The Empire in Leicester Square played host (alongside four other cinemas around the country) to the third annual British Independent Film Festival last weekend, and we were there to catch the world premiere of British high-octane horror Airborne on the Friday evening, as well as a trio of films screened the following day.
As the title suggests, the festival celebrates independent filmmaking and the choice of features this year represented an encouraging mix of genres (the full list of films can be found on the festival’s website.)
Boasting a number of familiar faces from popular genre films of the past (including ‘Last Crusade’ villain Julian Glover and a certain farm boy-turned Jedi Knight) Airborne follows a group of misfit passengers on a night flight to New York who get more than they bargained for during their stormy journey.
A number of stars from the film were in attendance on the Friday, including Andrew Shim (better known as ‘Milky’ from the This is England series). Playing a soldier who gets involved in the mid-air carnage, we asked how it felt to be given the opportunity to do an action role:
“I’ve done fight scenes before but I’ve never been involved in an actual, full-on action role. This was the first time I was offered the chance to do that and I was really grateful for it.”
He also talked briefly about his role in Airborne director Dominic Burns’ next feature, UFO:
“I did an action scene with [the film’s co-star Jean Claude] Van Damme and it was frickin awesome. I’d love to say I kicked his ass, but that wasn’t the case. I was a big fan of his films when I was younger so it was really fantastic to appear alongside him.”
Co-star and fellow soldier Peter Barrett talked about the unique filming environment:
“It was an exciting shoot, and I always referenced Die Hard 2 when I chatted to the director about the film. We shot most of the scenes in an old, decommissioned Boeing 747 and it was just like being a big kid really. Running up and down the aisles and going crazy.”
Another co-star (and one of the film’s Executive Producers) Simon Philips on Mark Hamill:
“He was such a nice guy. His agent warned us about bringing up Star Wars beforehand but he was very open and gracious about sharing his memories of those films.
He hadn’t done any films roles for a while, but he used to live in London and his eldest son was born over here. We got one of the producers to send the script over to him and one thing lead to another, and before we knew it, he came onboard.”
Despite an interesting premise (and a surprisingly strong turn by Hamill) Airborne doesn’t quite live up to nail-biting thriller/horror hybrid promised. It’s a shame as the film’s creative team (they were behind the recent How to Stop Being a Loser) have made good use of what is obviously a small budget for a film of this scope. Director Burns also knows how to stage some effective fight scenes and a couple of fun moments of suspense, but given its Twilight Zone-esque, B-movie set-up, it doesn’t quite go as far out there as it could have.
This gentle fish-out-of-water romantic drama was the first feature-length presentation on Saturday, and it won over the audience almost immediately with its touching and sympathetic central performance by TV regular Claire Price, and luscious picture postcard backdrop.
The story of a London city girl returning to her childhood roots in the picturesque surroundings of a small village in Italian Switzerland is the impressive debut of actor-turn-filmmaker Bindu De Stoppani. Loosely based on her own upbringing, De Stoppani’s story of reconnecting to the past manages to rise above some of the clichés inherent in such material to present a charming and laid back study of love and redemption.
We spoke to the director about the screening:
“I’m really excited to be here. I trained as an actress and at the age of 21 I appeared in [Danny Boyle’s] The Beach and we had our premiere here in Empire screen 1, so it feels strange to come back as a director with this one.”
On her transition from actress to director:
“I’ve always been interested in film. When I was 16 I made a feature film, but acting was my path in. I started a theatre company in which I directed some plays and from there I realised film was more my cup of tea. I did a variety of shorts and took some directing courses before I embarked on this feature.
With Jump, I’m part Swiss and I have contacts in Switzerland because a TV channel over there had financed a couple of my shorts, so I thought it was a natural process to present them the script and they loved it, and ended up part-funding it and that set the whole thing off.”
NB: Unsurprisingly, Jump ended up winning best film, best director and best actress for Price.
The story follows a twenty-something small-time drug dealer called Lloyd (a star-making turn by Adam Sinclair) who lives for the weekends where he can large it up with his fellow revellers (including, in a wiry and bold turn, Lord of the Rings’ Billy Boyd).
His party attitude and hedonistic lifestyle is called into question when he meets and falls in love with a Canadian expat (Kristin Kreuk), but can he make a clean break from wannabe gangster Solo, whom he owes money to and acts as a drug mule in an attempt to pay off his forever escalating debts.
While Ecstasy remains fairly watchable and captures that lifestyle pretty well, it lacks the energy and verve which made similarly-themed explorations into the chemical culture like Trainspotting and Human Traffic so special. With its freeze-frames and character title cards it also feels like a by-product of that era, instead of a nostalgic revisit. Still, the edgy and charismatic Sinclair is a name to watch, and its fun to see Smallville’s Lana Lang in a grubby Edinburgh nightclub, munching pills and ‘aving it on the dance floor.
A career gambler named John (Mackenzie Crook lookalike Joe Anderson) finds his world begins to fall apart when he meets a mysterious female bookie at his local dog track. Initially winning a large sum of cash off her, the wagers she begins offering him and his two buddies grow weirder and more outrageous. Soon the stakes are raised so high that John runs to risk of losing everything he holds dear in his life, including his ridiculously understanding and supportive wife (played by Laura Fraser).
A morality play with a Tales of the Unexpected-type vibe, Flutter starts off resembling one of Guy Richie’s earlier mockney efforts (complete with a cool Northern Soul soundtrack) before spiralling off into something else entirely.
While the film is a little rough around the edges and ultimately falls short of its ambitions, it’s often very humorous and director Giles Borg should be praised for attempting to do something outside of the norm (particularly regarding low-budget British cinema) and seeing the Fast Show’s Mark Williams sat nesting on an ostrich egg within a gigantic birds nest is a wonderfully surreal sight.