The View From Here

Acropolis Now -- Uncut at Athens Film Festival, Blog the Second

Michael Bonner

UNCUT's Stephen Dalton reports from the Athens Film Festival...

The closing weekend of the Athens Film Festival and your Uncut reporter is still working hard on your behalf. On Friday night I do a live interview with Theo Ioannou on Athens International Radio. He grills me about pop, politics, the music business and Uncut’s editorial policy. I bluff and waffle for over an hour, but Theo is polite enough not to laugh in my face.

A gruelling weekend schedule follows. I mooch around the Acropolis in sweltering heat and slip away to the beach on the swish new post-Olympics tram. All over Athens I encounter packs of stray dogs and cats which the city authorities have neutered, vaccinated, tagged and set free again. An inspired idea. No wonder these people invented civilisation.

The demanding task of choosing the festival’s best music documentary now looms for me and my fellow jurors in the Music & Film section. Actually, it’s not exactly Twelve Angry Men, more like a landslide decision. We all have our favourites – Rani Singh’s The Old, Weird America, a portrait of legendary freak-folk archivist Harry Smith, is full of rich characters and great music. Likewise Love Story by the British directors Mike Kerry and Chris Hall, a homage to the crazed genius of Arthur Lee, which comes to selected UK cinemas later this month.

But the jury’s unanimous vote gives the Music & Film prize to Swiss director Stefan Schwietert for Echoes Of Home, a remarkable documentary about modern musicians reviving and re-imagining Switzerland’s yodelling tradition. Unlikely as it sounds, this is a moving and profound piece of audio-visual art, full of beautiful and arresting images.

One of my fellow jurors is the celebrated movie producer Christine Vachon, whose long list of prestige credits includes Kids, Velvet Goldmine and Boys Don’t Cry. She stays onstage after Sunday night’s prize-giving to introduce a gala screening of I’m Not There, the much-discussed journey into Bob Dylan mythology by director Todd Haynes, which Vachon produced. The film has been previewed in Uncut before after last month’s Venice premiere, but it merits a few extra remarks here.

I’m Not There is thick with ideas, formally daring, sometimes confusing, and not always entertaining - but it stays with you long afterwards. Cate Blanchett’s transformation into a Virtual Dylan in his wired, arrogant, druggy, electric-beatnik mid 1960s prime is stunning. Packed with direct quotes and knowing distortions from the singer’s many lives, it may well anger Dylan fundamentalists. But open-minded scholars will be unpicking this dense, dreamlike poem of a film for years.

After the screening, the festival’s closing party takes place in an opulent bar in an open-air courtyard. All human life is here, plus the odd stray Alsatian, snoozing in the middle of the floor. This being Athens, rowdy celebrations go on until dawn, but sleeping dogs are left to lie. It’s been a long, strange, sometimes even stressful week. But would I come back again? You bet.

STEPHEN DALTON


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