Can you give us a bit of history on the festival and why Leeds is such a good place to hold it?
Volunteers play a major role in the organisation of Leeds International Film Festival and they are the reason LIFF began in 1987, through the commitment of film fans at the Hyde Park Picture House who gave up their spare time to start what is now the leading public film event in the North. Leeds City Council also contributed significantly to launching LIFF and ever since the event has been organised by the local authority from Leeds Town Hall. The film festival feels ingrained in the cultural life of Leeds - we use all kinds of venues that are some of the City’s favourite buildings and we collaborate closely with our local stakeholders, from community organisations to our growing audience whose annual interactions with us have helped to make the event such a success.
Talk us through the selection process behind the massive range of films that get played over the duration?
The majority of films we consider are submitted to us from around the world, and this year we received over 4000 submissions from more than 100 countries. Then we also research for films that haven’t been submitted to us and that we think would be ideal for the LIFF audience, including films from the past that deserve to be rediscovered. All films are considered by a team of selectors who are experts in the particular areas of programming that we support, such as animation, documentaries, horror film and Far Eastern cinema. We aim to present as rich and diverse a film experience as possible for the audience – only around 2% of annual global film production is screened in UK cinemas and there is so much outstanding work that deserves to be shared.
How have you seen the festival grow and change over the years?
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen since I started as LIFF Director in 1999 has been in the venues we use. The Hyde Park Picture House has always been part of LIFF, but in the late ‘90s the Odeon on the Headrow and the ABC on Vicar Lane were also our leading venues. The Odeon and the ABC had huge screens, they were wonderful parts of the LIFF experience, but they became unsustainable and eventually closed down. Now our other leading venues are Vue at the Light, Everyman and Leeds Town Hall, which we've converted into a giant temporary cinema just for LIFF, restoring the scale of film experience we used to be able to offer with the Odeon and ABC.
What is your personal selection from this year?
For starters it would be: incredible Cannes discovery ‘Son of Saul’, a riveting Hungarian drama about an escape from Auschwitz; extraordinary German heist thriller ‘Victoria’, filmed in a single take over one night in Berlin; and for something totally different, the completely bonkers Japanese action movie ‘Assassination Classroom’ about an un-killable alien teacher who looks like a yellow octopus.
Here is a selection of Leeds Living’s most anticipated screenings at 2015’s Leeds International Film Festival:
Words by Will Ainsley
Big Gold Dream:
Sun 15th Nov, 9pm at Hyde Park Picture House
As Russell Burn, founding member of a brutal, abrasive, vital punk band from Scotland called The Fire Engines, put it, ‘The people who were there in 1977 know what happened, and we’ll always have punk.’ To many (not me...), the notion of a film about a Scottish post-punk scene and the story of two tiny indie labels from Glasgow and Edinburgh doesn’t exactly set their imaginations alight. However, as Grant McPhee’s 10 year labour of love, ���Big Gold Dream’, shows, the influence of the punk scene as a result of indie labels like Fast Product and Postcard Records stretched far beyond Scotland. Though brilliant bands like The Fire Engines and The Scars have fallen into near-obscurity, the other bands that the scene produced are still talked about today - namely the Human League, Orange Juice and The Dead Kennedys. This film is all about the sound of young Scotland and how it changed ‘indie’ music forever.
Mon 16th 7pm at Leeds Town Hall - Victoria Hall
Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s reworking of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, has its rightful place in the canon of truly great, epic Vietnam War films. Starring Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando, Coppola’s masterful depiction of ‘the horror, the horror!’ of Vietnam in the throes of American intervention is possibly unequalled. One can almost feel the gut-wrenching tension and stifling humidity as the story follows Captain Benjamin L. Willard as he and his crew track down the enigmatic Colonel Kurtz, a former Special Forces agent who has gone native and is ruling an out-post in Cambodia as a kind of deity. The film explores the concept of evil and just how far people will go in the pursuit of what they think to be right. To quote a line from the final song in the film (‘The End’ by The Doors) ‘Cmon baby take a chance’ and go watch Apocalypse Now.
Words by Katie Ryrie
Tue 17th Nov, 7pm/Wed 18th Nov, 2pm at Leeds Town Hall - Victoria Hall
Promising an inspiring musical journey from rubbish to riches, Landfill Harmonic is an exciting addition to the LIFF programme. A documentary following the lives of impoverished teachers and students living next door to one of South America’s biggest landfill sites, the film charts how they put together an orchestra using only instruments crafted from the rubbish surrounding their homes. Items such as disused cans, cutlery and string became melody and harmony, and the success of the children and adults made news across the world. Watching the trailer, I was struck by the rich sound produced by a young man’s cello, made from the unlikely combination of an oilcan and a beef tenderiser. Directed by Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley, this beautiful story touches on topical issues such as poverty and waste pollution, aligning them with the transformational power of music, albeit in recycled form.
Words by Daisy Fernandez
Féherlófia: Son of the White Mare:
Sun 15th Nov, 12pm at Everyman Leeds Trinity
You are forbidden from looking up this film on YouTube and dismissing it as ‘too weird.’ It’s strange all right, but it’s an awful lot more than just that. Director Marcell Jankovics has been described as ‘The Walt Disney of Hungary’ before, so if you’re interested in beautifully crafted animation and want to expand your foreign cinema horizons a little further than the world of Studio Ghibli, this would be a good place to start. The film follows Treeshaker, son of a divine horse, on his journey to free a trio of princesses who are held captive by dragons. Drawing from several mythologies but based largely on Hungarian folktale, this visual feast is perfect to be viewed on the big screen.
Words by Becki Ward
Mon 16th Nov, 9pm/Wed 18th Nov, 4:30pm at Leeds Town Hall - Albert Room
Forbidden Films’ by Moeller is a great and rare opportunity for anyone seeking a unique, thought provoking watch. The film explores the controversial issue of whether or not Nazi propaganda films can now, seventy years after the fall of the Nazi regime, be made accessible to the public. In this challenging documentary we are given a glimpse into both the potency of political propaganda and the German experience of the Nazi regime. However, Moeller does not simply provide us with a study of history and media but invites his audience to engage in a rich moral debate, asking questions such as: is it ever okay to release media which incites elitism and prejudice? And if not, might this imply that there remains a fear that history could repeat itself? These exigent ethical debates which Moeller invites the audience to participate in, transform it into an immersive film thoroughly worth watching, as your opinion and, potentially, your conclusions are moulded by those heard in the documentary.