Monday, October 20, 2014

Harry Potter Festival 2014

The 12th Harry Potter Festival in Odense, Denmark, took place on October 16-19. As loyal readers of my blog will know, the festival started out as a magic day at the local library attended by 40 kids. Over the years, it grew into a weeklong festival with 300 kids attending Hogwarts and 4,000 HP fans of all ages visiting The Forbidden Forrest, The Hogwarts Express, Hagrid’s Hut, The Chamber of Secrets and a two day Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade market in the town hall square.

Unfortunately, J. K. Rowling’s visit in 2010 marked the end of the festival, as we knew it. Hogwarts closed and due to the increase in visitors (10,000+), the market days in the town hall square were abandoned and replaced by other activities in different parts of town. The festival lost its core and most recently, it lost its core audience as well. The original Harry Potter fans are 20+ years old today and the target age group for the books is 11-17 years, but the present Harry Potter Festival caters to the 3-8 year olds! These kids are way too young to read Harry Potter, so the festival compensates by bringing in elements that have nothing to do with Potter and now we’re stuck with a sort of pre-school wizard festival rather than a Harry Potter Festival! It’s quite sad, actually.

Oh well, like previous years I had to write about the festival, so I got hold of a programme from which I could see, that this year the festival events were scattered all over town in 15 different places. As Odense has a car- and public transportation-free city centre, it would take hours to get to all the events. Studying the programme closer, I realised that it didn’t matter, as people over 14 weren’t welcome at most events, anyway. Oh dear! I had to wave goodbye to The Hogwarts Express, the sorting ceremony in The Library of Local History, Quidditch in The Fairy Tale Garden, gutter press writing with Rita Skeeter in the Media Museum and Madam Maxime’s Magic Dance with the Beauxbatons students at the Royal Danish Ballet School.

In my opinion, there’s something wrong when hard core Harry Potter fans aren’t allowed to attend the events at a Harry Potter Festival because they aren’t preschool kids. On top of that, I also had to stay away from the Harry Potter Concert with Odense Symphony Orchestra and the Harry Potter film marathon at The Great Hall, as they were too expensive, and from Knockturn Alley and The Leaky Cauldron as the queues were too long. It took 30 minutes to get into Knockturn Alley and 45 to get into The Leaky Cauldron and with a rare spine disease and 2 busted knees I couldn’t manage. Knockturn Alley at the Moentergaarden Museum only consisted of Borgin and Burkes anyway, but I know that The Leaky Cauldron in Smedestraede (Blacksmith Alley) serves an amazing butterbeer, so I was very disappointed that I couldn’t go.

What was left for me to attend was The Magic Market, Diagon Alley and the exhibition and Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Salon in the Brandts 13 Museum, or so I thought. In both The Magic Market in Graabroedre Plads (Grey Friars Square) and Diagon Alley in Vintapperstraede (Tapster Alley) I encountered more obstacles. At the market I was too old to attend Potion Class, visit an enchanted forest and have my photo taken on Platform 9 ¾, whereas Café Hogwarts was too expensive. Furthermore Ollivander’s, Eeylops Owl Emporium, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions and St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies were so crowded that I gave up in advance, so I only managed to take a peek at Gringotts, The Daily Prophet and Herbology class. Like last year, I avoided Hagrid telling stories in a local church!

The situation wasn’t much better in Diagon Alley where most activities were either for kids or too crowded. Most of them didn’t have anything to do with Harry Potter anyway, but had names like “Merlin’s Workshop” and “Viola’s magic owl workshop”. A branch of Gringotts was still there, though, as well as the “Care of Magical Creatures” people, but shockingly I was no longer allowed to see George Weasley in Weasley's Wizard Wheezes as I was too old! He only gave lessons and shows for kids. I just couldn’t believe it.

The festival would have been a complete disappointment, if it hadn’t been for the exhibition and tea salon at the Brandts 13 Museum. Like last year when the museum was still called The Funen Art Gallery, it was by far the most interesting place to visit. I had to get past the Fat Lady and Nearly Headless Nick to get in and on the ground floor, I ran into Lucius Malfoy, Dolores Umbridge, Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall (who is an acquaintance of mine).

The ground floor contained an exhibition of several Harry Potter related artefacts, such as a dragon egg, the Elder Wand and several of Harry Potter’s personal papers. Most spectacular was however the mermaid window from the prefects’ bathroom, complete with a moving mermaid.

The Fat Lady and a moving painting occupied the first floor and on the second floor was a new and improved Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Salon. It had expanded and had two rooms upstairs as well as an outdoor serving stand in front of the museum and everything was pink and pretty with lots of china, low hanging lamps and mirrors. I loved it! Tea and cake were 100 Galleon and you could get 500 Galleon at Gringotts for DDK 30/£3.

I ended my day at the Harry Potter Festival chatting to McGonagall and missing other witches and wizards. My friend Madam Rosmerta who stopped working in The Three Broomsticks a couple of years ago, Professor Snape who used to chat with me in Potions Class in the dungeons until he stopped last year and now George, who only taught kids. This combined with the many activities that I’m no longer allowed to attend made me decide that from next year I’ll only visit the Brandts 13 Museum. Then the rest of the festival can keep its age limits, long queues and steep prices!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Maze Runner

Last week I was invited to the Danish premiere of Wess Ball’s film “The Maze Runner” and I brought along my teenage daughter who fits right in with the young adult target audience.

Usually when I’m going to a premiere I do a bit of research in advance, but I didn’t this time and that was a huge mistake. You see, when entering the cinema, I didn’t know that “The Maze Runner” is based on the first book in the young-adult post-apocalyptic science fiction trilogy by James Dashner and thereby had no ending, and that was a great disappointment for me.

Anyway, “The Maze Runner” tells quite an exciting story about the teenage boy Thomas who wakes up in a glade with no memory of his previous life. Here he meets the Gladers, other teenage boys who arrived in The Glade in the same way as Thomas, some as long as 2 years ago, but now they live in a community where they farm the land of The Glade.  The Glade is situated in the middle of a giant maze, and some of the boys called “Runners” explore the maze during daytime in order to find a way out. However, at nightfall the maze closes its doors to The Glade and no one is able to survive a night in the maze when it is roamed by giant robot insects called The Grievers. Thomas, who has strange dreams about a mysterious organization known as W.C.K.D, wants to become a maze runner and at one point, the first and only girl turns up in The Glade and sparks off the action.

Thomas is brilliantly played by Dylan O’Brien and worth mentioning are also Aml Ameen as the Glade leader Alby, Blake Cooper as Thomas’ friend Chuck, Ki Hong Lee as the maze runner Minoh, Will Poulter as the broody Gally and especially Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the second in command Newt. They are all very talented, but the maze itself is a bit disappointing, as I had hoped for different scary creatures and things to happen and not just Grievers. Furthermore Thomas’ background and the post-apocalyptic story behind the plot is a bit flimsy and easy to figure out and frankly a bit of a disappointment when you’ve waited to get out of that maze for 113 minutes (the audience) or 2 years (The Gladers), whatever seems the longest.

I really liked “The Maze Runner” up until the last 15 minutes or so as they were very disappointing, and I felt cheated when I left the cinema. However, I do realise that it is partly my own fault for not knowing that this was a “Part 1”-film, but then again it’s the fault of the film too, as the maze was just too boring! I’m not sure if I’m going to see part 2 and 3, so for now I’m just going to give part 1 three out of three stars: ***

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

OFF14 – Odense International Film Festival

Usually I review the annual Odense International Film Festival (OFF), but this year I don’t feel equipped to do so. You see, in the past couple of years it has been increasingly difficult to get to get a seat at the free festival screenings because schools and kindergartens were able to pre-book seats whereas other people were not. Then when you turned up at the cinema, all the seat were already taken, and you could just leave again. This year, however, everybody were able to pre-book seats, but contrary to the intention, it just made things worse. Now everybody pre-booked, so when I tried to pre-book too 2 weeks before the festival, almost all of the seat were taken. I only managed to get one ticket to one competition screening out of twenty. That’s just not good enough, but at least I managed to get tickets to 3 different non-competition screenings as well.
Even though the slogan of the festival is “Expect the unexpected”, I didn’t expect not being able to get a seat, but because of this, I can’t review the short films, documentaries and animations of the competition as I only saw 5 of the 100+ entries. I can bring you the names of the winners, though, and they were:
The international Grand Prix: “Soft Rain” by Dénes Nagy (Hungary)
The international Artist Award: “Habana” by Edouard Salier (France)
The international Storyteller Award: “The Runaway” by Jean-Bernard Marlin (France)
The Danish Grand Prix: “Growing Pains” by Tor Fruergaard (Denmark)
The Danish Talent Award: ”Mini” by Milad Alami (Denmark)
The Animation Grand Prix: “Brothers in Arms” by Cav Boegelund (Denmark)
The Boerge Ring Award: “Life with No Tricks” by Anne-Laure Daffis (France)
Special Mention: ”Growing Pains” by Tor Fruergaard (Denmark)
Children/Youth film Award: “Helium” by Anders Walter (Denmark)
The Audience Award: “Helium” by Anders Walter (Denmark)
As you can see, all of the winners were either Danish or French apart from the Hungarian international Grand Prix winner. I have no idea why. Of all the award-winners, I’d actually seen two at the single screening I was able to attend, namely The Boerge Ring Award winner “Life with No Tricks” by French Anne-Laure Daffis and the Children and Audience Award winner “Helium” by Danish Anders Walter. The first one was a ha-ha-funny animation that made fun of the death of Princess Di (this would never have won anything in the UK!) and the second a brilliant, warm and magic film about a dying child. I’m sure you can hear where my sympathies lie and I was one of the many who voted for “Helium” to get the Audience Award.
Anyway, the non-competition screenings this year were of a much higher standard than usual and I was happy to attend three of them. The first was called “Magic Unfolding” and here the audience met Danish directors Michael Wikke and Steen Rasmussen as well as Danish animation expert Jacob Stegelmann for a 1 hour discussion of the work of the Japanese master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, followed by the screening of Miyazaki’s last film “As the Wind Rises”. As a huge fan of Stegelmann, Wikke & Rasmussen AND Miyazaki, I was thrilled to get a seat in the crowded “Pejsestuen”-venue and the discussion was funny, intelligent and enlightening. However, half of the audience as well as Stegelmann and Wikke & Rasmussen left before the screening of the film, and for us who sat through it, it was clear why. “As the Wind Rises” is far from Miyazaki’s best; at least you have to love airplanes, war and tragic endings a lot, if you are to like it. I don’t and I would rather have seen “Spirited Away”, “Howl’s Moving Castle” or even “My Neighbor Totoro”.
The second off-competition event I went to was the screening of six of the best films from Copenhagen’s Buster Film Festival for Children and Youth. These films were aimed at kids 8+ so the huge “Magasinet”-venue was packed with school classes. I guess that of the 200+ seat, only 5 or 6 had a bum in it that didn’t belong to a school kid, so I was glad that one of them was mine. The films were brilliant, especially the aforementioned “Helium”.
The last of the off-competition events that I managed to get to was the screening of six films made by the 2014 animation director graduate students from The National Film School of Denmark. Most of them were remarkably good, especially William Reynish’s “Whole” and my personal favourite “Recording Louis” by Kristian Nordentoft. Also the history driven puzzle adventure game for iPad, “The Last Day at the Plant” by Dennis Nielsen seemed very interesting. Four of the young directors were present during and after the screening so you were able to ask them questions and the whole event was moderated by the very entertaining film expert Ulrich Breuning. This was a lovely surprise as I had missed him moderating the annual “Old Theatre” screening of old silent films, as I couldn’t get to the venue due to lack of public transportation in Odense city after 4.30 p.m. The screening of the graduate films were during daytime, though, and in the small “Studenterhuset” venue where some of the seats were actually empty!
Well, considering that I hardly saw any films, I’m surprised that I managed to write an OFF14 review anyway. To sum up, this free film festival is brilliant, but it has outgrown its physical limits as the audience is rejected even before it reaches the door. If OFF doesn’t want to move to bigger venues outside the city centre, they should at least hold separate screenings for schools and kindergartens, thereby giving the rest of the audience a chance to get a seat. This is after all not a film festival for children and youth, although one of its competitions is in the children/youth category. At least it is safe to say, that unless OFF has more room for reviewers next year, this is sadly going to be my last Odense International Film Festival review.


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