Review: LEAF 2014

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On the night of June 11th the red carpet was rolled out as Take 2 Cinema hosted the Lancaster University Film Society’s third annual LEAF Festival, a night where students are able to show off their own films to a wider audience. There was an excellent variety in this year’s festival, from comedy and horror to more experimental films. Eight films were screened in total, and whilst no two films were alike, they were all of a very high standard.

Load (Directed by Sandro O’Shvili)

The festival opened with Sandro O’Shvili’s short film Load. In the age of entertainment addiction (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, FIFA, etc.) this comedic film centred around, in the words of the event flyer: “One man. One Console”. That is precisely what it was, displaying how man can zone in on something for extended periods of time and be oblivious to everything outside of that. It also points out how little anyone cares about politics and the real world now the World Cup is on. Clinton Tyson’s energetic performance was complemented greatly by the frenetic drum ’n’ bass soundtrack, which though effective did get a little tiring after a while. Some criticism of the film was for the lack of female characters, with the strongest one being merely a sex object, although to be honest that is far too deep a reading for a film which was essentially a lightweight comedy about gaming. Taken as this, it was pretty effective.

Reviewed by Matt Lines

One Choice (Directed by Will Johnson)                                                                                                              

Perhaps the most ambitious film of the night, One Choice attempted to explore the concept of choice and the implications of the decisions we make. Opening with the lead waking up in a room and then being asked a series of strange questions, there was a brilliant sense of mystery and unease throughout. Disappointingly, One Choice felt held back by its short running time and the concept perhaps required more time to be fully explored. Despite this, One Choice was excellently written and brilliantly shot to include just the right amount of dread whilst leaving the audience in thought as the credits rolled.

Reviewed by Rory Mellon

Two Dancers (Libby Borton)
Arguably the most simplistic film of the festival (but this was absolutely in its favour) was Libby Borton’s animated short Two Dancers. The film opens with a black screen and two Dodgeball-esque commentators discussing how one couple may have to drop out of a dance competition as a member has dropped out; cue the stepping in of a stranger. The film then cuts to the image of two horses made from wire and paper who throughout the film dance to various different genres of music including ballad, and most humorously country. Although not picking up anything at the awards ceremony, I felt that this was the top pick of the films with its universal humour and charming stop animation making it a real treat.

Reviewed Matt Lines

The Devil You Know (Kieran Foster)
Closing the first half of the night was Kieran Foster’s psychological thriller The Devil You Know. The film stars the on-the-night double award-winning Ben Cunliffe in the lead as Joe, a small-scale local criminal who after witnessing a horrific act descends into paranoia. The James Dean style image of Joe, chain-smoking and leather jacket-wearing, is somewhat undermined by the Lancaster backdrop, but this is to the film’s benefit, painting the lead as a man with visions of grandeur much greater than what exists in his life. The fragile mental state of the protagonist is extenuated by the sonic palette of the score, all creaking doors, metallic scratches and toy laser gun fires, whilst the psychosis brings with reminders of Donnie Darko and the recurring appearances of Frank the rabbit. All round the film was a solid attempt at an interesting idea, which had strong visuals although at times it lacked the sharpness of wit to match what it was trying to convey.

Reviewed by Matt Lines

Circle of Fifths (Milda Baginskaite)                                                                                                                                                    

Opening the second half of the festival was what was described on the event programme as an “experimental art film” by Milda Baginskaitė. It began with a biological description of a poisonous flower which we are led to assume the protagonist ingests for her “beautiful death”. Visually the film is stunning, the best of the festival, with a range of settings deployed to give the film a truly elemental feel; hillscape, coastal, urban. Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 soundtracked the film and this complemented fantastically the choreography of Noémie Dower in the lead which seemed to flow with the music. Not only did it hit all the elements, but also it was an incredibly sensual film.

Reviewed by Matt Lines

Whispers in the Winter Garden (Directed by various)                          

A student film that was originally created in June 2013, Whispers in the Winter Garden follows a group of paranormal enthusiasts as they film a documentary in the Morecambe Winter Gardens. James Balfour played a rather kooky presenter, who narrated the documentary expertly. As the film progressed the ghostly activities increased and the tension began to build. Unfortunately Whispers in the Winter Garden ended a little abruptly wasting some of its sizeable potential. The choice of setting was really what kept the audience interested, the Morecambe Winter Gardens being both haunting and beautiful at the same time. If nothing else the audience were treated to a history lesson on the Morecambe Winter Gardens which was enjoyable in itself.

Reviewed by Rory Mellon

The Night and the Liquor Johnboy (Directed by Ben Cunliffe)
There was considerable buzz surrounding The Night and the Liquor Johnboy, directed, written and featuring LU Film Society exec member Ben Cunliffe. The inspiration was clearly the films of Wes Anderson, feeling like an almost tribute to the acclaimed director. Comedy is undeniably hard to pull off but some seriously impressive writing had the audience in stitches throughout. The Night and the Liquor Johnboy was the big winner on the night, taking home both the Judges Award and the Audience Award and being undeniably the fan favourite. Perhaps the only criticism that can be levelled against this film was some rather questionable shot composition. Ralph Ineson plays Johnboy’s Uncle, while second year Erik Apter plays Johnboy himself.

Reviewed by Rory Mellon

Bursting the Bubble (Directed by Clinton Tyson)                                                                                                                                        

More of a concept than a film, Bursting the Bubble closed out the festival. The short feature attempted to explain how we all view the world from our own little bubbles and anything that doesn’t fit within is filtered out. The short piece was narrated by director Clinton Tyson as the audience were shown various short clips to illustrate the points being made. Bursting the Bubble was frustratingly short however; I wanted to hear more and by the end it felt like my metaphorical bubble had only been grazed rather than burst. Overall though, it felt surprisingly well polished and more importantly was hugely impactful on the audience even if it didn’t quite reach its full potential.    

Reviewed by Rory Mellon                                                

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