The Athens Film Festival, just finished its 15th year under the artistic direction of Orestis Andreadakis, is a nimble affair: older sister Thessaloniki gets much of the attention, forcing Athens to be a bit fleeter on its feet. Thus the main competition is judged by a panel of nine film and drama students from all over the EU: nice to have your film awarded by the next generation, as Golden Athena winner Duncan Jones, himself a first-timer, undoubtedly felt when Moon scooped the top prize on Sunday.
There’s a second, more traditional Jury as well, judging on Athens’ trademark strand, the Music & Film documentary section. I was on this Jury last week, and it was definitely a high point: you can come away from bigger festivals feeling oppressed by the gravity of what you’ve seen, but who can object to the sights and sounds of world music, often contained in fascinating stories – such as Burning Down The House: The Story of CBGB, which tracked the famous Bowery punk club’s attempts to stay open, or All Tomorrow’s Parties, a collective effort with the unmistakable creative editing imprint of Tarnation’s Jonathan Caouette and France’s Vincent Moon. This tracks the alternative UK music festival All Tomorrow’s Parties through ten years of uniqueness – it’s the type of spirited film, as a fellow juror said, which makes you want to go out and buy music like a teenager again.
It wasn’t all boppy: Pedro Costa has a unique expanding effect on 98 minutes, and Ne Change Rien (a reference to the immovable camera?) slowed the pace down, with Favela on Blast picking it back up again.
We, the Jury…
We, the Jury, though, went for the pretty irresistible if creepily disturbing Norwegian black metal documentary Until The Light Takes Us, directed by American indie film-makers Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell.
The couple, now the holders of a Golden Athena for Best Documentary from Athens, took on this grim heavy metal subculture over a seven year odyssey, including two spent in Oslo, and ended up with a story which includes suicide, murder, and the burning of medieval churches – not to mention provocative interviews conducted from jail with Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes, who murdered his former bandmate Euronymous, the founder of the band Mayhem and was, during the shoot, serving maximum time in a Norwegian prison.
It’s a bizarre, discomfiting story peopled by misfits and worse, but Aites and Eatwell deal their cards in an unexpected way over 98 minutes; you leave the cinema wanting to leave it all behind, perhaps, but unable to forget. Hamony Korine shows up doing a bizarre tap dance – of course he does, it’s that kind of movie.
The story which prompted Until The Light Takes Us is being made in Hollywood into a drama – adapted from the book called Lords of Chaos with Japan’s Shion Sono set to direct Twilight’s Jackson Rathbone as the sinister Vikernes. While this is the sort of story which feels almost too weird for Hollywood to carry, interest can only grow in this documentary, which bowed at AFI fest and played to packed, practically-costumed houses at Athens. It’s at Raindance this week in London. Check it out on blackmetalmovie.com.