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Branchage Film Festival 2011 Preview
David Moats , September 20th, 2011 12:43

Our film editor David Moats gives his picks of the Branchage Film Festival in Jersey, Channel Islands, which runs from 22nd-25th September.

We at the Quietus love going to festivals in far flung locations - from the remote islands of Norway's Traena, Hungary's Sziget or even the heartland of America for Missouri's True/False. But one of our favourite jaunts is a little bit closer to home (well closer to France). This will be our third trip to the fantastic Branchage Film Festival on the isle of Jersey and as usual we are extremely pleased to be involved.

Last year we stayed in a Napoleonic fort perched atop a sheer cliff, fished in a harbour with France glistening in the distance, and walked along the sea floor at low tide to a fort a mile from land. We also saw Zombie Zombie performing along to The Battleship Potemkin on a tugboat, listened to Gruff Rhys's yarns and enjoyed an enlightening programme of documentaries and fiction films.

Jersey is a wonderfully surreal destination because it is largely untouched by tourism and corporate interests – well, visually at least. Save the occasional Spar there are few chains, and aside from the condos springing up like barnacles on St. Helier's docks few unpleasant looking buildings, like a model train microcosm of the English coast. It's difficult to take a bad picture at Branchage, but this is partly down to the charming sense of occasion created by festival director Xanthe Hamilton and her young team who seem to make every screening, from the appropriate locations (barns, castles, churches) to the thoughtful Q&As, a unique and memorable experience.

The highlight this year will no doubt be the moving score to The Great White Silence, the documentary footage of Captain Scott's expedition to the South Pole, performed by Simon Fisher Turner and the Elysian Quartet. Bestival and BBC Radio's Rob da Bank will also be performing to the classic version of King Kong. But not content to stick to the tried-and-true silent film soundtrack formula, Branchage has commissioned two 're-imaginings' - live soundtracks inspired by but not religiously tied to their source material.

Firstly it is our pleasure to host one of our favourite bands, Teeth of the Sea, performing their Reaper project - a re-imagining of Neil Marshall’s Doomsday. TOTS are known for their dramatic and cinematic sounds which will be a perfect match for the extreme imagery of this future cult classic film. Talented harpist and songwriter Serafina Steer will also be performing a piece inspired by Kenneth Anger's short film Rabbit's Moon. Steer and her brother Sam, a London based animator, will present their new interpretation along with a selection of classic shorts.

We are also excited about hearing Variable 4's sound installation at Elizabeth Castle, an imposing structure only accessible at low tide (or with some kind of amphibious vehicle that I'm told plays the Mission Impossible theme as it moves). The installation will take environmental inputs and create stern soundscapes with its eight speaker system. You can read more about Variable 4 here.

As usual there are plenty of excellent documentaries on offer. Benda Bilili! is an exceptional look at a troupe of disabled Congolese musicians – an inspiring true story without all the annoying trappings of that genre. We’ve spoken before about the merits of Oscar winner Inside Job, Charles Ferguson's documentary about the financial crisis, which deserves to be seen on the big screen – not only for the sweeping helicopter shots but for the righteous proletarian rage you get by watching it in a crowd. There is also a fascinating and intimate portrait of a printer-turned-inventor-turned-junkie-turned-financier called Death of a Hedge Fund Salesman, a remarkable character study and modern day tragedy of hubris and obsession.

Donor Unknown is a surprisingly affecting portrait of a prolific sperm donor who is tracked down by a small army of his look-a-like test tube kids. It's hysterically funny at times (the donor is a Chippendales dancer turned homeless yoga instructor) but also raises interesting questions about the way we define 'family' in the modern world. Tabloid, the new film from Errol Morris, is much lighter in subject matter than much of his recent work, but Morris is no less insightful and sceptical of his interviewees. It tells the crazy tale of pin-up Joyce McKinney who became a celebrity in the 70s when she allegedly abducted her Mormon boyfriend and chained him to a bed.

There is also a fine selection of fiction films, including The Guard, a crime comedy gem much in the vein of the hysterically funny In Bruges, although this time Brendan Gleeson trades his world-weary sarcastic Irish hitman for a world-weary sarcastic Irish cop. The film starts with the one liners early and rarely lets up. Don Cheadle, the perfect straight man, thankfully avoids employing his sub-Dick Van Dyke cockney accent from Ocean's Eleven.

Of Gods and Men was somewhat destined to be an award winner - a poignant true story of Trappist monks in Algeria during the beginning of the country's civil war. The monks are not portrayed as po-faced martyrs but as fleshed out human beings with flaws that find themselves trapped by historical circumstances. This extremely well photographed film, which frequently references renaissance paintings, is not about idealised heroism but the everydayness of conflict, waiting for the inevitable.

There will also be plenty of industry events, the famous programme of shorts and iconic parties in the Barclays Wealth Spiegeltent, and last year's successful comedy programme returns with Whose Hedge is it Anyway?. Finally, don't miss Quietus chief John Doran's Departure Lounge DJ set at Branchage Globale.

Stay tuned for more Branchage-related content before and after the festival.

Tickets and cheap flights are still available. Check the Branchage Website for details.