Mike Davies finds an old event has been repackaged...
Two years on from the sad demise of the Birmingham International Film & Television Festival, a tentative move to revive things arrives, virtually unannounced, with The Big Screen Weeend, a four day programme of advance screenings under the City Council's Urban Fusion banner.
Curated by Tony Jones of the Cambridge Film Festival and located at both the Electric and Cineworld multiplex on Broad St, it's an impressive collection of new international and British films, arthouse and mainstream, many of which won't open in cinemas until next year.
Things kick off today with The Beat That My Heart Skipped (15), an awkwardly titled French remake of James Toback's 1978 directorial debut Fingers with Roman Duris as the property speculator cum enforcer son of a slum landlord who harbours ambitions to follow his late mother into the concert pianist world. Part hard-edged thriller and part character study, it sometimes threatens to stumble into melodrama but, topped off with a nicely ironic ending, remains a powerful meditation on the power of art to tame the savage breast.
Already a huge success in America and pretty much a safe bet for the Best Documentary Oscar, March of the Penguins (U) follows the annual 70 mile trek of the Emperor penguins into the harshest areas of Antarctica in order to mate and produce a family. It may swap the French original's penguin voice overs for a po-faced Morgan Freeman narration, but it's still impossibly cute and utterly engaging. Closing out today's programme is Rize (PG), David LaChapelle's documentary about Krumping, a new urban dance craze and sociological phenomenon created by Tommy the Clown as a response to the Rodney King riots and which fuses African tribal rituals with modern dance moves.
Tomorrow features a revival of Michael Powell's 1947 melodrama Black Narcissus (PG), Oil On Ice (18), a documentary about the impact of oil exploration on Alaska. Ingmar Bergman reunites with Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson for Saraband (15) to revisit the characters of Scenes From A Marriage thirty years after their divorce, and there's a sneak preview of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, directorial debut of Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black. A fabulously witty self-reflexive homage to film noir and satire on Hollywood, it features career high performances from Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer.
There's also a chance to catch three films that have yet to secure a release date. With a towering against type performance by comic actress Pauline McLynn, Gypo (18) is a powerful Rashomon-style drama that charts the disintegration of a dysfunctional working class family when the daughter befriends a young Romany Czech refugee girl and unleashes her frustrated father's bigotry. Starring Tim Spall, Pierrepoint -The Last Hangman (15), unfolds the true story of Albert Pierrepoint, the UK's last official executioner prior to the abolition of capital punishment. It follows him over 20 years, despatching the condemned, including the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg and one of his own friends. Observing the gathering effect the job has upon him as he awakes from a necessary moral lethargy to confront his profession and the gathering public outcry.
Finally, Tickets (15) is a portmanteau collaboration between auteurs Abbas Kiarostami, Ermanno Olmi and Ken Loach, each director telling the story of culturally diverse passengers (a lonely academic, a young man, three Celtic fans) sharing the same journey from Central Europe to Rome and experiencing personal enlightenment along the way.
The remainder of the weekend includes screenings of The Constant Gardener, Stoned, A Cock and Bull Story, The Proposition and, the closing event, George Clooney's Good Night And Good Luck. For details see Saturday's cinema listings.
Director Adrian Shergold and leading actor Timothy Spall will be available to answer questions after the British premiere of Pierrepoint (previously titled The Last Hangman) at the Cineworld tomorrow (6pm), with director Stephen Woolley doing the same after his film about Brian Jones, Stoned ( Cineworld, Saturday 6pm).