South East London has given me a new found love for cinema. After enjoying the Catford Mews’ short film festival recently, I made a point of attending the Crystal Palace International Film Festival (CPIFF) in September. Since 2010, CPIFF has been bringing independent films to the big screen from across the globe, including short films, mid-length films and feature films of all genres.
The opening night featured ten short films of varying genres. We were welcomed in with a free beer and popcorn, and could order food straight to the luxurious sofa-style seating of Crystal Palace’s Everyman Cinema. As a spoken word poet, I was drawn to the first film, ‘Hate’, which ironically started as a love story before twisting into a tale about extremism. I started in a place of uncertainty, but ended up in tears, fully drawn into its story. ‘Her & Her’ also centred around spoken word, featuring poet and actress Jade Anouka. Following the relationship between two women, it was beautiful in its simplicity, incredibly heart-warming, dynamic and authentic.
‘Ladykiller’ reminded me of ‘Talk Radio’, another short I had seen at Catford Mews. Both were tales of murder, with a twist at the end, yet infused with comedy throughout. ‘Ladykiller’ is centred on two young women who accidently run over a man on their way back from a festival, and when a policeman reveals a murderer is in the area, we presume this is who they have killed.
The offerings at CPIFF were diverse in both genre and mood. One of my favourite films was ‘A Piece of Cake’, where a dad is prompted not to make promises he can’t keep when he tells his daughter he will get silver ball cake decorations, which turns out to be a hilariously impossible mission. It was laugh-out-loud funny, and such a joy to see the lengths this character went to in order to keep this promise. ‘Clean’ was another favourite – a surreal piece where a man regrets cheating on his partner and ends up crawling inside a washing machine at a laundrette, in an attempt to purify himself.
The mid-length films night, on a Sunday towards the end of the festival, continued to showcase the diverse range of modern filmmaking. The night opened with ‘The Blood Bride’, a serious yet surreal story of sex trafficking, and ended on ‘Tina and Peter’, a comedy about a man running his business from an old tea room. The second film on the billing, ‘Wings’, was one of the best, following two Land Army girls, who fall in love only to be separated on one’s husband’s return, and meet again later in life. In a Q&A after the film, the filmmakers provided further insight into the technical elements of the project. They stressed the possibility of making films on a small budget, perhaps hoping to inspire members of the audience to tell their own stories in this way. Other interesting pieces from the mid-length category included ‘Method’, a thought-provoking yet divisive piece in which a woman auditioned for an acting school in front of just one man, and ‘Underneath’, a film from Hong Kong that focused on a mother who began to sell her underwear when her unemployed partner became sick. Deep and subtle in its storytelling, ‘Underneath’ was a particular highlight for me.
As cinemas emerge again from the previous lockdowns, film festivals like these bring a new excitement, with access to films we might otherwise not see. However, despite the high calibre of films, the closing night, with an awards ceremony presented by comedian Johnny Vegas, ended the festival on a sour note. On Instagram, Jade Anouka expressed her disappointment at certain male comedians and filmmakers who made racist jokes, commenting that it felt like she had ‘gone back to the 80s’. For me, this also shone a new light on some awkwardness at the mid-length film night, where the host invited a filmmaker to the stage to do a Q&A before their film, only for them to have disappeared after it was screened. As Anouka suggested, perhaps as part of the evolution of the CPIFF it is ‘time to pass the baton’.
Featured image credit: CPIFF
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