My last SFFilm fest reviews (this year)

The 2023 SFFilm Film Festival is over. Life can become normal again. Here are the films I saw over the last week, all at the BAMPFA. I listed them from the first to the last.

A Persistence of Vision Award: Mark Cousins + “The March on Rome” [The page has been removed]

This year, Irish filmmaker Mark Cousins won the Persistence of Vision Award. Among films he’s made are Dear Mr. Gorbachev, Gulf War: Scottish Eye, and Dear Georges Melies. To celebrate the honor, SFFilm screened his powerful documentary, The March on Rome (2022).

The title is a bit confusing. My wife thought it was about to be the end of the fall of The Roman Empire. I thought it was going to be about the allies capturing the city in 1945. We were both wrong. It’s about Mussolini and his black shirts entering Rome in 1922. Cinema was a new technology back then. Cousins showed how the fascists used the new art form to glorify up-and-coming leader more powerful. But Cousins did more than that. This historical documentary continues into how fascism spread to other countries. The film is difficult to watch–true horror is much more frightening than the fictional kind.

Before the film, Thom Powers of the Toronto International Film Festival talked with Cousins. After the film there was a Q&A. (I wasn’t able to attend.)

B+ My Name is Alfred Hitchcock

After the frightening March on Rome, the next night Cousins gave us
a much more entertaining documentary. British actor Alistair McGowan gives an exceptional Hitchcock imitation, telling us how the fictitious Hitchcock explains making his films. We get to watch clips from Hitchcock’s movies while the impersonator explains about how “he” made the movies. Not only is it not Hitchcock speaking, but also not Hitchcock’s words. Cousins wrote the monologue that McGowan spoke. I left wanting to watch Strangers on a Train.

During the Q&A, Cousins told us that the film was made during the COVID lockdown. Cousins wasn’t sure how he could find the right actor to play the Master of Suspense. Then he got a phone call, and who seemed to be Alfred Hitchcock was on the line.

C+ Milisuthando

This documentary about South Africa has its moments, but not enough of them. It’s filled with old film clips, which isn’t a bad thing (see The March on Rome above). Unfortunately, writer/director Milisuthando Bongela doesn’t have much sense of structure, often leaving us where we are. What the filmmakers show us is often exceptional – but too often you’re left wondering what is happening.

A- Against the Tide

This Indian drama shows a family in crisis. The father is a fisherman with hopes to change his lot by using LEDs, although that’s both illegal and bad karma (I’m not exactly sure why). What makes the husband want so much money so soon? (The level-headed wife has a tough time controlling her over-working husband.) There’s a new and very sick baby in the household. Along with the film’s powerful drama, the movie is also exceptionally beautiful to watch.