Preview: Belfast Film Festival 2017.

Initially I didn’t think I’d be attending this year’s Belfast Film Festival. I’m currently planning to emigrate and had originally scheduled this for the end of March. But as it happens, I’ll be staying in Belfast for another couple of weeks, and this provides the opportunity to attend my home city’s resident film festival for the third year in a row.

Now in its 17th year and gradually growing (expanded by a day for this year’s edition); a fine showcase of local, national and international film talent, the 2017 Belfast Film Festival is shaping up to be the best one yet. There are a wide range of exciting prospects to look forward to ahead of the opening night tomorrow.

Obviously I won’t be touching on every upcoming film – there are around 130 in total and I’m not that crazy – but I’ve picked out a few that I consider potential highlights to look out for. The festival runs Thursday 30th March-Sunday 9th April, with major films showing predominantly at Northern Ireland’s premiere independent cinema, Queens Film Theatre, and another prominent cinema in Belfast city centre, Dublin Road’s Movie House.

This year, special guest in attendance is John Cusack, who will be attending screenings of his past films and holding multiple Q&A sessions on Friday 31st March and Saturday 1st April. You can of course head straight to the main festival website to find further details, but if you’d like to stick around for my humble insight and recommendations, here’s what else to watch out for:

Opening night film Mindhorn, a highly rated British comedy due to be released in May, has already sold out and unfortunately I won’t be able to attend; the second time I’ve missed out after it had a screening at London Film Festival last October. In its place I’ll be at a screening of Lady Macbeth, another British film being shown concurrently that translates the story of its title character to a civil war setting in 1865.

Terence Davies’ latest project, A Quiet Passion, is one of the first screenings the following day, and has been heralded as one of the director’s finest works. It is a biographical film focusing on the life of American poet Emily Dickinson, who lived in the 1800’s. Another British film – four in a row so far – Their Finest is also being shown on Friday evening. Set in London 1940, the British ministry orders propaganda films to boost morale for WW2, and Gemma Arterton’s character is hired to write female dialogue after it’s decided they could use a woman’s touch (yep, it’s a comedy).

Of course, there’s more than just strong British films on show; some of the best recent movies from around the world are coming to the festival, including Hirokazu Koreeda’s After the Storm, the latest family drama that the Japanese director has become famous for. Animated film The Red Turtle, one of the most highly rated animated movies of 2016, is also getting a rare screening (hopefully it is set to be released more widely soon); a special 80 minute experience lacking dialogue, this will probably be one of the highlights of the overall festival.

Irish horror film A Dark Song is one of the intriguing premieres at the festival, screening next Monday. It’s all about rituals, black magic and the occult – boasting the kind of edgy tone that will have conservatives panicking about the moral decay of society or some shit like that. A Man Called Ove is a comedy-drama that was first released in Sweden way back on Christmas Day 2015, and was one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the most recent Oscars. Unfortunately though, it clashes with the aforementioned Irish premiere, so I’ll have to pick one and catch up on the other later. Speaking of the Oscars, I’m Not Your Negro was nominated in the Best Documentary category and is, as you can probably imagine, an insightful look at race in America. I already have my ticket booked for next Tuesday.

Mark Cousins’ I Am Belfast was the opening night premiere two years ago at the 2015 Belfast Film Festival. This year, Cousins returns to the festival with his new film Stockholm My Love; an apparent love letter to Sweden. Cousins has a reputation for interesting projects (including his highly rated The Story of Film: An Odyssey), and this seems to fit right in with his usual fare. Will it be hit or miss? We’ll soon find out.

Notes to Eternity is a lengthy look at the modern Israel-Palestine conflict, and I’ll be intrigued to see what approach it takes in its perspective, as we know the general topic is as hot now as it’s ever been. This could potentially be one of my highlights of the festival.

The closing night film this year is also one of the more intriguing movies on the overall programme. Bad Day for the Cut is a Northern Irish-produced film and this will be its premiere. Unlike many other films in the programme, this one was a complete surprise to me; it’s refreshing to have a film with direct links to Northern Ireland have its premiere as the final film of the festival, as was also the case with The Survivalist two years ago. Bad Day for the Cut is a thriller about a middle-aged farmer who still lives with his mother; when she’s apparently murdered, he sets out on what sounds like a rather entertaining mission of revenge.

Other films are showing that I’ve already seen elsewhere, including: Heal the Living and Aquarius (both at Dublin Film Festival last month), and arguably the best Western of last year (yes, move over Hell or High Water), Ivan Sen’s Goldstone (at London Film Festival in October).

That’s all I’m going to cover for now; over the course of the festival I may review a few select films, highlights and/ or whatever other surprises may come up in the next ten days. In the meantime I’m also working on reviews for Power Rangers and British independent film The Ghoul that I hope to have posted in the next couple of days.


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