I sat down recently with Jamie Jones and Sophie Kennedy Clark, the director and lead actress of what was undoubtedly one of the best films of the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year: the brilliant, brutal Obey. During our chat, we talked extensively about the hotly-debated topic of gentrification in London, in which Jones told me that he, himself, “saw the transition towards gentrification in Hackney” and laments on probably having “been a part of it himself”. As we talked, both he and Kennedy Clark lamented on the culture clash that is often found in London these days and the uniqueness of the city. “You have these huge high-rises, massive estates, right next to the most expensive houses! You get gang crime and you get people sitting drinking champagne and Peach Bellini’s in London fields.” Indeed, Jones even told me of a story of gentrification that he had once been involved in himself: “All these hipsters, I was amongst them, we were all just sat drinking champagne, the sun was shining and then we just heard a gunshot and a helicopter comes down and somebody was shot in the leg, and it just happened right next to us!” These sorts of opposing moments are found all throughout Obey, scattered across the film in various different manners, from individual scenes to the presentation of characters such as Kennedy Clark’s Twiggy and her band of bohemian friends squatting alongside Leon’s estate.
Have you ever planned out a conversation in your head, just for it to go completely off the rails when it happens? No matter how terrible things have gone for you, Reed (Christopher Abbott) probably has it worse. Instead of a conversation, he has a murder mapped out. With all intricately designed plans, one wrong step can be the catalyst for catastrophe, and in Piercing, that catalyst is prostitute-turned-victim Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) who instigates a blood-splattered catastrophe with equal amounts of stabbing and sexual tension. A psychosexual romp gone wrong (or right depending on how kinky you are), Nicolas Pesce’s follow-up to The Eyes of My Mother is a bold leap from his haunting debut that doesn’t quite stick the landing.
As of late, there has been a steady increase in the depiction of working-class life in British cinema – from Andrea Arnold’s stark, stunning Fish Tank to Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winning critique of austerity in I, Daniel Blake. Both of these films have been excellent, and both have felt incredibly brave in their willingness to honestly portray life for Britain’s working-classes under a Conservative government – one which has repeatedly mistreated the most financially vulnerable in the wake of the recession that came in 2008. As fantastic as I, Daniel Blake and Fish Tank are, however, they primarily focus on examining the lives of white characters; few films have set out to explore the experiences of those that are both working-class and black. This particular demographic has largely been ignored in British cinema, despite the rise in the number of stories of the working-classes that have been told lately, so it gives me pleasure to be able to say that Obey, the feature-length debut of director Jamie Jones, is not afraid to tackle such a subject. Obey is an emotionally raw, accomplished piece that consistently succeeds in attempting to give an honest depiction of the reality that this specific community is faced with.
Of all the films that I expected to see at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year, a camp, historical re-telling of Emily Dickinson’s life as one that was dominated by a secretive lesbian affair was perhaps the one that surprised me the most. Wild Nights with Emily is directed by Madeleine Olnek – the woman that brought us the deliciously ridiculous Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same – and I’m pleased to say that this lovely challenge to the traditional misconceptions surrounding Dickinson’s personal life, which often paint her as a lonesome recluse, contains much of the same outlandish humour and eccentricity found in Olnek’s earlier work.
Though Searching is thrillingly innovative with the way it uses the computer screen as a storytelling device, it cannot claim to be the first. That title goes to the horror film Unfriended (and by association its sequel coming next month). Perhaps no movie gimmick has earned more scoffs than the one Unfriended started. Imagine the grumbles of retrograde purists everywhere: kids these days are addicted to their computers, and now it has infiltrated into our cinemas yadda yadda yadda. While the computer screen format grew thin for producing jump scares, it may have found its niche in Searching as a tool for investigation.
EIFF may not be the biggest event on everyone’s calendars but it’s the world’s longest continually-running film festival. For the next 2 weeks, Scotland’s capital will play host to British world premieres, festival circuit favourites, and plenty of smaller films looking to find distribution. Two of our writers, Iana and Hannah, are attending this year and highlight a few of the films they are excited to see from this year’s eclectic programme.