Hope Lies At The Edinburgh Film Festival – Dispatches From The Field #1

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It’s become something of an annual tradition for Rob Girvan to cover the Edinburgh Film Festival for Hope Lies. You can follow him on Twitter for up to the minute commentary. It’s perhaps only appropriate that in this documentary driven week on Hope Lies Rob begins his coverage with a triptych of great sounding films in the vérité style…

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The first few days have got off to a great start in Edinburgh (although with the sun out in full force, I do feel a little guilty about spending my holidays indoors) with some excellent films already out of the gate. 

My initial impressions have been that the documentary line up is going to be really strong. Of the seven films I have seen so far, three of them have been documentaries, and all have been excellent.  

I decided that since it was the EIFF, it was only appropriate that I begin my festival by watching a Scottish film.  Fire In The Night is a documentary recounting the tragic events of the 6th July 1988, when the North Sea oil rig Piper Alpha exploded, with the loss of 167 men.  Using a mixture of archival footage, interviews with the survivors and some simple but effective re-enactments, the film paints a picture of the often forgotten human cost which has come with the pursuit of the black gold. 

While you cannot help but focus on the scale of the disaster (the images and footage of the platform in flames makes you amazed that anyone made it out alive), this is as much a film about the miracle of survival. Each of the interviewees recounts not only their actions during that night, but also the lasting impact it has had on their lives. In a memorable moment, one of the men tells their story and starts to cry; he admits that the last time he had discussed it was twenty six years ago. 

As a child born in the mid-1980s, I remember the pictures of the Piper Alpha disaster due to the subsequent long lasting enquires that took place. But the event itself has diminished somewhat in our collective memories. Now, in the 25th year of the event, and with the North Sea oil production still worth billions, director Anthony Wonke delivers a timely reminder about the dangers of the industry.  

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction is an examination of one of America’s great character actors, perhaps best known for starring in Paris, Texas and Alien.  Less a straightforward retrospective documentary, Partly Fiction is more interested in Stanton looking back on his own life and with his own words. We see clips of only a few films that he has appeared in. He is interviewed by David Lynch, and we see him hanging out in his local bar, speaking to the owner and some of the patrons. Interspersed within this are sections where Stanton sings and plays music. You get the sense that this is his true passion, but the movies pay the bills and helped him get the ladies.  

The film is an honest look at a man who is well aware that he is into the closing chapters of his life. Throughout the film he ponders his place, or rather lack of place, in the universe. His face contains a thousand regrets, but also a lot of fun, and a generally optimistic outlook on life. Last year Stanton turned up in a key scene in The Avengers. After its release, Joss Whedon explained that he wanted Stanton for that part because, “who is more accepting than Harry Dean Stanton?” 

Partly Fiction helps to reinforce this idea. However we also gradually get the feeling that the Stanton on screen and the Stanton who worked his way up the acting ladder are two very distinct things. Highly recommended, and I hope one day we get an album of his music.  

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The third and final documentary is the amazing Shooting Bigfoot, a tragic comedy which slowly turns into madness. British documentary filmmaker Morgan Matthews decided that he was going to travel to America and follow three very different groups of Bigfoot hunters as they continued their individual quests to look for beast.  

We meet Dallas and Wayne, two out of work men from the South who have some rather unique ideas not only about Bigfoot, but also about how human biology works. While clearly crazy, there is something sweet about these two older men who enjoy going out to the woods, drinking some beer and coming up with increasingly fantastical stories. Wayne in particular seems like a man who is kind at heart, and is along for the adventure and friendship.  

The second expedition is with a man named Rick Dyer who openly admitted faking a Bigfoot corpse which attracted worldwide attention a few years ago. He now claims that he has had a genuine sighting and is back in the field, determined to kill the beast and redeem himself in front of the world. His segment is set in a woodland area occupied by homeless people and becomes more and more surreal. You cannot tell if Rick is playing mind games or is genuinely falling apart. You get the sense that Matthew’s isn’t sure either.  

The final team is led by Tom Biscardi, a self-professed professional Bigfoot hunter and the closest thing America has come to creating its own version of Alan Partridge. A force of nature, Tom has made a lot of money out of the Bigfoot story, with a range of DVDs and other memorabilia. He even got involved in the hoax started by Rick Dyer. His team, including a former Navy SEAL tracker called Chico who seems to mostly be shouted at by Tom, dart from location to location, meeting witnesses, with continual claims that the next interview will be the major key lead they have been looking for. This is the funniest section, with some amazing one liners.  

As the film goes in, the humour begins to fade, and you see the determination in the eyes of all the hunters and the need to prove something to the world, shine through. One witness reflects that maybe it is time to hang up the Bigfoot obsession and rebuild his marriage. A moment later Biscardi offers him the chance to come along for a hunt and you see his eyes light up. What happens next is tragic. 

Shooting Bigfoot also delivers an interesting ending, which will be debated (although I think the solution is pretty obvious) by viewers. If you enjoy a slice of the odder side of life, this certainly lives up to expectations. Likely to be one of my top ten of the festival. 

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