It’s nearly half past six on the evening of the first day of the seventh European Independent Film Festival. Strains of smoky jazz, a snaking baritone sax line, filters through from the trio set up in the festival foyer, making its way to the little marquee where, even now,  film-makers are assembling for the welcome glass of wine or vitamin water. Amongst the group festival president, Scott Hillier,
will later refer to as a “crazed bunch of misfits”: a documentary maker from Cambridge whose films have already proved a hit on blogs and social networks but for whom an actual big screen festival remains a new departure; an actor from Canada on the look-out for European directors to collaborate with; a member of the jury, one of last year’s winners, who insists on remaining tight- lipped about his ones-to-watch from this year’s programme; a band whose video is in selection, over from New York to promote their music; and a first time film-maker, at a film festival for the first time, with his executive producer in tow, his own dad.

“I’m excited,” Hillier enthuses to the crowd, “tonight, when the lights go down – you’re up on screen.” In his brief address to the film-makers, the festival president beams with pride at the assembled talent. “We show the best independent films.” But he makes no bones about the shoestring on which the festival is run, “we have no money – we’re broke. So I’m doubly appreciative,” of the people who entered their films, of the people who travelled to come to the festival, and of the festival staff for their hard work in preparing it.

It’s a sentiment echoed later, in the Grand Salle of the Sept Parnassiens cinema, “I’d like to thank our financial sponsors – but we don’t have any … This year we’re doing it with no support.” No support from Europe, from France, from the city of Paris, and no support from the mairie of the 14th arrondissement where the cinema is located, “and I don’t think that’s fair,” Hillier avers. It’s a festival made “with love” as Prano Bailey-Bond says of her music video, ‘House’, which screened tonight. A surreal fairytale fantasy shot in a strange old house, due for dereliction in the East London borough where Bailey-Bond lives.

The combination of narrative weirdness and budgeting ingenuity displayed in ‘House’ is typical of the films in the festival’s opening night selection. The director of one film, ‘Dreamt in Flesh’, a macabre totentanz of a woman clothed in oily black paint, cheerfully admits that his three and a half minute experimental short cost a mere £40 “for the paint – which I thought was quite expensive.” It’s rich cinematography was achieved by the application of 35mm lenses to an ordinary DV camera.
Some thirteen films were screened in all on the opening night, from whimsical romances to sci-fi lullabies. First time director, Rocco Labbé admits to being “emotionally drained” by the end of the session, which included graphic depictions of violence, abuse, and murder. But it’s possibly his own film, ‘Berlinoises’, the very first film of the night, that packs the most affecting punch: an eleven and a half minute vignette, set in the midst of the horror and the mass rape of war, on the eve of the Russian occupation of Berlin in the Spring of 1945.

It’s a powerful, shocking start to the festival. But the ÉCU wouldn’t have it any other way. “What is ÉCU?” asked Hillier earlier in his welcome speech, “It’s quite simple: we play the best independent films from around the world. Films that you’ll like, films that you’ll hate. But that’s what we do it for. We want to provoke people.”

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