After volunteering with the East End Film Festival earlier this year, I wanted to continue to network and see the raw talent that comes from festival entries. I found the Portobello Film Festival that takes place on the London famous Portobello Road. This is a festival that is free to enter and free to attend. Quite an undertaking for the awesome staff!
Over 600 short and feature length films played over the course of 18 days between two main locations: Westbourne Studios and Pop-Up Cinema. I was stationed at the Westbourne Studios location which hosted the foreign films. Days were dedicated to specific regions such as Germany, Belgium, and the United States. With no entry fee for submitting the film, we saw a wide array of pieces that ranged from the random Joe on the corner with an iPhone to professional documentaries and everything in between.
In its 19th year, Portobello Film Festival has always operated this way finding sponsors for the festival in lieu of charging the public to see these works from all over the world. Granted, there were a handful of films I watched where I seriously questioned what the filmmakers were thinking showing their “art” to the public, but most of the foreign films were very well-crafted and executed.
My favorite film was The Child (Das Kind) by Manj Gomez Gonzalez. It’s the end of the 19th century, and an anxious father awaits the dramatic birth of his son. He is ignorant to the dark future the birth would bring to humanity, but through it all, Adolf Hitler is born. Told all in black and white, we watched this well done period piece tell the story of a normal father waiting for the birth of his son. It seemed completely normal until the very end when the last name of the family is revealed.
Another film I enjoyed purely because of the bizarre nature of it was Me Tube: August Sings Carmen Habanera. I had no idea what to expect but was pleasantly surprised by the use of visual effects and out of the ordinary characterizations. Watch for yourself.
This acts as an homage to the videos of YouTube and their various visions of art. The film was featured as a Sundance Shorts and nominated for best short by the Grand Jury.
Another film that I thought was extremely well done was Abbitte Eines Morders by Julian Cohn which got the Shocking Shorts Award in Germany this year. The synopsis is: one day a young priest enters the confessional, not knowing that this confession is going to change everything. This short had a shocking twist in the story that was done flawlessly with remarkable acting and story-telling. I wish there was a trailer or version posted to YouTube that I could display.
One of the more comical films I saw was Berlin Troika by Andrej Gontcharov. During a grave political crisis, an interpreter suffers a breakdown. Young diplomat Konrad Gelb steps in to interpret between the two conflicting superpower leaders, who seem to hold the fate of humanity in their hands. See a trailer for it for yourself.
The last film I’ll plug here is called Canard Ou Lapin by Christine Grulois and Gilles Bissot out of Belgium which has done well on the festival market around Europe. This was the story of a mother who loses her daughter while shopping. We watch this mother’s imagination go to the worst possible outcome, but is her imagination based in reality? I couldn’t help but sympathize with this film since my mind always jumps to various conclusions for any given situation and I can get myself worked up if what is happening is based in fact or fiction.
The space of Westbourne Studios is quite fitting. The building is a giant studio space broken into several small businesses with a theater in the midst. Unfortunately, this is the last year Portobello Film Festival will have the studio with London over-expanding and needing the office space. It’s such a shame since the space is really nice and just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Pop-Up Cinema.
The Pop-Up Cinema is just like it sounds. Built like a kid’s fort, they have hoisted up a screen and put out about a hundred folding chairs in a covered space to play films. This is a much more relaxed atmosphere with a bar nearby and the rest of the famous Portobello Road. The London based films were showcased at this venue with tons of the London filmmakers making an appearance and introducing their films.
I didn’t personally get to see any of the London films as I was captivated by the foreign films, but it was a very successful turnout with the seats filled nearly every night.
The very last night of the festival will be held at The KPH pub on September 14 for the award ceremony and final screenings. There they will award the Golden Boot and cash prizes to the winners of the festival. I’m anxious to see who wins as much as the filmmakers as there have been so many extraordinary projects.
The Portobello Film Festival runs from August 28-September 14. Try to check out the remaining days before it’s too late!