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Branchage Film Festival: An Introduction To The Cinema Event Of The Year
Luke Turner , September 14th, 2009 13:38

Film screenings in forts, barns and fields: The Quietus is chuffed to be linking up with Jersey's Branchage International Film Festival 2009. Here's why we've got involved

Recent years have seen a proliferation in so-called ‘boutique’ music festivals, the British countryside disappearing under a carpet of tents housing timid folk troupes and picnic blankets covered in organic burgers and terrifyingly Aryan children, while nearly every major city now seems to have its own film festival. Yet no-one has ever seen fit to marry the spirit of the two...

...until now that is. For The Quietus is pleased to announce that we’re joining forces with Jersey’s Branchage International Film Festival, now in its second year and already something of a hit for its screenings in unusual venues (a barn, the tunnels dug during the German occupation of Jersey, a barn, a Spiegeltent, a temporary drive-in cinema), excellent parties and a non-snooty approach that results in programme featuring live soundtrackings by bands alongside work by new and established directors.

This year’s Branchage features British Sea Power performing their sublime accompaniment to Man Of Aran, Icelandic group Amiina playing along to the animation of Lotte Reigiger, an opening night screening of Werner Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World and closing with Duncan Jones’ Moon. In between, there’s a screening of the All Tomorrow’s Parties film, Fish Tank, Lindsay Anderson’s If…, Shane Meadows’ Le Donk and Jeremy Deller’s The Posters Came From The Walls, all about Depeche Mode fans – and that’s just the biggies. Visit the Branchage website for full details.

In the weeks running up to Branchage, The Quietus is running preview features on some of the films being shown, our film editor David Moats (who is also on the jury for the young filmmaker short film award) will be choosing his pick of the programme, and we’ll be mentoring Jersey students getting to grips with the dark arts of culture journalism.

To kick things off, we spoke to Branchage’s creative director Xanthe Hamilton about the history of the festival, their plans for this year, and why it was sadly impossible to have British Sea Power play on a reef a mile out to sea.

Can you tell us a little about how you came up with the idea behind Branchage?

From my early teens I've been a festival junky (I have a cupboard full of VHS recordings off the TV of Glastonbury from the years I was too young to go) and when I entered the film world in my early twenties, I was delighted to be introduced to a whole new type of festival. A kind of festival that was as much fun and frolics as any music festival, with the comfort of a bed at the end of the night. A festival that allowed you to cradle and forget a hangover snugly sat in a cinema watching an unreleased film with a recently made friend. And more importantly for any aspiring director, the likelihood that you would stand outside sharing a cigarette with one of your favourite directors, or a commissioning editor that never normally returned your emails. A culmination of the love of film festivals, a lot of faith from some Jersey sponsors: namely Jersey Trust Company and Spearpoint, and a visit to the wonderfully international but 'small town' True/False documentary Festival in Missouri, I started to figure out the template for a festival that didn't already exist.

Branchage, even after one year, seems to have generated a lot of interest both from the industry and press. What do you think it is about Branchage that gives it such an appeal?

Well I could run off a list of elements that makes Branchage unique, but what really helps is the attention to detail. Last year at Mont Orgueil, a 13th Century Castle perched on the east coast, a kestrel swooped over our guests as they stood on the ramparts swigging homemade Jersey cider gazing at the sunset as me and Phil Ilson, our programmer, struck matches to light the candelabras in the Medieval Great Hall in preparation for the closing night film, made Branchage a little different. Branchage creates intrigue and doesn't disappoint, and probably an industry now jaded by several festivals that churn out their offering year in year out, we are something to talk about. Our challenge, as reminded to me only last week by Beadie Finzi, Director of the highly successful BritDoc Film Festival, is to not lose this youthful expression and creativity... 'don't get too big.... hold on to the bits that make it interesting'. Well I can safely say 2009 will be littered with these little treats.

Do you consciously set out to be different from more commercial/industry festivals?

I didn't consciously set out to do anything but create a festival that I, and the team would like to go to ourselves. I think festivals greatly represent the personality and background of the people running them. We are not chief execs of broadcasting corporations, we aren't buddies of Hollywood's rich and famous. We are rather motley crew - a bunch of friends that believe in this, and love it... if you attend you should feel this. I think the team also represent an interest in different popular cultures that you may not get at other festivals. Connoisseurs of cinema, music, interactive art and fashion, we've thrown it into a pot and out of it comes a heavy helping of fun.

Why is it important to the festival to have such a large musical element, with the soundtrackings and so on?

Apart from the fact there there didn't seem to be a festival that was really leading the way in this, it seemed an obvious angle to us. It opens it up to people who may not normally consider going to a film festival... and offered film festival regulars a bit more.

Can you tell us a little about why you seek to screen films in unusual venues?

If people are going to make the effort to come to Jersey they don't want to be ushered into a multiplex. We assume they want to experience the island, see the best bits and with a wealth of ancient architectural relics it was a no brainer. It also adds a whole other dimension to the experience.

Were there any locations you wanted to use but couldn't due to practical reasons?

We had our hearts set on British Sea Power scoring Man Of Aran a mile out at sea on a reef of rocks called Les Écréhous. The 30 ft tide made it an impossibility.... for now.... but we have a team of marine biologists and engineers strategizing to make this dream a reality in the not too distant future.

Why have you seen it as important to focus on British cinema?

We do have a soft spot for British cinema; the industry is dear and close to us and we want to champion and showcase it to an audience that wouldn't normally have an opportunity to appreciate it. A lot of quality British cinema, especially documentary, is overshadowed by American box office blockbusters, especially in regional areas where Cineworld just go with the safe bets with humongous advertising budgets.... not very Branchage. But I'll hasten to add we don't stop at British cinema; we are open to anything that tickles our fancy, whatever the origin.

What are you personally most looking forward to?

I'm excited about our whole programme this year, with only four days it's not like we have to use fillers to bulk out our programme. However, this year we have commissioned a huge 3D projection to go on the walls of Mont Orgueil castle. The castle will appear to collapse and rebuild - who wouldn't want to see that? I've always been a fan of Lotte Reiniger, and commissioning Amiina to score her work it something that I will not be missing. As for the documentaries on show, Big River Man's star Martin Strel, who swam the Amazon, is coming to swim in the sea in Jersey with the Jersey Long Distant Swimmers - this is definitely a spectacle I'll be annoyed if I miss; and Acid Brass, a local brass band performing Acid House curated by Turner Prize nominee Jeremy Deller, who also directed The Posters Came The Walls, a wonderfully baffling documentary about Depeche Mode fans. I'll stop there, as I'll just end up listing our whole programme.

And, for ignorant mainlanders, what does Branchage actually mean?

Branchage, pronounced 'Broncarge' is the twice-a-year trimming of the hedgerows that overcrowd Jersey's narrow country lanes in spring and autumn, and if you've not been on the case expect a fine. It's the Jersey equivalent of London's congestion charge. Having read this you should be able to make sense of this year’s trailer, star of which 95 year old Mrs De La Haye, who's acting career took off last year when we knocked on her door looking the Channel Islands' next big star.

For more information, visit the Branchage website. For details of travel packages to the Festival, visit the Jersey travel website

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