The Edge of Dreaming & Monsters Are My Picks of EIFF 2010

Another year and another Edinburgh International Film Festival begins to fade from memory as I sling my bag over my shoulder and do my best to turn myself into a silhouette as I walk off into the proverbial cinematic sunset. But before I completely disappear and merge with the shimmering horizon I thought I’d round up the remainder of the highs and lows of my festival experience.

Of the films I’ve covered previously I’d pick Mouth of the Wolf, the Italian documentary as the standout experience and agreeing with me on that one was Hannah McGill, the festival’s artistic director, whom I bumped into shortly after seeing it, saying it was probably her favourite film of the festival. It also strengthens the general feeling that the documentaries this year were the strongest aspect of the festival alongside the retrospective and although there were many good films and dramas, the docs impressed on a consistent basis.

This brings me to my pick of the festival, another documentary The Edge Of Dreaming by local filmmaker Amy Hardie. With a catchy tagline asking ‘Can a dream kill you?’, this very personal film tries to find out if there’s a connection between unconscious sleep and waking reality after a prophetic dream about the death of the film-makers horse came true. Spooked by this incident Hardie becomes increasingly alarmed when another dream prophesised her own death at the age of 48.

Documenting her growing anxiety, the effect it has on her health and the consequences for her family this is a very intimate, atmospheric and occasionally disturbing examination of a person’s mental processes and the struggle to rationalise them. The director feels like she’s trying to explain the inexplicable, something that to her borders on the supernatural which doesn’t sit well with her inclination to see things in rational, logical and scientific terms.

The Edge of Dreaming feels like a film that has crossed some kind of a line touching on a marginally taboo subject in that privately, most people do think about these kinds of experiences, perhaps discussing them with close friends but this film might be helping to slowly crowbar the lid off the subject in a public way. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes onto greater success beyond Edinburgh triggering an avalanche of similarly themed films and heated debates. It certainly provoked a lot of post film discussion by those that saw it and the demand for extra screenings shows there’s a serious thirst for this kind of material.

The film’s all the more remarkable for the fact that Hardie confesses to not being a regular or vivid dreamer and certainly not one given to superstitious thinking or dabbling in the current trend of new age philosophies which many writers and artists are nowadays exploring, trying to give their ideas credence by tying them to recent discoveries in quantum physics. Hence a multi million dollar self help industry in how the mind manipulates matter through the ‘laws of attraction’ and ‘manifesting’ - popular but still controversial subjects that claim to understand and exploit a profound connection between the workings of the inner mind and external waking reality.

Ironically Hardie’s quest to understand her own experience aligns her more with these ideas as she dabbles in what some might call witchcraft when hiring a shamanic healer in an attempt to reverse her body’s failing health. She also eventually concludes after conversations with various scientists that yes, there is a connection between the mind, the body and external reality. So maybe the Force really is with us after all. But what the full extent of it is and what its full nature is isn’t explored here in any detail but I feel it’s perhaps a crack in the dam wall that many more film makers may try to exploit, emboldened by this first step.

It was also the more remarkable for the fact that, myself included, most people I know and meet have admitted to experiencing at least occasionally, profound levels of mysterious synchronicity in their lives or dreams that appear to come true. Therefore to watch The Edge of Dreaming explore a subject I feel already quite open to, only to discover its creator is thoroughly sceptical made me feel frustrated and fascinated in equal measure.

It’s not a cinematic film. The Edge of Dreaming is not concerned with production values (although it does employ impressive animation by artist Cameron Duguid and a wonderful score by local composer Jim Sutherland), but it does manage to be very atmospheric and on a handful of occasions felt like it had an almost Blair Witchy sense of the horror genre thrown in with its video diaries and grainy slow mo solarised dream reconstructions. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it certainly leaves an imprint on the psyche after watching as it forces us to think about our own inner lives.

On an entirely different note I was rather disappointed by the closing gala film Third Star, the directorial debut of Hattie Dalton. The story of a terminally ill young man taking a final trip to his favourite coastal haunt whilst chummed by his closest pals. It was let down by a poor script and at times felt contrived and pretentious. However, in its favour it was nicely lensed in often impressive locations and the last half hour of the story was quite powerful, and as much as it didn’t do it for me overall, it did bring a reluctant tear to my eye.

Honourable mentions must go to a handful of other films. Dagur Kari’s A Good Heart is the overlong, sometimes overstated but otherwise beautifully written, shot and performed character drama starring Brian Cox and Paul Dano (who impressed so much in There Will Be Blood). Cox plays a hilariously foul mouthed misanthropic bar owner with a failing heart who takes in Dano, a homeless but otherwise angelic street urchin under his wing, training him up to take over his business. The film’s enjoyable mainly for its attention to character aided and abetted by a hilarious ensemble cast of misfits: the bar’s regulars who’s pathetic world weary banter, interactions and antics made me giggle often. The film’s shock ending left me cold but a memorable script and great all round performances make this one to see.

Diane Bells’s debut Obseldia is an impressive effort for a first timer – it’s a charming piece that didn’t entirely grab me but I did thoroughly enjoy it all the same. The tale of a lonely isolated Chaplin-esque archiver of obsolete objects makes for a warm breeze of a film that gently washes over you. Essentially it’s a road movie cum romance with plenty to say about opening oneself up to new experiences and the perils of climate change.

I felt it suffered at times from unnecessary exposition and an occasionally didactic tone but it was more than made up for by impressive well shot sequences set in Death Valley in the film’s second half. The main actor Michael Piccirilli (a cross between Guy Pearce and Joseph Gordon Levitt) is well cast in the quirky role and his romantic interest Gaynor Howe has such a watchable face and unique beauty that I hope to see both her and Piccirilli on the big screen again.

Finally, I must mention the wonderful and justly prize-winning sci-fantasy film Monsters, an audacious and precocious debut by writer-director-production designer-cameraman and Fx wizard Gareth Edwards.

This is a really unusual film that on the surface looks like an epic blockbuster, but is actually quite a subtle and strangely beautiful tale of an unlikely romance blossoming between a photo-journalist (an excellent Scoot McNairy) forced to escort his boss’s daughter (Whitney Able) through the ‘infected zone’ that straddles part of Mexico and the Southern USA. This is where a Nasa probe infected with alien life has crashed to Earth (well of course) and the resulting mess has spawned a dangerous alien infestation of giant floating octopus like creatures that wage war with the military, or so it seems at first.

There’s little hints of Aliens, Jurassic Park and District 9 in there mixed up with an Attenborough-ish nature doc but it isn’t really an alien monster action film per se. It’s beautifully shot, scored and has a terrific end sequence set in a gas station at night. With Monsters Edwards has taken every cliché in the book and welded them together to create an immensely enjoyably and quite original hybrid of genres.