Widening Horizons: Artistic Director Chris Haydon talks film

by Chris Haydon

Another week, another… what? That’s the weird thing about life under lockdown. There is little to differentiate the hours from the days and the days from each other. Time begins to feel as vague and imprecise as one of Boris Johnson’s speeches. And yet, while the streets remain quiet, life can still feel incredibly frantic – countless zoom meetings, chaotic home-schooling, seemingly never ending news alerts about how the crisis is unfolding around the world. Being able to find a distraction from all of this is vital. So this week, I want to talk about some of my favourite films – things that might provide some much needed exercise for the imagination. 

Let’s start in one of my favourite cities in the world: New York. Its vertiginous skyscrapers and vibrant street life have long been the setting for so many brilliant films. I have always been a huge fan of Spike Lee’s work, and his 1989 movie Do The Right Thing is one of the most extraordinary depictions of how both friendship and racial tension can sit side by side in a tight-knit community. The action takes place during a long, slow, sweltering summer and so it feels especially appropriate for today. At the other end of the social scale is the work of Woody Allen. Setting aside the controversies of his personal life, he has built a career out of depicting that city and there is no better example of this than his classic Annie Hall – a surreal and joyful romcom. If you are looking for something to enjoy as a family then I strongly recommend Ghostbusters. While not suitable for very young children, it is killingly funny, just scary enough and it provides an enormously compelling portrait of the begrimed landscape of 1980s NYC.

Travelling over to this side of the Atlantic for a moment, I would strongly recommend Danny Boyle’s classic Trainspotting. The story of four heroin addicts in 90s Edinburgh is funny, shocking and incredibly theatrical. I remember when it first came out I rented it on VHS and watched it three times in 24 hours – I’d never seen anything like it and I’ve gone back to it many times over the years. The film’s sequel T2 is also worth a look – a surprisingly moving depiction of healing a friendship that was damaged many years before. Boyle is one of my favourite filmmakers and I suggest checking out some of his other work as well: 28 Days Later is a truly terrifying zombie movie, and his under-appreciated sci-fi epic Sunshine – about an attempt to reignite the sun before it dies – is both compelling and surreal.

I am also a big fan of action movies, and probably the two best films ever made in this genre are James Cameron’s Aliens, about a small band of hardy marines attempting to infiltrate a nest of nightmarish H.R Giger designed xenomorphs; and George Miller’s 2015 epic Mad Max Fury Road, a hallucinatory depiction of a fragmented humanity struggling to survive in a vicious post-apocalyptic landscape. Both films are breathlessly paced, construct extraordinarily detailed worlds and feature truly badass women at the helm – Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa.

If you are looking for something a little quieter and more contemplative, however, then you might want to check out two really gorgeous independent films that came out a couple of years ago. The first is Leave No Trace, the story of a teenage girl and her Iraq war veteran father who live an itinerant lifestyle in rural Oregon. He has PTSD and it is only his relationship with his daughter that seems to be keeping him afloat, but as she grows up she yearns for a stability that has thus far been missing from her life. It is achingly beautiful, sad and tender, and the final image of the film will stay with me forever. The other is Lean on Pete, about a teenage boy who rescues a race horse from the knackers yard and goes on a long journey through the new American frontier. It is a kind of requiem for the generation that was dispossessed after the 2008 crash – sensitive and sad, but ultimately hopeful.

Photo by Felix Mooneeram | Unsplash


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