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Phillip Bergson


Writing about Films and Festivals.

 

Film Critic, UK, member of Fipresci

 

Winner of the Student Journalist of the Year competition in the UK weekly New Statesman, as a Classics Scholar Phillip Bergson then founded the Oxford Film Festival and, on graduating, was selected by "The Sunday Times" as a 'New Critic' and in the same week began broadcasting on film for many BBC Radio programmes. A contributor to the "Times Literary Supplement", "TES", "Screen International", "Film Bulletin", "Film a Doba" inter alia, he also worked for the "European Script Fund", has scripted shorts and features (that have been produced and released) and, fluent in eight-and-a-half languages, currently programmes and advises several international film festivals. At the National Media Museum in his native Yorkshire, he created the "Eurovisions" project, to promote classic and contemporary European cinema.

As a Jury Member

 


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Poles Apart Again

Probably the most successful of the still-sustained 'national' film festivals that flourish, with greater and lesser degrees of success in London and around the British Isles (dare I still call them that without fear of political uncorrectness?) is Kinoteka, which celebrated its 9th edition from 24th March to 13th April, 2011.(Since the German Film Weeks are now but a fond memory, this Polish filmic-extravaganza now surely takes the crown, in the face of all kinds of film 'festivals' that vie for audiences and media coverage in London). The French may have bigger resources, but Kinoteka has steadily grown as a collection of events and maintained a kind of consistency- there is  a structure to it, each year a thought-through  focus, whether on  a film personality or  a theme, and the screenings now involve  a variety of venues in London, and beyond.Admirably, the event always takes its press and media relations seriously- even if the critics, more shame to them, don t always respond in person or in paragraphs- and  Kinoteka invariably mounts its galas, and special events with a characteristic flair.

Indeed even the media  launch itself, on Thusday 24th February, 2011, at the excellent Polish restaurant Baltic nestling comfortably in front of Southwark underground station and close to the Young Vic Theatre, was again a memorable evening , gathering the hard-working team from the Polish Cultural Institute (which- in  one of those curious coincidences  that often makes life more worth living - is now located- indeed - in Poland Street, off Oxford Street, in Soho's sushi-rich heart, if some way  from the Polish Hearth, war-time refuge of the Polish government in exile and continuingly popular restaurant for ostalgics), with media representatives and efficient publicists, and sponsors in lively and welcoming attendance. Memorably  tasty zurek soups and other Polish produce  were stylishly served, while the  major novelty seemed to be that  the chief sponsor this year  was not -alas! -  a wodka company, but the DFDS Seaways- and particularly its www.norfolkline.com,  which is apparently much beloved of Polish travellers who transit across the Channel on its ships. To the chagrin of the press, the souvenir bag contained no sample bottle of the water of Polish life,but a voucher for free travel (car and 4 passengers) between Dover and Dunkerque- as DFDS is offering ten of these prizes to Kinoteka audience members who pay for a ticket and enter its stub in a competition! More to the point was the compact and well illustrated festival brochure, clearly listing all films, events and venues from across London to Belfast, Edinburgh, Exeter, and Glasgow, and a very handsome copy of a new book, Polish Cinema Now! which is reviewed elsewhere, and provides not only a detailed compendium to the event but a useful introduction to recent trends in Polish cinema in general.

Kinoteka enjoyed a suitably cosmopolitan opening (on 24th March, 2011) in the Renoir Cinema, the super subterranean art-house in the heart (or should it be bowels?) of Bloomsbury.The opening film was a pre-release screening  of what Jerzy Skolimowski in person introduced as his best film, Essential Killing, which won a prize for its very un-Polish leading actor Vincent Gallo at the 2010 Venice Festival, as well as top accolades  there for Skolimowski himself.A strange and-I suspect-darkly comical-fable  about a Muslim refugee from Guantanamo who after enforced rendition escapes  en route into the snowy forests of Poland(and for which  some even icier wastes of Norway partially were used during the shooting), it was clearly enjoyed by the large audience, with some discreet glamourati spied in the foyer-  the film director Mike Sarne, a long-time collaborator before and behind Skolimowski's cameras,one of Germany's top cineastes  and critics,Robert Fischer, (briefly but coincidentally over here for TV-documentary filming duties) and a very tanned young-looking actor who seemed suspiciously like the young John Moulder-Brown,who modestly,and charmingly admitted he was John Moulder-Brown(teenage star of Skolimowski's brilliant British 1970 flick Deep End(of which more when it is re-released on May 6th  in London digitally restored, and I must say, whatever Visconti gave J.M-B during the shooting of Ludwig has ensured the lad now looks as if he has been digitally restored as well!).Skolimowski gave a lively Q and A after the screening which was followed by an even livelier reception in the split-level foyers, with an abundance of such typically Polish fare as mini Yorkshire puddings, and plenty of (not-Polish) wines.The doyen of SecondRunDVD films was in attendance, confirming the imminent release of other classics of Skolimowski's earlier Polish ouevre on www.secondrundvd.com, and Polish TV was busy filming interviews in a quieter part of the party.

For its first weekend, Kinoteka decamped to the Riverside Studios, in Hammersmith, with a crowded audience in the cinema there(on Friday evening, 25th March) for the clever coupling of Marek Skrobecki's surreal Danny Boy (selected as Best Animated Short at the 2011 Oscars), with Made in Poland, adapted by attending director Przemyslaw Wojcieszek from his own play about a spectacularly troubled altar boy.This post-punkish succes de scandale prompted another lively Q and A, which was followed by a handsome reception in this cultural outpost's Thames-side bar and terrace, with other members of the Polish delegation, and the Polish Film Institute  well represented by Izabela Kiszka-Hoflik,Head of International Relations, and possibly a leading member of Kenneth Branagh's Warsaw fan club.More than 14 other films were subsequently screened in the Riverside,with a focus on the work of comic cultists the Kondratiuk Brothers(with Janusz attending),and  a small but striking  exhibition of film posters by Franciszek Starowieyski(1930-2009), and four other, newer  features premiered at the Prince Charles Cinema, in the heart of London's West End.But perhaps the most welcoming venue was the West London Synagogue, where a modern prayer-room doubled as a very comfortable-and packed -screening-room for a pair of Polish Yiddish classics,Dybbuk and The Vow, enthusiastically introduced by London-based American film historian Joel Finer (not to mention kosher cakes and wines furnished by the Spiro Ark).Both films were made in 1937, capably restored, and treat the same legend,but are more than museum pieces, showcasing shtetl life and Jewish customs swept away less than a decade later by the horrors of the Holocaust.Indeed, the closing night of Kinoteka presented the 1929 silent  film by Henryk Szaro, who was to die in the Warsaw ghetto.The contemporary Polish group Pink Freud performed a live score to The Strong Man, a melodrama gorgeously set in its then contemporary era but with a theme that has been borrowed many times since- of the mediocre journalist who passes off the work of a dying friend as his own and reaps -if but briefly- the fame denied to the original artist.Another subterranean venue for this historic screening, the comfortable Cinema I deep within the Barbican arts centre, was followed by a lavish reception in the exotic Conservatory and Terrace, several floors above.Kinoteka certainly hit the heights this year.

 

Phillip Bergson                             (fuller details of titles can be found at www.kinoteka.org.uk)

 

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