for forgiveness, watches with dismay as his phone slowly loses signal. In a desperate attempt to receive a reply he leaves the comfort of his home to try and capture vital reception. Returning home in dismay, he inadvertently ensures he never obtains the reply he so desperately sought. Nicely filmed and ending with some entertaining credits, OMG proved to be a highly enjoyable three minute piece (although not for Malcolm).

One of the more alluring films described in the festival’s brochure was perhaps one of the most disappointing. P. O. E. T. S in a Dead Society’s premise is intriguing; a documentary-style film that interviews artists on their ideas about inspiration and the intrusion of modern society on happiness and creativity. Although it raised some interesting ideas, its lengthiness (it runs a total of 79 minutes) makes its point a laboured one that takes on a rather preachy, and growingly political tone. This, coupled with the poor application of transitions between shots, the shots themselves and some questionable font choices, made the film look a lot more amateur than its subject matter deserves. With aspirational assertions such as “anything and everything around you is your teacher”, it’s a shame that this film’s main lesson was not to watch it again.

The evening saw the submission of some films not listed in the programme. Cricklewood Broadway, as an example, was a darkly humorous tale of despair and misconception. Its structure was slightly laborious due to the confusing aspect of its reveals, whilst it may have also benefited from being told from the viewpoint of the actress the film’s narrator stumbles across. The world she surrounds herself in in Cricklewood Broadway is a sinister one where she feeds off the devotion and love of her man-servant in the vain hope of clinging on to her brief taste of fame.

The evening also provided some more, rather arty shorts. Ben Woodiwiss’ You Look and You Think visually and poetically explores the relationship between the viewer and the characters shown on screen. The film’s narrator offers a simple yet evocative dialogue which challenges the position of the viewer. The boundaries imposed by the cinema screen are interestingly explored, whilst reality is openly questioned and the idea of pretence is vital to the film; the narrator describes how she walks and in turn we see her walk and yet, as she describes, she, as an actress is in fact pretending to walk which, although obvious, was certainly intriguing.

It is important to remember that the festival provides a lot more than the selection reviewed here, and with all of its events being shown for free it is well worth the trip to Westbourne Studios to see what you can discover.

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Naomi Barnwell