London’s 57 film festival draws to a close (20th October) after showcasing and premiering a huge variety of films: 235 feature films and 134 short films from 57 different countries – over just 12 days. Wow!
I’ve still got the day job so with 21 London venues I was only ever going to be able to catch a fraction of them. Ten films in fact. Choosing what to see is not easy because there are generally few independent reviews around; many of the films are being shown there for the first time. Still, I’ve been doing this for a number of years and my choosing process starts mostly with picking the ones not to watch – those films chosen for the opening and closing gala nights are generally very expensive, almost impossible to get tickets for – and likely to come out on general release in the UK anyway. Then I focus in on thrillers and on films with really new concepts. Some years it’s essentially a bit of a lucky dip.
And of course I keep an eye out for films with horses in them. Back in 2007 I struck very lucky on this with Horse Thieves. Two horse-thieving brothers living in Eastern Europe in 1856 get caught up with two other brothers who are Cossacks. There is thievery, murder, revenge – and a lot of horse action.
Didn’t find many horses in my selection this year but there was one amazing film with camels in it: Tracks. Tracks is set in the Australian outback and tells the true story of Robyn Davidson’s solo trek: an unbelievable 2,700 kilometres on foot with four camels and a black dog in 1977. The landscape is stunningly beautiful and the camels are star actors. Tracks stars Mia Wasikowska and for much of the film she is the only human on screen. She’s fantastic, going through the emotions of loneliness, fear, nostalgia and determination, often while facing the camera and controlling the four camels.
Tracks directed by John Curran, starring Mia Wasikowska (and 4 camels)
One of the great things about the London Film Festival is that you often get the director, the producer or one or two of the stars for a Q and A session afterwards. In this case, director John Curran talked a lot about how it was to direct the four camels. He said the lead camel was great – he growls a lot, in a deep-throated but sort of benign, almost warbling, way and the key thing was that he seemed to know when he was being filmed. John said he would do the growling as soon as the camera was on him, never needing a re-take of a scene. The black dog, on the other hand, easily got restless and in fact had to be played by several dogs in turn.
There’s a part in the film where the baby camel gets sore feet from the sheer heat of the sand. Apparently, this happened unexpectedly for real during the filming. Throughout filming, John Curran said, the camera team mostly kept a long way off, using zoom lenses. Mia simply fashioned some clothes into shoes, wrapped them around the baby camel’s feet and off they all went again.
If you get the chance – and even if camels aren’t really your thing, I definitely recommend you grab the chance to see Tracks when it reaches your cinema.