Manchester Film Festival: Day 1

This year’s MANIFF looks a little different – it’s a young festival (2017 is its third year) and so this is to be expected.

This time around, there seem to be fewer films and only one venue. I don’t know if there have been simply fewer submissions, or if it was a conscious decision to makes screenings more accessible. I had booked the Friday off work in anticipation of attending and supporting day time screenings, but there are none on the Friday during the day. One up-side is that, with all films being screened at Printworks, it makes getting around the festival a whole lot more practical.

The “opening night gala presentation”, also part of the ‘Women In Film’ strand, was the Lisa Edwards-directed Alfie Boe – On the Wheels of a Dream – more of which later

The main “feature” was preceded by three short films: The Last Laugh (dir Paul Hendy), One Last Dance (dir Luke Losey) and Taubman (dir Ben Price). I really enjoyed all of these. The Last Laugh focusses on legendary British comedians Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe and Bob Monkhouse quipping on their insecurities and fear of dying on stage (in a comedic sense – older viewers will recognise that Cooper actually did suffer a heart attack on stage mid-act which ended his life). One Last Dance offers a lovely snap-shot of a moment of grief and bereavement, and Taubman throws a timely eye over government surveillance, hacking, and religious persecution All three worth a watch for different reasons.

The main event followed swiftly. At 56 minutes long/short, Alfie Boe – On the Wheels of a Dream barely qualifies as a feature. I presume it was chosen to open the festival because of Alfie Boe’s North West connections, and because the director is female, therefore supporting the Women In Film strand.

It was a brave choice.

The filmmakers had access to Alfie Boe , his musicians and management team during his US tours in 2012/13. During this time, Boe talks frankly about wanting to change musical direction away from his opera roots, and sets out to do so. We see him play to tiny audiences in large theatres, and it’s tough for him.

The film collapses to its conclusion with some titles informing that he broke with his management team (no explanation ) and was last seen back on Broadway in Les Miserables (in 2015). The dream didn’t pan out, but we don’t know why, and there is no information after 2015. The film seems to have missed its proverbial boat. There’s a point during the film in which Boe says he sang his last note as Valjean and realised that his life would never be the same again. Why? Why couldn’t we explore this? This is interesting!

Instead we get Boe singing an interminable soft rock song which seemed to be a metaphor for the whole film. It’s no surprise that Boe is not promoting this film himself, as it probably for him represents a failed dream. Which is sad, but the film’s drama surely should be not delicately commenting that it failed, but exploring why it failed.

I don’t like to have a downer on something someone has put a lot of time and effort into creating, but this is an ITV2 Sunday night programme for the Alfie Boe fans, and not a film festival opening gala feature.

I’ve not been to that many film festivals, but I was taken aback to hear the producers and directors (who were sitting near me) clap and cheer their own names when they appeared on the screen, talk to each other at points during the screening, and then woop and begin the applause for their own film as the end-credits rolled. If it is usual, then film festivals are very strange places.

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