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Feature 25th Leeds International Film Festival

As the city’s major film festival reaches a quarter of a century, Nick Rowan investigates the cinematic delectations that are on offer by means of celebration

Feature: 25th Leeds International Film Festival

It’s a fairytale. A young man, a complete unknown, is cast as Heathcliff in a big-screen production of Wuthering Heights. The young man in question is James Howson, from Leeds, and he stars in the Opening Gala showcase at this year’s Leeds International Film Festival, now in its 25th year.

Howson was selected from thousands of hopefuls by director Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank) and local casting director Gail Stevens, whose credits include Trainspotting, The Descent and international blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire. Reports suggest that Stevens and her team had scoured the streets of Yorkshire towns and cities until they found the right man.

Howson’s Heathcliff (originally set to be played by Michael Fassbender) is entangled with Kaya Scodelario’s Cathy Earnshaw. The film is a UK production based on Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel, which has been adapted a number of times, most famously in William Wyler’s 1939 version starring Laurence Olivier.

Having premiered earlier this year at the Venice Film Festival, where Robbie Ryan’s cinematography won the Golden Osella, this is your chance to see if Andrea Arnold can maintain the phenomenal standard she established with her haunting debut Red Road (2006), laced with loneliness and its technological twin the CCTV camera, and more recently a rare portrayal of female adolescence in Fish Tank (2009).

Like Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank and Anton Corbijn’ Control (2007, starring then-unknown Leeds actor Sam Riley), the casting story adds an additional level of intrigue to the film. Will Arnold’s decision be vindicated? You can find out on Thursday 3rd November when the festival opens with Wuthering Heights being shown in the Town Hall.

 

The Special Events, such as the Opening and Closing Galas and the horror movie marathons, the Day of the Dead and Night of the Dead, are only a small part of what LIFF25 has to offer. The Official Selection contains 12 films competing for the Golden Owl Competition. Emerging directors are featured in the Open Wings category whilst the Retrospective Selection centres on Magyar Masterpieces and the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Perhaps the key to the ongoing success of the festival is combining a wide breadth of sources with a keen eye for innovation. Selections taken from recent years include the sublime Persepolis (2007), Lukas Moodysson’s Together (2000) and an animated retelling of the first Israeli/Lebanon war, Waltz With Bashir (2008). These are just some of the films that we know about, and the real magic of the festival is uncovering a film that you never even knew existed but remains with you.

From recent programmes, that could have been a hit such as the 2009 Opening Gala, Jane Campion’s Bright Star or 2010’s The King’s Speech, through to spellbinding foreign documentaries like 2005’s Toro Negro, which followed a washed-up Mexican bullfighter with all-manner of personality flaws. The scope this year is as broad as ever and is a credit to the festival programmers, headed by festival director Chris Fell.

 

Beyond the Official Selection, there is the Fanomenon horror selection, the comics and animation convention Thought Bubble, the documentary showcase Cinema Versa, Cherry Kino which is the home of experimental cinema, and perhaps the hidden jewel of the festival, Short Film City.

Short film as an art form is often a difficult sell. Other film festivals such as Bradford’s have often prefixed feature length films with a short, but LIFF has used a competition format to great effect, combining multiple shorts together in categories such as British, International, Animated and critically Yorkshire – the festival helps to promote local talent and not just those that have progressed on to a big-budget production.

This year’s crop includes Long Distance Information in the British Short Film Competition, which stars Peter Mullan. Mullan also starred in Paddy Considine’s striking debut short, Dog Altogether, which premiered at LIFF in 2007 and has recently been expanded in to the feature-length Tyrannosaur. Although one benefit of the format is that you’re not obliged to watch a single idea play out for two hours, the most surprising element is how frequently the shorter length and a tiny budget produces more ingenuity and better entertainment than a $200m Hollywood juggernaut.

The International Short Film Competition frequently throws up utterly mesmerising offer

Posted on Thursday 20th October 2011

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