After yesterday’s hectic start to the 55th London Film Festival — including staying up to 1am to write the blog — I was understandably bleary-eyed when I woke up for my second outing. Today’s first screening began at 10.30am rather than 11am, so I caught the tube about 15 minutes earlier — turns out that modicum of time makes a lot of difference;  it was absolutely packed. Upon reaching Waterloo I emerged feeling like a caged animal, but never mind; I was on time for the day’s first film. And, to my amazement and glee, my press pass had arrived in all its glory!

Egg shell white, embossed font, other American Psycho references — it is a thing of excellence. It also allowed me to get into the day’s first screening…

Dragonslayer (dir. Tristan Patterson)

After winning the Best Documentary Feature award at SXSW this year, Dragonslayer carried some momentum into the LFF press screening. The film follows Josh ‘Skreech’ Sandoval, a professional skateboarder who has found sponsorship opportunities hard to come by in recent years. Not that he minds; Skreech prefers spending his time bumming around abandoned pools in his hometown Orange County, drinking beer, smoking a joint, occasionally doing a kick-flip or two.

On the surface Skreech seems a little washed-up, but it becomes apparent that numerous facets of his existence are still on track. His devoted girlfriend, who is herself an interesting character, sticks by his side and, as is more than evident, makes him pretty happy. He also has a son, Sid Rocket, and while he doesn’t have a huge role in his upbringing, he clearly loves him dearly.

The story follows Skreech’s numerous exploits ranging from the odd professional tournament to the more frequent random drinking encounters, but the entire journey is one of warmth, filled with likeable characters and endearing moments. There are several scenes that stand out as highlights, though those are usually the ones where Skreech is not completely messed up on booze and drugs.

One aspect that I found a little off-kilter was the use of numerical titles, i.e. Chapter 1, Chapter 2 etc. It seemed like cheap editing, easier than creating a fluent narrative. However, during post-screening discussion someone pointed out to me that this is the way that skate videos are often edited, thus it could be inferred as a meta decision. Either way, I was probably wrong.

Funnily enough, the above gets rid of what was more or less the only gripe I had with the film. At moments I thought it was beginning to get a little lost in the second chapter, but it held it together, managing to be consistent enough to keep my attention span focused throughout. A wonderfully crafted documentary showcasing likeable characters, Dragonslayer is a thoughtful and engaging piece of work that stands out from the genre crowd — likely to be the best of the festival in its category.

After Dragonslayer I was in an upbeat mood. If the following films were anywhere near as good, this was going to be a fruitful day. Following a 15 minute break we were shepherded into our next screening…

Early One Morning (French, dir.Jean-Marc Moutout)

The story of a low-level banker who is driven to mental collapse by his career, Early One Morning suffers from a sense of obviousness. The film begins at the end, and while I won’t spoil the initial events for you, it sets the scene for the rest of the film in a way that often makes the following happenings feel completely telegraphed. While this isn’t as debilitating as it could have been, there are numerous points in the film that feel stretched and as a consequence you may find your attention span waning.

It is well made though — every shot is carefully considered and the acting, particularly of the lead (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), is excellent. Occasionally the cinematography verges on being a little too artsy, putting substance before style, but overall it feels ‘French’ rather than pretentious. The film feeds into the context of financial doom very well, a subject that is still ringing in most of our ears, and it really harnesses the product vs. money trading debate. It’s not a cutting-edge social commentary, but at least it seems up-to-date. Early One Morning is certainly not a bad film, and there are a couple of standout moments, but it left me feeling undernourished.

Another quick turnaround — thankfully I had time for an apple — and we were straight back in to the BFI screening room NFT2…

Weekend (dir. Andrew Haigh)

This second feature from director Andrew Haigh is a well-acted but ultimately unimmersive tale of a Nottingham-based gay man who, after a presumed one-night stand with a complete stranger, finds himself spiralling into love. The politics of the film are complicated, occasionally seeming convoluted, perhaps even contradictory; eventually it becomes apparent that the viewer must make their own minds up as to how to process the depicted events on a deeper level. What is clear, however, is that Tom Cullen is fantastic in the lead role, and that he is supported strongly by Chris New. Some of the dialogue, presumably in part improvised, feels a little clunky, but on the flip side, New’s character does deliver some very funny one-liners. Overall it’s a solid exploration of the modern homosexual lifestyle that will finds some fans at the festival, as well as some detractors. By no means a classic, but a good exponent of low-budget filmmaking nonetheless.

And that was that for screenings on day 3. In the evening there was a press screening of Contagion, the new Soderbergh movie, but Impact wasn’t invited (sob). Nonetheless, based on the Twiter reaction, it seems like we didn’t miss much. Tomorrow, there will be (hopefully) four films to talk about, barring any EMBARGOES that is, as well as a little comment on the first public day of the festival. See you then!

Tom Grater

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