29th Cambridge Film Festival

 Movie Talk is happy to invite our correspondent in Cambridge, Jan Gilbert, to give us the low-down on this year’s Cambridge Film Festival. A veritable feast of Independent Cinema, the CFF may be smaller than the sprawling London Film Festival, but it’s also a lot more intimate, making it another must-see event for film buffs to mark in their calendars. Over to you Jan…

As I sit on a comfy sofa in the bar of the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, sipping cappuccino, with the staff’s eclectic choice of music playing in the background, I’m struck by how lucky we are in this here university city. Well, I say city, but anyone who’s visited Cambridge knows it’s not exactly the sprawling metropolis the word ‘city’ tends to conjure up. But what this former market town lacks in size, it more than makes up for in cultural offerings.

This month’s cultural extravaganza is the Cambridge Film Festival. Micro-budget it may be, but that hasn’t dampened its ambitions during any of its 29 years. With a stack of movies and Q&A events, the difficulty is fitting everything in. Should I choose World War Two tale The Army of Crime, the festival’s opening night feature by Robert Guédiguian, or Dominic Murphy’s White Lightnin’?

Who should win the battle for my attention: Jamie Foxx starrer The Soloist or Atom Egoyan’s 12th feature, Adoration? Will I manage to squeeze in both Jan Dunn’s third film The Calling and Rémi Bezançon’s The First Day of the Rest of Your Life? Decisions, decisions.How to leave enough room for all this and still have time to soak up the buzzing atmosphere of the Picturehouse bar? It’s really one of the joys of this festival as new and established filmmakers share a pint and chat away with cinema aficionados.


© Tom Catchesides

Only the other night, director Jon Amiel (Copycat, Entrapment) experienced first-hand the enthusiasm of Cambridge audiences after a preview of his Darwin biopic, Creation. Forty-five minutes of Q&A time wasn’t enough for fans of the film who spent another hour in the bar enjoying the laid-back filmmaker’s company.

But the Arts Picturehouse screens and bar aren’t the only place to hang out. The festival believes in getting out and about, beyond the four walls of its city centre base. In the past, we’ve had Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey beneath the stars at Cambridge University’s Institute of Astronomy, and F W Murnau’s The Last Laugh with live accompaniment in a Methodist Church.


© Tom Catchesides

This year, in a curtain raiser to the festival, we’ve sung and danced the night away on Grantchester Meadows, along the banks of the River Cam, to the first silent disco screening of Mamma Mia! I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘silent’ and ‘disco’ aren’t words normally found together, but it all worked thanks to headphones and tiny radios tuned into a special ‘Mamma Mia!’ frequency. Technology, hey?


© Tom Catchesides

Continuing the great outdoors theme, we’ve been wrapped in blankets, plied with champagne, and chauffeur punted along the River Cam, all in the dead of night, to watch films on screens set up along the riverbank. Could a cinema event be any more Cambridge?

Back on terra firma, on Cambridge’s oldest shopping street, we’ve been wowed by pianist-composer Neil Brand’s live accompaniment to a Harold Lloyd silent comedy. It’s easy to see why Brand’s become a festival regular.

Tonight I’m returning indoors, though not to the cinema. This time I’m off to Ely Cathedral where the festival’s hosting a BAFTA event during which former Python, actor, author, and professional traveller Michael Palin will be regaling us with tales of his life in pictures. As a friend said to me today, ‘that man’s like a fine wine, he gets better with age’.


© Basil Pao

Tomorrow I’ll be returning to the home of the festival, the Arts Picturehouse cinema. And boy am I looking forward to it as comedians and Cambridge graduates David Mitchell and Robert Webb are in town to screen a sneak peek of the next episode of Peep Show, their hit Channel 4 comedy. And they’ll be doing a Q&A with the show’s brilliant writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. Bliss! Or to misquote Webb’s Peep Show character Jez, ‘Is this a terrible idea? It can’t be. It’s in a film [festival]. They wouldn’t put a terrible idea in a film [festival], they’d get sued.’ Absolutely, Jez.

And with British mockumentary Morris: A Life with Bells On, a selection of animated shorts, Gina Birch’s documentary about her 70s punk band The Raincoats, not to mention the festival’s Surprise Film all still to come, there’s plenty to keep me entertained between now and Sunday evening.

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