Tag Archives: Japanese film

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

Two greats of contemporary asian cinema

The latest distributor to join the BFFS Booking Scheme is Third Window Films, with 30 new titles representing some of the best of contemporary Asian cinema. In this post I review two of the new films, Himizu a love story and revenge thriller set in a dystopian vision of post-tsunami Japan; and The President’s Last Bang, a lavish, satirical take on the murder of Korean President Park Chung-Hee. Continue reading

A Japanese gangster in America and a sinister dystopian future: Two reviews from the Park Circus Collection

Park Circus are at the forefront of bringing classic and undiscovered cinema back into cinemas and we are thrilled to feature some 30+ Park Circus titles on the BFFS Booking Scheme. With a fantastic selection of films going back 100 years to Melies’ A Trip To The Moon and A Fantastic Voyage, and taking in Chaplin’s heyday, British social realism and modern European cinema along the way, the Park Circus collection is well worth exploring.

There’s plenty of films in the collection that I’ve (shamefully) never seen so I spent the last weekend catching up on a couple…

Brother | Takeshi Kitano | 2000 | Japan, UK, US | 112 mins | 18

Brother is the first film Kitano directed outside his native Japan, with the majority of the film taking place in Los Angeles. Kitano plays Aniki Yamamato, a Yakuza gangster who flees to the States when his gang’s leader is murdered and his associates defer to their rival’s organisation. Aniki is too loyal to commit such a betrayal and escapes to Los Angeles where his younger brother lives. There he finds that his brother has become a small-time drug dealer and Aniki very quickly and ruthlessly takes over the business and rapidly expands to build an empire – his Yakuza past making him far more successful than Los Angeles’ existing gangs.

While the film is certainly action-packed, and at times beautifully shot – a gunfight under a bridge is lit only by muzzle flashes and filmed from a high-angle and long-distance giving a remarkable perspective, and mid-film highlight – Kitano is as much, if not more, interested in the complicated structures of loyalty and ranking within criminal organisations. Numerous scenes highlight the almost unbelievable commitments gang members take to prove their loyalty and the impression of a brotherhood amongst gangsters is keenly felt.

Kitano is also notable for his somewhat existential outlook on life and the inevitability of death is always acknowledged – there are no grand heroics in a Kitano film, though his characters are sometimes so incredibly good at what they do (often murder) that the body count swiftly soars amongst their enemies – there is an understanding of boundaries and limits. This sets Brother apart from many of the Hollywood films it initially appears Kitano is trying to emulate by moving his film to America. When faced with overwhelming odds Aniki laughs and rather than try to escape or fight against it, he accepts his likely demise on his own terms. And Kitano (as director and actor) portrays this matter-of-factly, not as a great tragedy but as the necessary outcome of going too far.

Kitano also refuses to pace Brother as you would expect, and while it possesses many of the elements of a typical gangster thriller, it refuses to behave like one. There are moments of quiet throughout the film, and the action explodes unpredictably in bursts. Kitano’s direction is rarely flashy – sometimes exquisitely framed, but never over the top, which again underlines Kitano’s restrained approach to the genre.

Where the film suffers is in the transition to America, many of the English-speaking supporting cast are, to put it bluntly, wooden and it’s a shame that the film-makers didn’t put more effort into finding better actors. Fortunately the main characters are, generally, much better and Omar Epps in particular delivers a great performance that develops significantly over the course of the film.

While it may not be Kitano’s best film it is one of his most accessible (particularly if you’re unfortunate enough to have subtitle-phobic audiences as most of the film is in English) and as both an action thriller and a detailed, often startling, look at criminal allegiances it succeeds admirably.

Death Watch | Bertrand Tavernier | 1980 | France, W. Germany | 128 mins | 12

One of the delights of the BFFS Booking Scheme catalogue is discovering some over-looked and forgotten gems – Tavernier’s Death Watch is one such film. A sci-fi film that feels uncomfortably close to home, Death Watch is grounded in a social-realist palette and production design that delivers the most horrifying of dystopias – one recognisably derived from our own world. In the world of Death Watch almost all diseases have been cured and death is no longer a part of everyday life. Only old age seems to kill people and they die in secluded homes, pacified and sedated by drugs to ensure they die peacefully and painlessly.

As a result when Katherine Mortenhoe (Romy  Schneider) is diagnosed with an incurable, terminal illness; and her prognosis is leaked to the press, she becomes an unwitting celebrity and is hassled by journalists who want to portray her final moments. The most determined is TV executive Vincent, played by the always-excellent Harry Dean Stanton, who wants to turn her final weeks into a Big Brother style reality TV show (the Death Watch of the title), with cameras recording her every moment. Vincent is not put off by the problem of getting her permission and arranges for a camera to be implanted in the eye of Roddy (Harvey Keitel) who manages to befriend Katherine when she tries to flee attention to die in peace.

This is as un-glossy as sci-fi gets, the only technological advancement we see is the eye-camera and that is marred by a significant drawback – after a few minutes of darkness the camera will break and cause irreparable damage to Roddy’s eye. It is also a world in which scientific advancement is not reflected in social or economic terms – while disease has been largely overcome poverty and inequality have not. In this and the media’s obsession with documenting anything unusual, regardless of privacy, the film feel remarkable prescient.

It’s a film that forces the viewer to question the extent to which we allow and accept intrusion into our private lives, regardless of what reason it is for. Vincent attempts to convince Roddy’s wife, and indeed the viewer, about the importance of the programme:

Look how shy we’ve become about death. It’s the new pornography. Nudity is nothing anymore, now we put fig leaves on the dying. We’ve sold them away in homes outside of town. Who lives with the dying anymore? No one. No relatives. A few callous, trained guardians, those are the last people they see. I want to bring them back to us, bring them home.

Indeed, the film rather subversively implicates the viewer in the exploitation of Katherine’s death – the most direct hint is the film’s title – which signals to us our own culpability as viewers of the film. But this realisation only came after I had watched the film and it’s a testament to the subtlety of Tavernier’s social critique that this was the case.

Tavernier utilises Glasgow’s streets to portray the disparity between the different social classes, the decaying and run down docks contrast with the picturesque suburbs in which Katherine lives and it is here that the dystopian feel of Death Watch is most keenly felt. Glasgow’s run down areas are also where some of the film’s astonishing camerawork takes place, particularly in the use of handheld camera: a one-take chase sequence along the waterfront markets is truly astonishing, while later Roddy and the cameraman find themselves in the midst of a fight between protesters and the police.

Death Watch is one of those films that I’ve been thinking about almost constantly since I saw it, it really is that good, but also one that I’m amazed isn’t more well known. With its themes of social inequality, the intrusion of technology and the media into our private lives, and death itself, the film is as relevant and powerful as ever.

Or how about…
That’s just 2 of the dozens of Park Circus titles on the scheme – here’s a quick run down of some of the others:

  • La Piscine, Jacques Deray’s classic – ‘The most dangerous love game every played’. Read Jack Bell’s blog about it.
  • Invincible, Werner Herzog’s imaginative interpretation of Jewish folk-hero Zishe Breitbart taking place during Hitler’s rise to power, with Tim Roth having the time of his life as a Minister of the Occult and self-proclaimed Nazi prophet.
  • The best of Chaplin – with City Lights, The Great Dictator, The Gold Rush and more!
  • Scottish masterpiece Living Apart Together, which, like Death Watch, makes the most of Glasgow’s versatility as a filming location.

You can see the full list of Park Circus films on the BFFS Booking Scheme here.

I Wish

New title – I Wish available April 1st

BFFS are delighted to continue bringing film society and community cinema programmers access to the fantastic and varied catalogue of Arrow Films (The Hunt, Cinema Paradiso and many more…)

The latest addition is the heart warming Japanese film I Wish

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05jKUWmgBQM?feature=player_detailpage&w=640&h=360]

Twelve-year-old Koichi lives with his mother and retired grandparents in Kagoshima, in the southern region of Kyushu, Japan. His younger brother Ryunosuke lives with their father in Hakata, northern Kyushu. The brothers have been separated by their parents’ divorce and Koichi’s only wish is for his family to be reunited. When he learns that a new bullet train line will soon open, linking the two towns, he starts to believe that a miracle will take place the moment these new trains first pass each other at top speed. With help from the adults around him, Koichi sets out on a journey with a group of friends, each hoping to witness a miracle that will improve their difficult lives.

I Wish is the latest film from Hirokazu Kore-eda,  the director of Nobody Knows and Still Walking.

Read the five star review from The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw

Read and download the BFFS programme notes to accompany I Wish – feel free to hand these out to your audience

Book now to screen the film from April 1st.

Nagisa Oshima

Nagisa Oshima
Nagisa Oshima

One of Japan’s most famous and at times controversial directors sadly died last week aged 80.

In a career spanning 40 years he is perhaps most famous for  In the Realm of the Senses  which was banned and censored in many countries upon its release and the Palm d’Or nominated Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence starring David Bowie. Read about his life and contribution to cinema from Little White Lies and The Guardian

The BFFS Booking Scheme is home to 3 of his titles: Naked Youth, Night and Fog in Japan and The Sun’s Burial