LIFT-OFF FILM FESTIVAL

Words: JOSH RAY
March 11, 2013

Entering its third year, Lift-Off Film Festival has grown from a small screening of independent films into a transatlantic exhibition, showcasing the talents of student and professional filmmakers alike to audiences in London, LA, Las Vegas and Liverpool. Conceived in May 2011 by James Alexander and Ben Pohlman, the festival provides a much needed alternative […]


Entering its third year, Lift-Off Film Festival has grown from a small screening of independent films into a transatlantic exhibition, showcasing the talents of student and professional filmmakers alike to audiences in London, LA, Las Vegas and Liverpool. Conceived in May 2011 by James Alexander and Ben Pohlman, the festival provides a much needed alternative to the constant stream of mindless cheese spewed from the Hollywood gullet and from the hollow, over-stylised nonsense that dominates the art house scene. Lift-Off seeks “to showcase the talent behind the real craft of filmmaking, the storytelling.”

Making its Liverpool debut this year, Lift-Off brought 34 films, whittled down from 650+ submissions, to some of the city’s most exciting venues. Proceedings began at the award-winning media arts centre FACT, where audiences were treated to a plethora of independent shorts, exploring universal themes such as abandonment, identity and poverty. The first night saw screenings of two of this year’s festival winners: Ged Hunter’s snapshot into the bittersweet life of Leonard and Mike Stanford’s portrayal of Manchester’s homeless, Shelter.

The second day saw Lift-Off take to Edge-Hill train station’s hidden gem, METAL. Founded back in 2002 – by theatre director Jude Kelly OBE – the creative space has helped fuel Liverpool’s ever-growing grassroots culture, by providing an “innovative, multi-disciplinary residency space for local and international artists.” METAL’s full-house were first treated to Photoshopping, Mark Davenport’s sinister comedy revolving around Elaine Moss, a celebrity photographer whose compulsive quest to get in the record books takes an unsettling turn.

Though only deemed worthy of an honourable mention, German filmmaker Ulrich Witt arguably provided the second night’s finest entry. Die Fusion depicts the collision of two very separate worlds. Overworked management-consultant, Bernd, suffering from spates of insomnia begins to dream vividly of a down-on-his-luck doppelganger bearing the same name. The homeless Bernd too has vivid dreams of his namesake’s life and as the two characters begin to question their own perception of reality, they lose grip, and find themselves isolated from their companions.

The METAL screening concluded with the Anglo-French Israeli filmmaker, Leila Fenton’s second film Sand Brothers. Drawing influence from her psychology degree, Fenton analyses the complex and often turbulent theme of family relationships. Sand Brothers depicts two re-united brothers, who hold opposing opinions about a moral dilemma posed to them in the middle of an isolated desert.

Lift-Off then took to one of Liverpool’s more elaborate venues, the Kazimier, for its third day of screenings. After making an impact at the Dublin International Film festival a month earlier, Neil Dowling unsurprisingly received an award for his feature length Joy. After a bizarre yet enthralling night with dance student, Joy, struggling writer Lukas can’t shake his memories of the girl. Soon his curiosity about what might be, coupled with ever-growing pressure from his over-ambitious wife, sends Lukas in search of the dancer, now living back with her parents in Seoul and resenting the loss of freedoms she once had in Berlin. Believing that Joy too is the key to his freedom, Lukas arrives in the hectic metropolis with no contact details, hoping fate will prevail. Despite being more than ten times longer than some of the other night’s films, Joy managed to keep the Kazimier’s audience engaged throughout.

The festival concluded in the intimate basement of Bold Street’s House. Before Liverpool’s winners were announced, the audience were gifted an exhibition from the last two winners of London’s Lift-Off events. Calum MacDiarmid featured twice on the bill, and it soon became clear why the Glaswegian filmmaker has been clearing up at film festivals, both sides of the Atlantic. In his first offering MacDiarmid draws from his father’s life’s work, A Century of Insight, exploring the impact philosophers like Nietze, Freud and Jung can have on a young man’s faith. MacDiarmid’s examination of his own subconscious concludes with the poignant last words of his father, spoken to his three sons, on his deathbed.

MacDiamid’s second offering, 82 depicts a postman whose severely skewed moral compass evoked much laughter amongst the House crowd. The same can be said for Paul Gallash’s Killing Anna, a documentary which follows the filmmaker’s quest to stage a funeral for his first love, Anna who is still very much alive. MacDiarmid and Gallash weren’t the only ones to get the crowd laughing, however, it would seem the House kitchen staff have impeccable comedic timing, as whenever a film reached a climactic moment or an intense silence their over-heard banter had the majority of the crowd in stitches and the rest tutting.

The ever-growing festival will return to Liverpool next year after exhibiting some of the world’s greatest hidden talent to audiences in LA, London and Las Vegas and if this year’s exhibition is anything to go by, it is definitely not to be missed.


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