Cambridge Film Festival 2009 Day 4

It seemed as though we had barely arrived, but it was already our last day, and no late night ones as we had a 5h drive ahead of us and then work in the morning :(. Oh well, not long to Leeds..

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (US) (site/wiki)

A sort of yang to the ying of Creation, this documentary by nasal-voiced Ben Stein has been picking up a notorious reputation wherever it has been shown. It's premise seems fair enough: that the academics and scientists who support Evolutionary theory are so inflexible in their opinions that nothing from the ID school of thought can be of any use, and that anyone who dares publish anything even mentioning ID/Creationism within their hallowed halls will be immediately 'expelled'. To start with, Stein interviews several individuals from university and scientific establishments who were given short shrift for such mentions, which as most would agree on both sides, is a bit harsh. However, it's at this point (once the skeptical viewer has been brought onside) that it lets its hair down a little and the credibility begins to slip.

Moving from unfair dismissal cases, it attempts coyly to distinguish between ID and creationism, with Stein playing a not particularly active devils advocate and never answering the question about what the difference really is. Then, a number of 'scientific experts' put in various claims that Darwin's theories are 'full of holes', without ever giving so much as one example about what those holes are. Even a couple of keywords the viewer could use to do some background reading on after the film would have sufficed, but nothing was said.

One major claim was that in Darwin's time, cellular research was in its infancy, and from this a giant leap is made by saying because we now have much more insight into the workings at a sub-cellular level, evolutionary theory falls apart. Quite why it should not be applicable within a cell is never explained, although we do get a minutes worth of pretty computer graphics.

Then he moved, (with appropriate brooding music) towards igniting the passions of the American right, using the same tactics employed by the rabid republicans in the current US healthcare debate - general talk of eroding freedoms were illustrated with old stock footage of.. Stalin, Marx, Russian soldiers holding back crowds of people, mixed with strategic insertion of words such as 'socialist', 'freedom' and 'patriotism' and the like to whatever was the topic on screen at the time. A little shimmy into how Darwin's theories promoted Nazism and Eugenics, coupled with some nicely trimmed footage of Dawkins et al when they were at their most antagonised (and thus arrogant) selves, and a finish off back at the start telling us how we must be open to all possibilities, not just the ones rammed down our throats.

Obviously given my leanings, I was never going to come out of this film with a new opinion of the world, but its snide underhandedness made Creation look all that much better as both entertainment and education. It's thus fair to say I was less than impressed with Expelled; Stein did as many others have done when they realise their side of the argument has no credible evidence to back it up - rely on smoke and mirrors, straw men and just enough half truth to encourage the viewer to make up their own minds, in the direction the director wants them to go. I encourage those from both sides of the argument to go see it, especially if they can get someone from the other camp to go with them at the time. 5/10

From Russia with Love (UK) (wiki)

A nice, simple Bond film to end with. This is constantly in the top few of most Bond fan lists for best film adaptation of the novels, where Connery's Bond does battle with the forces of SPECTRE on one side, and the amusingly-titled Soviet SMERSH operation on the other. SPECTRE agents Kronstein (strategic chess player) and Rosa Klebb (Ex-SMERSH operative and early lesbian film icon with a nice line in poison tipped daggers in her shoes) execute a plot to get the British Secret Service and SMERSH to squabble over a copy of the much desired Lektor device (an Enigma-style cryptographic unit) and while they kill each other off, SPECTRE takes it off their hands using burly beefhead Red Grant who silently pursues the various players picking them off as the hunt for the Lektor progresses.

As it is an early Bond film, there is far less reliance on the gadgets, improbable villains and car chases that dogged the later films, or the campness brought in with the Moore/Brosnan years, although there is more than the usual amount of female objectification, especially during the first third. What is left is a reasonably straight crime caper set in a number of beautiful locations around Istanbul and Venice, including a tense segment aboard the Belgrade to Zagreb train, and it is the close-quarters combat here, and subsequent escape from the country for Bond and Russian counterpart Tatiana that forms the best part of the film. It's just a shame that the quality of the film print wasn't up to scratch, it had clearly been passed through those reels a lot of times, but it was nice to see it on the big screen. 7/10

Another year over for Cambridge. It was lovely, and at the time of writing, it's still on; so if you have some free time on your hands this weekend and you live quite close, you could do a lot worse than catch it's closing nights.

Cambridge Film Festival 2009 Day 3

Little White Lies (Germany) (site)

A period drama set in the cold, snow covered 1930's Germany, Little White Lies centres in on a gang of schoolchildren taking lessons by day and exploring abandoned warehouses at night. 13-year old Alexanders' year is split into two groups, the A's and the B's. Though the B group is generally seen as sub-servant to the A's, a peaceful coexistence survives between the two. That is until Grüber - two years older and with a keen eye for exploitation - moves to town and is put with the A's. He quickly makes his mark, making personal gain from the snowballing events in the classroom to further his own ends. Gaining power by skilful manipulation of the truth and rising through the pecking order by spreading lies about the B's and holding to blackmail any A's who oppose his ideas (including Alexander, who unwittingly sets into motion a whole series of opportunities for Grüber to exploit). Soon the balance held in check for generations is upset and friends are set against one another.

In case you haven't guessed, the film is a not very subtle parable warning about how lies and the distortion of truth can lead to very bad situations for all involved. Or more bluntly still, an allegory on how the Nazis rose to power. Grüber is clearly modelled on Hitler, and the A and B groups represent Non-Jewish and Jewish Germans at around that time, respectively. Though this is put forth with quite a heavy hand, the film is still a beautifully shot, 2-tier story of young friendship and love on the boundaries of war, and how the truth can so easily be mislaid. 7.5/10

Best of British Shorts (UK)

Next up was a set of short films from the UK. They all shared a common theme, which was inner-city depression, isolation, and the breakdown of the family unit, under the general heading 'Britain'. Such themes tend to dominate UK based contemporary films rather too much at the moment. Is life here really that universally bad?

Boy - A bold and unsettling film, following the sexual awakening of a man towards a boy who begins to hang around his allotment, and the inner turmoil it generates as he struggles with his own self-loathing. It took me places I really wasn't comfortable seeing, but that is it's strength - these people are human too. 8/10

Hip Hip Hooray - Kacey Ainsworth (Little Mo from Eastenders) pops briefly onto the screen as Pippa, a woman so detached from others that she has to arrange a birthday party using the residents and staff of the nursing home she works at to make up the numbers. With a bigger do apparently planned for when she gets home, will her secret admirer pluck up the courage to gatecrash the proceedings? Sweet but also depressing at the same time. 6.5/10

Quietus - Juliet Stevenson stars as a carer visiting elderly Mrs Rogers and her many cats. Unfortunately, Mrs Rogers has been done over some days earlier and the only witnesses to the crime seem more interested in getting their kitekat. 6/10

GirlLikeMe - Lucy's parents are too locked in their never-ending shouting matches to notice she is falling away. She doesn't want to be a kid any more, and when her text boyfriend wants to meet up, she makes an effort to look like a proper adult. When both parties realise the other was lying about their age, the situation could go several ways. Will Lucy quit or try to make the best of the situation? 6/10

Finding Home - Darren and Tom are both wasters with an estranged and missing mother and a permanently comatose father; they spend their days messing around on their estate, waiting until they get enough money together to go find her. When Tom suddenly comes back with a wad of cash, Darren fears the worst and attempts to sort things out. Much like the two brothers around which this story revolves, it never particularly goes anywhere. 5/10

Washdays - Bed wetting doesn't seem to go away for Kyle, and his mum insists on making him wash his sheets in the hope this will teach his bladder the right time to relax itself. This makes him constantly late for school, and when the teacher asks Kyle for a note explaining things, the potential for his secret to get out leaves him with one choice: bunk off and sort things out for himself. 7.5/10

Tender - Young teen Liam comes into a bit of cash, but on his estate, flashing it around is not a good idea, especially for his single mum and the attentions of her violent boyfriend. So when local skirt and secret object of his affection Alisha realises he has a bit behind him and starts being friendly, perhaps he can use the money to get a little closer, and then maybe escape his depressing situation. 6/10

All Day Breakfast - Daryl is not the brightest spark, and wants to leave sunny Blackpool for all the reasons surly teens want to leave the place they grew up in. Unfortunately he has no competence for looking after himself, and no money to get somewhere new, something his maybe-girlfriend Juliet is used to, after seeing his plans for their big elope fizzle out once again. When Juliet disappears on the day Daryl promised they would finally get away, his only chance of seeing her again is to head for the dizzy heights of Manchester where Juliet wanted to find her calling as a Corrie regular. 6.5/10

Desire (UK) (site)

Bit of a saucy one, this. Ralph, an increasingly agoraphobic writer with creative block hires an au-pair, Néne to work in the family home, much to the frustration of his wife Phoebe, who's first encounter with her is the next morning at breakfast. The idea, Ralph keeps telling himself and
his wife, is that she will be able to ease his mind and allow him to finish the script that will lift them out of the small time and Phoebe out of the small-part soap opera position she has been stuck in for the past few years. He didn't mention his decision to hire Néne was after little more than seeing her picture on the Internet.

Néne is kind and helpful, the kids love her, and despite Phoebe's best efforts, she is won around by Néne's calming presence, until she realises that her, Néne and Ralph are all similar to characters in the script, and Néne seems to be getting pretty close to Ralph between the pages. Néne nevertheless exerts unexpected charm and calming influence on the already strained relationship, and slowly becomes carer, muse, and lover to both of them.

Phoebe still cannot shake her jealousy, and so tries to make things go four ways by inviting Darren, a young bit-part actor in her soap, around for an extended stay to even things up a bit. The already unlikely situation twists and turns as the players work out their parts in both the film and the emerging script that is evolving from the events as they unfold, in fact it is blurring of whether the script dictates the actions or the other way around that provides much of the intrigue of this film. By the end, can this unconventional extended family possibly make things work? I found personally that when the crunch time came near the end of the film, I cared enough about the main parts to wish that they could.

If you can forgive the eccentric outbursts by Ralph as he struggles to maintain power over his family, and Darren's matching chest thrusts, (clearly wanting to stay part of the group to sample Pheobe's ample charms), you'll find a saucy, funny and warm film, where perhaps you might have expected blatant smut and/or eroticism. 8/10

Creation (UK) (site/wiki)

Just about to hit UK cinemas, in timely fashion is the story of part of the life of Charles Darwin. To call it his life story would be unfair since it concentrates mostly on the years leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species, with a few flashbacks to his voyage on the Beagle.

Paul Bettany is the spitting image of Darwin, with his furrowed brow and piercing stare, I doubt they could possibly have managed to find anyone more suitable, and his wife Emma, played by Jennifer Connelly (who is married to Bettany) does a convincing job of playing a faithful wife torn between her marriage to her husband and to her faith.

The film concentrates its attention in the three areas of Darwin's failing health (that was also responsible for the death of his daughter), his time with Anna before she died, and the changing relationship with his wife and the surrounding community as his theories gathered notoriety. It is surprising that the film does not extend to the many debating matches that occurred after the book was released, but it is clear that the existing content was more than enough to fill up the film. A cynical man may suggest that they left room for a sequel to cover that part of the story. I sincerely hope they do not.

Creation felt 'authentic', although as the director said in the extensive Q+A at the end, they took some small liberties with the literal truths about Darwin's life, preferring instead to maintain a flowing narrative and concentrate on bringing forward the essence of the man. On hearing this when director Jon Amiel took the mic for a preamble at the start, I had horrible visions of Darwin dressed as Arnie in the Terminator films, swinging through the plate glass windows of Down House and gunning down everyone in his way. Fortunately, though a historian would be able to pick small holes in the facts as presented on the screen, there was nothing that seems out of place that I could see. Darwin is portrayed as a passionate and flawed but loving family man whose stubbornness is his own worst enemy, fighting with his conscience about his lost daughter and the prospect of losing his wife from his side in the name of the work he was carrying out.

Several locations around Darwin's home in Kent were used, including Down House and the surrounding grounds, and the local churches and other buildings of prominence, and the whole thing feels like it has been painstakingly put together to ensure a convincing recreation of the life of this important man. It was more of an autobiography than a straight account of his 20 or so years of work on his most famous theories, but this worked in the favour of the film, which is better and leaner for it. 8/10

Hierro (Spain) (Interview/wiki)

A late-night thriller to keep us going to the end of this mini film marathon, and Hierro comes with the distinction of having Guillermo del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth) as one of its contributors. Maria and her young son Diego head aboard the ferry to the island of El Hierro for a well-earned break from her job as a marine biologist. Waking from exhausted slumber, she finds that Diego has disappeared from her side, and after a fruitless exhaustive search, no trace is found on the boat.

Sometime later, Maria is called back to the island to identify a body of a boy taken from the sea, but after giving a negative ID, she finds herself stuck on the island whilst the paperwork is sorted out, which has to be done before she can go back home. Naturally, she takes the opportunity to do some detective work of her own, spurred on after hearing of an abduction of a child on the island at around the same time.

Hierro is a brooding, creepy and claustrophobic thriller, and one with a twist at the end strong enough to turn everything on its head, which was met with both surprise and satisfaction. A clever, raw and chilling film that sparks conversation well after the credits. 8/10

Cambridge Film Festival 2009 Day 2

Houston, we have a Problem (US) (site)

My guard was up on this one; amongst other things, Houston is billed as a look at the American oil crisis in a slightly different manner to what you would usually expect, that is, talking with the oil companies and seeing that far from enjoying their status as purveyors of black gold, they are falling on hard times (relatively) and it turns out they actually saw the oil problems coming, and lobbied for research into more sustainable energies back in the 70's. I don't know about you, but that smacked of a controversial right-leaning film attempting to paper over the problems and blame someone else. Despite some initial signs of this, such as well-off oil men laughing about what the average joe thinks about where they get their tank of petrol from (whilst living it up on a private jet), I'm happy to say the film did not give me further reason to think the facts contained within were so sugar coated.

Beginning with the events of the late 60's, where America was producing oil at a rate that pushed the price of a barrel down to $3 and people couldn't shift the stuff from the gas stations, the administration of the time took the decision to artificially withhold its availability in order to get the price back up to a more reasonable rate for the sake of the survival of the industry. By the mid-70's this was working and the price had doubled, but new problems were on the cards; increasing reliance on oil from the middle-east coupled with the increasing cold war brewing over in Russia. When the Reagan administration came into power they upped the prices of oil once more in order to bankrupt the Russians and bring a swift end to the cold-war conflict before it could get off the ground. The increasing price of barrels had unfortunately driven custom away from the Americans and were instead going to the Middle East, who by now had decided that the oil being drained from under their feet was theirs to sell for themselves, and thus took steps in the intervening years to make sure it was their companies drilling for it.
All this leaves America in a bit of a pickle, fuel wise, and as the film states, several successive presidents since the Carter era have had the opportunity to do something about it but have faltered after the campaigns died down and the job of actually running the country set in.

Fortunately, the film doesn't dwell on any one area of this rather large issue too much, it flits between the history of the crisis, the wildcat diviners who would go in search of new seams to exploit, and the people who are trying to do something about it; the latter refreshingly taking up the last segment of the film, showing us there are people out there, not just the backyard experimenters, who are investing in ways to remove dependence from oil (although this refreshing news is tempered somewhat when it's clear environmental concerns take second priority to ensuring America is not at the whim of other countries for its energy needs). Algae generating bio-diesel, huge solar panel and wind farms, nuclear and thermo-electric technologies are all apparently finally receiving the attention they need to become the producers of the future.

Though not directly related to the energy concerns of the UK or Europe, this film is still interesting and relevant for anyone who is troubled about where we are going as a world with our energy use, and what the most consumptive nations on the planet are doing about it. 8/10

The Butterfly Tattoo (UK) (site/wiki)

Based on the book of the same name by Philip Pullman, which was itself a loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, The Butterfly Tattoo is in the unfortunate situation of having its audience know what will happen at the end before the start of the film, and as with many films in this situation, it gets around this by showing the finality of the story in the opening credits: A young man finds his love dead on the floor, and overcome with grief brings the weapon to his chest to take his own life.

We then go back several days to the source of the event, where middle-class lighting engineer Chris saves free-spirited but posh Jenny from the attentions of an Oxford oik at a midnight party. A little detective work on her discarded dress leads him to her flat, and a love affair begins to blossom, much to oiky's distaste and Jenny's coffee-shop co-workers' intrigue. What could have been an oft-trodden story of the sheltered Chris's descent into Jenny's decadent world turns out not to happen, but instead concentrates on endearing the viewer to the couple, so on the slow push towards the pair's eventual demise we don't want what we know will happen to happen, which thanks to the whisperings, events and misunderstandings of the pair and the people around them we are powerless to stop.

The Butterfly Tattoo is solidly made, well written (if you can ignore some of the clunkier novel-to-screen dialogue in the film's early stages), and constantly twisting and swerving as it makes its way towards its final conclusion. The two main roles were excellently delivered, and that necessary spark required for a convincing romantic encounter was present and correct. It was fresh, original, and kept the attention. A perfect film for a couple of romantics to watch. 8/10

Kin (UK) (synopsis)

Brian Welsh's first film is on a shoestring budget of £12.5K. It is clear that the locations didn't require the budget of, say, Transformers, and you might expect this film to suffer in quality with such a tight restriction, but the resulting film doesn't once show that it may have been better with a bigger wad of cash behind it - as the festival presenter said, big bucks are not necessary for a great film. Dominic Kinniard puts in a great performance as Frank, a middle-aged man with mild autism and learning difficulties, whose days are spent happily playing pool down the local pub, and driving his carer Sally mad with endless playthroughs of his beloved Liverpool cup final videos.

One day, his estranged sister Carol rings with news of their mother (played by Ma Boswell, aka Jean Boht), who is becoming increasingly difficult to care for, and could he spend some time in the old family house to take some pressure off and help look after her.

Carol has made things as comfortable as possible for Frank; his old bedroom, his favourite Liverpool FC duvet and posters, and the old portable telly are back in the places he left them so long ago, and its clear from the off that Carol wants Frank to stay a while when she goes out and takes the key. But when Carol starts taking away Franks freedoms it's clear that the goings on within the old family house are not all they seem.

Especially with it's meagre budget, Kin delivers great performances by the four cast members and a genuinely disturbing, claustrophobic situation that the viewer quickly becomes both enthralled and troubled by. Nicola Marsland gives Carol a truly menacing edge, though not without also generating empathy for what is clearly a broken soul desperately in need of a stabiliser, and the whole story is carried along with the question of how Frank can escape his captor when she knows his every facet and with each turn his freedoms are eroded still further, or whether he should stay in the house for the sake of his mother and sister. Kin is one of those films where little is said but much is hinted at, the little scraps of story suggested in the sparse scripting firing the imagination to think of the backstories of the characters and how Frank was treated by Carol in their formative years, and the dark humour keeping it from being depressing.

Brian Walsh, Dominik Kinnard and Nicola Marsland were all present for a Q+A at the end of the film, where the director revealed his inspirations for the film, the casting process and some of the trials of working on a shoestring budget, which was an extra bonus. 8/10

Cambridge Film Festival 2009 Day 1

Another year, another trip to Cambridge. It's over now, but the festival is still in full swing, but unfortunately neither myself nor Ms. Plants had the holiday entitlements or the money to stay the full course. But we did have four days of punting, shopping, beautiful sunshine, and of course, films.

Courting Condi (US) (site/wiki)

We started with an oddity of sorts; Devin Ratray is heading out of his thirties, he's generous around the chops, and sports a mullet that he contests is his defining characteristic. Not the best candidate for the wooing of Condoleezza Rice, previously the head of foreign affairs under the Bush administration. Making use of his piano skills, and enlisting the help of his film-making friend Sebastian, he sets off on a journey to discover who this woman is that has captured his heart, and win her over with his 'love discs' - love letters in song form. Maybe he will even get to meet with her. Leaving his parents he travels across the US, to the places where Condi grew up and her life decisions were made, taking us with him on a journey into what made her the woman she is today.

Though Devin is entertaining and often amusing, and he can keep up the pretence for a while, it does become clear that the hapless lovelorn romantic is an act, nothing more than a framing device for a documentary that tries to show that Ms Rice has forgotten her roots, turning her back on the idealist principles that brought her to the White House, and replacing them with the realist world view (if you can call it that) that replaced it under post 9/11 Bush, and the strategic power-shifts made as she worked her way up the ladder which arguably closed the door on those people trying to follow in her wake.

Courting Condi was funny, informative, and an original take on the documentary format that is becoming ever more numerous on the festival circuit. It did, however leave a slightly nasty taste in the mouth, because in being a 'docu-tragi-comedy' it began with the comedy part and then largely dropped it midway through, sneaking in the more serious concerns underneath when the viewer wasn't looking. It's not the worst crime in the world, but it felt a little dishonest, like if MacDonalds tried to sneak in vitamin pills with their Big Macs without telling anyone. 7.5/10

Mental (Japan) (site/interview)

In the same style as last year's Don't Get Me Wrong, Mental is a 'slice of life' documentary window into the lives of mental patients who maintain semi-independent lives in a downtown prefecture of Tokyo. The place is run on a shoestring, with very basic and diminishing government grants, supporting a doctors' surgery, a small cafe, and a walk-in centre for patients to use as they require; this film shows that they are in ever greater demand, even though Japanese society still views such conditions as schizophrenia, suicidal tendencies and learning difficulties as cultural taboo.

Never emerging from behind the camera, Kazuhiro Soda lets the patients and staff do the talking, asking only the minimum questions in order to get the stories to be told. One extended dialogue with a young mother who killed her first child and had the second one taken away from her is both chilling and heartbreaking.

There are also positive sides to the lives of these people reflected in the film. Dr Yamamoto is the surgery's only resident doctor, and it is clear that he is not there for the money. Working as a locum on a fraction of the pay he would normally get, he lends his considerable years' expertise both to the running of the surgery and on his many lectures to students at the local college. Of the most delight is the ageing Sensei's pearls of wisdom to the many troubles posed to him by his patients, often being accompanied by charming zen-post-it note diagrams to nudge the point home. Another star of the film is Sugoya, a toothy middle-aged man who spends much of his time alone, ostracised by his community and finding only the commune a place where he can share his thoughts with anyone. Finding himself in a small group, he finds the courage to share with other patients (and us) his book of poems and haiku, which were short but charming, if only he could get a publisher.

The film has only one major thing going against it, and that is, for a film which is purely slice of life, without the bangs and crashes of an action film, nor the revelations and shocks of an investigative documentary, its 2h 15m timespan will put off audiences already thinned out by the upfront premise; but if you have an interest in non-judgemental slice of life works, the unseen people who work to make our communities what they are, mental health issues, or the corners of society that could so easily be considered worthless or slip through the gaps, then I recommend giving this slow burner a go. 7.5/10

Plan-ET Early Access Now Available

The Event Scheduler has a new name, and has come on a wodge since I mentioned it a week or so ago. Alerts are a little more refined and can be filtered down (the thing whines on about all sorts of little tasks in the pursuit of a perfect events list, which you can now turn off), it works out total costs of all events in your schedule with and without discounts (and recommends which discounts to take), and it will now print out a basic schedule report, which although it is just a text file at the moment, is the first step of the final major area of work that will be the focus of my future attention. After I return from Cambridge, that is.

During our brief stay, I hope to bend the ear of one of the organisers and slip into their mitts a brief flyer extolling the virtues of the app, and convince them what a good idea it would be for them to perhaps make use of it at next year's bash. How good my convincing skills are I don't know but I'd like to try; I genuinely think this app could be a lot of use, especially to that breed of festival goer who likes to pack as much stuff in as they can.

Finally, If anyone is interested in having a go with an early access copy, I can now provide you with one, if you send me an email at planet(dot)fancysoft(at)gmail(dot)com. I will send you a copy of the app in a runnable JAR file (it requires Java 6 installed on your machine - The JRE can be downloaded here - but other than that requirement it should work on Windows, Mac, Unix and Linux just fine). I'll also send a copy of the Cambridge events file for you to play with, and a couple of basic running instructions. Eventually I will be putting Plan-ET up on a code hosting site so people can take a proper look under the hood once I'm happy with it, but for now this will do.

A little more madness this year

I don't know whether to thank or berate them for potential eye damage; I'll do the former for now. The peeps at the Leeds Film Festival have announced that this year's one will be an extra week in length, from the 4th to the 22nd November! This makes me very happy indeed. I can only assume they have got hold of so many films they can't fit them all in to the usual fortnight.

Of course, that's making me think... maybe I can hit a target of 150 films this year, since 100 is achievable in a fortnight? Am I really that mad?

The answer may well be yes.


I'm a bit of an obsessive on things. Here is a good example.

Midway through my 'employment holiday' I decided that there wasn't a sufficient app out there to enable people to go to a festival or somesuch, for example a film festival as I like to frequent, and have a good idea of what they want to watch when they are there, what clashes with what, and where everything is and when. Sure, you can stick stuff in a calendar which is alright, but it's quite general purpose with few bells and whistles on top.

I had a scribble on the back of an envelope about what something like that would do, and got a bit carried away.

Looking specifically at film festivals (though this could apply to most gatherings), the various fests around the country vary in quality in how they present the films on show. Leeds is usually best because they have a pull-out festival planner with graphs of what is on and when. Edinburgh does similar things online, which helps but you really need it with you. At the other end of the helpful spectrum is Cambridge, which presents only an unordered list of films by day. Even with the graphs, you can't make much of a schedule up on it without extensive scribbling. I found keeping track of what I wanted to watch most, and ensuring I tried to watch one screening of each of them, fitting in the lower-priority stuff along the way. The guide was in tatters once I'd finished.

Well, I now have something approaching a presentable solution to the problem of scheduling hell. The snappily-titled Event Scheduler!

It's a Java app (1.6+) that displays the events [films] for a festival, when they are on and where, and other details. Fest goers such as myself can then create schedules against the events list, and decide both what I want to see, when, and what priority each event has for me. The scheduler will warn me if I haven't included a film I really want to watch, or have included one I don't want to watch, or if two items clash and a load of other checks. It even warns if the distance between locations is two far to make a run between them to catch the next film. Finally, once I'm happy with my schedule, I can print out a report to take with me to the festival, outlining my schedule for the day. Reports available will include output for a single schedule by day, a comparison of open schedules, missed events, a location guide, or billing details.

It's at an advanced stage, but not complete yet. Events, schedules and priorities are in, but not reporting as yet. Eventually it will allow the user to define discounts (e.g. if the festival has a buy 5 tickets get 1 free offer) maximum budgets (e.g. don't book more than £50 worth of events) and whatever else I can think of.

If this would be useful to anyone out there, and you'd like in an early access copy, send me a comment below saying you're interested and I'll send you the latest build. It won't set your PC on fire, but there might be some small bugs that need ironing out, which I'd be grateful if you could report them to me.

Edit: Comments don't give me an email address to send copies to, and I don't have anywhere to host it as yet, and I guess people don't want to leave their email in a comment, so... Anyone got any suggestions?

Cambridge Film Festival 2009

Last year's festival was great fun if a little pricey (you pay extra for being in a town of posh people), so this year we're just going for the first four days. Ms. Plants has upped the ante this year by matching me film for film, so her poor eyes will be falling out as much as mine will. And we've got to get back to our B+B about 2am after one particularly long film session, which should be fun. A couple of diet cokes should get her suffciently buzzing enough to make it through :)

Plenty of films on, as always, and I'll be reporting back on our days over there as normal. If you have some time to spare between 17 and 27 September, there will be plenty to amuse and entertain. I recommend heartily Mary and Max, my current favourite 2009 film, which unfortunately is on long after we've left for chillier climes, along with the sumptuous, if a little long Seraphine about the unlikely French painter, and Humpday which though undeniably rude does look like a big laugh. There's also a fresh set of reprints of classic films, such as From Russia With Love (the best of the Bond films), The Red Shoes (often cited as the most beautiful film made), The Third Man and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

There's also an event called Science on Screen, organised by the New Humanist magazine, which will show a number of films connected with various controversies in the science-religion-ethics area of things. Creation is a timely Darwin biography, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is an infamous film regarding the criticisms of those who want ID taught in schools as an alternative to Evolutionary theory, House of Numbers, regarding the source of AIDS epidemic, and The Nature of Existence, a documentary exploring the wide diversity of belief in the world. We'll be trying to catch as much of it as possible, and up on here it will go.

Oh, and a not-unrelated upcoming post will explain where I've been all this time. Stay tuned.