As I mentioned in my coverage of Day 1, after three years of being solely a paying punter taking in the festival has escalated somewhat and I am now involved in a whole range of media coverage. Day 2 saw me take the first steps on two particular journeys as part of that coverage.
The other thing that Day 1 had brought was some unexpected recognition of my behind the scenes support, as part of a cast of dozens that help to make the festival what it is. While my contribution was fairly minimal compared to some of those that work full time for much of the year to bring these eleven days of cinematic heaven to the public each year, everyone is equally rewarded when it comes to thanking those involved, and a giant caption displayed before each film lists the names of those involved. The past year of my involvement in film activity in and around Cambridge means that a significant proportion of these names are now people I know and talk to regularly, and it’s had the effect of making the festival that much more interactive, and even more enjoyable for a fledgling film geek like myself.
In fact, I was so thrilled to see my name in lights that I hadn’t noticed something about it:
That’s my name, at the top of the third column. It took me two films to notice that my name was spelled wrong. But hey, there’s no wrong letters, just a slight absence of all of the rights ones, and I’m a firm believer in that it’s the thought that counts.
So my first involvement of the day was to introduce the film Mushrooming, then to host the Q & A afterwards. Actor Raivo E. Tamm had been brought over by the Estonian embassy especially for the film’s two screenings, and I headed down to introduce him and the film, having seen a screener of it already. Arriving at the microphone, I got right into the line of the projector and promptly blinded myself, causing me to give a rather panicked introduction. Raivo stayed in for the duration of the film, allowing me to pop out and continue to prep for my questions later. Q & A sessions can sometimes be difficult to judge, as you never know quite how many questions are going to come up. In the end I asked two or three lead in questions, and then left the rest to an audience seemingly keen to know more about the actual practice of Mushrooming.
The film itself played after a whole Estonian season last year (including Raivo as Disgruntled Tennis Player in The Temptation Of St. Tony) and Raivo backed up the fact that Estonian cinema appears to be attempting to be a little less deep and ponderous. Mushrooming starts out quite dry, but gradually blends its genres until a simple trip into the woods for a politician and his wife escalates into a stand-off in a cabin with a redneck and a rock star. It’s played generally very straight, and consequently it might not be for everyone, but you must be doing something right if you can be simultaneously over the top and understated. (And Raivo’s the best thing in it, even if I had to concentrate extraordinarily hard at all times not to call him Ravio.)
It feels odd watching a physics documentary in Cambridge. Twenty years ago I was turned down here for a place reading mathematics after I had two interviews. The physics one went so badly I couldn’t remember Newton’s three laws, so I felt slightly uncomfortable sitting in an audience potentially filled with some fine academic minds. I needn’t have worried; Particle Fever gets the balance just right between the human stories of the CERN project at the Large Hadron Collider and giving a sense of the magnitude of the potential consequences of the discoveries being made for the very future of science itself. The editing by science buff and not-bad-editor-either Walter Murch helps to condense the four year story into a digestible narrative with clear direction, but it’s the graphics from design firm D12 (also responsible for Quantum Of Solace’s opening credits, fact fans) that help to make the science digestible. Mark Levinson’s project is clearly one of passion and is far more likely to inspire people to an interest in physics than day 1’s Hawking documentary.
We have become so inured to the sight of extreme sportsmen at events such as the X-Games pulling off their tricks that the element of spectacle can be somewhat diminished, driving the sportsmen themselves to attempt even greater stunts for our gratification. We’re also so accustomed to seeing the stunts not quite come off that when champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce comes a cropper at the start of this documentary, just six weeks before the Olympics, we’d naturally expect him to dust himself off and for this to be a story of triumph over adversity. But The Crash Reel is something very different, and so much more powerful for it.
Kevin suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and Lucy Walker’s documentary charts his path to attempted recovery, alongside the strain it’s put on his close-knit family and especially two of his brothers, one of whom suffers from Down’s Syndrome. The Crash Reel is both a gripping human drama and a damning indictment of the nature of extreme sports. Walker has struck documentary gold with her subjects and makes the most of what she’s been given, and has assembled a documentary that will traumatise and appal you in the best ways possible, but if there’s any justice in the world should be a catalyst for change in these fledgling sports. Just occasionally the onscreen graphics feel a little overdone as Walker attempts to keep on top of her characters, but other than that it’s hard to find a flaw, and hopefully this will find a wider market than just snowboarding geeks; I for one felt physically affected by it.