City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015: Documentaries

By Euan Andrews - Posted on 29 June 2015

Imagine Waking Up

With Crystal Moselle's brilliant but disturbing depiction of a uniquely 21st century family grouping The Wolfpack deservedly winning Best Documentary at the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival, there was elsewhere ample choice for cinema-goers looking to appreciate modern factual films. The Documentary strand at EIFF has long been one of the festival's strongest components and this year was no exception, but with occasional reservations and caveats.

While a film like Sherry & The Mystery of Palo Cortado held much potential, particularly when fairly essential human topics of food and drink are so poorly covered in sound and vision, the reality of Jose Luis Lopez-Linares' somewhat drowsy feature made for a snoozy stumble across Spanish chalk soil in search of the secrets of the sherry industry. Various wine producers talked up the importance of sherry to Spanish culture, particularly with linked reference to flamenco music, but ultimately the only knowledge to be imparted was of how the sheer golden nectar being alchemised from dust and earth was, well, important to Spanish culture. While the pretty pictures of mediterranean vineyards basking under blue skies were pleasingly distracting during a traditional Edinburgh June of horizontal rain, there was little here of depth and ultimately this was a film that belonged on a more refined variant on the Food Network.

Other documentaries were of a similarly televisual nature. London-based but Leeds-born and proud film-maker David Nicholas Wilkinson's The First Film held much promise as it staked a claim for Louis Aime Augustine Le Prince shooting the first piece of moving film in the Yorkshire city in October 1888 and pillocks to the Lumiere brothers. But the assertion grew increasingly shaky as the very notion of what constituted a film in this primitive state became a need to be queried and the documentary, while well-intentioned, slowly fell apart in a welter of spurious asides into the creation of Marks and Spencer, the nature of patents and bizarre interjections from screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. The First Film was by no means a bad film but it was in severe need of a re-edit.

For those in need of some Thrill Power, Paul Goodwin's Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD made for a blissfully jolting ramble through the back pages of THE Most Important British Comic EVER. Known to the world as the violent rag which spawned Judge Dredd, any acolyte of 2000AD in the last 38 years of its ongoing existence would have been in near tears of delight as such luminary Script and Art Droids as John Wagner, Kevin O'Neill, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland and the ever-bashful Pat Mills turned up to rant and foam about what amounted to a recent history of British comics. Essential viewing for those in the know, although it may have confused any non-believers.

JP Sniadecki's The Iron Ministry made for a bracing surge of "pure" cinema, an abrasively kinetic cinematograph of a long-distance passenger train thundering through China. Moving from micro-photography of the inner tubes and contours of the machine, through the bloodied animal intestines discarded around a kitchen area and fag butts floating in fetid, waterlogged ashtrays, up to observing the masses of humanity literally crammed on top of themselves in this hurtling cylindrical city, The Iron Ministry made for a jarring evocation of humans stuck as cogs within industrial machinery similar to Lucien Castaing-Taylor's Leviathan.

A more meditatively cinematic experience was a documentary within the excellent Focus On Mexico strand, Eldest Brother. Directed by Maria Dolores Arias Martinez, this short 53-minute film followed the everyday activities within the Tzotsil community in Chiapas and in particular the way religion is sewed irreversibly into this peoples' very way of being. Yet, inevitably, reality is beginning to encroach upon these traditions and rituals, whether it be in the seemingly omnipresent bottles of Coca-Cola used by tired bodies in search of physical balm or in the rural worker's mobile phone ring resembling the cry of a squealing pig. When Manuel Jiminez, the Bankilal or Eldest Brother of the title, pontificated about how when the end of the world was nigh that signs would be all around us that we may not even notice, it was easy to remember these portents of commerce and technology.

One man with little time these days for commerce or technology and the way they bind us to the world is Bill Drummond AKA the one-time KLF pop star, music impresario and The Man Who Burned £1,000,000 In Cash, a fact which it seems even primary school children are taught these days. Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared was part character analysis of Drummond by director Stefan Schwietert and part travelogue following Drummond across the British Isles as he put together his working choir The 17 in order to create a once in a lifetime piece of music that could only be heard by those who had been involved in its inception before being permanently deleted.

As ever with Drummond, this project came across as a combination of situationist prank and serious consideration of how we view art, commerce and even our own inter-relations in a music-saturated world. But Drummond made for enormously genial and inspiring company throughout this excellent film, and the final moments as Drummond appeared on screen to exhort the audience to join him in performing a piece entitled “Pulse” made for perfect cinema which had to be seen in a large room with lots of people around you. Cinema, we got there in the end.