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As previously noted, I decided that I was going to organise this years reviews and posts about the Inverness Film Festival by means of its own themes and threads. Documentaries, New World Cinema, Short Films and…Highlights. Which is a slightly odd category for a theme but it’s essentially the films that come recommended by the Festival Programmer. It’s a category I tend to avoid most years, perhaps unfairly, because often the films are the ones that are doing well on the wider film festival circuit so a) if you go to a couple of film festivals you’ll end up seeing the same films and b) because they’ve already got a buzz and will be popular at the festival, they’ll doubtless appear again some time in the early new year. Also because, the films in question tend to sell out really quickly. However, this year I’ve ended up seeing three of them so lets see if they prove to be the highlights they’re advertised as.

Dark River
This was the unofficial Opening Film of the festival, according to the programmer’s introduction to the film, this was the last film to be added to the programme. (They had to hold the print run to include it.) Apparently they had to ask for and be refused screening rights a couple of times before they were able to get it. So it was in fact squeezed into the schedule ahead of the official Opening Film of the festival – the rather more commercial Battle of the Sexes. As I told a friend that I bumped into unexpectedly after the screening, it’s the second film in two months I’ve seen about damaged Yorkshire sheep farmers. Much like God’s Own Country, Dark River is at once a beautiful and compelling watch, while also being an intense and far from easy experience. I’m not sure why I’m remotely surprised by that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Clio Barnard directed film that could be described as an easy watch – I’m not sure that she’s ever directed one. So much supressed emotion – both grief and rage – such beautiful scenery, so very many sheep.

If you see the words ‘a new Clio Barnard film’ and your heart – like mine – lifts, then you’re going to enjoy this film.

The Florida Project
So apparently this film was the toast of the Croisette at Cannes this year. Which, if we’re being honest probably tells you already if you’re going to like it or not. I went on the recommendation of a friend whose taste in films I usually coincide with – she’s the friend that recommended Arrival to me and I utterly adored that. But I didn’t make it through the film. I think it’s the first film I’ve seen at this festival – in any year – that I’ve walked out of. I didn’t hate it, but I just didn’t care about any of the characters, I wasn’t even rooting for the kids – charming as they were – everyone just felt so two-dimensional. (Any film where I like the character played by Willem Dafoe the best has some seriously unlikable characters.) Weirdly, I think I’d have liked it better if it had been a documentary. A documentary about the real people who live in a place like that would have been far more interesting, their fictional counterparts felt like sketches of people rather than fleshed out characters.

A sneaky wee last minute documentary. I picked this one more because by Sunday evening at last year’s film festival my brain was completely frazzled so I thought I’d pick some gentle viewing to see me out of the festival. And it delivered on that front. It’s a mediation on the relationship between people and mountains delivered via the compelling tones of Willem Dafoe’s narration and accompanied by some excellent classical tunes, by way of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. (Apparently, in Australia, the orchestra toured with the film, and I can only imagine how truly epic that experience must have been.) Its an adrenaline pumping, whirlwind of glorious vista, epic athletic achievements and horrifying near misses, that does not shy away from the very really dangers of mountains and climbing them. It also gains a secondary soundtrack of the audience’s visceral reactions to the footage, a chorus of gasps – both of awe and terror – exclamations, incredulous laughter and audible flinches. It was one of the most communal cinema experiences I’ve had in a while and a film that I’d highly recommend seeing in the cinema, for that as much as the wide screen footage.

So all in all, do I think the films in this category represented the ‘highlights’ of the film festival? Well, in a word, no. None of my favourite films of the festival were part of this thread. But on the other hand, as a guide to the films that we can expect to see a lot of in awards season, it’s probably a safe bet. I’m sure, come awards season, there’ll be a lot of people in Inverness, who’ll be able to express informed opinions on the nominations – love them or hate them, at least they’ll have seen them.