British films at Venice 2014

A cluster of unique new films from emerging talents heads up the UK selection at this year’s Venice International Film Festival.

Samuel Wigley

The Goob (2014)

The Goob (2014)

The 71st edition of the Venice International Film Festival gets underway tonight with its opening night gala premiere of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Alejandro González Iñárritu’s unconventionally titled new film stars Michael Keaton as an actor struggling to shrug off memories of his most famous role.

The traditional start of the autumn festival season, which continues with Telluride and Toronto, Venice this year includes 55 feature films playing across the official selection. Some 54 of those are world premieres.

The selected British films include two fiction feature debuts, as well as the eagerly awaited second film by Duane Hopkins. Hopkins won much acclaim for his 2007 debut Better Things, becoming regarded as part of a new wave of innovative British filmmakers. He now returns with Bypass, the story of Tim, a young, working-class man struggling to make ends meet, with his baby son on its way and his health faltering. As Tim, George Mackay follows roles in For Those in Peril (2013), Sunshine on Leith (2013) and the upcoming Pride (2014).

The Goob is the first feature by Guy Myhill, who started his career in shorts and television. Set during a hot summer in the Fenlands, it’s billed as a psychological western, with a debt to François Truffaut and Terrence Malick. Newcomer Liam Walpole stars as Goob Taylor, a teenager who helps his mum run a cafeteria for harvest workers, but whose life takes a turn with the arrival of a beautiful young pumpkin picker.

Filmmaking duo Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore garnered a lot of attention for their 2009 documentary Isolation, a portrait of paratrooper-turned-photographer Stuart Griffiths that earned both critical raves and the admiration of Ken Loach. Blood Cells is their first fiction feature. Described by the directors as “a journey through landscape, memory and personal bonds in contemporary Britain”, it’s about a man whose becomes estranged from his family after the foot and mouth livestock epidemic of 2001 and lives life as a drifter on the margins of British society.

Both Blood Cells and Bypass are from the stable of Third Films, a Newcastle-based production company set up by Duane Hopkins and producer Samm Haillay, which was the winner of a BFI Vision Award in 2013. The Goob is also backed by the BFI Film Fund.

Elsewhere in the Venice programme, there are a number of British co-productions: Theeb is a period adventure set in the Arabian desert in 1916; The President is the new film by Iranian master Mohsen Makhmalbaf, which opens the festival’s Orizzonte section; The Look of Silence is Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to The Act of Kiling; and Before I Disappear is a nocturnal New York drama from debut director Shawn Christensen.

All in all, an exciting roster of new UK films – to add to which are archival Venice Classics outings for new restorations of those perennial British classics The Innocents (1961) and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), in a sparkling new digital print from the BFI National Archive in association with StudioCanal.

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