Cinefile Review



The 65th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival runs from 15-26 June.

John Michael McDonagh's The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson & Mark Strong, will be the opening night film.

There are world premieres for David Hare's return to the big screen with Page Eight and Niall MacCormick's Albatross.   

Bela Tarr's highly acclaimed, Turin Horse, which received a Silver Bear at this years Berlin IFF for best direction, receives its first UK screening.

Other eye catching UK premieres include latest films from Alex de la Iglesia, Pablo Larrain & Celine Sciamma.

EIFF and Sheffield Doc/Fest, which have both moved to June dates, took the sensible decision of collaborating on the joint exhibition of various documentaries rather than competing against each other to the inevitable detriment of both festivals.  Danfung Dennis' Hell & Back Again, Alma Har'el's Bombay Beach & James Marsh's  Project Nim, all major prize winners elsewhere, are amongst the films included in both festivals.

Other notable documentaries include Lucy Walker's Countdown To Zero and Ali Samadi Ahadi's The Green Wave.

The perspectives section for classic and obscure titles grants a mini retrospective to Derek Jardin, including his 1993 masterpiece, Blue. 

                                                                SELECTED FILMS

Albatross (2010)

D. Niall MacCormick

World premiere

Pre-screening hype has raised expectations for this coming of age comedy set against the backdrop of an author in crisis.

Bleak Night (2010)

D. Sung-hyun Yoon

UK premiere

Father investigating his son's death discovers uncomfortable home truths.

Bombay Beach (2011)

D. Alma Har'el

Winner of this best documentary at Tribeca Film Festival, Har'el's outstanding fly-on-the-wall debut follows the diverse residents currently living outside of mainstream society in a failed 1960's development expansion in California.

Countdown To Zero (2010)

D. Lucy Walker

The danger of nuclear disaster in the post-Soviet era receives the full treatment in Lucy Walkers' festival hit.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010)

D. Jose Padilha

UK premiere

The sequel to Padilha's surprise winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin IFF 2008 depicts corruption lying behind law enforcement.

The Green Wave (2010)

D. Ali Samadi Ahadi

A collage of material from various sources and integrated animation provides insights into the Iranian Green Revolution campaign for political reform.


The Guard (2011)

D. John Michael McDonagh

UK premiere

Opening Film

Ireland's west coast is the setting for the latest take on the unlikely cop buddies sub-genre but within new cultural contexts.

Hell & Back Again (2010)

D. Danfung Dennis

Winner of World Cinema Jury Award at Sundance, Dennis' powerful depiction of the full horror of the Afghan war cuts between the frontline and a badly injured soldier struggling to cope with life back home.

Jack Goes Boating (2010)

D. Philip Seymour Hoffman

UK premiere

Hoffman plays the title role in his directorial debut of a man's search for companionship that brings Bob Glaudini's play to the big screen.

The Last Circus (2010)

D. Alex de la Iglesia

UK premiere

Clowns do battle in a novel parody on the Spanish Civil War & Franco's dictatorship.

Mama Africa (2011)

D. Mika Kaurismaki

Mika Kaurismaki uses interviews and extensive archive footage to pay cinematic tribute to South African singer and anti-apartheid and civil rights' activist, Miriam Makeba.


Mrs Carey's Concert (2011) 

D. Bob Connolly & Sophie Raymound

An opportunity to consider ethical issues arising from the portrayal of goal orientated subjects with Connolly/Raymound's close look at a Sydney school teacher preparing pupils with varying degrees of enthusiasm to perform at the Sydney Opera House.

Page Eight (2011)

D. David Hare

World premiere

Playwright David Hare returns to the big screen with a political thriller depicting the dark side of the British establishment.

Perfect Sense (2010)

D. David MacKenzie

UK premiere

A love story evolves as a strange epidemic attacks our senses.

Post Mortem (2010)

D. Pablo Larrain

UK premiere

Larrain's keenly awaited follow-up to Tony Manero examines Allende's dictatorship from an obscure angle.

Project Nim (2011)

D. James Marsh

Winner of best director of a documentary at Sundance, Academy Award winning filmmaker James Marsh (Man on Wire) recreates the story of the extraordinary 1970's experiment to communicate with a chimpanzee.

Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure (2011)

D. Matthew Bate

Relevant look at the status of audio tapes of squabbling neighbours made without consent but not using any bugging techniques.

Tomboy (2011)

D. Celine Sciamma

UK premiere

Sciamma's follow-up to the Water Lilies, explores female sexuality from an unorthodox starting point.

Turin Horse (2010)

D. Bela Tarr

UK premiere

Silver Bear winner at this year's Berlin IFF for best direction is Tarr's latest depiction of reality through austere formalism.     

(Graham Eley)                       


                              FESTIVAL FILM IN FOCUS - HELL & BACK AGAIN

Hell & Back Again (2011)   

War photographer turned filmmaker, Danfung Dennis won the World Cinema Jury Award at Sundance for this powerful depiction of the full horror of the Afghan frontline and the torment of a badly injured soldier struggling to cope with life back home.

The arid emptiness of the Afghan terrain, the invisibility of the Taliban lurking in the shadows taking pot shots at the occupying forces and the sight of dead bodies lying on the ground or on stretchers are images that are so familiar to us that their power to shock in TV footage and newspapers is very much diminished.  Documentary filmmakers have presented it from a different angle; they have sited themselves in the heart of action for sustained periods, given it a personal context and, for a short moment, moving images return the audience to the reality of the conflict, no longer desensitised. 

But audiences' appetite to experience the hell of frontline conflict has its limitations.  Filmmakers require a buzz factor; something different to catch the eye of festival juries and generate positive word of mouth.  Danfung Dennis' debut film is a superior example, an intelligent juxtaposition of two time frames that intercuts  between the fighting and its appalling consequences for one Marine. 

Dennis follows the terrifying Russian Roulette existence of the Echo Company trying to avoid the bullet, based on little more than instincts.  We witness deaths at extremely close quarters and Marines breaking down in the absolute sense upon the death of their friends in combat.  With Dennis' camera held at a respectful distance, these are instants that appear momentarily frozen in time, that suspend our thought, intensifying the experience of the loss.

The supremely confident Sgt. Nathan Harris rises above the chaos strutting around this waste land thinking on his feet, providing orders.  And then, in the final throes of his deployment, machine gun fire from a Taliban ambush demolishes his hip and femur.  In a flash, it was the end of his frontline career and the start of a new living hell.

Back home in North Carolina, Harris undergoes the lengthy, repetitive and agonisingly painful rehabilitation process but worse is his torment at being destined for a civilian lifestyle that he finds repellent.  “I would rather be in Afghanistan where its simple" he says, concealing his face.  With frustration taking hold and dependency on painkillers increasing, this is a mental and physical battle that seems as unwinnable as that in Afghanistan.   

With powerful and penetrating footage shot with Dennis' discerning eye and shrewd editing from the impressive Fiona Otway, co-editor on Iraq in Fragments, the two stories depict a very complete picture of the realities of war in the 21st century.  A welcome addition to the sub-genre, offering new insights without losing impact.

Graham Eley

Chief Film Critic


Filmmaker: Danfung Dennis

Editor: Fiona Otway

Genre: Documentary

Duration: 88 mins