The View From Here

Edinburgh Film Festival -- Turn It Loose

Michael Bonner

I'm up in Edinburgh, in case it needs some minor clarification, for this year's Film Festival. As usual, there's a satisfyingly wide array of movies to see, and I'll be blogging a couple of times a day between now and Tuesday to report back the highlights. Presently, I'm off to try and see Kathryn Bigelow's Hurt Locker, an Iraq War drama that's got many of my peers up here in quite a lather of excitement. Meantime, here's one of the best movies I've seen so far.

Turn It Loose
One small but notable trend in documentary filmmaking that's emerged in the last few years has been the competition doc. I'm talking about films like Spellbound and Sounds Like Teen Spirit that cover the emotional gamut experienced by contestants during a competitive event; in the case of Spellbound it was the American Spelling Bee Championship, while in Sounds Like Teen Spirit, the junior Eurovision Song Contest. Turn It Loose, by first-time feature director Alastair Siddons, tracks the one-on-one "battles" between the world's best breakdancers in a disused power station in Soweto. As with Spellbound or ...Teen Spirit, your enjoyment of Turn It Loose is by no means predicated on whether or not you like, or indeed know much about the subject. It’s appeal lies, principally, in the characters themselves, but there’s also a fascinating socio-political subtext to the film that develops as Siddons and his crew travel to the contestants’ home countries.

We meet French Algerian Lilou, who lives “like a battery hen” in the slums of Lyon. Lilou, a devout Muslim, wears a hidjab in one battle against American contestant RoxRite in protest against America’s ongoing incursions into the Middle East. RoxRite, for his own part, lives with his family in one of the poorest parts of northern California and complains about being singled out simply because of his nationality (he’s in fact Mexican, but there). Ben-J, from the ghettoes of Dakar, carries himself with quiet nobility, and seems profoundly aware of the pressure on him to succeed. There’s Taisuke, in Tokyo, who speaks abstractly about presumably dark family troubles, before breakdancing in Shibuya Junction; to Taisuke, as with all the competitors, breakdancing provides a focus and a relief from poverty. As more than one character notes, if it wasn’t for breakdancing, they’d be selling drugs or running with gangs. They speak of breakdancing, and battles, in either gladiatorial or spiritual terms, and there’s something incredibly positive about their attitudes that, without sounding grumpy, feels refreshing when you perhaps consider some of the less savory aspects of hip hop culture.

Siddons’ film is handsomely shot. The Dakar sequences, for instance, are filmed with a bold colour palette that resembles City Of God. The bouts themselves achieve an almost Matrix-like quality, Siddons deploying image capturing techniques in the edit to freeze contestants in mid-air, speeding up or slowing down the action, splicing hip hop with classical music. It’s a formidably impressive mastery of his digital box of tricks (Siddons, for his part, has a background in promo clips for The Streets, Roots Manuva and –let’s not hold it against him – The Towers Of London). It’s interesting, perhaps, to wonder where the funding for this film came from. The tournament itself is sponsored by Red Bull, and it’s entirely possible they’ve invested money in the film; but, encouragingly, they exercise no editorial control here.

Anyway, I’ll be back later to post about a German film I’ve just seen, The Architect. More soon.


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