Politics And Passion At Edinburgh Film Festival


Edinburgh International Film Festival is the world’s longest running film festival, showcasing the latest and best of world cinema, with something for everyone.

This years showcasing of the latest in moving image talent reveals a new generation of film makers are struggling to lift their heads above the parapets.

Top of the list for films of passion in the Rosebud section, has to be Extraordinary Rendition.

Trotsky in his book on Literature and Art said: ‘True art is unable not to be revolutionary, not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction of society.

‘This it must do to deliver intellectual creation from the chains that bind it, and to allow all mankind to raise itself to achieve those heights, which only isolated geniuses have achieved in the past.’

He added: ‘Art can become a strong ally of revolution only insofar as it remains faithful to itself.’

Extraordinary Rendition is just such a film.

It will have an ‘extraordinary’ impact when it is released, both topical and timely.

Its premiere coincides with the arrest of Scottish student Mohammed Atif Siddique from Clackmannanshire on charges to include ‘possessing articles useful to a person preparing for an act of terrorism’.

Zafir (performed brilliantly by Andy Serkis) is a London-based academic of Middle Eastern origin who asks a question to his students as to what constitutes terrorism.

Later on his way home, he is kidnapped off a London Street and imprisoned in chains in the back of a lorry.

Interrogated and drugged, he is loaded onto a plane and transported to an unrecognisable middle-eastern location. Here a cynical and seedy Kaki uniformed officer interrogates him.

Zafir is subjected to gruesome psychological and unbelievably sickening torture.

He is beaten, urninated-on, drowned, subjected to naked humiliation, and his personal intimate relationship with his wife paraded in front of him.

You see his torment full screen in-your-face, your thoughts and emotions are squirming. It could be YOU next!

The film remains fictional. It never identifies the soldier’s nationality or affiliations, it speaks volumes unsaid.

There is no hero’s welcome for damaged Zafir, who arrives home, not broken but numbed.

The British justice is indifferent, questioning his story, the intimate relation he had with his wife is for the moment beyond him.

The film cuts forwards and backwards between these scenes, reminding you always that Zafir is being tortured.

Director Jim Threapleton said he ‘founded the film on the bona fide practice of the US and British states to deliver untried suspects to foreign soil to be “questioned” beyond the reach of restrictive human rights laws, and the anger of their own citizens’.

Speaking to News line after the film debut, Producer Andy Noble said: ‘Making this film was a personal challenge, it was made on a narrow budget without a script, with the actors and actresses improvising their parts.’

He added that ‘human rights abuses needed to be addressed’.

Noble said: ‘I wanted to expose a government strategy that is beyond the rule of law, and the moral hypocrisy of the democratic values they seem to expound. It is the dark underside of state governed expediency.’

Fortunately for Noble it is not the McCarthy era and his film will get released.

Another film of passion is Western Trunk Line (Xi gan dao), directed by Beijing Film Academy graduate, Wang Yu, in 1989.

Made in the People’s Republic of China, beautifully shot with memorable effects by DOP Wang Yu, the setting is in the period of the Cultural Revolution, and portrays the unrest of the youth in China against the stifling censorship of the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy.

This is all charmingly shown in a delightful, humorous story without becoming anti-communist.

The dignity of the nationalised property relations is preserved in the delightful family and community relations in Chinese society that Wang Yu captures in his camera.

Li Siping (Li Jie) lives in a dul, northern settlement, Xi gan dao, with a large quarry served by a railway line, run by the state. But Li is not interested and skips work, trying to get news from the outside world on a broken radio.

When pretty young Yu Xueyan (Shen Jiani), who sings, dances and plays music, arrives from Beijing, the young worker is besotted as she embodies an escape from ennui.

Star of the show is Square Face, Li Siping’s little brother, who is bullied at school for drawing in his school books which he hides to avoid his army doctor father’s disapproval. When his brother’s affair with Yu is discovered and censored by the authorities, he pays a heavy price.

It is an absolutely charming film, sad and loving, you could keep watching for hours.

Meanwhile, Breach – Director Billy Ray’s International Premiere, is based on the life story of FBI double agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) who sold US intelligence to the Soviet Union for 15 years.

The US department of Justice described it as ‘possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history’. Rookie FBI Agent, Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe) is assigned to covertly report on veteran agent Robert Hanssen, whose odd behaviour has made the US agency’s top brass suspicious.

Eric O’Niell provided the final evidence to shop Hanssen who is now serving a life sentence in Colorado with 23 hours a day of solitary confinement and no possibility of parole.

Among the ‘shorts’, Jehovah’s Witness, is a noir comedy, in which a Jehovah’s Witness proselytiser, doing his rounds, is invited in to be a witness to a distraught couple’s domestic break up.

In an atmosphere filled with sinister undertones of violence and murder, the preacher’s paltry attempts to council the couple in the Christian values of forgiveness come to a sticky end.

Directed and Produced by Alain Kramer, the film lobs a lampoon at bourgeois morality with a twist. Highly entertaining!

The Gala UK Premiere Death Proof is described as blistering, bloody good fun, scripted and director by veteran iconoclast Quentin Tarantino.

Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a scarred inadequate who requires an armour-plated stunt car to communicate his feelings about women.

But with succulent shots of well-turned ankles and undulating bottoms Tarantino’s chicks are women of sass and substance, just as witty and sexually carnivorous as the men they encounter.

Their smart-ass quips and sexy outfits are no match for the speeding vehicle of a psycho vengefully attacking women who ‘think they are it’, until he meets a new crew of hotties (including Zoë Bell, Uma Thurman’s formidable Kill Bill stunt double), who take him on at break neck speed.

A more serious and moving documentary feature is We are Together (Thina Simuye), Zulu and English dialogue with English subtitles, beautifully shot in exquisite colour, the story of South Africa’s estimated 12 million AIDS orphans.

These face almost unimaginable misery and sorrow as their loved ones, unable to afford the expensive anti-retroviral drugs to keep them alive, face a death sentence. The children form a choir. And find joy in the hardest of times.

The movie is directed by Paul Taylor who worked at the Agape Orphanage founded by ‘Grandma’ Zodwa Mqadi, while on a three month break from film school.

His relationship with the children allowed him to film even the most candid scenes without being intrusive.

Hopefully, the fine pieces of work debut at the Edinburgh International Film Festival will find wide distribution to be enjoyed and absorbed by millions of people engaged in similar struggles.