Streams And Mirrors

Category: Film

Brooklyn

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When Ryan Gosling presented Saoirse Ronan with a Hollywood Film Award for Brooklyn, he pointed out that when he was 13 his performance experience was limited: “I was a back up dancer for my Elvis impersonating uncle”. Ronan, on the other hand, was nominated for an Academy Award. The Oscars rumour mill is abuzz with the inkling that, for this film, she may be nominated again.

There are not many actors around who can hold their own against the silver screen allure of James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Romola Garai, let alone when barely out of childhood. Yet, Ronan’s understated steeliness in Atonement left the acting royalty alongside her in her wake. Critics roundly declared her to have stolen the show. Again in The Lovely Bones, and in Hanna (where her martial arts skills put Eric Bana’s in the shade) her obvious talent shone. It is not uncommon to hear her described as ‘otherworldly’, with a ‘soul older than her years’.

In Brooklyn once again there is something at once glaring obvious and yet intangible about Ronan’s talent. She is the glow at the centre of this film – her captivating blend of fragility and resilience stopping what could be an overly sentimental picture from slipping into the maudlin. Imperceptibly she is able to perfectly capture the changing emotions of a nervous girl coming into independence and adulthood.

Ronan has commented on how her own life and the life of her character, Eilis Lacey, coincide. The story of a young Irish émigré, leaving her beloved sister and mother for a life alone in the urban rush of New York, the narrative of Brooklyn (based on the 2009 novel by Colm Toibin) chimed with Ronan’s family history: her parents were economic immigrants to New York in the 1980s. Her own experiences of shuttling between Ireland’s Enniscorthy and Hollywood also surely came to bear on her portrayal of Eilis’ poignant sense of two conflicting potential lives.

Yet, it would be disparaging, and false, to pin Ronan’s stunning performance solely on familiarity with the storyline. The film without her would be visually alluring – Mad Men style contrasted with vistas of Irish sea – and emotionally affecting. The other actors also give strong performances. But, with much of it closely focused on the minutest movements of her eyes, this is Ronan’s film. Under these eyes, set pieces that could strike as unoriginal, or schmaltzy, are tender. Once again, even alongside Domnhall Gleeson, Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent, Ronan leaves others in her wake.

Everest

Everyone knows that Everest is dangerous, sometimes even fatally so. Yet, this doesn’t stop adventurers, adrenaline junkies and fantasists from dreaming of reaching the world’s highest summit. Despite knowing the danger – or perhaps more often, because of the sense of danger – the peak of Everest draws desiring mountaineers like moths to a flame. We humans can be an ambitious, determined and deeply foolish bunch.

Baltasar Kormakur’s Everest reflects this almost entirely. The very form of the film echoes the irrational pull of the mountain. We all know the adventure / disaster / survival movie formula – and Everest follows it nearly to the letter – and yet, it remains awe-inspiring, moving and genuinely nerve-wracking. It somehow pulls you in. It also showcases the utterly human blend of bravery and bravado it takes to attempt such a feat.

It is here that it somewhat departs from the predictable, straight-forward action-adventure flick, as it refuses to entirely hold up the protagonists as either heroes or fools. This is a disaster-survival movie with streaks of triumph, but also resounding desolation.

Some critics have seen this as indecisive, viewing the mix of classic action-adventure movie with something more mournful as narrative uncertainty on the part of the director. However, it seems more self-aware than this criticism implies; the bleakness displayed is what rescues the movie from hackneyed cliché.

Certainly, the set up suggests the audience will be graced with the standard generic stereotypes. Expedition leader Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) fills the kind-hearted alpha role, as his heavily-pregnant wife (Keira Knightley) tearfully waits behind. There is a swaggering Texan, Buck (played impeccably by Josh Brolin) and a mother-hen in Emily Watson’s Helen Wilton, basecamp go-to woman. There is even a villain character, in the rival South African expedition leader, dressed in flashy North Face gear and an arrogant attitude. However, for every ascent there is a descent, and out of this apparently conventional opening emerges a more nuanced reflection on the challenge of Everest, and of ego.

The swaggering Texan is revealed to have unexpected levels of sorrow, vulnerability and courage. While his early characterisation as spoilt, stubborn, wealthy-white-man does not entirely disappear – it does after all cost up to 65,000 dollars for amateurs to be guided up the mountain – it is ultimately shown as too simplistic a caricature.

But then, these are real people we are dealing with. They are not wholly dreamed up by movie studios, keen for a thrilling action picture, but actual humans, some of whom never made it back to everyday reality. And while the film may slip too easily into cliché, as weeping women wait for their macho menfolk to return, it also reveals the base truth to the stereotype. Wealthy Westerners, dissatisfied with easy, sedentary lives that have failed to live up to youthful dreams, will pay thousands to jolt themselves out of their comfort zone, in the most extreme way possible. They want to prove that they can be heroes. And sometimes they can be, as Everest shows in its triumphant ascent scenes, but often at a dreadful price, and always with others waiting behind.

What may in pure blockbuster be written off as sentimental is here genuinely affecting and poignant. It may sound corny when Russian climber Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) pronounces “the last word always belongs to the mountain”, but by the film’s second act this notion of humanity’s absolute powerlessness resonates acutely.

Her: A Digital Love Story

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”

Falling in love is crazy. It’s kind of like a socially acceptable form of insanity.”

What does love look like? What should it look like? Who gets to decide?

Her is described as a love story, and it opens with a declaration of eternal love, spoken from the lips of a Joaquin Pheonix apparently drained of all his usual rugged, brooding quality. The world is coloured dreamy pastel shades. Yet this fluffy, candyfloss feel, conjuring every Valentines Day greeting card, chocolate box message and romantic movie closing-scene, is a sugar coating on a film that is far from cliché. The initial comforting embrace of the familiar is illusory – despite the hazy, Instagram filter cinematography, Spike Jonze’s love story is, at most, bittersweet. It is as much a science-fiction contemplation of technology as it is a romance; it is as much about loneliness as love. But then, maybe this is ultimately true of all romantic narratives, which promise to welcome lost souls into the land of happy-ever-after. Perhaps we just choose to remain with the sugary layer over our eyes.

Phoenix’s profession of undying love is not his own, nor is it unique. His character Theodore Twombly composes hundreds similar every day, at his office desk, for his heavily ironic office job at ‘BeautifulHandmadLetters.com’. He finds words for those who can’t, adding ‘personal’ touches for people he will never meet. This pastel version of LA is clearly a deeply sentimental society, which eagerly outsources love.

Twombly is a thoroughly postmodern urban man. Post-divorce, living alone in one of the city’s many sleek, minimal apartments, in one of many high rise buildings, he checks his emails on his commute from work and plays video games late at night. The personal touches he adds for others do not seem to have been extended to himself: his flat is as sterile as an Ikea showroom.

Jonze and Pheonix have created a perfect portrayal of contemporary loneliness. In an overpopulated city, Twombly is isolated. All our fears about conversations becoming mere connections, our lives increasingly becoming a breathing hybrid of Facebook and LinkedIn, with our experiences filtered through blue-light screens, are condensed in Twombly’s solitary existence. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the central relationship between Twombly and his husky-voiced personal computer system, Samantha, is that it never strikes as too far-fetched. This is Siri a few upgrades down the line, a Turing tested disembodied entity that reads emails, reminds of appointments and also has the capacity to think independently. For Theodore, Samantha is an ideal blend of secretary, friend, lover and therapist; she fills all the gaps his self-contained life has left gaping. They speak through an almost hidden earpiece – on the beach, at a fair, lying down in bed at night. Theodore opens up his wounds from his broken marriage and they begin to heal. Is this love?

The clever collaging of flashback and current moment paints a poignant contrast between Theodore’s relationships. His marriage, before it soured, is all morning cuddles and crisp white sheets, while his rose-tinted days with Samantha are necessarily missing any physicality. Yet even this does not make the love story unbelievable, rather it gives it a deeper poignant resonance. In the days of long distance loves and Skype relationships, the lack of physical touch is emotionally touching. Under candyfloss coloured skies we are called to question how we relate to people, and what ‘people’ really are. Is this love? Is this just the idea of love?

Technology is increasingly obliterating boundaries. We are accessible in ways unimagined even a single decade ago. Cybersex, sexting, even ‘teledildonics’ are terms entering our everyday language. Is this good or bad? Is there any way we can know, and should we even try to work it out? Who decides? Are we numbing ourselves to and shunning ‘real’ connections in favour of virtual worlds? Perhaps. Yet it seems that, despite technology developing at a frantic pace, whatever the changes or upgrades, we are still searching for ways to share our lives, to be less alone.

Inherent Vice

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This is a confusing film. That needs to be said at the outset, because any expectation of a conventional crime / police drama, where threads are teased out but eventually all tied up, is likely to be disappointed early on. This is not a simple, single investigation story; ‘Doc’ Sportello, played exquisitely by Joaquin Pheonix, is meant to be investigating three cases, and it feels like a lot more. Perhaps the only unsurprising thing is that these three stories – involving ex-girlfriends, ex-junkies, property developers, saxophone players, neo-Nazis and a spiritual guide who wears speedos – are somehow interconnected. Aside from that, drop any expectations of coherence. Characters’ names and faces crop up at random junctures, in the unlikeliest of locations (everything from ‘Chick Planet’ massage parlour to a drug-snorting-dentist’s office) and as one mystery seems to unfold, another is revealed underneath. Most of Inherent Vice resembles a hazy smokescreen or psychedelic trip, laced with paranoia.

Which is appropriate, given the setting in 1970. The swinging sixties are only hanging on in select squat-like apartments, much like Sportello, as new business begins to push out the hippies and their longhaired, stoner lifestyles. Doc is posed as a dying breed, his bare, dirty feet and sideburns at odds with the suited and booted professionals around him. Pheonix is pitted against Josh Brolin, in the severely flat-topped guise of Detective Christian Bjornsen, aka Bigfoot. This odd-couple pairing is where much of the humour of the film comes from, with Doc’s arch, mostly silent responses to Bigfoot perfectly timed to be just slightly too long. Brolin shines, whether barking food orders in loud, yet disarmingly accurate Japanese, or kicking down doors, “after a long day of civil rights abuses”.

The tone, like the plot, is never regular. At times Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction resembles that of his namesake Wes Anderson, in its offbeat and highly stylised kookiness; at other times it is closer to a film noir. Some scenes are almost pantomime-like; others are difficult, tense and emotional. A sex scene that begins as flirtatious and goofy becomes increasingly twisted, revealing a complex blend of pain, aggression and guilt. This unreliable movement echoes throughout the film; it is impossible to pin down or predict and it seems to make sense and make a muddle of itself simultaneously. The result is a confused jumble, but also quite possibly a triumph.

Birdman

The recent win for Birdman at the Golden Globes, under the heading of ‘Best Comedy or Musical’, is somewhat misleading. Frenzied drumming does beat out the feverish pace, there are certainly comic flurries (both psychologically dark and involving misplaced erections) and the film definitely deserves almost any accolade that has ‘Best’ as part of it. But the terms ‘Musical’ and ‘Comedy’ are, in the Hollywood world, somewhat loaded. Birdman is comic, but it is not a fluffy, easy piece, to be lightly enjoyed with popcorn and belly laughs. It is not Mamma Mia, or The Hangover. It is a disorientating whirlwind of a film, a technical triumph and one of the best things to be released to cinemas, in any category, in recent years.

Boyhood is currently garnering much of the conversation concerning innovative cinematic techniques. Admittedly, filming a single piece over 12 years does take some skill and bravado. However, when it comes to the screen, Birdman’s level of cinematic wizardry can only be compared to the overwhelming grandeur of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. And that had the wonders of CGI black holes in its favour. Alejandro González Iñárritu has the dingy back corridors, rehearsal rooms and exposed piping of a Broadway theatre. While some of the most impressive set scenes occur in the open New York streets (Michael Keaton dashing down Broadway in Y-fronts, attempting to avoid fans and a marching band, is a highlight), the majority of the piece is contained within the same claustrophobic spaces. What makes these spaces so spectacular on screen is the supremely skilful camera work, which gives the audience the impression of a single shot. The camera swoops and careers around corners, jumping from character to character and sliding, apparently seamlessly, from scene to scene. It’s disturbingly mesmerising.

All of the performances are equally compelling and technically masterful. Keaton’s career decline post-Batman shadows his central turn as a faded Hollywood superhero almost as much as the bass-voiced, winged figure that actually seems to stalk him. This is for Keaton the triumphant return that his character so achingly desires.

Edward Norton’s hilarious character Mike, a preening Broadway bundle of arrogance and insecurity, makes a claim about “wrestling with complex human emotions”. From his lips this sounds typically exaggerated and farcical, yet Iñárritu has truly created a complex, emotionally and mentally challenging piece that is also entertaining and visually exceptional.

Serena

Most films that hang around in Hollywood studios’ cupboards for a substantial period of time are fairly certain to have a few cobwebs still clinging to them when they are finally pulled out and shoved under cinema lights. The movie business ain’t cheap – keeping a big budget, period-dress number under wraps isn’t usually the done thing. Especially when that number boasts two of the most bankable stars of the moment. So perhaps the disappointment at the long awaited release of Serena should have been expected.

The dream-team of Bradley Cooper and J-Law seems to have somewhat faltered. Like a horse uncertain on its feet, Serena totters from gloomy mountain shot to relationship doom only to stagger back again. And yes, that was an awkward animal metaphor, because there are enough in this film to make any audience member want to join Bradley’s hunting team. Serena (Lawrence) insists on importing and training an eagle to catch the serpents lurking in the forest grass (lurking serpents, you say? Now what could that possibly stand for?), and there is a panther that, despite being elusive, may as well be a central character given the amount of times its mentioned. Always in a mysterious and moody manner, of course. In case it wasn’t clear, this place is a bit wild.

To be fair to the red carpet pair, both Cooper and Lawrence are far from bad. Lawrence especially has moments where she shines; the sight of her in blonde pin-up girl hair and silk bow blouse, swinging an axe into a tree, as her husband’s timber crew stand around gormlessly, is pretty satisfying. But of course it is, its Jennifer Lawrence wielding a weapon – its been proved to be a pretty safe cinema bet.

Despite attempts at smouldering sex scenes and emotional breakdowns the spark that ignited the pair in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle seems to have gone missing. The thrills don’t thrill, the threats don’t seem truly threatening and, while one point of the film suggests tragedy, the characters are so deeply unlikeable that the spiral into the final climax cannot quite strike as heartrending. George Pemberton, who appears to be positioned as the film’s hero, is a timber baron, with whiffs of corruption, fighting against a National Park scheme, for goodness sake. The rousing speech he gives about free enterprise and hard work might go down better across the pond, but from here it strikes as David Cameron-style political fluff.

The mountain shots are pretty, the cast are pretty, and Rhys Ifans skulks around. But for a film supposedly about death, dishonesty, betrayal and vengeance, it is only shocking in its lacklustre.

Mr Turner

Mr.-Turner

Mike Leigh recently said that the “Hollywood acting” of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and other red carpet regulars, was “not remotely interesting”. While not meaning to disrespect the stars, making clear that in their blockbuster field they could not be faulted, he marked them as “people playing themselves”, in a film fantasy world, that bears very little relation to reality. And it is reality that Leigh is most interested in: “that’s what it’s about as far as I’m concerned, it’s about real people out there in the real world, and finding your way of capturing that and distilling it onto the fictitious screen. That is the gas and the fun of it, and the meat and bones, and what turns audiences on”.

And you know what? He’s right. That is what his Mr Turner really proves. Timothy Spall does not put on the guise of Turner over his regular features – he disappears into him, he becomes him. Spall is JMW Turner. Aside from the beautifully coloured and framed shots, Leigh has created a study that does not seem to be part of the movie business at all – it feels closer to a documentary or life portrait.

Spall is completely compelling and also, in some scenes, utterly repulsive. Turner is both genius visionary and snorting, growling oaf, both passionate romantic and neglectful brute. He is the singing, artistic sweetheart of his late-life love Mrs Booth and he is also the denier of his children from a former flame and sometimes sexual exploiter of his housekeeper (this scene must be among the most awkward sex scenes of 2014, involving a heaving, grunting Turner mounting his submissive housekeeper from behind, against a bookshelf, for all of a minute, before silently shuffling away) Leigh and Spall have together exactly evoked the tension between sublime artist and grubby man at the heart of Turner.

This is a beautifully executed creation. The shots echo Turner’s paintings, with intense skies and moody seascapes. An entire existence is evoked. It is at times uncomfortable and slow, but this is all intentional – life is not smooth or Hollywood paced. In Mr Turner Leigh has certainly distilled reality with expert artistry.

Posthumous Films

Most blockbuster movies come to the big screen with a bit of fuss – a bit of glitz and glamour and red carpet hype. However, some emerge with a little less sparkle and an added poignancy, as a presence on the big screen is all too noticeably absent in pre-release interviews and premiere line-ups. The Drop, released this week in the UK, is one of these films. Hotly anticipated and boasting Tom Hardy at its helm, the movie nonetheless carries a weight unrelated to its crime drama content, in the shape of the late James Gandolfini.

As Gandolfini’s last screen appearance before his death of a heart attack in June 2013, the film has been loaded with a bittersweet element unforeseen at the time of casting. The only actor the screenwriter Dennis Lehane (author of Mystic River and Shutter Island, who stretched his short story Animal Rescue to create the full length feature) insisted on during the casting process, the Sopranos’ star’s performance will now take on an even greater significance, to critics and the general public. It has been widely reviewed as a beautiful, haunting depiction of a hard, yet vulnerable man. While his entire body of work now acts as a memorial to him, this film will always have the feeling of an elegy surrounding it; The Drop will immortalise Gandolfini.

This season seems to be full of dark and disquieting cinematic resurrections. A Most Wanted Man, released last month, and the Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I hit the audience harder than originally imagined, due to the appearance of Philip Seymour Hoffman in both. Although the latest instalment of the Hunger Games is surrounded by a dense cloud of hype and anticipation, Jennifer Lawrence’s powerhouse production carries an unshakable, uncomfortable undercurrent in the knowledge that at the time of filming Hoffman was only months away from his untimely death.

A Most Wanted Man has been hailed as a fitting tribute to the extraordinary actor, honouring his remarkable, but agonizing talent. Hoffman was known and respected for his ability to inhabit his roles and perfectly capture characters marked by melancholy and trauma. However, it is impossible to watch Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel without accompanying pangs of discomfort at the dishevelled, psychologically wounded man Hoffman depicts. With tragic hindsight the incredible performance hits too close to home.

The experience of seeing a familiar face, projected 10-feet high in glaring high resolution, while knowing that face is but a memory, is an uncanny and unnatural one. An actor’s death often prompts a craving to return to their classic performances – to remember their talents, pay a strange kind of respect, or to escape the finality of their passing in film frames of their younger selves. However, posthumous films following closely on the tails of loss can sometimes feel too much like rubbing salt in our collective wounds. While retreating into Jumanji or Dead Poets Society can help ease the shock of Robin Williams’ suicide, the prospect of seeing Williams in Yuletide piece Merry Friggin Christmas strikes as unfortunate, even distasteful, rather than seasonally sentimental.

Film is a kind of immortality. It offers the chance to reawaken past stars, relive their classic moments and revel in their unique tics and gestures. It is this eternal quality that makes classic movies so appealing – the ability to jump back in time, without leaving the sofa. However, this is only a pleasurable retreat when there has been a little distance between the past and the present, when stars are truly understood and accepted as part of film history. The problem with final films is that, rather than being mentally linked with golden times past, they are inextricably linked to final days. In years to come, Williams, Hoffman and Gandolfini will become fond memories, absorbed, like James Dean or Steve McQueen, into cinema history – all of their films will act as tributes. However, at present, any premiere lacking their faces will come as a jolt and any viewing of new releases will be marked with a touch of almost unbearable tragedy.

Music and the Movies

Musicals are known to be box office safe zones. Along with movies starring a bespectacled wizard or a motor-fuel slathered Megan Fox, films that involve familiar red carpet faces stretching their vocal muscles are predictable, bankable hits.

The logic is clear: if a West End show is causing a sensation, then a version starring some glossy Hollywood stars, where popcorn is readily available, is sure to draw the crowds. And, despite many a film snob avowing differently, on a Friday evening after a working week, an all-singing, all-dancing number is probably going to be more of a good time than a black and white piece of German expressionism.

But what about the films that still have music at their core, but don’t start life on the stage boards or in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s notebook? Musicals are bankable; music biopics, perhaps like the stars they focus on, can be unpredictable. While some of the logic seems the same – fans of platinum selling artists can surely be transformed into cinema ticket buyers – the feel-good aspect is not nearly so guaranteed. Many of the musicians and bands that attract filmmakers are not those with a jazz-hands happy ending – it is usually the cult figures, the ones who have earned the popular title of ‘tortured artist’ that capture the imagination.

It isn’t surprising that Joy Division’s Ian Curtis became the subject for Anton Corbijn’s Control, or that studios fought over the rights to potential ownership of Kurt Cobain’s life story. It is often the tragic tales and the dark myths that linger in the mind – cinema offers the chance to continue stories that seemed to end all too soon. The gossip surrounding a possible Amy Winehouse biopic is enough to suggest many pictures grow from a subsection of morbid fascination.

It is the behind-the-scenes grit, the rock and roll hedonism and the hidden stories behind the iconic albums that filmmakers, and film viewers, want to capture. Unless the aim is a Justin Bieber, Never Say Never, or One Direction Where We Are style affair, what makes directors hot under the collar are troubled tales (even Justin and Harry are known to have darker sides to their tween-bop image).

It’s only natural. Fiction needs its drama and its hooks – almost every film needs its moment of crisis. Wildness, addiction and instability are common fare. However, when it’s not fiction, when real lives and real issues are the focus, filmmakers can easily get themselves into muddy waters. A lot rides on their depictions. Unlike musicals, the soundtrack can’t support the entire movie. Control succeeded because it was sensitive and personal and because Corbijn’s genius thrived. Biopics that latch onto a big name and rely on only that to carry them through can all too easily go the way of a half-hearted B-side.

(for http://www.studentnewspaper.org/cult-column-6/ )

Silver Screen Stigma

In general, mental health issues do not get a great treatment on film. In the Hollywood la-la-land of clichés, mental illness gets grouped into one of three camps: the heart-rending, obstacle-overcoming Academy Award favourite (guaranteed to be played by a red carpet stalwart – think Kate Winslet’s turn as Holocaust nurse in Extras for inspiration, or just watch Rain Man), the disturbed, twisted psycho (think Hannibal, think “here’s Johnny”), or the comedic token ‘bit mad’ character (Napoleon Dynamite, Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys, though that was probably more than just ‘a bit’ mad…)

It isn’t often that a nuanced depiction of mental health is portrayed on screen. Issues are misunderstood, exaggerated and used as plot device. Maybe this isn’t surprising in a world that so often misunderstands or marginalises issues related to mental health. If the greatest killer in the United Kingdom to males under 35, more so than coronary heart disease, is suicide, we clearly have a problem that we are not addressing. Could part of the problem be the messages being proclaimed loud and clear from television and cinema screens that mental illness is a case of horror, pity or hilarity?

In Edinburgh, from the 1st of October, a series of films will be trying in some way to challenge these misconceptions that swarm around mental health, as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Now in its eighth year, this hugely diverse festival, which spans venues across Scotland and includes visual art, literature and theatre as well as film, presents a wide range of concepts surrounding mental health, often created by artists with experience of mental issues. The relationship between creativity and the mind – a relationship that is constantly speculated about, often involving the familiar banners of ‘creative genius’ and ‘tortured artist’ – is explored in every piece. These films are art in their own right, but also question the use of art. Can the creative arts promote mental health and wellbeing? Can art or film be a tool for social justice?

Social stigma is being given the silver screen treatment. This year especially, the festival aims to redress the Hollywood balance that all too often associates mental ill health with disempowerment. This year the theme is ‘Power’. Some pieces explicitly deal with the loss of power (real or socially imagined) that accompanies mental illness and the contrasting empowerment gained through creativity. A key film from the Edinburgh programme (mainly screened at the Filmhouse Cinema) is Mars Project, which examines schizophrenia through the seemingly unlikely realm of Hip Hop. Following Hip Hop artist Khari ‘Conspiracy’ Stewart, who sees the voices in his head not as a sickness but a gift, one that grants him artistic inspiration, this film raises controversial, frequently silenced, questions about how we define sickness and when we see the line between musical genius and madness as having slipped.

One in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem in any given year. A study in 2013 found that one in five students see themselves as struggling with their mental health. Paranoia, depression, anxiety, or any other kind of mental difficulty are not rare exceptions to some kind of mental ‘norm’, they are part of the majority’s life experience. If other issues highlighted by the film festival are taken into account – immigration, conflict situations, memory loss or addiction for example – then the relevance of these stories only grows. These are diverse, challenging, affecting, interesting and profoundly nuanced pieces. They are human stories and they are powerful.