St Albans Film Festival 2014 – The Maltings Arts Theatre

My third day of volunteering kicked off again at the town hall, less hectic than day 2 at the Pioneer. Primarily, screening based, the final day of the festival had come. I have to be honest, I was absolutely exhausted from the previous day. But I was still really excited for the day. I was based at the Maltings Arts Theatre, in St Albans, which I have to be honest, didn’t even know it existed. Tucked away in a shopping centre, it showcases local theatrical talent, including theatrical productions, musicians and comedians. It’s a really cool little place and will definitely be checking out what’s on there in the future.

The Maltings Arts Theatre

The Maltings Arts Theatre

The program was packed, again, I wasn’t able to catch everything on program, but saw what I wanted to, the first event was the documentary film competition.

Documentary film competition

There were 9 finalists in the competition and I’ve picked my favourites. You can see the full list of finalists here.

Grandpa and Me and a Helicopter to Heaven – Dir. Johan Palmgren

Grandpa and Me takes a wonderfully intimate look at a relationship between a boy and his dying grandfather. Told through documentary observational style look at the present day and flashback/home video type footage, it’s wonderfully poignant and unflinching in its representation of the end of life and being able to cherish last moments of family and love.

The whole film is incredibly mundane, there is nothing special about the people we see, they are exceptionally ordinary in their approach to family, health, discussion of sexuality, politics and being young and getting old. It’s incredibly moving and evokes a feeling we are all fairly familiar with, the impending sense of loss, the struggle between trying to savour last moments and not overwhelming the situation, the fear of not being able to complete everything you need to do, say everything you need to say and pass down knowledge before you die. It’s exceptionally well made, beautifully filmed and it’s hugely intimate. It’s one of those types of films which reminds you why cinema is so culturally important.

Grandpa and Me and the Helicopter to Heaven – link to video

Li Wei – Weightless – Dir George Sinfield

Li Wei is a short documentary about contemporary Beijing performance artist and photographer, Li Wei who uses photography to capture moments of ‘action’ mid-air, often with a societal or political message. The film follows the artist as he prepares, plans and puts into action a new photography project.

What makes the film so interesting, is its method. It’s almost like a how-to to Li Wei’s artistic process, it’s methodical and clinical, but also allows the audience to fully engage with this intriguing and/or lunatic guy. It really gets down into the veins of Li Wei’s artistry, which is both dangerous and frantic whilst the final product is frozen and timeless. It’s a really interesting look into this eccentric artist’s thought process and reveals what motivates him and inspires the messages behind his work, which are always beautiful, but loaded with political discourse. I couldn’t find the full film online, but the trailer is below, hopefully it’ll be available somewhere soon! I thoroughly recommend it!

Secret Garden – Dir Michelle Becker

Secret Garden is a fairly humorous look at female pubic hair. With the overwhelming amount of extreme pornography available, it’s become the norm, no, expected, that women should either completely wax off or shave their pubic hair. The ever popular Hollywood or Brazilian style ‘hair do’s’ for down there, are culturally the norm now. Secret Garden looks at why this is the case, why so many women wax and why it’s now seen as socially unacceptable to sport a bush.

Using talking heads and comedic cutaways, Secret Garden puts women on the spot about their pubic hair regime. It’s an incredibly tongue in cheek look at pubic hair, but it also has a serious message. The nods towards pornography and male expectations of female grooming are darkly lurking the background. I felt that this could have easily been much longer, enough to fill a full length documentary, but it does open the doors on a discussion many of us are too afraid to have. The intrinsic link between pubic hair style and pornography, points to a wider issue, the prevalence of such explicit material and how this shapes body image. Disturbingly, Secret Garden also touches on the age at which girls start to become worried about the appearance of their pubic hair, opting to remove it all in fear of losing boyfriends or putting off potential boyfriends. It’s a really interesting little film, which as someone who takes particular interest in any commentary on women and body appearance, I thought it was superbly handled, thought-provoking and totally identifiable!!

The documentary competition was followed by a short Q&A with the directors

The documentary competition was followed by a short Q&A with the directors

Now. This is where things become a bit broken up. So as a venue manager I had to make sure that the other volunteers were ok, made sure the venue was ok, etc. And this combined with the fact that directors seriously do not like it when you enter a film late, and plonk yourself down half way through a film, we also had the BBC young musician of the year Julian Trevelyan playing live soundtracks to animated short features. I felt it was probably, totally inappropriate to let myself into that about 10mins after it started. So the only other real programmed event I could attend was the final event of the festival, Muse of Fire directed by Dan Poole and Giles Terera.

Muse of Fire, a different approach to Shakespeare and an examination of his works in modern day education and arts

Muse of Fire, a different approach to Shakespeare and an examination of his works in modern day education and arts

I’m hoping to be able to track this down and do a review of it as a retrospective. It look interesting and the feedback we had was awesome, so definitely tracking this one down.

Closing Party

So close to the end of the festival, I got a text saying you’re invited to the closing party/awards ceremony. Not at all suitably dressed (converse, hoodie and jeans) I mixed with the festival organisers, directors, writers, actors and other volunteers. The award ceremony played out and unfortunately I had to leave, but not without a few pictures. You can find a full list of the awards winners from the festival at

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So my thanks goes to my volunteers, again, for helping out, even if they sat quietly by the door waiting for people to turn up! But the biggest thanks of the day goes to the Maltings Arts Theatre staff, who guided me throughout the day, even stepping in to host Q&As, generally being on hand to help! Tiggi, who made the beautiful black bunting in the first image, has a shop on Etsy full of her beautifully decorative fabric designs. (Thank you for Q&A-ing for me!) Check out her shop, there’s some pretty cute stuff on there! And another thank you to Stanley, who was pretty much on hand all day to sort things out, help out with anything we needed. Stanley also is the artistic director of Irresponsible Decorators, a small theatre company. Check out their website or follow them on Twitter @I_Decorators.

For more on the festival visit where you’ll find links to their Flickr and blog.

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St Albans Film Festival 2014

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