My favorite films of the 2015 Festival by Philip Raby

ROOM – when Oscar season comes around next year, one film that I think will certainly feature on the nomination lists is ROOM, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, written by Emma Donoghue from her own novel, and starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Any and all of those people deserve to be nominated for their remarkable work. It’s a wonderful, moving and beautifully-made film that we are thrilled to have been able to show.

PALIO – Cosima Spender (granddaughter of the legendary poet, Stephen Spender) came to Bath to talk about her extraordinary documentary set in Siena where she grew up. The film takes its title from the horse race which goes back hundreds of years, and which transforms the whole city into a fever of scheming, competing and dressing up in medieval costume. The race itself, lasting a mere 90 seconds, is the most exciting thing you can imagine; and the film achieves the miracle of making a horse race into a matter of huge importance and interest.

TRUMBO (Cinema Misterioso) – Bryan Cranston is known world-wide as Walter White in Breaking Bad, so his transformation into the multi-Oscar winning, blacklisted scriptwriter, Dalton Trumbo, is nothing short of remarkable. For many years, Trumbo was the most successful scriptwriter in Hollywood, but his career came to a screeching halt when he was accused of being a Communist by HUAC, and sent to prison. His reputation was later renewed when Kirk Douglas hired him to write Spartacus. Great film, great performances, with a special mention for Helen Mirren’s turn as the pantomime villain, Hedda Hopper.

DREAM OF SCHARAZAD – The question and answer sessions after the screenings are one of the highlights of the festival. South African director Francois Verster was kind enough to talk to us via skype after we showed his remarkable and unclassifiable film based on the story of Scheherazade and the 1001 nights. Weaving together the performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s music by a young Turkish orchestra with an Egyptian storyteller, an early silent animated film, street demonstrations in favour of democracy, and a small theatre group in Egypt (among other elements), Verster created a unique mosaic of re-evaluation and revolution in the Middle East. The discussion afterwards was fascinating and insightful.

TOCANDO LA LUZ – another great film and another Skype interview (so much cheaper than air fares) combined to make this event possible. Touching The Light is a gorgeous film by Jennifer Redfearn about three women in Cuba who are blind. It’s a simple enough idea, and one that she makes the best use of, by focusing on the optimistic way they approach their lives, rather than making them the objects of our pity. Instead we come to admire them, respect them, and wish them well for their future. Jennifer was a wonderful speaker who inspired all of us with her good humour and enthusiasm.

MIRRORS TO WINDOWS: THE ARTIST AS WOMAN – Susan Steinberg’s documentary can stand as the epitome of the kind of film we show at BFF that would otherwise not get a showing. Enhanced immeasurably by Susan (who came to Bath specially), we were treated to a wonderful look at the work of 10 woman artists from all over the world (though all based in London) ranging in age from their 20 somethings to 80 somethings. Susan was accompanied by her editor Raphaella Fearns (from Bath), and the 2 of them talked eloquently and fascinatingly about how they put together such an interesting and unusual film.