Tag Archives: documentary

BFFS at the ICO Screening Days April 2014

This Spring’s ICO Screening Days are once again taking place at the BFI Southbank. Over three days, April 5-7, 25 films will be previewed exclusively to those working or volunteering in film exhibition. As ever BFFS will be there for the weekend with 4 films coming to the BFFS Booking Scheme on show. We will also be on hand to answer questions about BFFS and the community cinema sector.

To find out more about the Screening Days click here.

Here’s a look at the Booking Scheme films that will be previewing over the weekend:

Wakolda (BFFS Pick) | Lucia Puenzo | 2013 | Argentina, France, Spain, Norway | 93 mins

Based on the director’s own novel, Wakolda tells a sinister story of a doctor who arrives at a small town in Patagonia. Though a charming, confident and generous man, Helmut Gregor, quickly arises suspicions. He arrives in the town alongside a new family who are undertaking ownership of a lakeside hotel. Gregor moves into the hotel while he finds a permanent accommodation and makes arrangements for his wife to join him. That his wife is never mentioned again is the first point of unease but its Gregor’s devoted interest in Lilith, the family’s young daughter, that raises her father’s suspicions. Since she was born prematurely Lilith has suffered a growth deficiency and is chastised at school for being a dwarf. Gregor plays on this humiliation to convince the family to let him treat her but her father, Enzo, is less convinced of Gregor’s earnest desires to help. His subsequent investigation reveals that Gregor is not at all who he appears to be.

Of Horses And Men | Benedikt Erlingsson | 2013 | Iceland | Germany | 81 mins


A series of interconnected stories within a rural Icelandic village, this magical realist film focuses on the relationships between the villagers and their horses, whom they rely on for work, transport and even friendship. In one story a man rides his horse out into the ocean to rendezvous with a Russian ship carrying vodka, but miscommunication promises an unexpected end. In another story a tourist is mesmerised by the  landscape and sets off to explore but gets stuck in a snow drift. Making the most of Iceland’s stunning countryside and marked by a delightfully idiosyncratic sense of humour, Of Horses and Men possesses a fable-like quality and is a loving ode to man and beast.

A Thousand Times Good Night | Erik Poppe | 2013 | Norway, Ireland, Sweden | 117 mins

Juliette Binoche gives an outstanding performance in this drama about a war photojournalist, Rebecca, who, after another near-death encounter, finds her husband is no longer willing to support her dangerous career. Reluctantly she gives in to her husband’s and her children’s concerns and agrees to accept a ‘safe’ assignment to a refugee camp. Her daughter joins her on the trip in order to learn more about humanitarian work. Not long after they arrive however soldiers move into the camp and Rebecca is faced with the agonising choice between keeping her daughter safe and documenting the atrocities being committed.

Based significantly on Poppe’s own experiences as a photojournalist, A Thousand Times Good Night is a powerful drama analysing the moral dilemmas such journalists face.

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon | Mike Myers | 2014 | USA | 84 mins

Mike Myers’ directorial debut is an honest, immersive and lively account of the life and times of Shep Gordon, the influential manager of bands such as Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd, inventor of the celebrity chef, film producer and dedicated Buddhist; friend to the Dalai Lama.

Gordon became legendary in show business for both his wild antics and his extraordinary generosity; his only mantra as a manager was to ensure the band got paid which, in an industry usually marked by greed set him apart as a bit of an outsider. But Gordon was equally famous for his inventive publicity ideas – in one famous instance he arranged for a lorry advertising an Alice Cooper gig, which had been selling poorly, to ‘break down’ on the Piccadilly Circus roundabout. Though the driver was eventually arrested the ensuing 15 mile traffic jam raised enough attention that the gig sold out the following day.
Myers befriended Gordon while fighting over music rights for Wayne’s World and his close friendship ensures that Gordon is completely open to Myers’ questions. Unafraid to delve into sordid details or shocking anecdotes the wild life of Shep Gordon is told in illuminating interviews from both Gordon and his many associates including Michael Douglas and Alice Cooper.

Coming Soon – Fire in the Blood & How to Survive A Plague

In March two new documentaries focusing on the AIDS epidemic from very different angles will be joining the BFFS Booking Scheme courtesy of Network Releasing. The first, Fire in the Blood, addresses the culpability of western governments and pharmaceutical companies in preventing cheap AIDS medicines from reaching those suffering from the disease in poorer countries. The second, How to Survive a Plague, charts the work of two US based protest groups who tackled political and social prejudices against AIDS sufferers and successfully fought to change government policy and to lower the prices of vital drugs. Continue reading

A Man Vanishes

Just in: A Man Vanishes

New to the scheme from Eureka! Entertainment is one of the most remarkable documentaries ever made. Preceding films such as F For Fake and Close Up A Man Vanishes is an extraordinary attempt at undermining the very concept of documentary filmmaking. Starting out as a search for a missing man Imamura’s classic film quickly becomes something far more mysterious. Continue reading

Epic of Everest exclusive interview!

You don’t have to be an expert on mountaineering to know that Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first men to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain sixty years ago; it’s one of those amazing human achievements, like the moon landing, that everyone remembers. Since 1953 many others have succeeded in climbing the peak, including both Norgay’s and Hillary’s sons (Peter Hillary climbed Everest in 1990, Jamling Tenzing Norgay followed in his father’s footsteps in 1996). However the 1953 expedition certainly wasn’t the first time mountaineers had attempted to reach the summit, British mountaineers had been attempting the climb for 40 years before Hillary and Norgay’s success. In 1922 the very first British Mount Everest expedition attempted the ascent following a reconnaissance mission the preceding year (when British mountaineer George Mallory became the first European to set foot on Mount Everest’s slopes). Two years later a second British expedition was launched to attempt the first complete ascent, with tragic consequences.

The first two summit attempts in 1924, though unsuccessful, resulted in a world altitude record of 8,570 metres for British army officer Edward Norton. On a third attempt to reach the summit, mountaineers George Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine disappeared on the North-East ridge and the expedition was subsequently abandoned. Mallory and Irvine were last seen about 800 vertical feet (245m) from the summit, giving rise to the question: did they ever reach it? Mallory’s body was found in 1999, Irvine’s body, along with their camera, remains undiscovered.What is quite extraordinary is that this expedition was filmed, shot by mountaineer and filmmaker John Noel, who had fallen in love with mountains during his childhood in Switzerland. The original footage of this incredible, tragic story, one of the first ever films showing life in Tibet, has now been given a complete restoration by the BFI and features a specially commissioned score by Simon Fisher Turner, who also composed the distinctive soundtrack for The Great White Silence (1924).

The Epic of Everest, featuring three special introductions, will be available to BFFS members and associates to book from the BFI on DVD or Blu-ray at the special rate of £65 + VAT from the 1st January. To qualify for the offer bookings will need to be made by the end of March, though the screening can take place after that time! The BFI have also kindly allowed BFFS members and associates access to special marketing and educational resources including poster artwork, a selection of stills and programme notes. For further information on these, as well as your Member Offer code, please email rich.bffs@gmail.com

To book the film, please email bookings.films@bfi.org.uk or phone 020 7957 8935 with your Member Offer code.

In celebration of the release of The Epic of Everest and our special Member Offer, BFFS Managing Director Deborah Parker spoke to the director of the Kendal Mountain Festival, the UK’s biggest celebration of mountain film, about the significance of both the climb and the film.

Robin, what is it about mountains that fuels this desire to explore and conquer?

The attraction to mountains and mountaineering is, I suspect, quite a personal thing.

For me it’s very much about their stark, clean beauty; a place which in its best light, is beyond the mundane, an environment with an otherworldly feel with an almost spiritual context. And it’s certainly about being able to explore them, to see something new and to gain an understanding of a fascinating topography.

Conquest has no place (for me at least) in mountaineering. Yes, there is a degree of competition, but that is with oneself, trying to stretch yourself, to realise your athletic and intellectual potential. I’ve never felt a sense of conquest on a mountain, rather that I’ve been fortunate to get to a summit and just hope that my luck holds, so I can enjoy a beer at the bottom.

What impact did the 1924 expedition have on mountaineering?

Well it set back mountaineering on Everest for a decade.

I’m afraid some expedition members offended the Tibetan government by removing geological samples and by taking back a troupe of Tibetan dancers to perform in London. As a result no further attempts were allowed till 1933 after ‘political bridges’ were re-built.


The big focus from 1924 was obviously the loss of Mallory and Irvine and the way this was mythologised by Post WW1 Britain – and the ongoing obsession with whether, or not they reached the summit. Their loss cemented the view that Everest was very much a British – and Imperial – project set in a heroic mould. This would have a major effect on events around the mountain in the 1950s and the first ascent.

However, Mallory and Irvine’s demise did greatly detract from Edward Norton’s amazing attempt – when he set a height record which would last until the Swiss attempt on Everest’s South East Ridge in 1952. It’s interesting that none of the arguably better informed and equipped expeditions in the 1930s bettered his record. It’s a shame he isn’t more widely recognised.

The element of national prestige associated with Everest and Britain did accelerate the interest of other nations in the highest Himalayan mountains (what we’d now call the 8000m peaks), most notably the German connection with Nanga Parbat, the French with Annapurna, and the US and Italians with K2. Although this would take a number of years to fully emerge.

In a wider mountaineering context, Everest was often seen as a bit of a distraction – even a nuisance – by other mountaineers. Yes there was the undoubted appeal of climbing the world’s highest summit, but high-altitude mountaineering really doesn’t reflect the sporting joy of simpler climbing on lower peaks. This frustration was undoubtedly felt by Eric Shipton – who while well known for his Everest expeditions in the 1930s preferred low key trips such as his exploration of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.

All the blame for the fact British alpinists lost the pre-eminence they’d enjoyed before WWI shouldn’t be attributed to our focus on Everest, but it was certainly a major factor.

It is thought that Mallory and Irvine may have reached the summit – what are your thoughts?


Possible, but highly improbable.

It remains a hotly debated topic and there’s a lot nonsense brought into the debate, but for me the key reason why they couldn’t have reached the summit is that they simply wouldn’t have had enough to drink.

The whole science around acclimatisation was only just emerging in 1924. Yes, they thought supplementary oxygen may be needed (it wasn’t as Everest has been climbed without it) and their clothing systems were remarkably efficient, but the key element, which only emerged after WWII (largely due to the research of Griffith Pugh) was the need for proper hydration. In 1953 every climber drank at least 5 litres of fluid a day. A simple statement, but one that belies the massive logistic support in getting stoves and fuel to the upper camps to melt enough snow and ice for water.

In 1924 they neither understood the critical need for full hydration, nor did they have the logistics in place to deliver it.

Throw in the other factors such as the technical difficulty of either the Second Step or the Norton Couloir (and we don’t know which of these approaches on the North East Ridge they opted for), the time of day they were last seen and the inability of their oxygen system to deliver a net physiological benefit and you can only conclude that they didn’t reach the summit.

What were the challenges of shooting at this altitude in 1924?

Considerable – even today.

The principal problem is the weight and bulk of the camera – just carrying it, never mind operating it at high altitude is an incredible challenge. Then there’s the cold, with its effect on film (it becomes brittle at low temperature) on the gearing of the drives, never mind the risk to the cameraman. Filming on Everest was and is a hugely difficult and dangerous thing to do.


John Noel didn’t film that high on Everest – but was filming higher than the summit of Mont Blanc – but he was still working in a very demanding environment. He was a remarkable man, who thought through the challenges involved and was well prepared. He adapted cameras and techniques based on the experience of Herbert Ponting (Scott’s cameraman in the Antarctic) and even brought in a ‘dark tent’ to develop the film rushes in the field.

It is only recently that footage has been secured from high on Everest – and certainly lightweight digital cameras now make it commonplace – and interestingly in 1953 moving footage wasn’t secured above the South Col.

Can you tell us about any other early mountain films?

John Noel had made and released a film of the 1922 expedition. The expeditions from the 1930s did film, but the results were not released to commercial cinemas or even, as far as I know, edited. Tom Stobart’s film of the 1953 expedition – The Conquest of Everest – was a considerable critical and commercial success and in many ways defined the genre of expedition documentary.

The first Mountain Film was made about Mont Blanc in 1905, but the filmmaker who really popularised Mountain – more accurately Berg Film, was the German filmmaker Arnold Fank.

How does John Noel’s film compare to the mountain films of today?

It stands up very well.

The BFI have done a great job with the restoration and it’s a joy to watch. While the film quality obviously can’t compare with modern material, it’s still of a high standard.

Epic_blue_iceBut for me the actual quality of the image is irrelevant, it’s about telling the story of the expedition and its climb – and in this it succeeds.

I’m a mountaineer, so I obviously have an interest in the subject, but in truth I thought the film would drag, so I went along to the premiere as much for the event and the drinks party afterwards. I couldn’t however, have been more engaged and the 80 minutes just flew by. Interestingly the person I’d gone with – she isn’t a mountaineer – thoroughly enjoyed it too!

Why do you think film societies and community cinemas should include Epic of Everest in their programme?

It’s an outstanding piece of filmmaking. It shows the mountain in a stunning way and it tells the story of what is probably the best known climb in history in an extremely watchable way.

It’s also a real piece of social history – which takes you back in a very immediate way.

Who are the mountain filmmakers of today that we should look out for?

Over the past 40 years – Leo Dickinson. Of the current crop in the UK, Alastair Lee and Paul Diffley, and the most outstanding adventure filmmaker worldwide is undoubtedly Anson Fogel.

About Robin

Robin Ashcroft
Robin Ashcroft is an experienced mountaineer; he has climbed extensively in the Alps, the Canadian Rockies, the Caucasus, Greenland and Antarctica. He is also a Director of Kendal Mountain Festival and has played a key role in establishing it as the world’s premier mountain film festival.
His interest in mountain film dates back to the 1980s when he worked with 16mm film and a windup Bolex camera to record an army expedition to Greenland. He is Vice President of the International Alliance of Mountain Film, has written two books and was producer of the BBC Radio Four Archive Hour Programme – Britain’s on Top of The World.
As Director of Britain’s first mountaineering museum he wrote and curated the award winning exhibition, Everest; The Top of the World, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the world’s highest mountain. He sits on the Council of the Royal Geographical Society and is a member of The Alpine Club.

Top 10 Shorts of Leeds International Film Festival

A belated final post from Leeds covers the best shorts from the 30+ I saw at the festival this year. As expected the range of short films was diverse both in content and style and the shorts hailed from all over the world. The short programmes I saw were the 6 Louis Le Prince Award programmes as well as the European Documentary Shorts programme. This was barely scratching the surface of the shorts that were on offer this year but there were far too many to fit in! Here though is my Top 10 Short Films of Leeds International Film Festival 2013.

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Leeds Film Festival Report no. 2

Part two of my Leeds International Film Festival reports is finally here! Read the first post here. There will be a third and final look at the feature films of the festival, and then a look at the best of the short films I saw. Again any Booking Scheme titles will be clearly highlighted below. The Rocket  was announced this weekend as the Audience Award winner and is reviewed below. 

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John Pilger’s Utopia

A long-standing critic of Australia’s treatment of the Aboriginal people, John Pilger’s new documentary returns to a subject he first documented in The Secret Country in 1985. The plight of Australia’s indigenous populations and their treatment by the Australian government has been described as “apartheid in all but name”. Twenty-eight years on from his first documentary here Pilger returns to see what, if anything has changed, and to demonstrate how the enduring legacy of exploitation and racism continues under a blanket of silence.

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New titles for October on the Booking Scheme

From a seductive French thriller starring Kristin Scott Thomas to a pair of breathtaking globe-trotting documentaries there’s plenty of variety in the latest additions to the Booking Scheme. Continue reading

The films of the BFFS Conference – reactions, notes and how to screen them

The BFFS National Conference is over and what a fantastic weekend it was! As a follow-up to last week’s post about the films we were screening at the conference I’m going to take a quick look at: why we screened the films we did;  what the reactions to the films were, and booking information for those who want to screen the titles in their venue.


How we pick the films

The films screened at the National Conference are selected to serve several purposes. On the one hand we try to preview forthcoming titles that gives community cinema programmers the opportunity to preview titles ahead of release to help with programming. We also try to highlight Booking Scheme titles – this isn’t a strict rule but for the most part we will usually screen a majority of our own titles.

Then there is the consideration of supporting the film with extra content – this might be a Q&A or a discussion – and we always provide programme notes for each film that includes detailed information about the film as well as words from the filmmakers talking about the making of the film.

Finally we try to pick films that we know are suited to the community sector and which could be overlooked otherwise. So you can always expect documentaries, independent and international cinema as well as short films.

So how did we pick this year’s titles? (click the links to view our programme notes)

Blackfish – Certainly one the year’s best documentaries, Blackfish is a devastating piece of work exposing the the inherent cruelty of keeping killer whales in captivity. It has a tremendous impact raising awareness of these animals’ plights and in engaging viewers to reconsider their views towards places like Seaworld. It has also sparked a wide debate and has seen rebuttals from Seaworld following its release, all of which have benn challenged by the filmmakers.

We were joined for this screening by Patrick Hurley, Distribution Manager at Dogwoof, for a Q&A about the reactions to the film from Seaworld, campaigning organisations and even Pixar, who have altered the plot of the forthcoming Finding Nemo sequel as a result of Blackfish.


Gloria Gloria is the latest film to be released by Network Releasing, one of our partner distributors, and like No and Out in the Dark before it Network Releasing have made the film available to BFFS Members and Associates as part of an early release window. The screening thus helped allowed us to take advantage of this opportunity and promote it to the membership. The film was also introduced by Jaq Chell, BFFS Operations Manager.

Jaq talked about the legacy of No which we screened as a ‘secret film’ at last year’s conference. No was a huge success for BFFS and has accumulated the most bookings for any BFFS Booking Scheme title. A hugely important film that  we were thrilled to help get this film seen by new audiences. Likewise, Jaq explained the importance of Gloria both as Chilean film taking a look at contemporary life in the capital Santiago and as a film anchored around a strong female character, richly detailed and stunningly performed. The lack of strong female characters in mainstream film is well noted but Jaq reinforced the fact with a statistic that only 11% of characters in major films last year were female. It is vital then that films that do focus on independent and unique female characters are seen and that is one of the things that really drew us to Gloria. 

Like Father, Like Son – Following the success of I Wish, the most recent film from Hirokazu Kore-eda, we were excited to be able to preview another of his films to delegates. Kore-eda is one of the most consistent directors who has created a string of rich, powerful and human dramas – usually centred around the theme of family. His latest is a delightful and warm-hearted drama that has been picking up buzz since it premièred at Canned Film Festival and won the admiration of Steven Spielberg and the rest of the jury.

We were fortunate to be able to get Alexander Jacoby, a lecturer in contemporary Japanese cinema at Oxford Brookes University to give a talk covering Kore-eda’s career, comparisons with legendary filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu and Kore-eda’s perception of the modern Japanese family. In contemporary Japan families usually only have one child and there is a risk of children being withdrawn due to a lack of social interaction – apart from through technology. Kore-eda’s films, although focused on the same themes and utilising similar motifs and reference points as Ozu’s, offer their own perspective and a rejection of nostalgic perceptions of the past. Jacoby also discussed how Like Father, Like Son examines the nature of family relationships and argues that blood ties as the traditional basis of a family unit is not as important as the relationships that we build up. 

The Artist and the Model – The latest film from Oscar-winning director Fernando Trueba, The Artist and the Model is a brand new release from Axiom Films and is a moving portrait of an aging sculptor drawn reinvigorated by his love of art when a fugitive from the Spanish Civil War takes refuge in his studio. It is a film that covers the great themes of life – art, love, death. It is centred on a tremendous performance from the great Jean Rochefort.

Following the film BFFS volunteer and Film Unit Acting Chair Gemma Bird led a lively discussion about the film which debated: whether the sexual content was at odds with the rest of the film; whether or not the war should have played a bigger part in the film, or if the concentration on art was more relevant; the cinematography of the film; and the nature of the characters.

Encounters Film Festival 2012 Award Winners Collection

We screened five of the short films included in this collection which covered an astonishing mix of styles and subject including stop-motion animatio in the form of the Oscar nominated Head over Heels, political satire in On This Island and a darkly humorous Icelandic short about a family evicted from their house and forced to live in a box on the roof of a tower block in When Rabbits Fly. 

Audience Reactions

For all the films screened at the National Conference we take a reaction score from the audience. We take a rating from A – E and then workout an overall percentage by scoring each rating. These are the reaction scores for this weekends films:

Blackfish – 88.6%
Encounters Short Films – 66.6%
Gloria – 69.7%
Like Father, Like Son – 88.6%
The Artist and the Model – 72.3%

All of the films received great scores with Blackfish and Like Father, Like Son sharing the highest score. The scoring categories are:
A- Excellent
B- Very Good
C- Good
D – Average
E- Poor

How to screen the films

If you are interested in screening any of these titles the booking information follows:


Dogwoof Popup Cinema: DCP available now | Popup@dogwoof.com | 020 7831 7252
BFFS Booking Scheme: DVD/Blu-ray (Screen from 16 November) | rich.bffs@gmail.com | 01142 210314


Network Releasing: DCP | Martin Myers | martin@miracle63.freeserve.co.uk | 07836 360343
BFFS Booking Scheme: DVD (Screen from 22 November) | rich.bffs@gmail.com | 0114 2210314

Like Father, Like Son

Verve Pictures: DCP (on release from 18 October) |  sarah@vervepictures.co.uk | 020 7436 8001
Verve Pictures: DVD/Blu-ray (screen from January 2014) | angus@vervepictures.oc.uk | 020 7436 8001

The Artist and the Model

Axiom Films: DCP available now | Daniel@axiomfilms.co.uk | 020 7243 3111
BFFS Booking Scheme: DVD/Blu-Ray (date TBC) | rich.bffs@gmail.com | 01142 210314

Encounters Short film Collection

BFFS: DVD | rich.bffs@gmail.com | 01142 210314
More information here