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Good Vibrations

29 Oct

Directors: Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn (2012)

Some of the greatest pieces of wisdom I have ever received have originated in record shops. Whether it be during the many teenage hours whiled away in Manchester’s Vinyl Exchange or the introduction of High Fidelity’s ‘Top 5’ tactic into my standard conversations with new friends, potential lovers and bus stop companions, the record shop is primed as a safe haven for the disenfranchised. And in Good Vibrations, receiving its UK premiere at London Film Festival, we are presented with another inspirational record shop tale, straight from the Trouble-ridden streets of Belfast and the peace-loving, radical mind of Terri Hooley.

Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, Good Vibrations is a heartfelt and vibrant biopic of the ‘godfather of Belfast punk’, Terri Hooley, the ‘one eyed bastard’ who defied the segregation of the city’s Troubles to set up the Good Vibrations record label, record store and way of life that put the underground Belfast punk scene on the map.

With Richard Dormer in the lead role as the impassioned Hooley, the film permeates an unapologetic Irish feist from the first scene with Dormer embodying the cheeky and infectious charm that caused such an uprising in Belfast at the time.  Only this uprising was rooted in empowerment and the unity of music. DJ-ing to an empty room at Belfast’s Harp Bar, Terri simply lives for the music, narrating his own life through his extensive record collection. When he first meets his beloved Ruth, touchingly played by Jodie Whittaker, it is of course a moment for The Shangri-Las. Music acts as a guiding force for Terri, and is a force that he seeks to guide others towards peace, despite the violence and terrors outside.

Experiencing a slow-motion epiphany amidst the sweaty, pogo-ing leather clad youths at an gig, Terri realises that the power to survive the Troubles isn’t through violence but through solidarity and, ultimately, music like this. These kids, ruling over the pulsing crowd with raw angst and anthemic lyrics, embody Terri’s entire philosophy.

To counter the bad vibes around him, Terri decides to open the aptly named record shop, Good Vibrations, bringing the uniting power of music and youthful ambition to one of the most bombed streets in Europe. From here, he creates the Good Vibrations record label, signing Belfast’s rawest talents including Rudi and The Outcasts, and perhaps most famously, The Undertones. While none of the bands ever made it into the Top 40, Hooley springboards the voices of Belfast’s disenfranchised youth around the country and beyond, from small town halls to the groundbreaking gig at the Ulster Hall that no one thought they could fill.

Interspersed with grainy archive footage, Good Vibrations has a gritty authenticity that matches the underground aesthetic but also the realism of the film itself. Capturing defining moments such as the recording of The Undertone’s iconic Teenage Kicks and the legendary John Peel’s first play of the track on the BBC – loving it so much he played it twice, Good Vibrations is a perfect scrapbook of this infinitely exciting time for Belfast’s punk scene and the man who made it happen. With fantastic performances from the cast and a riotous soundtrack, obviously, Good Vibrations is an unmissable tribute, championing the ‘revolutionary power of the seven-inch single’ and all those who scream on it and my highlight of this year’s BFI London Film Festival.

Attending the London premiere, Terri Hooley himself provided the perfect closing statement, declaring that while ‘New York had the haircuts, London had the trousers – Belfast had the reason’, a phrase that rings true as the credits rolled to the sounds Hooley brought to the world.

(Originally published on The London Word).


The Summit

25 Oct

Director: Nick Ryan (2012)

In August 2008, 18 climbers reached the top of K2, the second highest mountain on Earth yet perhaps the most technically brutal of the ‘eight-thousanders’ coveted by serious mountaineers each year. But only seven would make it safely back down the ‘Savage Mountain’. The truth about what happened on the mountain has long been shrouded in mystery, but Nick Ryan’s new documentary, The Summit, aims to shed new light on the tragic incident.

Receiving its world premiere at London Film Festival as part of the festival’s coveted ‘Documentary’ strand, The Summit is at once a beautiful and affecting account of the quiet but deadly battle between man and Mother Nature. A relative newcomer to feature films, Ryan’s directorial debut is one of great promise. Told through archive footage, talking heads and photographs found on the victim’s cameras alongside reconstructions, The Summit balances the intricacies of mountain climbing with the intricacies of the human condition in the face of pure nature, and essentially, death.

The enthusiasm and excitement of the climbers is invigorating, illustrating just why people endure what many of us would consider insane, namely embark on a journey to ‘the Death Zone’, the area above 8,000 metres when the body begins to shut down due to lack of oxygen. But their passion drove the climbers to overcome the risks and live their dream; and judging by the jubilant summit photos, adorned with their national flags and good luck mascots, the journey was worth every step.

However, in addition to be an homage to human perseverance and skill, The Summit is still a tale of human tragedy, given added pathos by the words of family members as they continue to search for the truth as to why their loved ones never made it home. Particular focus is given to Ger McDonnell, an amicable Irish climber – and first Irishman to summit K2 – and his close friend and climbing companion, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa. While Ger lost his life on K2, refusing to descend while he stayed to help others, Pemba survived and thankfully offers his voice as a beacon of truth amidst the rumours of what happened that day as climbers were left without their lifeline down the mountain after an avalanche cut their essential ropes.

Widely considered the worst mountaineering disaster in modern climbing history, such an honest documentary is well overdue. With stunning photography by Robbie Ryan and Ryan’s sympathetic yet balanced approach, The Summit places you on top of the world, trying to catch your breath as you witness the mountain’s great shadow over China and the awesome views only a few get to see for themselves. Only the breath you need can never be caught as you are plummeted to the base of K2, watching in horror as events unfold on the mountain above and then to the living rooms of the families awaiting the feared news.

Deeply moving and inspiring in equal measure, The Summit is a must-see for any documentary fan or anyone prepared to be humbled by human perseverance in the face of Mother Nature.

(Originally published on The London Word).


21 Oct

Director: Haifaa Al Mansour (2012)

Battered Converse, scuffed denim underneath her abaya, scraggly hair and a cheeky glint in her eye, our first meeting with Wadjda, as she is sent out of class, sets the tone for the rebellion that prevails throughout this beautiful and heartwarming film. But rebellion, or perhaps self-belief, extends beyond the film to its very making. Directed by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al Mansour, and reportedly the first film to have been filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia, Wadjda is boundary and regime pushing to the very end.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a precocious little school girl, living with her mother in the Saudi capital of Riydah, living the usual life of school and playing with friends with one major exception – little girls in Saudi Arabia can’t ride bicycles. Al Mansoor transforms this seemingly simple concept of a little girl wanting a bike to race with her friend into a vehicle to illustrate the role of women in Saudi society and also the lengths women go to assert their own identities. A heavy load for a little girl but Wadjda is up to the challenge, taking her entrepreneurial spirit and determination to win a race to raise the money to buy herself a bike.

Only there aren’t many ways for young girls to earn money in Saudi Arabia. Still falling short from the bracelets Wadjda makes for her school friends and her cheeky bartering with friends to earn some extra riyals, her dream of the 800 riyal bike seems a distant prize. That is until she discovers her school’s religious group is holding a Koran reciting competition with a prize of 1000 riyals. While religion may be ingrained in the reason why she can’t ride a bike down her street like the boys, Wadjda is not deterred and commits herself to the task at hand. With the help of her handy PlayStation ‘Koran Made Easy’, of course.

Wadjda is a sentimental but by no means sugar-coated view of women in Saudi Arabia. With a predominately female cast, aside from brief appearances by Wadjda’s father and best friend Abdullah, the film has a distinctly female voice offering a truth rarely seen through the male gaze dominating Arab filmmaking. From the conservative school teacher to Wadjda’s beautiful but sad mother, struggling with the cruel reality that her husband must now look elsewhere for someone to provide the son she no longer can, Wadjda lifts the veil on the broad spectrum of women in Arabic society in a new and touching way.

Part of the London Film Festival’s ‘First Feature Competition’, Wadjda is a simple but invigorating insight into a world too often shrouded away, given fresh life and honesty by the enthusiasm of its female director and its little leading lady.

(Originally published on The London Word).