Gilbey on Film: the London Film Festival

Our film critic chooses five titles to look out for next month.

Public booking for the London Film Festival (which runs from 13 - 28 October) opens next Monday. Most of the big gala screenings will have been snapped up by BFI members, who will have been booking since 15 September, but that's ok because they're all about the hoopla anyway. I'm not pretending for a second that I am not as excited as anyone to see eye-catching marquee titles such as Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go adapted by Alex Garland from Kazuo Ishiguro's subtly devastating novel, Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan, which received ecstatic reviews at the Venice Film Festival, or Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, about the mountain climber Aron Ralston (played by James Franco), who had to do something very nasty indeed to save his own life. The trick with the latter film will be to keep from counting the number of walk-outs and pass-outs during the grisly bits.

But these are the headline-grabbers that attract valuable attention for the LFF; they already have distributors and release dates in place. The real treasures are buried deeper in the programme and are, as ever, a matter of pot luck. I'm slightly perturbed by the return this year to the bad old days of padding out the festival with titles that are mere minutes away from being released. When you've been a student slashing your weekly food budget so you can afford LFF tickets, it's rather galling to then find that the films you've booked to see at inflated cost are opening within a few days of being screened at the festival. Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right is well worth seeing, but it's crazy that it is released just two days after its last festival showing. Perhaps in future the LFF brochure could, where possible, list release dates alongside the enticing blurbs for each title, to avoid near-overlaps such as Africa United (opening two days after its final LFF slot), The Arbor (four days), Olivier Assayas's Carlos "the Jackal" film, Carlos (six days) and Mike Leigh's Another Year (two weeks).

For the Surprise Film, my money this year is on either Rowan Joffe's Brighton Rock, which shifts the action of Graham Greene's novel to the 1960s, or Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, another hotel-based study of an actor's loneliness (like her reputation-making Lost in Translation), which won the Golden Lion at Venice earlier this month. Then again, the festival might buck the trend of giving the Surprise Film platform to an English-language title, and go instead for Francois Ozon's Potiche, a reputedly breezy farce starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, which was widely declared a crowd-pleaser at Venice.

In the mean time, here are five titles that I will be seeking out. And that's as near as I'm willing to get to any guarantee of quality:

Treacle Jr - The third film from The Low Down's Jamie Thraves is the story of a man who walks out on his family, and is befriended by a misfit and his girlfriend. The excellent Aiden Gillen stars.

Meek's Cutoff - Kelly Reichardt has proved herself an insightful and elliptical filmmaker with Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy; this wagon-train drama, set in 1845 Oregon, is rumoured to be her finest yet.

A Screaming Man - From Mahamat-Salah Haroun, director of Abouna and Daratt, a tale of father/son tensions in present-day Chad.

Aurora - Five years ago, Cristi Puiu came to international attention with his grim, funny and affecting fable-cum-satire, The Death of Mr Lazarescu. His new film is a tense character study in which -- like fellow art-house new-wavers Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates) and Rafi Pitts (The Hunter) -- the director is also his own leading man.

Self Made - Gillian Wearing is the latest British artist to turn to cinema. Early reports about her debut -- the result of a newspaper advert asking "If you were to play a part in a film, would you be yourself or a fictional character?" -- are overwhelmingly positive.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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