The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (and the benefits of volunteering for it)


Now, some of you dedicated blog readers may have noticed that Shamelessly Awful has been absent on the interwebs as of late.
This is not due to emotional distress or a creative meltdown.
I would even half-heartedly argue that it is not due to laziness.

No, the reason it has been absent is because the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival has been in town, and yours truly has been volunteering at it for the past two weeks, savouring the delights of art-house film, befriending like-minded individuals and being on the receiving end of fine malt whiskey, ginger ales and crab juice.

It’s a cliché to hear this about any event, excursion or holiday, but the Jameson film festival was a truly incredible and very memorable experience. A season ticket holder will appreciate it, true enough, but to get to the real heart of the festival…well, you simply have to volunteer. Where else can you see a grown man wearing a ‘Honey 2’ vest top without any semblance of shame? Not in the ticket offices anyway (although that would make the entire drudgery of picking up a ticket considerably more enjoyable).

Stargaze Expo
The newest addition to the Jameson Film Festival was also its busiest. In the four hours or so that you’d be volunteering here per day, you could have as many as ten or fifteen people walking through its doors, wandering aimlessly around the room and sometimes being so bold as to even ask questions. Needless to say, the entire experience was intense. More so, when you consider the fact that this man would be staring directly (…or indirectly) at you for the entire time from his portrait across the room:


For those of you that didn’t get the opportunity to sample the delights of the expo, ignore my sarcastic criticisms.
(I could personally be standing in the middle of a clown orgy and still find ways to be bored).
In that small room atop St. Stephens Green Shopping Centre, there were photos on display that dated from the 40s all the way to the modern-day. These photos captured some of cinemas’ greatest celebrities while they enjoyed their time in Ireland.

Among these portraits were stills of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy at a children’s hospital, Maureen O’ Hara playing in the snow in her aunt’s house, Judi Dench accepting her degree at UCD and a picture of Pierce Brosnan looking windswept and interesting (whom everyone, without fail, mistook for Tom Cruise for some reason).

It was an inspired look into the role Ireland plays in the film industry, but there are one or two things the public did not know about the Stargaze expo:

  • There was only one spot in the entire room that received Broadband and it was, coincidentally, the exact shape of a laptop (making movement of aforementioned laptop a hazard)
  • Marty Feldman’s eyes (see above) moved all the time. All. The. Time.
  • Seàn Kingston is better at ‘5 degrees of Kevin Bacon’ than anyone on the planet.
  • The room containing the Stargaze Expo has a window that overlooks Stephens Green. Apparently, some people have issues if you stand at this window and point hairdryers at the crowds below.

The Festival Itself

The actual festival consisted of less standing around in isolation and more standing around talking to people. Oddly, this one fact made the entire experience massively enjoyable. More importantly, it also gave us, the heroic volunteers, an opportunity to see some free films.
(While there were no mention of embargoes on these films, I remain wary of reviewing them. Therefore, the following excerpts are my own personal responses to the films I was fortunate enough to see, and NOT an in-depth analysis or review.)

Samsara

It might seem a little pointless to describe a film which I missed the beginning and end of, but Samsara stands out as an exceptional piece of film-making. A documentary of sorts, it focuses on many aspects of different cultures, connected through theme rather than location or events. Not a single word is spoken throughout the entire feature, and it is a testament to the directors ability that he manages to keep his audience enraptured throughout.

He does this through the use of exceptional camerawork, presenting some of the most beautiful and profound imagery imaginable. Of particular interest is a shot which depicts the night sky, sped up to make the natural cycle of the stars seem like a meteor shower. This is followed shortly of a shot that is similar in appearance, but entirely different in theme. It depicts the headlights of slow-moving cars in an urban sprawl, again sped up, to highlight the intensity of urban lifestyles.

Walking out of this screening before the film had concluded turned out to be a difficult thing to do. More information about Samsara can be found here.
(Incidentally, it was while taking tickets for this film I discovered the entertaining folly of exchanging the word ‘film’ with ‘aquarium’ while saying “Enjoy the Film” to audience members. No doubt some entered feeling a little unsure of what they had just heard.)

The Monk

As a big fan of Matthew Lewis’ ‘The Monk’, I was more than a little excited about the film adaptation that was to debut at the festival. This was the novel that almost single-handedly launched the notion of The Gothic, incorporating just about every modern horror movie element into its pages. It has the secluded cottage full of murderers (a là Texas Chainsaw Massacre), it has the supernatural ghost story (a là The Haunting), it has the christian interpretation of Hell upsetting the natural order (a là The Exorcist). It truly is a great achievement of literature. Which is why I was so very surprised at how bland the film itself was.

Naturally, aspects of the novel need to be cut, due to its length. But to exclude the murderers cabin and ghost story ENTIRELY?! It is a grievance that only exacerbates my overall displeasure with the film. My primary disappointment is with the actor portraying the monk, Ambrosio, himself. Vincent Castle is a fine actor, he did excellent work in Black Swan. Yet here, he may as well be a cardboard cutout. He delivers his lines with absolutely no enthusiasm and, by the film’s conclusion, he may as well just be bored. Other aspects of the film had their merits, the set design in particular, but this uninspired performance detracts from any positive attributes the film may have had. More information can be found on The Monk here.

Turn Me On, Goddammit

There probably isn’t such a genre as a heart-warming, coming-of-age, sexuality-awareness comedy…

But if there WAS, Turn Me On, Goddammit, would surely be among the best! Unlike conventional comedies, produced in the Hollywood machine, this film doesn’t feel the need to go over the top, firing one-liners at almost every opportunity. So much of this film relies on subtly, and it makes the comedy, when you do spot them, that much funnier. Alma, the films protagonist, is delightfully blunt and weird. She has occasional sexual fantasies, one of which takes place in a convenience store and managed to send the majority of the audience into hysterics. The intruding next door neighbor provides some excellent laughs also.

Surprisingly, the over arching story manages to be quite touching. Taking place in an isolated mountain town, sanity can only retained by teenagers by having romances, and it is interesting to see how individual characters deal with this. Alma’s best friend, Sara, allows for one of the best constructed and most heartwarming side stories imaginable, so much so that you (almost) wish her story was the primary focus. This is until the conclusion which is simultaneously heartwarming and ridiculous. More information on Turn Me On, Goddammit can be found here.

Invisible

A Palestinian film that deals with very ‘cheerful’ subject matter, Invisible focuses on the chance meeting of two women that were attacked by the same serial rapist. Despite the notably low production values, Invisible is a compelling film. A slight ‘Thelma and Louise’ vibe radiates from it, but the way in which the film depicts the long-term effects of such a traumatic event are gripping. Interestingly, I found myself wondering which character was ‘stronger’, judging from how they coped with their lives and the events which have taken place previously. It took a while for this notion to be dispelled, but when it was, the realization that came with it was profound and striking.

Impressive for its initial subtly, and then it’s brashness by going in the opposite direction, Invisible is not as difficult film to watch as you might assume. Sure, it’s a bit ‘rape-y’, but it is surprisingly enjoyable despite that. More information for Invisible can be found here.

Silent House

What film festival would be complete without a good horror thrown into the works. While not a perfect film, Silent House manages to tick enough boxes for it to be considered a success. It is the most traditional ghost story you can imagine, girl stuck in a creepy house that makes a lot of strange noises (ironically, considering the title). However, the way in which these shocks are delivered are quite inspired. The shaky camera style sometimes obscures whatever it is Laura, the protagonist, is screaming at, which will certainly cause ambivalent reactions.

Because the story itself is so simple (it takes place in real-time and from one perspective), you will find yourself trying to figure out the cause of the events more than once. The conclusion will probably be touched upon, but nailing it will be more difficult. Silent House delivers well on its frights, hardly ever resorting to conventional jump-scares and thus radiating an intense creepiness rather than outright horror. The fact that the windows of the house are covered, making it pitch black inside despite the daylight outside, is a nice touch. More information for Silent House can be found here.

JDIFF Shorts

The JDIFF shorts (the second lot) consisted of six short films by aspiring film makers, and boasts some notable talent in Ireland. The films range from the intense, the frivolous, the sweet to the downright bizarre.

The Centre of the Universe
Easily the most unusual of the short films, this film focuses on a young girl who applies for a job in the centre of the universe. Years later, she finally receives a response, long after she has stopped believing in such fantasies. Surprisingly high quality special effects, some impressive talent and witty dialogue make this a film to look out for, especially as it opts to go down the Dr. Who sci-fi route, unlike more conventional shorts.

Frontiersman
A documentary focusing on some unique individuals working in the Donegal area. It starts off somewhat slow, and not thoroughly engaging, but ends on a high note, giving the audience a unique and entertaining, if not somewhat narrow, view of the Donegal people.

Switch
The most intense film by far, and particularly moving, Switch is a noticeably short film that uses its minimal running time very well. It focuses on a girl in a catatonic state, and the man who put her into it.

Rhinos
Taking a conventional love story (boy meets girl, falls in love, etc, yadda yadda, EXPLOSION!) is a safe bet for a film, because it has mass appeal, but only if done well. And Rhino’s is done very well, focusing on the chance meeting between Thomas and Ingrid. Genuinely funny because of the cultural divide, it is also quite moving, with Aylin Tezel, the actress playing Ingrid, submitting a very strong performance.

Rats Island
An unusual film, it focuses on a homeless father that manages to make a refuge on an island with his son. Interesting in theory, it isn’t particularly engaging. The fathers and sons accents also make them difficult to understand.

Pairs and Spares
Notably light and frivolous, this film plays out more like an advertisement for bowling than anything else. Very short, and arguably pointless, it is nonetheless very difficult not to enjoy with its lighthearted tone.

Bambi

What better way to end the festival than with a simple and joyous celebration of Disney animation?
(What can I say about this film that hasn’t been said already?)
Personally, I’ve always found very early Disney films to be disengaging, once you reach a certain age. But amongst crowds of people, the appeal is apparent. Aimed primarily at children, it can still be appreciated for its commendable story telling. Taking the antics of woodland creatures and spinning such an iconic tale out of it takes a considerable degree of skill.

The way in which the different seasons are portrayed in Bambi deserve a mention, as they are conveyed beautifully through aesthetics, songs and tone. And of course, it was simultaneously traumatic, and very very funny, to hear a whole cinema full of kids say “What just happened?” at THAT point in the film. Still an enjoyable movie, if not a bit too childish for some. More information for Bambi (if you really need it) can be found here.

And to sum up:

Plenty of other things happened at the Jameson Film Festival as well. Dropping several bottles of water at the popcorn desk caused someone to scream “YOUR WATER BROKE!” at me.
However, these stories won’t seem half as entertaining to those that didn’t experience them themselves.
The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival is well worth the time investing in. Buy a season ticket, you will undoubtedly see some films that might never make it to Ireland otherwise.
And if possible, volunteer. You get free stuff and meet people, and who doesn’t love that?

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